The feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is July 31. You’re probably familiar with his phrase “for the greater honor and glory of God.” Service of God and God’s glory, empowered by surrender to God’s will, animated all Ignatius’ endeavors. His famous prayer is one of total surrender: “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. . . . All I have is yours. Dispose of it, wholly according to your will.” Could I pray such a prayer and mean it? Take my memory, my understanding? Would I want such a prayer to be answered? What motivated Ignatius to pray such a prayer? Assuredly it came from his close following of Jesus who prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done” in his agony in the garden. In Gethsemane Jesus was so terribly afraid that an angel came to strengthen him, and “his sweat became like drops of blood.” Courageously Jesus surrendered himself totally: “Yet not my will but Yours be done.” Whether a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) or not, we are challenged to pray the scary prayers prayed by Ignatius and Jesus.
You’ve probably seen “Christmas in July” sales and Christmas programs on the Hallmark channel in July. It seems rather gimmicky to me, but as a liturgist, I know that every day is everything. Every day is Christmas. Every day is Easter. Every day is Good Friday and Ascension and Pentecost and everything else. How so? No matter the day on the calendar, liturgy celebrates the whole reality of Christ’s life—his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending His Spirit, and everything in between. Although the Church doesn’t sing “Silent Night” in July, the reality of the Incarnation is celebrated 365 days of the year. The first instant of creation, which some call the Big Bang, was for the purpose of the Incarnation. Then 14.7 billion years later when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Incarnate Word was laid in a manger. And someday at the end of the world, the Second Coming will complete the Incarnation when all creation will be one with its Creator. What a Christmas that will be!
We have a sister in our community whose nickname is Martha. I’ve never been sure whether she got that nickname from Martha Stewart or Saint Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. This sister is the perfect homemaker. She could have become an interior decorator. Her food is scrumptious, and the meal’s arrangement convinces anyone that it’s a matter of presentation, presentation, presentation. Being impeccably clean and neat is a given. Whatever she does deserves a blue ribbon. So does her nickname come from Martha Stewart or Saint Martha?
I’m sure this sister would be flattered by either Martha, but I’m going to suggest the saint. You remember that the Itinerant Preacher and his disciples knew where they could get a homecooked meal. Perhaps they invited themselves into Martha’s home. She had the grace to “welcome [them] to her home.” As Martha rushed to bake more bread and set 13 more places, Jesus teased Martha for being too busy: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing is required.” What was that? Simply being present, enjoying the presence of Jesus, listening to his words. Jesus wanted Martha to be present to her guests: that was, and is, the “better portion” of hospitality.
The sister nicknamed Martha has the aplomb to create a fine feast and be present to her guests. Doing both she will never be deprived of the “better portion.” Nor will her guests.
Richard Rohr in his book The Naked Now writes that when you surrender to God, “you are in Someone Else’s grip.” What a powerful image! Scripture is replete with images showing the close unity between God and us. God and we carry the yoke together. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. During a prayer said at the Last Supper, Jesus prays, “As long as I was with them, I guarded them… I kept careful watch, and not one of them was lost.” The Twelve share Jesus’ authority to cure and expel unclean spirits. Love of God and neighbor are one and the same. We are called his mother and brothers and sisters when we do the will of God. God fosters us like “one who raises an infant to his cheeks.”
During this stressful time of disease, unemployment, anxiety of all kinds we are in Someone Else’s grip. Grab God’s hand. God will never let you go.
I have loved words for as long as I can remember. My baby book claims that my first three words were Mama, Dada, and pasteurize. My family had dairy cows, so I must have heard the third word often. Or did I think it was the name of one of my siblings?
We Sisters of Notre Dame give one another lots of cards. Some sisters gather for card-making parties, and some houses have drawers full of stamps, tagboard, and special scissors—all of which make the card-sending less expensive but certainly not less labor-intensive. Besides holiday, birthday, and feastday cards we send the annual jubilee cards. Every sister celebrating 25, 40, 50, 60, 70, or 75 years receives one. These cards are treasured and kept long after the special day.
Some sisters randomly select a card, re-read its message, and pray for the sender throughout the day on which it was selected. Perhaps she even phones for a little chat. One particularly unusual card designed by Ministry of the Arts in LaGrange, Illinois, had this on the cover: “Blessed are women who join together with hearts and souls as one.” This randomly selected card and dozens of others unite us with their blessed messages. Card-making, sending, and lovingly re-reading are some of the most beloved “hallmarks” of our SND community.
When Jesus gathered his disciples at the Last Supper, he assured them that they would receive whatever they asked for, and that their joy would be full (John 16:24). What a beautiful, reassuring final message. Jesus’ promise continues through the ages, and we Sisters of Notre Dame are relying on that promise today.
