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Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

In tomorrow’s Gospel Jesus is sending out the Apostles, two by two to bring the Gospel message. Our own living in harmony with one another gives greater impact to the message and makes us credible witnesses to those who are thirsting for faith.

This is a meditation on this Gospel from one of my sisters:

“. . . to send them out two by two . . .”

Why two by two? If Jesus had sent the Twelve out individually, they could have gone to more places and encountered more people.

Going out two by two allows for mutual support and the opportunity not only to preach the Good News, but also to witness to it by the way they treat each other. They can support each other in the sense that they can decide together what to do in unforeseen circumstances. They can remind each other of Jesus’ instructions and care for each other in case of injury or sickness. Being together gives them greater protection from danger during travel.

Forming a small community of two also gives the apostles an opportunity to witness to the mutual love that Jesus expects of them. We can profit from their example in our lives, too. It might seem more expedient to do something alone, but collaboration, joint efforts, and group projects often offer invaluable benefits.

Yes, a mother can make cookies faster by herself than when her four-year-old is “helping” her. But what would be lost? The child enjoys benefits ranging from development of motor skills and a love of cooking, to a confidence in being loved and valued. The mother receives helpful practice in patience and the happiness of seeing her child find joy. Both of them experience the bond of growing love.

Yes, a pastor of a parish can more quickly plan an event by deciding everything himself than by discussing it with a team of parishioners. But if he involves others, he gains an opportunity for greater participation, with people doing what they do best. He gains greater insight, inspiration, and richness, and a growth in the communion and mutual appreciation in the parish.

If you have enjoyed this meditation, you’ll find meditations on all the Gospels of  Ordinary Time in: Ordinary Grace Weeks 1-17.

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“They’re all out!”

Along with everyone else in the world, we sisters have been keeping prayer vigil as rescue attempts were underway for the 12 Thai boys stuck in a flooded cave with their soccer coach. In fact, on our chapel door there’s a note where we’ve been keeping track of the progress. First there were four rescued successfully, then eight more made their way out with the help of Navy Seal divers. We prayed this morning for the remaining boys to be rescued. I checked the news as I sat down to prepare this newsletter and breathed a sigh of relief at the jubilant headlines: “They’re all out!”

The plight of these boys captured the heart and imagination of the world and has galvanized different countries to work together to find a way to rescue them.

There is something so beautiful, so human, so deeply sacred when we join hands together to save each other. Although it was a difficult, complex, and dramatic rescue, one that even took the life of one of the rescuers, the plight of these children was a straightforward issue: the children were in mortal danger from a natural disaster and needed adults to rescue them—quickly.

It might be easier for us to project our hearts’ noblest sentiments onto situations that are traumatic yet untangled with politics, confusion, and too many unknowns. When I think of the over 3000 children separated from their parents in the past weeks at the border between US and Mexico and who are now in government custody, I have terrible pictures in my mind: of children under five expected to defend themselves in hostile courtrooms; of children moved across the country so that parents have no idea where they are—and DNA must figure out who is related to whom; and of the hashtag #wherearethegirls asking why only boys appear in released photographs. There are so many issues, so much confusion, that my own heart is left feeling paralyzed.

These children, too, call out the noblest sentiments within a Christian heart. But they also bring up for each of us the stories, emotions, histories, beliefs, judgments, and biases that are part of every human life. It is easier to hold our breath with the world, rooting for the safety of the boys in Thailand, than it is to sort through issues the children of immigrants on our borders raise for us. Do they deserve any less from us?

So let us step aside, nobly, from all the adult issues regarding immigration, from our political beliefs, so that we can at least collectively hold our breath and pray and work for the safety of children as young as one year old, who right now are trapped, not in a cave but in a system, without the care of their parents—just like the Thai boys. Let us see them as helpless children, in their deepest sacred human dignity, and remember them in prayer until each one of them has been rescued and returned to the grateful arms of their parents.

Amen.

by Sr. Kathryn Hermes, FSP

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Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Tomorrow’s Gospel speaks about Jesus coming to the synagogue and beginning to teach. Those who were there begin to question his liberty in doing so. Whenever Jesus cured someone he would ask if they believed that he could cure them. What is my faith like in the various circumstances of my life?

This is a meditation on this Gospel from one of my sisters:

“He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

The synagogue is abuzz—both the men’s and women’s sections. As the murmuring grows louder, the man who is commenting on the Scriptures pauses. Hardly anyone notices—so absorbed are they in their own conversations:

“Why is he trying to teach us?”

“He’s just the carpenter—Mary’s son.”

“James and Joses are his brothers.”

“So are Judas and Simon.”

Gesturing toward the women’s section, one of the men adds, “And aren’t his sisters here with us?”

Gradually the townsfolk begin to realize that Jesus has stopped speaking and is staring at them. They quiet down.

“The only place a prophet isn’t given recognition,” Jesus observes, “is in his own hometown and among his own relatives.”

