I read the book Spreading the Fire: the Story of the Sisters of Notre Dame in California 1924-2010 by Sr. Mary Joanne Wittenburg, SND. The hardships the Sisters endured filled me with empathy for the loneliness, inconveniences, and backbreaking work they encountered. Although more recent times lessened the challenges, similar challenges met them in their mission to Uganda. Several of these Sisters I came to know through meeting them at SND gatherings and retreats. Along with empathy I felt pride at their single-minded devotion to God and God’s work. As I turned the last page, I realized that the history of California is becoming the history of SND-USA. How enriched our history through California’s past, present and future.
Nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the new patronal feast for us Sisters of Notre Dame, we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like all feasts, this day is less about the saint and more about the marvelous work of God. We celebrate all that God has done in Mary and which Mary allowed to be done to her. The Gospel chosen for the day may be the genealogy of Jesus (again the focus on God-with-us). Joseph took Mary into his home for his wife. Together they prepared for the birthday of their Son. All things “work for good,” so let us celebrate God and God’s work in Mary—with cake and ice cream!
In her book At the Still Point, Sarah Arthur writes, “Summer is nothing short of miraculous, a kind of extended intoxicating dream.” As students and parents wake up to alarm clocks now that school has resumed, they may feel rudely awakened. The intoxication of freedom from homework and schedules still clings to them. Yet the calendar claims summer still has a month, so let us dream.
Dream of the flavors. Late August is a sumptuous time. Tomatoes and peaches titillate nostrils with heady sweetness. Sweet corn and late melons become a gustatory feast. We cultivate our tastes on the ripeness of fruits and vegetables in full flavor. Savor the last fruits of summer, and let them possess you.
Dream of the sights. Sunflowers delight the eyes. Kayaks dot the rivers. Monarch butterflies add splashes of orange. Maple trees hint red and yellow.
Dream of sounds. Evenings are deafening with cicada song. Grass and leaves begin rough modulation before full autumnal crunch. Strains of children’s shouts grow louder in anticipation of their decrescendo with the coming winter. Milk the delight, relish the dream, stand transfixed, and wake to a new season.
I’m not a professional painter, but I enjoy the challenge of painting a room. Recently I painted two classrooms. (Full disclosure: Someone came behind me with the tricky trimming around light switches and smart boards.) Dip the roller, raise it high, smooth the paint and keep it even. Repeat. There’s something contemplative about the repetitive movement. Last year our congregation had a general conference in Tanzania. An important topic was the characteristics of our Notre Dame culture. Having begun religious life in 1970, I’ve imbibed these characteristics but was rather surprised to see striving for excellence among the 21 traits. Of course, I always saw striving for excellence in my SND teachers, and our formators required excellence of us, and I myself have driven myself to excellence. But I guess I never put striving for excellence into so many words to describe our international culture beginning in the 1800’s. Yet that may be why I enjoy painting. It’s relaxing and contemplative, and perhaps I can step back to see a job well done—proof of our ND culture.
When someone cries, tears spring to my own eyes. Just reading about someone else’s crying can do the same. In mid-July we hear the story of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. The part that brings a catch to my throat occurs when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers: “Joseph could no longer control himself in the presence of all his attendants, so he cried out, ‘Have everyone withdraw from me!’ Thus no one else was about when he made himself known to his brothers. But his sobs were so loud that the Egyptians heard him. . . ” as he said “I am Joseph.”
Having lived in a whole new world as a governor in Egypt, Joseph shared his world of plenty with the sons of Israel. Joseph chose compassion, extending the compassionate love of God, to those who wanted to kill him.
Extending compassion is part of our Notre Dame charism. Our foundress Sister Maria Aloysia served wherever needed. Her free heart quickly responded to any need. She had compassion—a word meaning willing to suffer with. We are reminded to suffer with, maybe even cry with. The world needs our loud sobs.
Our hearts go out to farmers whose crops are behind schedule or not planted at all. This year there is little hope that corn will be knee high by the Fourth of July. Perhaps the best hope of discouraged farmers is above the ankles and up the shins. For what do Sisters pray as they gather for the Liturgy of the Hours? Along with the intercessions in the prescribed Evening Prayer we pray for the needs of the world far and near. Almost without exception we pray for the farmers—for themselves and their families, as well as for all those whom they feed.
Each week Sister Joanne Mary Frania collects the prayer requests sent to her or through social media, and these are sent to all the Sisters of our province. These requests are added to our communal and personal prayer.
Perhaps you’ve sung the camp song “We’re All Together Again.” That could be the theme song for us Sisters as we gather in July for many occasions: retreat, jubilee celebrations, national gatherings, and business. No matter the occasion, the event deepens the living of our charism. Deeply experiencing God’s goodness and provident care, we gather in joyful simplicity. Fun and laughter abound in a July 4th picnic. “Bingo anyone?” “Anyone for a boat ride or swim?” Jubilees are a time to reminisce—often with a lot of self-deprecating humor—as we look at old photos and remember the foibles of novitiate days. As our sisters come in from places like Florida and Maryland, they and we catch up on one another’s lives. Who is sick? Who is moving to a new home or ministry? Who has great news to share? When we gather, almost invariably a statue of Mary is in our midst. Our Lady, Notre Dame, continually reminds us to listen to the Word of God and respond, “Whatever You will.” Too soon we will be returning to our places of ministry—New Orleans, Indianapolis, or around the corner. Renewed and refreshed we are off to evangelize—still “all together again” in our vowed life, community spirit, and trust in God’s goodness and provident care.
It is a relief to be back in Ordinary Time. Although Lent and Easter, especially the Sacred Triduum, are very meaningful to me, those seasons are stressful. We run from ashes to Easter Candle. (And even after that we have the liturgical details that come with Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi.) Ordinary Time has a walking pace. Yet it has its challenges, too. For the next 30+ weeks the Sunday gospels call us to complete the mission of Jesus. “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51), and we must do the same. We cannot look back once we determine to follow Jesus. Completing his mission takes multitudinous forms. Big issues of climate change, immigration reform, and all types of poverty confront us. Then there’s the annoying little stuff, the daily frictions that test our love of neighbor. The mission of Jesus was to bring about the reign of justice and peace reconciling all things to God in loving unity. What a tall order! I can’t even imagine what it all really means. I only hope that you and I somehow join our actions to Christ’s own mission–even if only at a walking pace.
When I saw the movie Breakthrough I gasped at the moment the three boys fell through the ice. The next few minutes were harrowing and horrifying, as the one boy descended into the dark water. Later I reflected on the deep plunge the neophytes took at the Easter Vigil. They willingly died with Christ in order to be raised with Him.
The ritual of baptism buried the neophytes with Christ. As happened in the harrowing of hell, Christ grasped their hands and pulled them out. For all of us who are baptized, our hope is in Christ. Jesus broke the chains of death and descended among the dead. In his victory, we are risen. May we always accept the outstretched hand of God.
Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection are bound up with the mystery of the Incarnation. It was the Incarnation which began Christ’s kenosis, his self-emptying when he left heaven for earth. His death fulfills kenosis when his emptying became complete. By dying, Jesus rejoins the Father, sits at His right hand, and sends the Spirit. Our baptism unites us with Christ’s death and resurrection in the mystery of our salvation. We are also thus united with Christ’s incarnation, to be fulfilled when all things are put beneath Christ’s feet and Christ becomes head over all.