Inspiration

The Lesson of the Sleeping St Joseph Statue

A dear friend of mine had only months to live. Her life had been complex. Woven into each decade were unforeseen sorrows that still scarred her spirit. A visit from the local parish had left her unsettled and worried as she faced her final goodbyes, her last yes to God, her final look back on her life, the reality of all that had been. She began to feel that all she had done was somehow now written in stone and could never be made right.

She called me up not knowing what to expect, if there was any hope for her, afraid even to ask lest she find out that her pastoral visit was really her final door…closed…on hope.

We settled into a quiet conversation. I sensed she was clutching at straws, trying to pin down the mystery of life and death with some logical explanation. As she turned and twisted her life this way and that in an attempt to understand, she generated explanations and analysis which didn’t seem to satisfy. I could see what was happening. She was going through an enlargement of her spirit that now reached far beyond the story she had lived. Faced with her imminent eternal reality, she like a candle was already being lit with the radiant FOREVER that awaited her, yet she was aware of how she had not fully grown into the spiritual maturity that suddenly was becoming clear to her.

As I listened to her, there came to my mind the image of St. Joseph…sleeping.

Here he was the new guardian and foster-father of not just any baby, but the Light of the World and the Son of the Eternal One…. They were escaping imminent danger as King Herod sought the child to kill him. They were resting exhausted in the desert as they were escaping to Egypt. And Joseph slept. The stakes were too high for him to rely on his own strategy to care for the Son of God and the Son of Mary. His sleeping acknowledged his fatigue, his weakness, his sorrow, as well as his trust in the mysterious strategies of the Eternal One that often make no sense to us. This is the lesson of the sleeping St. Joseph who knew that even as he was a “little one,” his every need was cared for by the divine providence of the Eternal Father.

So I offered my friend this image of the sleeping Joseph. I encouraged her to be okay with being a little one. I can imagine that Jesus had a deeply affectionate memory of his earthly father when in his public ministry he prayed to his Father in heaven with a loud voice: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to the little ones” (Mt. 11:25).

The little ones. It is okay, my friend, to be a little one.

To have the courage to rest, knowing that the way God sorts things out is always in our favor, that he sees what no one else knows, that he isn’t trapped in the stories we write of our lives but sees the alternate story HE is writing with our lives.

St. Joseph, model of the little ones, is the model of every virtue in the Christian life. Pope Paul VI called St. Joseph, “a poor, honest, hardworking, perhaps even timorous man, but one with unfathomable interior life, from which very singular directions and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions, such as that decision to put his liberty at once at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and the nourishment of the family; in this way he offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the imponderable demands raised by the astonishing coming of the Messiah, to whom he was to give the everlastingly blessed name of Jesus (Mt. 1:21), whom he was to acknowledge as the effect of the Holy Spirit, and his own son only in a juridical and domestic way” (Homily of Pope Paul VI on St Joseph, March 27, 1969).

I have in my room a statue of the sleeping St Joseph, but in our convent we have a large St. Joseph statue (and many small statues in individual rooms and offices) where we put our requests this great Saint and Provider to help us with things we need. St. Joseph has never been “sleeping on the job” when it comes to caring for our community’s needs. I have been praying to St Joseph for his guidance in prayer and holiness since 2008 when I wrote the book St. Joseph: Help in Life’s Emergencies, when my own devotion to St Joseph began. And I can always tell when I forget to pray to him. The uber graces begin to dwindle. St. Joseph is very respectful and doesn’t impose himself upon us. He waits to be asked.

Powerful graces are won for us through the intercession of St. Joseph even in our spiritual life.

Saint Teresa of Avila believed so strongly in the power of St. Joseph that she once said, “To other saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity—but to this glorious saint, I know by experience, he has given the power to help us in all. Our Lord would have us understand that as he was subject to St. Joseph on earth—for St. Joseph, bearing the title of father and being Jesus’ guardian, could command him—so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience.”

So whether you are in great need of interior peace, as my friend was, or asking for the grace of a good death for yourself or others…or you are turning to St. Joseph for material needs for yourself or your loved ones…or asking St. Joseph to guide and heal and protect the Church, you can be assured that this great saint will teach us the same trust in the Eternal Father’s providential care that he had learned as the guardian of Jesus. We will learn that we can sleep peacefully in God’s protective compassion, knowing that we are well cared for.

