Visitors from California to Toledo, Ohio, are amazed at all the green. Back home they are paid not to have a lawn. The Californians were thrilled to learn that it would rain during their stay, for rain had not splashed on their faces in months. While we Ohioans bemoan “rain on our picnic,” the visitors from the West felt that the rain made for a great vacation. As Pope Francis wrote, “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
Author Archives: Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider
Pope Francis has written, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”
On a perfect day I walked a couple miles through a metropark. Twice I saw a single deer on the path. The first had an unusually broad fluffy white tail, which she modeled for my admiration. “Hello, Beautiful!” I greeted her. We stood just looking at one another, and I sensed she could catch my spirit. A communion of spirits. Another chance meeting occurred just a minute later. Another deer, this one a bit younger. Again my breath caught in admiration. “Hello, Beautiful!” Again, I felt some connection. Dependence goes beyond a food chain. Creatures are connected by beauty.
Living near construction I hear backup beeps constantly. All other warnings are in front of us, making us aware of something in the future. A backup beep is a warning in reverse, a warning that something is going backwards. What if we could back up our thoughts and hear a warning beep before we continued our ruminations? What if we could back up our speech and hear a warning beep before we finished our sentence? What if we could back up our shopping before we spent too much? What if we had a beep to keep us from eating too much, sleeping too long, or wasting time? Life is going forward, but taking some time to reflect on backup beeps may be profitable. Examining our conscience at the end of the day may give us some backup beeps to move forward better tomorrow.
Are you on a mission? Pope Francis definitely is. He writes: “I am on a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world” (EG 273). Think of what we could do if we said the same.
When we’re on a mission, we make disciples! A disciple is a learner, and learning is life-long. When we identify ourselves as followers of Jesus we must keep on learning from Jesus and about Jesus. When did you learn from Jesus or about Jesus this past week? In prayer did you listen to him? Did you read or listen to the Pope’s homilies and speeches in the United States? Was the Bible on your lap? We we’re confident that we really are disciples, we can make disciples.
To make disciples we make Jesus alive and real for ourselves and others. It’s creating a hunger in people for Jesus. When people look at us—our joy, our patience, our enthusiasm, our virtue—do they say “I want what you got”?
We do much for ourselves, our families, our community. But what is more important than what we’re doing for ourselves is being on mission to make disciples. True, we must take care of ourselves, but we can’t stop with making things better for us. Saint Paul would call even these important things “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8) if we do not really know Christ and are fully engaged in making disciples. It’s what we’re meant to do. So let’s do it!
Earlier this week I saw a perfectly formed tree, every leaf evenly red, not a green leaf to be found, nor a dusty red leaf under the tree. I was privileged to see the exact moment of the “in between” of seasonal change. Nothing was left of summer. Autumn’s falling leaves had not begun. Don’t you think that I—a writer of blogs—should be able to describe such perfection, such beauty, such a moment of the “in between”? I cannot. Pope Francis says the same in Laudato Si: “We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves” 34. Although he was speaking of human intervention at the service of business, I can apply it to my limited vocabulary. (Or can I justify my ineptness by saying I was speechless?) Poets have also tried – “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree”—Maybe “Ah” is the right word. Better yet—silence.
Summer is coming to an end. With some sadness do we count our losses? No more picnics, no more swimming, no more trips to the beach. Or do we look back over June, July, and August and count our gains? What have the bits of extra leisure gained for us or for others? Did we have more opportunity to put service to others over our own personal desires? Could we afford the time to prepare some delightful surprises for children? Did we include in our vacation space for God? The coming short winter days may make us greedy with our daylight time. The cold may keep us sitting by a fire or in front of a TV. But for now El Nino promises a pleasant autumn, a couple more months to focus on our gains. What will we do with the hours of daylight savings time?
The Irish speak of thin places where heaven and earth are very close, places where God can seep through the cracks. Autumn is a time when God seems to seep through the cracks rather easily. Stars are brighter, air crisper, colors more brilliant. Thoughts are turned nostalgically to the “last chances”—last garden pickings of tomatoes and sweet corn, last smells of mown grass, whole days of open windows. Our souls are constantly tugged, our minds more attentive, our thoughts more reflective, our bodies sensing the incremental differences. We’re more aware, and God sees his chance to seep through.
God’s gift of self began with the creation of the universe. Another dramatic giving of the Godself occurred on the cross. Giving his life is who God is. If God is Self-Gift, then to be more like God we must become self-gift. As children we may have climbed into a box or put ribbon on our head and pretended to be a present. That wasn’t just a childish idea. A spiritually mature person realizes that there is only one thing we can give: ourselves.
I wish we could calculate the number of hours of service people give in a 24-hour period. It is edifying to hear of schools and parishes and organizations involved in mission trips, fundraisers for the needy, and projects that protect Planet Earth. It is equally edifying to see spouses, family and friends act as care-givers day in and day out. Their self-sacrifice and generosity can be as admirable as service projects requiring a passport. Regardless of whether the service takes us to another country or is just a walk down the block, those who serve are being Jesus. And by being Jesus they can see Jesus. It’s that simple and that challenging.
During a wedding rehearsal I entertained a two-year-old whose father was playing the guitar and whose mother was attending a three-month-old. The conversation with the little girl went something like this:
Me: I believe you’re right. I totally agree.
Me: Yes, that was a lovely party. I really enjoyed myself.
I could have been reciting multiplication tables or the Gettysburg Address with the same effect, because the sole source of communication was my facial expression and tone of voice. Both conveyed (I think) my interest in the little girl and my pleasure in conversing with her. Communication is only ten percent words.
If Jesus Christ wants us to be like children, then prayer doesn’t have to be styled or logical or unified with topic sentences. God understands and gets the point. And God is not passive to our prattle. God is very involved. God is Word expressing and Spirit animating. The Word of God is speaking, and the Spirit of God breathing. And we participate in this. We are part of God’s conversation, and we become expressions of God’s speech.