I hope you pray for religious sisters, priests, and brothers often. Today is a special day to do just that in the diocese of Toledo. (Consecrated Life Day, begun by Pope John Paul II in 1997, is really on February 2, but is often celebrated on Sunday.) Also pray for more persons to respond to a vocation to consecrated life. My religious community expands the length and width of the United States, along with a dozen other countries. Since 1850 we Sisters of Notre Dame have aimed to witness God’s goodness and provident care. As apostolic women religious, we serve the mission of the Church in service to the poor, education, parish involvement, and other needs. Surrounding and enhancing our ministries is prayer. And tucked between is life in community—cooking, cleaning, playing, growing in love for one another. If the title weren’t already taken, a movie about consecrated religious should be “It’s A Wonderful Life!”
Today, the feast of Saint Dorothy, would have been the nameday of Sister Mary Doretta, who died last month a few days shy of the 50th anniversary of her religious profession. Since Sister Doretta was a classmate, I am writing in remembrance of her. Humble and reserved, attentive to others’ needs, hard-working and ever attuned to God’s will, she allowed God to direct her life. Sister was a genius when working with children with learning challenges. Most religious sisters spend their days in ordinary ways—ministry, cooking, cleaning, praying. But it seems to me that Sister had a special way of making the ordinary and everyday a way to honor God and do God’s Will. That was her spiritual practice. It can be ours, too. As you go about your ordinary day, doing ordinary things, let those things be a way to honor God.
On the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis issued his apostolic letter “Patris Corde,” “With a Father’s Heart.” It’s a short easy-read describing how Joseph loved Jesus. Joseph’s was “a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home” (quoted from Saint Paul VI). Pope Francis imagines that Jesus “drew inspiration for the parable of the prodigal son and the merciful father” from his family experience in Nazareth. The apostolic letter speaks to our own day and lives. We’re reminded that “we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.” We’re told to “embrace the way things are.” We read of the four dreams Joseph had, that aided him in becoming a “creatively courageous” father. Joseph is invoked as “protector of the unfortunate, the needy, exiles, the afflicted, the poor and the dying.” Anyone reading this—not just fathers–will be touched by the tender love of Joseph in a tenderly-written letter.
When Solomon asked for “an understanding heart,” to judge the people, God answered the request: “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you” (1 Kgs. 3:12). Some say wisdom comes with age. There’s truth in that, but there are persons wise beyond their years. One such person is Amanda Gorman, the youngest person to deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” will continue to inspire down the decades. Gorman begins “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in the never-ending shade?” Acknowledging our country’s differences, she seeks “harmony for all.” Her wisdom is again displayed in these lines: “If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.” The last phrase of “The Hill We Climb” attests to Gorman’s mature wisdom, as she says “The new dawn blooms… If only we’re brave enough to see it, If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
What are your favorite books of the Bible? I love Luke’s Gospel, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, and Deuteronomy. Surprised by that last one? A book that explains the Law of Mount Sinai and recaps the themes and events of the Pentateuch is not a page-turner. However, in this month of Valentines, one can find sentences with a lot of heart. Here are a few:
You shall indeed find the Lord when you search after him with your whole heart. (4:29)
Fix in your heart that the Lord is God, and that there is no other. (4:39)
You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. (6:5-6)
It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you.” (7:7-8)
What does the Lord ask of you and me today? “To love and serve the Lord, your God, with a your heart and all your soul.”
On this feast of the Presentation we read of Simeon and Anna, two persons who immediately recognized the Christ of the Lord. Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple” just as Mary and Joseph brought their Child. Simeon had been “awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He knew at least that he wouldn’t die before he saw the Messiah. Anna was always in the temple, but Luke says she came “forward at the very time.” Ever watchful and attentive, Simeon and Anna sensed the precise moment that would fulfill their prayerful longing. Years of waiting had prepared their hearts. They felt a nudge to be in the exact spot at the exact moment. Now that’s attention!
If today you feel a nudge to your heart, let your feet follow that nudge. You may find the Christ of the Lord.
Valentines replaced Christmas cards several weeks ago, so it’s not too early to write about hearts, which I’ll often do this month. One of the first Scripture passages about hearts is from the Book of Exodus. It’s the account of Moses pleading with the Lord that someone else should speak to the Israelites about leaving Egypt. The Lord reminds Moses that he has a brother who is not “slow of speech and tongue.” Fortuitously Aaron is on his way to Moses. The Lord tells Moses: “When he sees you, his heart will be glad.” And Moses’ heart was certainly happier when he with Aaron assembled the people who believed in the Lord’s words from Aaron’s mouth.
When I see my siblings (though distanced) my heart, like Aaron’s, is glad. Sibling bonds are steel-strong. All the world should have siblings like mine. I am so blessed that each one has my back and I theirs. Secrets are safe, problems shared, prayers promised and prayed. Heart speaks to heart, words not always necessary. As with the friends David and Jonathan, may the Lord be ever between us (1 Sm. 20:42).
Pope Francis spoke of healthcare workers as “the saints next door” and “the antibodies to the virus of indifference.” The Gospel tells us that those who lose their lives save their lives (Mk. 9:24). Doctors, nurses, and others in the forefront of the pandemic are willing to lose their lives so that others may live. Their life is not about themselves. Instead, they freely give their lives for others.
Do I live in such courageous freedom? Do I see and meet the needs of others? Or am I indifferent? Has the necessary isolation of so many over the past months helped us see more clearly how we are all connected? Today as you listen to news or read the paper, check your immunity to indifference. Build up those antibodies through care and compassion.
The Gospel passages early in Ordinary Time are full of optimism. Jesus comes to Galilee to proclaim the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus tells the Eleven to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.” Jesus claims everyone is his family: “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Very large crowds gather around Jesus to hear his teachings, such as the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. Optimism permeates the Gospel. It should permeate our lives, too. After all, we know the end of the story, the climax of the Good News: Risen Life with Christ in God.
“The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being, with God That’s the root of our reality” (Beatrice Bruteau). Our days can be dull, unfulfilling, seemingly pointless. Or the events around us can be chaotic, even irrational. But beneath our days that hardly resemble reality, there is the deepest root of our reality: God. Supreme Being. Creator of the Universe. Love. Pure Love. Unconditional Love. Love without limit. Love so particular in its focus that this Love lasers in on me. That’s my deepest truth.