Here is a prayer to St. Joseph by St. Francis de Sales that you may wish to pray today on the Feast of St. Joseph:

Glorious St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, grant us your paternal protection, we beseech you by the heart of Jesus Christ. O you, whose power extends to all our necessities and can render possible for us the most impossible things, open your fatherly eyes to the needs of your children.

In the trouble and distresses which afflict us, we confidently have recourse to you. Deign to take under your charitable charge these important and difficult matters, cause of our worries. Make its happy outcome be for God’s glory and for the good of his devoted servants. Amen.

By Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Inspiration

Don’t Miss Jesus in the Bethlehem of Your Life

It all began quite spontaneously, unintentionally. One of those things that settle on you like a gentle night or a soft dew. Peace. Possibility.

We sit there a long while, holding hands, our fingers curled together protectively, vulnerably. Understanding communicated through simple gestures. I look at her and ask Jesus: “Jesus, will you show me how you are in this my sister, my sister waiting for you to come.”

In the evening I discover her waiting quietly, as the nurse prepares her supper. She is alone. I slip into a chair beside her and reach quietly for her hand. She says something I can’t understand, but I know she is speaking to me.

“Jesus, how are you within my sister, my sister who is waiting for you to come?”

I close my eyes and wait for Jesus to guide me to whatever he wishes me to see. I sense a brilliance, a happiness. The joy of God who is putting the finishing touches on a brilliant gem that gives him immense pleasure.

When I’m in a hurry, too busy to sit for 30 minutes to hold Sister’s hand while she eats, I can’t see HIS face. When I’m too efficient to notice someone who can’t follow my train of thought, too important to do the little services or hear the whispered secrets, I miss HIS eyes.

In these days we are preparing for the celebration of Christmas. We are looking forward to seeing Jesus in nativity sets and Christmas movies and in Christmas liturgies, and all this is good. But let us not miss HIM where he is now, still in the Bethlehem of our lives, in the poverty of our need, for after all that is what Jesus took on himself when he came to earth.

Jesus has come, and he has stayed. He is here and his face is wherever there is human sorrow and joy. See him, and Christmas is every day.

My heart cries out with the ancient words of Scripture:

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power.

Give us new life, and we will call upon your name. (Ps 80: 2-3, 19)

By Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Inspiration, Uncategorized

All Souls: Thoughts and Memories

Commemorating our deceased loved ones is very much a part of our lives and the life of the whole world, for that matter!

I was once visiting Guam and happened to be there on November 2nd of that year. We were invited by our hosts to go with them to the cemetery to keep vigil and to pray and to celebrate the lives of relatives and friends who had gone before us in the sleep of peace. What an experience! People were there as early as the crack of dawn, praying and chanting, along with processions and song. I shall never forget that experience.

Go to any of the five continents throughout the world and you will find a wide variety of faith symbols that will leave you with much reverence and heartfelt prayer for those who have gone before us into eternity.

I remember my paternal grandfather making a trip to the cemetery every year on Palm Sunday to visit the graves of my grandmother and uncle, and bringing palm branches, flowers and a votive candle to recall their lives and to pray for them in a special way of remembrance aside from his daily prayers for their repose.

Each culture has their customs, tributes and vigils to offer that are deeply ingrained in their hearts as they recall the blessings and virtues these souls have lived during their lives.

I think that All Souls’ Day is closely linked to All Saints’ Day to remind us that there are souls, even today, who have lived heroic lives in the face of their everyday trials and tribulations and left us examples of fortitude, patience, and constancy in the face of the same difficulties that we too may have. Our ancestors are worthy of our veneration and lasting remembrance.

I hope this generation will have the opportunity I had of experiencing this deep devotion, of venerating loved ones and acquaintances who have passed from this life to the next in holy peace, of remembering the dead for happy times experienced together and for the virtues they lived.

by Sr Barbara Gerace, FSP

Read more: Purgatory, Candy, and All Saints by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Inspiration

Everyday Grace: How to enter into another’s pain

We all have felt the intense pain of loss, and know how terribly isolating it can be. But in some ways it’s even more difficult to be with someone who is in pain than it is to experience it ourselves. We want to fix things, to make it all right again for them, and when we cannot, we feel frustrated and angry. How can we deal?

