God’s Gifts

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When I was young and feeling called to the religious life, it was a rather simple choice of where I would find a home. I had been educated since kindergarten by the Sisters of St. Joseph, having made only a slight detour in junior high to the Franciscan Sisters. In those days, many of us chose the familiar unless drawn to missionary work or some specific ministry like nursing. Even in the founding stories that I heard about the Sisters of St. Joseph, there was never much talk about the charism, the particular gift of God to the community. Later I learned and am now confident that the focus of my life is that of the charism expressed as “the great love of God.” One might think that is the goal of all religious communities and that is true, of course, but how that is lived out from day to day is what adds specificity to the life path.

Today is the feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans, known the world over as the “Order of Preachers.” The power of Dominican preaching flows from their life. As franciscanmedia.org explains, it “organically links life with God, study, and prayer in all forms with a ministry of salvation to people by the word of God.” In other words, “to pass on the fruits of contemplation or to speak only of God or with God.” As someone who loves words and the power they hold in how they are spoken, I am always happy to listen to Dominican priests and nuns in liturgy or a retreat where they embody the words that they are speaking for the benefit of their listeners. Clearly, it is the constant reflection on the Scriptures in the silence where God speaks that resounds in the life of these preachers. Then, as a result, they themselves become that gift of God to the world.

Transfiguration

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Today is a significant day for many people in religious communities, including mine. It is the anniversary of “vow day” when we pledged our lives to God. Akin to the marriage ceremony, it was the beginning of a lifetime of learning. It is called the Feast of the Transfiguration because the gospel for today recounts the story of Jesus taking three of his closest followers up a mountain to pray. That was not an uncommon event but something significant happened on that particular climb. Peter, James and John had a vision that day of Jesus, transformed into a being of light—his true identity. This was likely early in their following of Jesus and after it, because of the experience, they were ready to set up tents and stay on that mountain forever. Jesus had no intention, however, of allowing that to happen. It was a beginning, not an end.

And so it is with us. Although we had come to know in some way that our relationship with God was to be the motivating force of our life and we said so publicly on this day, it was not a day of completion. Rather, it was just the beginning of what has been the journey toward the light we had seen then. Today calls us (and by extension all of you reading this) to reflect on our movement toward the light of God, the light that we are growing into on our earthly journey. We celebrate the ups and downs, the ins and outs and the faithfulness of God in whom it began and whose presence calls us ever forward in grace. And on we go.

The Power of Attention

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Today’s gospel is a lesson in trust and focus: trusting in ourselves and God at the same time as getting the task done. It’s one of the familiar scenes of the apostles in a boat (MT 14: 22-36) and is clearly a test for them as Jesus is not with them. Rather, he has sent them ahead while he goes away – as is his custom – to refuel spiritually on a mountain alone.

Everything is fine until a serious wind comes up and rocks the boat so much that it is in danger of capsizing. Enter Jesus walking on the water toward them creating a double reason for distress: the possibility that they’re seeing a ghost as well as the danger of drowning. Jesus tells them not to be afraid. “It is I,” he says, and Peter tests the vision by challenging Jesus to have him walk to meet him in the water. Jesus obliges by the simple command: “Come!” Peter, ever the impetuous one, climbs out of the boat and is walking until he realizes that he is, in fact, walking on top of the water – an impossible thing to do. So, of course he starts to sink. As we expect, Jesus catches him, saves him and then remonstrates with him for his lack of faith.

Peter would have been fine if he had just kept walking…if he didn’t lose focus on his goal which was getting to Jesus. Losing focus and allowing our fear of failure – sometimes by over-thinking things – to be the actual cause of the failure comes from a lack of trust in ourselves as well as in God.

I’m much more willing to put my trust in God than in myself sometimes. Reflecting on this passage today, however, makes me more conscious that the two efforts are really one if we are living a life of faith. God and I have to be working together in everything. My focus needs to be that of the Spirit of God within me. If not, I will surely stumble and could even drown. So it appears today that the lesson is vigilance: staying awake is a must every day.

(N.B. Ironic that I wrote about paying attention on this date and then commented on the wrong readings! It never pays to skip a day of your chosen practice! It makes the message even more important. VIGILANCE!)

Rain Today…

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I was just reading some poems about rain, trying to find something that would mirror my feeling. (We are destined for a consistent rainfall all day.) I couldn’t find anything that was even slightly consistent with my sense of the day…which at this hour is just beginning, so difficult to assess. But here I am, listening to a steady light tapping on the roof accompanied by what resembles “white noise” hitting the leaves—neither of which I find distressing.

I love rain for the life it brings to gardens and the determination it gives to me for attending to household chores. Of course, there is also the luxury of nap-time when the chores have been successfully concluded. And there is nothing like a step outside to breathe in the fragrance of the rain and the freshness of the air when it is over.

Yes, sunshine is fine and also necessary for growth, but give me a walk in the rain on a day like this and I will be a happy girl!

A Day To Remember

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Today is a significant one for us – the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Albany Province. It is the day on which we are filled with gratitude for the Sisters who have served us in the ministry of leadership over the past seven years and when we look forward in hope to those who pledge themselves now to lead us for the next five years. This is a monumental time of transition and challenge, not only for us but for religious communities of all kinds. I need not enumerate the challenges but we know that wisdom has been and will be the essential element in their ministry. We are confident that we have been well-served and trust that we will not be disappointed as we go forward. In other words, we are very blessed.

In that spirit we would do well to pay attention to the messages of today’s Scripture passages. It’s one of those days when each of the readings has a “stand-out” line or two, in my opinion (of course!). Please join me in a reflection that will be a blessing prayer for our community for today.