On Sunday, July 5th, the four United States provinces of the Sisters of Notre Dame (California, Chardon OH, Kentucky, and Toledo OH) became one province under the new title of Immaculate Conception Province. Our new provincial superior, Sister Margaret Mary Gorman, was installed along with her councilors and 15 community coordinators (largely regional). Though original plans were for a Notre Dame gathering in Chardon covid19 changed those but this did not prevent our gathering in small groups across the USA, joined through live streaming. The installation included a Mass and ceremony with short speeches including one from our Superior General, Sister Mary Kristin Battles, delivered from Rome. And, of course, after the installation, there were festive meals held in many convents across the miles! We never forget that part! There were also three celebratory programs to be shared via technology. This was certainly an HISTORICAL DAY celebrated with distance but with great joy!
We believe that God will answer our prayers for unity and increased cooperation in mission. And we believe that our joy will be full!
Ever since God said “Let there be light,” God allows creation to keep creating itself. The tomatoes that rotted in the ground last fall seeded new plants this spring. The lettuce that was cut for salad just two days ago is taller than it was then. Every living thing is potential for new life, for more creation. Yet every living thing depends upon many things outside itself for growth. Tomatoes and lettuce depended upon soil, rain, sun, and a gardener willing to weed. As we “create” ourselves, we recall that without that first “Let there be light,” we would not have the potential to evolve. Our evolution toward full personhood owes everything to God, other people, and an unimaginable number of “seeds.”
Today reflect on the “seeds” in your evolution. What seeds developed your body, mind, spirit? Be grateful for them.
During this time of social distancing, we have seen on the news inventive ways to celebrate big occasions from an anniversary air hug from a spouse on a forklift to a wedding where a city street replaced a church’s middle aisle.
As our Toledo province joins with the other three provinces, we showed our appreciation to our provincial superior and her councilors with a gratitude parade. On July 4 we lined our cars in the parking lot of Notre Dame Academy. After honking horns, we started our engines and paraded our Fords and Toyotas in front of our sisters in leadership, who lined the driveway. We called out our thanks and waved posters of gratitude. One banner along the route sported cartoon caricatures of the leadership team. The fun was videoed for our sisters unable to attend. Later in the day we remembered some of the high points of the past several years through a PowerPoint beautifully created by two sisters. Each sister in the province also wrote a note of gratitude to the provincial, Sister Mary Delores Gatliff. She received these at the start of the parade, along with a surprise gift in the bag of notes. Since she enjoys theater she was given a gift card to the Stranahan! Each of the Sisters who were part of the current Provincial Council also received bags of gratitude cards along with a personal gift card.
Perhaps you view a live streamed Mass rather than enter a church building. Even in our homes the grace of the Paschal Mystery (the whole life of Christ) is always available to us. The Mass we see on our computer screen is part of the liturgy eternally celebrated in heaven. Vatican II has stated: “In the earthly liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly liturgy. . . .” All we need to do is insert ourselves into the sacred mysteries, the heavenly liturgy. Whether we’re sitting in a church pew or on a couch we can offer ourselves with Jesus.
My metaphor limps badly, but inserting ourselves in the liturgy is something like jumping into a twirling jump rope. The rope (the Paschal Mystery) is always spinning; it’s an eternal reality of Jesus perpetually offering himself to the Father and interceding for us, along with the Father’s acceptance of that sacrifice. The dying and rising of Jesus (as well as everything else Jesus did during his lifetime) is the Paschal Mystery celebrated and ritualized in every Mass and sacrament. Jump in. Die and rise with Jesus Christ. And receive grace.
Any moment of any day we can spiritually offer ourselves with Christ to the Father—and in turn be accepted by the Father as he accepts his Son. At any moment of any day we can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You’ve probably been making spiritual Communions as you watch Mass at home. Living the Paschal Mystery, inserting ourselves in the eternal, on-going heavenly banquet can’t be stopped by a stay-home order. Of course, watching a Mass does not take the place of being with the community; however, it makes us aware of those thousands of Catholics around the world who are deprived of Mass for many reasons. As we feel our own loss, let us remember them. And know that our live-streamed Mass reaches to heaven.
The Collect of the Mass contains so many beautiful prayers. One is “Grant that we, who have been renewed …may be transformed in the image of our heavenly maker.” Being transformed in the image of God reminds me of an activity I did with high school students. We found a large stand-up mirror (compliments of the town’s furniture store) and placed it in the school. We carefully put on the mirror a paper outline of the face of Jesus. Around Jesus’ head were the words “Lookin’ like Christ!” Students could see themselves in the face of Jesus and challenge themselves to look like Christ.
Lots of things can transform us into Christ: fasting, holy hours, good deeds, our work, family life, suffering, prayer. Scripture includes gazing on the Lord of Glory. What will happen? “All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory…are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Think of that when you look into a mirror.