Mark doesn’t relate what happened next—only that a few sick people presented themselves to Jesus and he healed them. He also states that Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith he found in his native Nazareth. It seems that few people believed in Jesus beyond his mother and perhaps his aunt, mother of James and Joses, who would one day witness his crucifixion from afar.

Jesus may have wondered: Why are their minds closed? Are prophets expected to emerge from nowhere with no human origins? In any case, his hands were tied by the townspeople’s lack of faith.

God created us as free beings and doesn’t force us to believe. But, as Saint Augustine would observe, he who created us without our consent won’t save us without our consent. We have to do our part.

If you have enjoyed this meditation, you’ll find meditations on all the Gospels of  Ordinary Time in: Ordinary Grace Weeks 1-17.

Listening to the Heart

Listening to the Heart of Humanity, Listening to the Heart of God

Listening isn’t as easy as it sounds. We all know how often we hear or see something, come to a conclusion about what is occurring, only to discover after inquiry that something entirely different was happening.

Actually, this just happened to me today. The mind is prone to creating explanations for what we perceive with our senses. “He doesn’t want me here.” “She is trying to get out of helping.” “They don’t care about the neighborhood.” And on and on…. These are stories: commentaries knit together from the memories, experiences, reactions, wounds of a lifetime. These kinds of stories seem to make a lot of sense, but actually often don’t add up to the truth.

Truth. If we want to listen to the heart of humanity and the heart of God, we are seeking the truth of what it is like to be a human in today’s world, and what God feels toward us as he bends over us with great tenderness.

So why are we listening to the heart of humanity AND the heart of God? If we listen only to the human experience, we can easily lose our way. The heart of God is our GPS for understanding the true dignity of the human person and how that dignity is lived in the historic transitions the world is now undergoing.

So, to really hear the authentic heart of humanity and the heart of God, we need to navigate past stories, our own and others. We need to dig deep for the facts, which means developing skills for understanding what and who is behind the way the news is reported, and choosing our information sources wisely. We need to identify the story-telling which like weeds chokes our vision of the deepest reality of what is happening: the connections, the mystery, the needs, the dreams. And we need to really hear what is at the heart of the situation.

We invite you to listen with us. Too many polarizing issues are tearing apart the country and the world. We aren’t listening to the issues, but the hearts of the people on every side who are trying to find their way through them. We are listening to the heart of God. God teaches us in his Son to fight for our brothers and sisters, even when we disagree with them or believe what they are doing is morally wrong. Jesus loved us when we were yet sinners, and invites us to do the same for each other.

Listening together needs a method. So this is what we propose:

My Sisters will post on the blog (and share to the Group) somewhat weekly on an ongoing basis a video, image, link to a poem, scripture passage, link to an essay, or media literacy component. The My Sisters community can share comments and similar types of material. We will steer clear of political discussions regarding the issues, in an effort to hear more clearly what God may be asking of us.

And so we begin with this prayer:

New Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord Jesus, give us an awareness of the massive forces threatening our world.
Where there is armed conflict,
let us stretch out our arms to our brothers and sisters.
Where there is abundance,
let there be simple lifestyles and sharing.
Where there is poverty,
let there be dignity and constant striving for justice.
Where there is selfish ambition,
let there be humble service.
Where there is injustice,
let there be atonement.
Where there is despair,
let there be hope in the Good News.
Where there are wounds of division,
let there be unity and wholeness.
Help us to be committed to the building of your kingdom,
not seeking to be cared for, but to care;
not expecting to be served, but to serve others;
not desiring material security,
but placing our security in your love.
For it is only in loving imitation of you, Lord,
that we can discover the healing springs of life
to bring about new birth on our earth
and hope for the world. Amen.
 

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Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Tomorrow’s Gospel describes a woman who has been afflicted for many years with hemorrhages. She knew that if she could only touch the tassel of his cloak she would be healed. Jesus was not only sensitive to her need for healing but gave her a chance to proclaim this great good to everyone around them.

This is a meditation on this Gospel from one of my sisters:

“Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him . . .”

Humans react instinctively in certain situations. Some things are hard-wired into us. If you are walking through uncut grass and notice something long and skinny rustling at your feet, chances are you’ll jump back five feet before you realize that it was only a stick and not a snake. Survival mode takes over before we even have a chance to form a rational thought or make a careful analysis.

I like to think of this cure of the woman with the hemorrhage as a moment when Jesus’ human nature kicks in, and he acts before he has time to think about it. Power goes out of him first, and a split second later he is aware of it. Instinctively he heals this woman.

Jesus is God, and his impulsive desire for the wholeness and integrity of this woman takes on a dimension that we mere mortals cannot attain. He can heal by willing it to be so. We cannot. But all the same, I wonder whether this reaction of Jesus gives us a glimpse of how our human nature is meant to be sensitive to the needs of others. Clearly Jesus’ gut-level reactions are not turned in upon his health and well-being only—they are opened up to embrace the other. Is it not a result of original sin that we see the other as a potential threat . . . that we can talk about looking out for number one at the expense of others?