  1. “Come to me heedfully, listen that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.” (IS 55: 3)
  2. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs. (PS 145)
  3. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ROM 8: 37-39)
  4. Jesus said to them, ” There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”…They all ate and were satisfied , and they picked up the fragments left over — twelve baskets full. (MT 14: 13 ->)

Won’t you pray, rejoicing with us, in thanksgiving for all our blessings?

My Uncle, the Priest

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Although the Jesuits (Society of Jesus – see yesterday’s post) are most likely the best known religious order of men in the USA because of their presence in excellent institutions of higher learning, my familiarity as a young person was with the Redemptorists. The reason is simple; my uncle was a member of that order (the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer), a community dedicated to missionary work and devoted especially to Mary as “Our Mother of Perpetual Help.” While my uncle, Walter Cavanaugh, spent most of his priestly life in the United States, he was missioned to Brazil for a time and his stories of that mission and of his parish in Georgia in mid-20th century, that was described as having only six parishioners, left the cousins wide-eyed in our very young days.

Reflecting on what “missionary work” can mean, I read a quote this morning of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, that broadened the definition and seemed to fit my uncle’s personality quite well. Alphonsus said: Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. As a priest he was known to be “good in the box”—shorthand for his capacity in helping penitents whom he encountered in the confessional and provided with the assurance of God’s abundant love regardless of what they confessed in the encounter.

I don’t know how my uncle chose the Redemptorists rather than the Jesuits, or the Franciscans or the diocesan priesthood and it’s too late now to ask anyone who might have known his motivation. I trust, however, that he was led by God’s Spirit to where he belonged and where he flourished, knowing with confidence, as did St. Alphonsus, that “Your God is beside you —indeed He is even within you.” Whether early in life or late, may all people come to live in that assurance and find themselves in the great love of God.

The Prayer of Ignatius

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Sometimes there is a possibility of finding poem or a piece of music or some other way of expression that approximates an inner state. Here’s what I mean.

During the prolific period of “new music” for liturgy in the Catholic Church, especially in the 1970s, there was a group called The St. Louis Jesuits who produced an abundance of beautiful songs that lifted the spirits of millions of churchgoers and others in powerful ways. These men and their music continue to be revered for their interpretations of Scriptural texts and traditional prayers written in the 16th century by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the religious community, the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. There is a rich history to be learned from and about them, but I digress as this is a very personal story.

I am grateful to St. Ignatius and to the St. Louis Jesuits for the song entitled Take, Lord, Receive by John Foley (easily found the internet) based on the famous prayer of holy surrender. In addition to the beautifully simple and straightforward text and music being sung, I also find myself moving in a dance that completes the experience. Simple gestures of bowing and reaching with raised arms…or whatever feels right can deepen the prayer in ways that words alone or words and music reach for but often do not achieve.

It is a struggle to explain an experience that is wordless. My suggestion is to give yourself the permission to be in the experience and see what happens. Listen first to the song in silence, then open your heart in surrender, and finally move the experience to its fullness in the dance. Remembering that repetition is a necessary component of any spiritual practice, it may take awhile, rather than just one attempt. But here’s a secret: “The readiness is all” and there are no failures possible.

Clay Work

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The first lectionary reading for today is quite familiar to me, more from liturgical music than from the text of Jeremiah the prophet (18: 1-6). We sing: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are we to you, O God…” (That may not be an exact rendition, but I know I have the tune right!) Most familiar to most younger churchgoers of the 1970s is Carey Landry’s song, Abba, Father, attesting that “You (God) are the Potter, we are the clay: the work of your hands…”

Watching a potter at the wheel can be fascinating but I have learned (only from watching, of course) that it is not as smooth or easy as it seems. And, having endured workshops where the goal was creating something out of quick-drying clay, I know that it is more difficult for most of us than we would care to admit. So I have to give God a lot of credit today for the willingness to form us all—especially uniquely—into the works of art that we become once we let go of the hard edges and rigidity of thought that keep us as “works in process.” While God may feel a need to re-form us on occasion, I am ever grateful for the patience that stops the Creator from smashing us in frustration and I trust implicitly that “the kindness of the Lord endures forever,” no matter how long it takes for us to allow the creation.

Where Your Treasure Is…

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As many people have, I’ve been taking the opportunity lately that working from home affords me to do the things I never have time for. My latest and greatest effort has been getting rid of much of what I no longer need. I am amazed at how difficult a task it has become because of all the things that I call “mine.” They are not, in the grand scheme of things, what people might see as “treasures” but they are meaningful. to me for various reasons—mostly sentimental. It has been a difficult but freeing thing to divest myself of what I no longer need, and what ultimately helps me to remember that, as the Scriptures say, where your treasure is, there also is your heart. And there is much more space for the inner things that I value. Less clutter = more freedom in every way.

Try it! I highly recommend letting go!

Seeds

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It’s amazing how much life there is in seeds. Some are so small they can hardly be seen and it takes trust to even put them in the ground without throwing in a whole fistful. When I was in a gardening phase of my life I wondered what was the reason for the differences among them, including size. Then it occurred to me that even animals and humans start that way and the amazement comes with the exponential growth during the gestation period. That brought me, of course, back to the creation story in Genesis that I love to hear during Holy Week and then forward again to the days in spring when all the flowers and trees begin to bud and then burst into their marvelous diversity. God really was (and remains) very prolific and generous in creating our world.

So what, then, should we make of the parable of the mustard seed in today’s gospel as a sign of the kingdom of heaven? (MT 13:31-35) Something very large and glorious, I suspect. Be sure to look around today, lest you miss the manifestations everywhere.