  • Remember God is there. God doesn’t rush in to fix things or to sugarcoat anything; God is there for us for the long haul, though everything. If we remember that, it helps us to just be with someone else who is suffering.
  • Validate the other person’s pain. The worst thing you can do is say “Cheer up, it’s not really that bad.” Even if it doesn’t feel “that bad” to you, it does to them. Respect that and don’t minimize others’ feelings.
  • Be Christ to the person in pain. Don’t try to come up with answers; just offer Christ’s presence. The most difficult thing is to do nothing and just be; but you’re not doing it by yourself.

No one understands why we suffer, and there are no “right” prefabricated answers to pain. All that there is, is presence. You can be that presence; you can make sure that the person in pain is not alone. The ability to freely enter into the suffering of another is a reflection of God’s love, and it’s what we’re all called to do.

 

Inspiration

How Mary strengthens us as we carry the cross

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). Early in the fourth century, Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. During the excavation for the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher (to be built on the spot that tradition held was over the Savior’s tomb), workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. The cross immediately became an object of veneration.

The following day, September 15, is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, stood with her Son as he hung on his cross, and she stands here with each of us as we carry the cross beside her Son. Whether the cross enters our life through loss, failure, sin, illness, relationships, Mary is with us because she knows our sorrow. She herself has lived through the agony of the moment-by-moment struggle to make sense of pain, to find a way forward, to try to reframe what is happening into something our minds can comprehend. And she knows the final leap of faith, the only thing that can make sense of the struggle between the force of Love and the shadows of darkness.

Here are three ways Mary strengthens me as I carry the cross:

  • She teaches me to see. When life is brought to a shabby wreck through illness, failure, fractured human relationships, the bitter awareness of sin, Mary assures me that my own Calvary’s are paradoxically the places of my greatest hope.
  • She teaches me to wait. The cross cannot be explained away. It defies logic. Mary teaches me that conclusions I may reach with my mind are necessarily incomplete when I am  dealing with the painful situations of life. As she pondered in her heart the death of her Son, she slowly waited for understanding.
  • She teaches me to trust. The cross is essentially how God works in and through the way-things-are to defeat the darkness that still struggles for the upper hand in my life. I have been blessed to realize, at least in my better moments, that I want to let God act. In the words of Mary, I am finally able to say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your will” (Lk 1:38).
These have made me stronger and you may find that they also make you stronger also when the cross looms large in your own life.

I’d like to introduce you to our new Just a Minute Series. When your burden is heavy these small take-me-with-you books will bring you light, love, and healing. It is like opening a window, taking in the fresh air, and gratefully receiving the sunshine. Each meditation takes just a few minutes to read, can be chosen at random, and is filled with encouragement and simple insights. These short meditations will enable you to connect with God’s heart through scripture and listen to what he is saying to you right here, right now.

by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, fsp
author of Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments

Inspiration, Uncategorized

“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

Inspiration

The Fruit of Love

Peace is a fruit of love, understanding and harmony…. (VPC137)  Be strong in the face of adversity that may befall us, bearing willingly for the love of the Lord the great and small sufferings which we encounter in daily life. Let us learn to suffer without complaining, taking everything from the hands of the Lord (VPC75).

Mother Thecla Merlo

Inspiration

Another Christ

The process of sanctification is a process of Christ-ification: “until Christ be formed in you.” Therefore we will be saint in the measure in which we live the life of Jesus Christ- or better, in the measure in which Jesus Christ lives in us.

“The Christian is another Christ.”

Blessed James Alberione

Inspiration

Mary, Mother of the Church, Mother of the Wounded

This year we celebrated a new feastday yesterday, the Monday after Pentecost: Mary, Mother of the Church. Pope Francis has added it to the liturgical calendar to bring out the connection between Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and how Mary is the mother of the Church and each one of us. Like a most tender mother, Mary helps each of us in our journey to Jesus. She is with us even in our personal wounds.

“Within your wounds hide me.” That line from the beautiful prayer Soul of Christ is very evocative, even haunting. It is addressed to Jesus, and while it can be said anytime, it is often prayed after receiving Holy Communion. What does it mean?

The Gospels tell us that after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, his glorified body bore the wounds he had suffered in his Passion and death on the Cross. They didn’t go away, but they were changed—transformed from marks of pain and death into brilliant signs of life and victory over death and sin. Those wounds were healed—he was raised to life again—but the very wounds that had caused his death now shine in glory in heaven. They are eternal reminders of his love, his wounded love.