Virtue is defined as the habit of doing good. It means that one’s desires are so in balance that choosing what is right, good, and uplifting comes naturally to a person. That is a picture of virtue at an instinctual level, one that I want to aspire to within the limits of my human nature.

If you have enjoyed this meditation, you’ll find meditations on all the Gospels of  Ordinary Time in: Ordinary Grace Weeks 1-17.

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John the Baptist: Fire and Hope

His message was, to say the least, a little scary. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (…) Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Okay: make that very scary!

But for all its scariness, John the Baptist’s message is filled with hope, the hope of a new world, a new way of looking at life, a new salvation. He came, after all, to prepare the way for Jesus. He came out of the desert, a strange, lonely, and no doubt frightening figure, to bring the world the greatest news it ever received.

As we read in St. Luke’s gospel on St. John the Baptist’s feast day, the announcement of John’s birth—and the event itself—is tremendously important, especially as it runs parallel to the same occurrences in Jesus’ life. There’s no other saint who has separate liturgical celebrations of both his birth and his death!

In the Eastern tradition, John is known not as “the Baptist” but as “the Forerunner,” the one who prepared the way and who in fact sent away his own followers who became Jesus’ first disciples. He was in essence the last of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, with a message of turning away from selfishness and embracing God. In a way John is a bridge between prophetic revelation and Jesus.

John preached words that are also precursors to what Jesus had to say: when people asked him what they should do, he was clear: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none,” he said. “And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors—the most hated individuals of the time—asked him for counsel, and he replied, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”

As soon as John baptized Jesus he deliberately moved back into obscurity; his role had been fulfilled. Murdered later by Herod, John became a popular saint in the early Church: there were fifteen churches dedicated to him in Constantinople along.

His feast-day is assigned exactly six months before the nativity of Christ, since John was six months older than the Lord. As soon as the Feast of Christmas was established in the fifth century, the date of the Baptist’s birth was assigned to June 24. In 506, the Council of Agde listed the Nativity of Saint John among the highest feasts of the year.

And it’s a popular celebration!

All over Europe, from Scandinavia to Spain, and from Ireland to Russia, Saint John’s Day festivities are closely associated with the ancient nature lore of the great summer festival of pre-Christian times. Fires are lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of his feast. These “Saint John’s fires” burn brightly and quietly along the fiords of Norway, on the peaks of the Alps, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, and on the mountains of Spain.

 Fishermen from Brittany keep this custom even while far out at sea in the Arctic Ocean. They hoist a barrel filled with castoff clothing to the tip of the mainsail yard and set the contents on fire. All ships of the fishing fleet light up at the same time, about eight o’clock in the evening. The men gather around the mast, pray and sing.

 Another custom is that of lighting many small fires in the valleys and plains. People gather around, jump through the flames, and sing traditional songs in praise of the saint or of summer.

(Francis X. Weiser, S.J.: Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs)

Throughout Europe, there are fireworks, dances, and feasting. In Italy, fried pastries coated with honey called origliette are served. In many places it’s a tradition to gather a perennial herb called St. John’s Wort that can be used in a tea or a tincture for medicinal purposes (it’s also said to drive evil spirits away!). In Poland, flowers are made into wreaths and floated down the river in honor of Christ’s baptism by St. John in the Jordan.

In some places it’s customary to eat strawberries (Our Lady is said to accompany children who pick strawberries on St. John’s Day). In Sweden, pickled herring, boiled potatoes, sour cream, crisp bread, beer, and schnapps are enjoyed. Spanish celebrations involve figs and a savory pie made with tuna. In Ireland, “goody” (white bread broken in pieces and boiled with milk, sugar, and spice) is a feast-day specialty.

In France, the celebration is called Feux de la Saint-Jean: young unmarried people have to jump over the bonfire if they want to find their soulmate before the end of the year; and the festivities always end with a dance. And in Québec, it’s an official holiday with parades.

Why not start a St. John’s Day tradition of your own? Light a fire (it can be a candle if necessary!), perhaps read from today’s Gospel, and pray to St. John for his intercession that the summer may be blessed in homes, fields, and family; and then it’s time for feasting! You can also create beautiful wreaths to hang in your home (and replace next year as part of your celebration).

Happy St. John the Baptist day!

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 O God who has made this an honored day for us by the birth of St. John: bestow upon thy people the grace of spiritual joys, and guide the hearts of all thy faithful into the way of eternal salvation.

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Poverty of Spirit

Jesus chose for himself a life of poverty and he practiced this virtue throughout his earthly life, in total detachment and in the most perfect way. He also said “blessed are the poor,” promising them heavenly wealth. Poverty must be something very precious if the Son of God himself chose it…. (VPC116)

Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo