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Reflections on the New Encyclical

I love autumn. The colors, the flavors, the crisp air—everything about it makes me want to go outside for a brisk walk and then curl up in an armchair with a hot cup of coffee, a fleece blanket, and a good book. Some books are best enjoyed this way.

Fratelli Tutti is not one of them.

Fratelli Tutti is an encyclical to be read in a straight-backed chair with both feet planted firmly on the ground, so you can spring into action whenever the text summons you to step beyond yourself and encounter Christ in someone else—which happens just about every paragraph.

What is Fratelli Tutti? The title of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical is not a topic, but a statement of truth and an appeal to live this truth. The phrase “Fratelli Tutti,” or “Brothers and sisters all,” is who we are: siblings who have been reconciled with God in Christ. It is also a summons to become who we are by realizing Jesus’ prayer that we “may all be one,” just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21). This is a sublime and beautiful prayer—and, remarkably, God is looking to us to answer it. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis sheds light on the many places, faces, and situations where God is waiting for our answer, and reminds us that he waits with greatest longing in the very people we are least inclined to talk to, associate with, welcome, trust, or forgive.

Fratelli Tutti will challenge you. There is nothing easy about making a daily effort to “transcend ourselves through an encounter with others” (111) or to pursue reconciliation not by avoiding conflict, but “in conflict … dialogue, and open, honest and patient negotiation” (244). It takes discipline to assume an “alternative way of thinking” (127) about the world and our place in it, which is nothing short of Saint Paul’s plea to “put on the mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). But if we choose to walk this path with God, he promises to “turn our life into a wonderful adventure” (8) of dying and rising with Jesus, one moment at a time, to a new and fuller way of living.

How can we begin this adventure? By reading Fratelli Tutti and letting it bother us. I invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to read this letter with you, and pay attention to where, when, and how the Spirit stirs your mind and heart as you read. What is your dream for unity—in the world, in your family, in yourself, and between you and God? Which of the Gospel challenges outlined in Fratelli Tutti make you uncomfortable or resistant? What faces and relationships come to mind as the Holy Father speaks of fraternity, reconciliation, conflict, forgiveness, and dialogue? Who walks into the room while you are reading, and how do you sense the Spirit inviting you to see him or her differently?

This is not a year to be wasted. As tragic and weird and frustrating and [add-your-own-adjective-here] as the year 2020 has been, it is first and foremost an “acceptable time” (2 Cor 6:2) and a new reality to claim for Christ. We must not renounce our Christian vocation by putting our feet up and biding our time until things return to “the way they were,” but rather use the unique circumstances of this year to forge a new culture of encounter, beginning with those closest to us. Fratelli Tutti can help us toward this goal.

Let us approach this letter as an urgent yet hope-filled examination of conscience on how we relate to others and how we can do better. Every step we take today under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no matter how small, can prepare us for the day when we will finally be able to peel the masks from our faces (and from our hearts) and look at each other: God willing, with more honesty, authenticity, humanity, and love than ever before.

In the words of our Holy Father, “Let us dream … as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (8). And “may God inspire [this] dream in each one of us” (287).

by Sr. Amanda Marie Detry, FSP

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The North American Martyrs: Witnesses to Fraternal Love

On July 4, 1648, a group of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) warriors raced through the village of Teanaustayé, in present-day Simcoe County, Ontario, taking the lives of everyone in their path. Teanaustayé was home to the Wyandot (Huron) people and a small community of French Jesuits who lived and worked with them. As the attack unfolded, Jesuit Father Antoine Daniel grabbed a handkerchief, drenched it in water, and spent his last moments baptizing the Wyandot men, women, and children who asked him for the Sacrament. According to Francis Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America, Father Daniel’s last words to the small group were: “Brothers! Brothers! Today we shall be in heaven.” In the midst of conflict and death, he spoke words of fraternity and life.

On October 3, Pope Francis will sign his third encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (in English, All Brothers). It seems to me that the North American Martyrs, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow in Canada (and on October 19 in the United States), and the Wyandot with whom they lived, have a lot to teach us about what it means to be “brothers,” or family in Christ.

Father Daniel was one of these martyrs. Though born and raised in France, he knew his Christian family extended beyond the boundaries of his native country. Jesus had died to gather “those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation … to be a kingdom and priests” in the service of one God, and as children of one Father (Rev 5:9-10). Father Daniel shared God’s thirst for the unity of the human family and left all that was familiar to him to work for it.  

Father Daniel arrived in present-day Ontario in 1632 and lived among the Wyandot for fourteen years. He learned their language and customs, and he contemplated God who was already at work through the Wyandot way of life. He translated the Our Father and articles of the Catholic Faith into Wyandot, which paved the way for them to pray together, as one family.

His companion martyr Saint Jean de Brébeuf took a similarly contemplative approach to communicating the riches of Christ and the Catholic Faith in North America. In a moving letter of advice to new Jesuit missionaries, de Brébeuf revealed his love for the Wyandot people—a love he must have found in the Heart of Christ Himself. “You must love these Hurons [Wyandot], ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers,” de Brébeuf wrote. “You must never keep [them] waiting at the time of embarking. Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp… Do not carry any water or sand into the canoe. Be the least troublesome….”[1] De Brébeuf observed the smallest details of Wyandot culture with love and took pains to adapt to a lifestyle that was not his own, so that Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the human family might become a reality.

The mutual encounter of French and Wyandot gave birth to new and beautiful expressions of the Catholic Faith that the Church is still unpacking. When Wyandot council member Chiwatenhwa heard the story of Jesus, he was profoundly moved by this man who cast out demons and gave His life to save the world from evil. Having grown up in a faith tradition where evil spirits were a ubiquitous threat to be feared, Chiwatenhwa experienced tremendous freedom through the news that God had conquered evil and death. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Chiwatenhwa recognized Jesus as his “elder and chief” who revealed the Face of the Father, the Great Spirit.[2] As the Jesuits shared more stories from the Gospel, Chiwatenhwa helped them with translations and played an invaluable role in reframing Christ’s Middle Eastern parables into words and images that more closely mirrored the North American experience, so that the Gospel might be more easily understood. In the words of Saint Jerome Lalemant, another North American martyr, Chiwatenhwa was nothing less than “the leaven of the Gospel that makes the dough of this new Huron church rise.”[3]

The eight North American Martyrs died at different times and in different circumstances between 1642 and 1649. Many Wyandot, including Chiwatenhwa, died for their faith around this time period as well. Their faith-filled deaths challenge us, but perhaps their lives challenge us more.

We are often content to know and love our “brothers and sisters” as those who live in our neighborhoods, belong to our political parties, attend our churches, or share our ethnic backgrounds. But the North American Martyrs—named and unnamed, French and Wyandot—push us further. Saints Antoine Daniel, Jean de Brébeuf, Jerome Lalemant, Isaac Jogues, and their companions were not satisfied to know only a few members of God’s family. They traveled to the ends of the earth to teach and baptize more of them. They gave everything, including their dying breath, to welcome more brothers and sisters into the household of God. The Wyandot likewise took the risk of receiving strangers into their communities and listening to their unfamiliar stories. As they opened themselves to the Word of God, and as the Jesuits relied on them for new ways to communicate it, the two cultures found God reflected in each other’s faces.

Perhaps we are more comfortable sitting in the same pew week after week, following likeminded individuals on Twitter, or limiting our social engagements to a subsection of the Body of Christ who looks, thinks, and acts like we do. But if this is us, we would do well to ponder the example of the North American Martyrs, French and Wyandot alike.   

Through their intercession, may God give us missionary hearts: hearts big enough to welcome more people into the family of God, and humble enough to allow others to lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus, their Brother and ours.

by Sr Amanda Detry, FSP


[1] Quoted in John D. O’Brien, SJ, “Saint Jean de Brébeuf (1649),” in Canadian Saints, ed. David Beresford (Ottawa: Justin Press, 2015), 79-80.

[2] Quoted in Henry Bruce, Friends of God: The Early Native Huron Church in Canada (North Bay: Tomiko, 1991), https://www.wyandot.org/friendsofgod.htm.

[3] Ibid.

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A Strategy for Dealing with Whatever Raises Our Ire

by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP 
Complaints never just appear from nowhere. They are not isolated entities. There is always a “why” to be discovered, to be befriended, to be accepted or gently dissolved. Ranting, accusing, striking out are no more helpful than cowering, whimpering, and hiding when it comes to what causes complaint. 

Because we don’t always have control over what causes us to complain, we need to develop a strategy for dealing with whatever raises our ire. Begin by honestly telling yourself why you had to complain (this will require some soul-searching). Then try to make peace with it: either there is some truth to it (however small) or it is a fabrication, something we imagined or misunderstood, and so the best approach is to admit it to yourself. 

Finally, smile at yourself for making such a big story out of next to nothing. Turn it into a prayer, a little conversation with God!

To be honest, my reputation as a complainer is far better recognized by my sisters in community than by me, the source. So much so that when I transferred out of Boston to St. Louis, as a remembrance, they sent an effigy… of me! Luckily, it wasn’t a burnt effigy, but rather tasty. A saint would have jumped on that cookie and devoured it, but I kept it on my desk as a reminder of who I’m not, yet!

It’s a good thing we only get fleeting glimpses of ourselves, otherwise we’d probably be constantly despondent. The flashes of reality give us food for thought and a reason to examine each day to see how Christ-like we’ve been. So, ever onward! Let there be no more “iffy-effies.” It’s time to put on Christ—and radiate!

Complaints of the Saints available today.

Read the first six chapters now.

Explore all of Sr Mary Lea’s books.

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What the Good Shepherd taught me during this pandemic

At first, the thought of closing our book and media center didn’t seem to be daunting. Perhaps we could get some cleaning and painting done. There was always something waiting for us to have the time to do. After the first week we had completed inventory. Everything in our bookcenter was counted and entered into the computer. Task done!

After this I thought we would all move on to the next task we had all talked about getting to. Then things changed. I found myself unable to sleep after reading too much about Covid19. I worried about my family members. The tasks we were determined to carry out began to feel secondary to everyone as we adjusted to news reports. We began missing the visits of friends and the possibility of visiting family. I found myself calling family and friends more often. This brought on some feelings of guilt. Wasn’t I supposed to be getting on with those tasks? What is our mission now that we’re not able to open the front door to people seeking gospel inspiration? How is prayer going to be now that we are streaming Mass? Yes, we kept a schedule and yet even that was unfamiliar. Since our community would be taking turns making annual retreat in the convent, I asked to begin first.

I made this request because I knew I needed some one-on-one with Jesus Good Shepherd! As I knelt and sat in his presence, day after day for eight days, my attitude began to change. The invitation to “be still and know that I am God,” reminded me that the shepherd was a door to his sheep. They could go out of the sheepfold to romp in the fields and the shepherd would silently watch, call their name if they strayed, and go out looking for anyone straying too far. At night this good shepherd lay across the entrance to the sheepfold to defend it from wolves. During the day the good shepherd again led the flock to refreshing water and dewy fields of grass. Knowing the names of each lamb, ewe, and ram, the shepherd also knew their individual needs.

Surrendering my fears to Jesus Good Shepherd meant to trust him with everyone I felt concerned about. It meant I could sit near Jesus and watch how he loves each person I love. Turning myself over his care was a reminder that doing tasks was not what needed to be primary. Learning to love was primary. And that felt strange in a new way. How to love during a pandemic? After a while I tried new ways to reach out to my sisters and others. First I let myself be loved by the Shepherd, and then I followed his lead.

I could always go safely in and out of the fold listening for his voice. I knew this Good Shepherd already laid down his life for his sheep.

 

by Sr Margaret Kerry, fsp

 

 

 

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Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?

The underlying theme of these Coronavirus days seems to be stress. Of course, there are many variations on this theme depending on the factors of our lives. Life isn’t what it once was or what it should be. We feel stressed and basically life’s a mess.

Can’t we just go backwards, back to how things used to be?

Let’s try it with something simple, like the word “stressed.”

If we spell it backwards it becomes “desserts.” Isn’t that nice? Doesn’t that make you feel better already? Maybe yes, maybe not exactly. Living under stress can actually make us daydream about desserts. It becomes harder to focus on the good, the better, and the best about life.

This even happens when we pick up the Gospel.

How many times have we waltzed through the account of the Beatitudes without a second thought. Some see them as kind of charming, a bit poetic, sort of like a spiritual dessert. Nice for posters or bookmarkers, but not necessarily life-changing words.

However, the Beatitudes are the heart of the Gospel. They are what it is all about. They are a description of what life should look like.

As I say in my book, Blessed Are the Stressed, The beatitudes are attitudes refined over a lifetime, culminating in an eternal enjoyment of perfect happiness.

These are the attitudes that in the here and now bless our lives, our day-in-and day-out lives, our hunkered down in place days and our back to normal days.

Take some time today and read through Matthew 5: 1-12 and savor these wonderful promises of Christ. We can’t avoid being stressed, but the Beatitudes say to us: blessed are the stressed. 

Sr Mary Lea Hill, FSP
Author of Blessed Are the Stressed

 

 

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Don’t Feel Like Praying? 3 Ways to Re-Engage!

There are times—when we’re lucky—when praying feels easy, and natural, and even wonderful. The truth is that while those times are uplifting, they’re also not the norm. For many of us, prayer can often be difficult, either to get started or to keep up. But what can you do about it? Here are some ideas:

  • Read the psalms. You’ll be surprised at how many of these songs and prayers and verses will sound familiar to you. They’ve served as an inspiration to Christians for centuries, and they can work for you, too. Just read them and let your soul drift into prayer. “I call on you, my God, and you will answer me.”
  • Go for a “prayer walk.” Don’t just walk; walk intentionally. If you take yourself out of your everyday surroundings, you’ll have fewer distractions and you’ll be able to better focus.
  • Pray with someone else. For many of us, this is difficult; we’re not used to praying with other people except at Mass. But if you don’t feel like praying, you can bet someone else feels that way, too, and there’s strength in numbers! Invite a friend over, or pray with your children or spouse.

Even the saints often struggled with prayer, but the truth is, we’re called to “pray always,” whether we feel like it or not. Prayer as a discipline flows into prayer as joy, but you can’t have one without the other!

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Banish Fear

When we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies, minds, and souls. Fear activates the brain’s amygdala, a sensor that gives us three response options: fight, flight, or freeze. To ensure we have everything we need to carry out this instinctual response, the amygdala limits activity in the prefrontal cortex, where logical thought, clear decisions, and rational choices are generated. So fear keeps us from being our best selves.

What can we do?

  1. St. Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” When faced with fear, pray for courage, and trust that all things work for the good for those who love the Lord. You’ll find it easier to plan your next steps when you start with prayer.
  2. Take action. Help someone else, volunteer some time, donate some money, share a meal or a coffee with a friend to talk, cool down when you feel fearful by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In difficult times, joy is an act of resistance against the darkness. There are moments of beauty and peace all around us: try to see them. If you can see the light, you can become a light for others.

Remember that there has always been something to fear. We’re not alone; history proves that there have been times worse than the one in which we live. If we can see the world as it is, rather than as we are, our perspective changes. God made this world and loves this world. If we can reflect that love, the world will become more loveable.

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Everyday Grace: Dealing with Differences

It’s a wide world out there, filled with people who are very different from us. There are a couple of ways of dealing with our differences, ranging from friendship on one end to war on the other. But what does Jesus call us to do? He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And St. Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome wrote, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head. Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.”

But how does that work out in everyday life, especially in a world that seems more and more partisan and bifurcated?

  • When you cannot agree with someone, acknowledge that they may have life-circumstances that brought them to their opinion or action. We don’t know how anyone’s past experiences have scarred them. React to them with gentleness, not anger.
  • Don’t behave badly, even if others are. Listen to St. Paul, and offer them food and drink. Give them your kindness; it’s what they expect the least.
  • Pray, pray, pray. We know that prayer is the foundation of the Church and of our life in it and in the world. Prayer changes things. We may never see what happens because of our prayers, what soul is brought to God, what terrible accident is averted; but we have faith that it makes a difference.

We can all make the world a better place to live while we wait for God’s Kingdom. Why not start today?

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3 August Feasts that Remind Us of Heaven

Today, August 6, 2019, marks 224 days since last Christmas. (It’s important to let this sink in before the retail world starts bombarding us with how many shopping days are left before the next Christmas. If you are interested, there are 141 days before next Christmas—4 months and 19 days…).

There have been approximately four months since the celebration of the Paschal Triduum which normally occurs somewhere around early to mid-April.

So the Church, in her wisdom, bids us stop once more to celebrate liturgical mysteries that transform our lives as much as the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of the Lord. August offers us three heavenly mysteries which reveal to us what has been given us through the immense love of the Father who sent his only Son to redeem the creatures whom he created and with whom he remains madly in love.

The end of December brings us to the crib, where we kneel with shepherds and kings before a child who with his shiny eyes looks on us with such love. That child was both Son of God and Son of Mary, Emmanuel God-with-us, our Redeemer, our Teacher, Healer and Master. How could it be, we wonder in the liturgies of the Christmas Season that God would take on our human nature that we might take on the divine.

Four months later we stand beneath the cross, aware anew at what cost God has loved us. As Mary of Bethany, Jesus breaks the precious vessel of his body on the hill of Calvary and releases over the earth the fragrance of a most extravagant perfume, anointing us his brothers and sisters, co-heirs with him, children of his eternal Father. We stand as witness to the truth of the resurrection of Christ, and the miracle of mercy testified by the resurrections in our own lives.

On August 6 we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, when our Lord appeared in his divine glory before the apostles Peter, James, and John. This event came at a critical point in the ministry of our Lord, just as he was setting out on his journey to Jerusalem. He would soon experience the humiliation, suffering, and death of the cross. However, the glorious light of the Resurrection was revealed to strengthen  his disciples for the trials that they would soon experience.

The feast also points to the glorious Second Coming of our Lord and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light.

On August 15 we will celebrate the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven. Eric M. Johnston helps us think about this great feast in the light of what God wants for all of us. “God wants to bring Mary—and all of us—body and soul to heaven. He wants his Empire to extend that far, to save us in our entirety. And that’s why he did all those other things. That’s why he did the Incarnation and the Cross—so that we could reach the heavenly mysteries of August.”

On August 22 we celebrate the Queenship of Mary. God crowned Mary Queen of heaven and earth. Johnston reflects: “Mary participates fully, in every aspect of her person, in the glorious joys of heaven; everything is at the service of this mystery, everything comes together in the fulfillment prefigured in Mary’s coronation.”

August, then, is about a new heavens and a new earth, the celebration of the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Christ by which you and I and the world are saved, body and soul. The glory shining on the face of Christ shines also in our souls even now, to radiate in all its fullness one day when the Kingdom comes to fulfillment in us. For where Mary has gone, we are to follow.

May this month of heavenly mysteries reorient all of us—especially as we cope in our minds and hearts and souls with the darkness wrought by recent acts of violence and hate—to an intentional common pilgrimage to that eternal Jerusalem where we already are citizens, where the saints and angels long to have us as their companions, where the Father waits to receive us and to crown his mercies effected in us for his glory.

Blessings, Sr Kathryn

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Everyday Grace: Midsummer and Midlife

Midsummer is officially in June, at the summer solstice, which has never made much sense to me. Real midsummer, it seems, is now, about halfway through the season. There’s another month before we’re doing the back-to-school thing, there’s still time to reflect. Midlife is a similar time of reflection, halfway through a standard allotment of years on earth. It’s appropriate to think of both summer and life in terms of seasons, and here are a few tips to help: 

  • Do it now.If there’s something that you meant to do this summer, or in this lifetime, don’t postpone it. Whether it’s a visit to a water park or a broken friendship you want to heal, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. 
  • Slow down.You’re still rushing… through the summer, through life. Too many appointments, too much work, too many distractions. Take time to savor what you have today. 
  • Read. Kathryn James Hermes FSP’s book, Reclaim Regret, is how God sees your future even when all you see is failure. It’s primarily about midlife, but can be applied to any season as well. 

As we move through life’s seasons, let’s be constantly aware that no matter what the summer, or lifetime, might bring, we’re not alone. God is with us, his hand extended, offering a spiritual friendship that’s more nourishing than any of our doubts or disappointments.