What about Mary? Did she have wounds too? Yes! But they were not physical wounds on her body, but the pains and wounds she suffered in her spirit as she accompanied Jesus on the Way of the Cross. And just like Jesus still bears the marks of his wounds on his body, in some mysterious way Mary still bears the marks of her spiritual wounds in her soul even in heaven. They don’t cause her suffering any more, but they are glorified.

This seems hard to understand—that Mary might have wounds in heaven, even glorified wounds—but it makes perfect sense. Catholic tradition has honored Mary under the title “Our Lady of Sorrows.” I had always thought of that as honoring something that Mary had suffered on earth but was now over. Yes, the painful experience is over, but the spiritual wounds still remain in her heart. That is why she is the merciful and compassionate Mother.

So what does this have to do with Mary as Mother of the Church? She is Mother of the Church because she is not only the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, but she is also the Mother of all the members of the Church—each one of us.

Each one of us bears wounds from the crosses and trials of life,
from the effects of the sins of others
and from our own sins.
And because Mary is a wounded Mother
—though one without any sin—
she understands.
She is compassionate. She is merciful.
She is the mother of the whole Church and of each one of us.

So we can go to her with our own wounds, and we can bring to her the people we meet and may minister to, with all their wounds. How many people have been wounded by the ills of our secular culture and society! Think of family wounds, addictions, sexual sins, abortion, violence, and the list goes on. Mary understands. Though she never sinned, that doesn’t make her separate from us. Sometimes people think that Mary was so holy and sinless that she can’t relate to us. But she can because she was wounded, though without sin. On this new feast day, let’s ask Mary to cover our wounds with the glorified wounds of her heart, to bring us healing and peace.

By Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Inspiration

The Drone Pilot’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration

So you’ve finally committed to a regular Hour of Adoration at your parish or area Perpetual Adoration chapel! Thanks for keeping Our Lord company, and for making your own heart available to him in a new way, even if you feel a bit intimidated about the prospect of spending an extended period of time in silent prayer. The fact is, if you can fly a drone, you already have a basic outline for a fruitful period of adoration.

Not all aspects of drone piloting lend themselves to the life of prayer, of course. (For example, we kid ourselves if we think we are the pilot when it comes to prayer.) But there a few of the key elements to flying that really can offer some guidance when it comes to how we might approach Eucharistic adoration (or other regular practices of prayer).

  1. Establish a home point.

This part is automatic for the convent drone. The tablet or phone is GPS-enabled and so calculates just where the craft is positioned before take-off. It even announces it: “Home point established.” After take-off, no matter how convoluted the journey, the drone can always return to home point and land there, even if I’ve completely lost it from view (been known to happen).

In prayer, I have found that having a personal “pattern” or rhythm establishes a home point for my heart. Nothing elaborate: just one or two set prayers or psalms that set the stage for all that will follow.  Just as the drone doesn’t take off from the same home point every single time, my first formal prayers of the Hour of Adoration aren’t absolutely invariable. I might use the same set of prayers for several months or in alternation with another set. But I don’t come up with something new every morning. I have a home point.

This is what the Church does, too, in the Liturgy of the Hours: the “Invitatory Psalm,” the first psalm of the day, is almost always Psalm 95, although Psalms 100, 67, and 24 may also be used. If in the course of your Holy Hour you find yourself mightily distracted, you can “return to home point” to renew your recollection and focus. Good news: a meaningful song or image can be a great “home point” for your prayer, too!

  1. Calibrate the compass.

The importance of calibrating the drone’s compass (and anything else that can be calibrated) was made clear to me when I was trying to steer the Phantom between a building and a tree. While I was definitely pushing the joystick forward, the craft was determinedly moving about 40° backward. No matter what I did, the UAV responded in an unpredictable manner. (Since I am by no means an experienced navigator in the first place, this was a serious problem!)

Both the craft and the remote controller need calibration—but the craft’s compass needs to be aligned with true north before almost every flight. This makes that calibration a good image for the daily examen recommended by so many saints (most famously, Ignatius of Loyola, one of my personal favorites). You can find online many explanations and helps for making the examen; here is one example: http://www.pauline.org/Pauline-Books-Media-Blog/ArticleID/3316/How-Does-the-Examen-Work

  1. Keep your batteries charged.

Simpler craft only have an onboard battery and the remote controller battery. Higher-end UAVs (like the convent’s Phantom) make use of additional features on a tablet or phone connected to the remote controller. Hint: you don’t want any one of those batteries to die mid-flight.

