Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, said, “We do not have to be saviours of the world! We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.” As church attendance shrinks, there is something we can do: invite one person at a time. Raise up in one soul a desire to worship, to serve, to form bonds. Then do the same tomorrow.
While I put effort into staying focused on the Mass, the effort escapes into a menagerie of thoughts: solving problems, outlining my day, and smiling at the baby in the next pew, Realizing I have no attention on the Mystery before me, I focus again only to become distracted the next second. Etty Hillesum claims that a quiet hour isn’t simple: “A lot of unimportant inner littler and bits and pieces have to be swept out first. Even a small head can be piled high inside with irrelevant distractions.” As Hillesum writes about her desire for “a vast empty plain, with none of that treacherous undergrowth to impede the view so that something of ‘God’ can enter you, and something of ‘love,’ too,” it seems appropriate that the title of her autobiography is An Interrupted Life.
Imagine driving between two walls of fire, almost impenetrable smoke hiding the road whose destination is far from certain. Engulfed in fear and impending disaster, how does one function? Watching the California fires and hearing of their ferocity, I think of these persons whose terror is beyond my imagining. Henri Nouwen writes, “As we feel the pain of our own losses, our grieving hearts open our inner eye to a world in which losses are suffered far beyond our own little world of family, friends, and colleagues.” In the face of others’ greater suffering, how can we bemoan a flat tire, a lost contest, a failed exam, a burnt dinner? Perhaps we should feel blessed to have such small things to bear.
Parker J. Palmer wrote: “The marvelous thing about learning from a story is that a story never ends, so our learning from it need not end either.” Whether the story’s last line is “And they lived happily ever after” or the main character rides off into the sunset, stories live on inside me. No day is complete without my reading America magazine or a historical novel or a spiritual book. The next day I wonder how the historical characters are doing, as if they’re still churning butter or outsmarting the Gestapo. The features in America become conversation starters at dinner. A spiritual book may create an openness in me for the next day’s lectionary readings. Like yeast in dough the lessons ferment in me.
Having just finished The Promise of Dawn by Lauraine Snelling, I have learned about sticking up for myself as Signe did, about growing in affection and respect as her husband Rune did, about the ability to soften hardened hearts as two families, one kind and dependent, the other demanding and cruel, shared one roof.
As Macrina Wiederkehr suggests, “Read with a vulnerable heart. Expect to be blessed in the reading,” and the learning will not end.
Many jack-o-lanterns have smiling faces. I can think of two reasons that this might be so. The first is the fact that Halloween preludes All Saints Day. And who are the saints? The saints are those who imitated Christ the Light of the World, who said to his followers, “You are the light of the world.” It’s the light in the jack-o-lantern that illumines steps and sidewalks. It’s the light radiating from the saints that illumines our way to Christ.
The second reason comes from the fact that Jesus had the last laugh. On Good Friday the devil laughed in derision: “Jesus is dead. He was just a fake. Now evil will rule.” But Jesus had the last laugh in triumph when he rose from the dead. Jesus Christ conquered evil and death. And forevermore we are privileged to share in Christ’s last laugh.
Carve space in yourself to let God’s light shine through.
There’s a difference between saying I drive a Ford and I am driving a Ford. The first simply claims that there’s a car sitting in the parking lot. The second is the activity of traveling down the road. In a similar way, we can think of sacraments as past events or events that are ongoing in their effects.
We can say “I am baptized,” the event of our baptism perhaps years ago. But we can say 24/7 I am living out the grace of my baptism, I am cooperating with the grace of my baptism, I am keeping my baptismal promises. Similarly, married persons can say “I am married.” However, the sacrament’s effects continue long after the wedding ceremony. Married persons might say, “I am trying to be the best spouse I can be” or “I am living out my marriage vows.” A priest can say that he is ordained, but he can also claim that his ministry lies in anointing the sick, forgiving sin, presiding at the Eucharist.
Let’s put more ING into reception of the sacraments!
Recently the lectionary readings focused on the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet upset because the people of Nineveh converted their ways. Why shouldn’t Jonah have been pleased that such an enormous city would listen to one man’s warning? Was Jonah even acting logically?
We’ve probably all felt anger for little or no reason. And we’ve probably been illogical at times as we bit the hand that fed us, or when we lashed out at the persons who love us most. Eventually Jonah recognizes God as a God of mercy. When we sin in our illogical ways, we can ask God for forgiveness. We know the God of Mercy will pardon us—even though logic says there is no reason to do so.
I love this idea from Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ: “Your asking is only seconding the motion. The first motion is always from God.” God plants desires in our hearts and minds. We become aware of these inspired ideas, ruminate on them, and perhaps come to desire what God desires for us. We then pray for the grace to follow “our” desires. However, this is seconding the motion. Then God and I vote, and the vote is unanimous!
I am not an animal lover. I’m afraid of dogs, so I will be far away from the blessing of pets that will occur in my parish on Friday, October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. Will the prayers quiet all the animals, or will the holy water start a dog and cat fight? You can tell me later.
Yet I know I should have more affection for animals. After all, all creatures are children of God. According to Richard Rohr, all creatures bear the DNA of God. No exceptions.
Through the intercession of Saint Francis may we see Christ in every creature. May we see the incarnation of God’s love in every living being from the aardvark to the zebra. And in case you won’t see an aardvark or zebra today, see the incarnation of God’s love in the persons you meet.
In 1850 the Sisters of Notre Dame came into being as Hilligonde Wolbring became Sister Maria Aloysia and Elisabeth Kuhling became Sister Maria Ignatia, the first novices of the new congregation begun in Coesfeld, Germany. Would our congregation have ever begun without the friendship and shared teaching ministry of Hilligonde and Elisabeth?
Now nearly 170 years later friendship and common ministry are hallmarks of the Sisters of Notre Dame as we celebrate Foundation Day on October 1 and move into new chapters. Over the past few years plans for unification of the four provinces in the United Sates have been underway. On this Foundation Day we know the name of our new united province—Immaculate Conception Province. We know the names of our new provincial and her council. And we are looking forward to our official unification in July, 2020. Through all these years and throughout the process of unification we have grown in friendship and continue our common ministry to make known the goodness and provident care of God.