It’s too easy to say that prayer keeps our spiritual batteries charged. Fact is, sometimes it can feel as though sometimes prayer uses the interior energy you expect it to provide! (Prayer can be work.) But there is a kind of prayer that I think does work almost like a portable charger: the prayer of thanksgiving. The canticle in Daniel 3 is a great litany, inviting all of creation—starting with the sun, moon and stars—to praise God. A lovely way to charge your batteries.

“God has so arranged things that his intelligent creatures find all their joy in praising him.”
—Ven. Francesco Chiesa

Adoration gives us a chance to thank God ahead of time for the blessings we will only recognize fully in the light of Heaven. Only in eternity will I see all the grace God is showering on me right now, and I will be so overwhelmed with amazement and love that if there can be regret in Heaven it will be that we did not give God unending love and praise from earth. So let us start now!

You are all good: I praise You for Your glory.
You are worthy of all love: let Your every creature praise You.
The Almighty has done great things for me! The Almighty himself! For me!

“Give him all the praise you know; he is more than you bestow; never can you match his due!” (English translation of Thomas Aquinas’ Sequence for Corpus Christi).

  1. Be aware of other flyers.

It is a drone operator’s responsibility to avoid not only any people (or animals or property) on the ground, but above all any actual airplanes in the area. This is a serious legal (and moral) requirement for operating a UAV. You have to be aware not just of where your craft is, but of anyone else who may be nearby.

And so it is, of course, in prayer. Adoration is not a solo flight, even in those early hours of solitary vigil with the Lord. Just as we never really pray the Lord’s prayer for our own private, individual needs (Jesus took care of that when he told us to start by saying, “Our” Father), our time of adoration belongs to the whole Church. It is an extension of the Mass, the worship offered by the “whole Christ” (as St Augustine said), and the intentions of the Mass continue in our prayer of adoration even if we do not renew those intentions explicitly.

“One million, two million, ten million souls weigh upon us,” Blessed James Alberione told his earliest followers. They are relying on us to stand in their place before the Lord of the Universe. We are there for all those in our family, our circle of friends; our work and our parish; our neighborhood and our city; the people whose lives intersect ours everyday and whose daily experience may be very different from ours. We are there like the friends who not only carried the paralyzed man to Jesus but broke through every obstacle to bring that needy person face to face with the Lord. We bring before Jesus people who have never heard his name—or who have only heard it as an expletive—and people who have heard of him as children but have turned away as if from a sweet fairy tale.

You are there for all of them. Carry them in your heart.

  1. It’s OK to ditch the flight plan sometimes.

I always consider it a successful flight if I have taken the craft up, flown it around a bit and then landed without a crash or getting entangled with a tree (both of which have, on occasion, been known to happen; I carry spare propellers for a reason). Usually when I take the drone out, though, I have a general idea of where I hope to go with it, what angles I hope to see from the camera’s eye, maybe even an idea of a flight path I can save for another day or time of year so as to see the same spot in Boston’s four glorious seasons. But sometimes I come across the unexpected. So I stay there.

In Eucharistic adoration, too, it is wise to have a “flight plan” that includes the “home point” prayers and a simple pattern or method that brings one’s whole self, mind, will, and heart to the whole Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Your flight plan may include a passage of the Gospels that you are reading through progressively; a time for journaling (“calibration”); the praying of the Rosary or Way of the Cross. But that’s only your flight plan. Jesus may have something else to show you, somewhere else to take you. He’s the real pilot.

So when a phrase of Scripture or a scene from the life of Jesus (say, a mystery of the Rosary) draws you in, stay there. Hover in place, even if that Rosary takes you forty minutes instead of the usual fifteen. Return to that place of grace or that Scripture passage in your next Hour of Adoration, too,  following the Spirit’s lead as long as you find light there.

There you have it. 5 simple tips to keep you coasting freely in the presence of the Lord like the pilot you are:

  1. Establish a home point.
  2. Calibrate the compass.
  3. Keep your batteries charged.
  4. Be aware of other flyers.
  5. It’s OK to ditch the flight plan sometimes. (But have a general flight plan.)

Sr. Anne Flanagan, FSP