Mary MacKillop

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amarymckillopHaving lived what I sometimes call “a charmed life,” I am often amazed at the zeal and the difficulties of those that we Roman Catholics (and others) call saints. I wonder if I wouldn’t have given up by now if I had come up against betrayal and poor treatment (including excommunication for a time!) from colleagues and church officials encountered by St. Mary MacKillop – the first named saint of Australia and the “Saint of the Day” on the Franciscan Media website for today.

Mary’s desire was simply to teach children and care for the poor, especially in rural areas throughout her native Australia. She was drawn to religious life but unable to find a religious community that met her needs, so she founded – with her spiritual director, Fr. Julian Woods, – the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites). Born in 1842, she was steadfast in her vision and by the end of her life in 1909 saw her congregation thriving. Her path to sainthood is well-documented on http://www.franciscanmedia.org and is worth a read as a good example of the adage: Never give up!

 

 

 

 

 

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Respite

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astreamFinally it seems that we have a break from the intense heat and high humidity that hinders movement and keeps effectiveness at a minimum. We were spared the violence of the storms that gripped the Northeast Corridor of our country yesterday but at one moment it was as if some caretaker in the heavens turned a spigot to let all the humidity out of the sky and gave us some moments of straight-down driving rain – a curtain of water to slake the thirst of the land. As I celebrate the freshness of this new day I am drawn to another image of water in a prayer for unity by John Philip Newell. I offer it as a morning prayer for us all.

All things come from you, O God, and to you we return. All things merge in your great river of life and into you we vanish again. At the beginning of this day we wake not as separate streams but as countless currents in a single flow: the flow of this day’s dawning, the flow of this day’s delight, the flow of this day’s sorrows – your flow, O God, in the twistings and turnings of this new day. (Praying with the Earth, p.26)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace Work

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apeacePsalm 48 speaks today of the heavenly city where God reigns as a stronghold. It seems right now that in our country we are moving further and further away from that notion of “a holy city built on a mountaintop where peace reigns.” Politically, we become more and more divided by the day and a serious outbreak of violence seems inevitable as our president upends all of what we hold as the values of our democracy.

Questions of how to speak truth to power while maintaining our equilibrium become more difficult to answer. It is clear to me and to many people with whom I speak that solutions/responses cannot come from our political discourse. All must be grounded in the bedrock of inner work. Silence (which I’ve heard is “God’s first language”) must precede action or violence will result. Perhaps we will not be those who throw the rocks and start the fires, but if we do not come from a place of inner silence our words will cut like a knife and do a kind of damage that is not easily repaired.

Let today be the day we increase our efforts toward peace. Stop talking about your outrage and pray for peace. Stop vilifying people with whom you disagree by volunteering at a hospital or a shelter. Don’t get in your car until you can drive from a place of peace. Use up the energy that fuels your anger by working in a garden – yours or one providing food for the poor – pulling weeds and removing rocks. Think of something along these lines that will work for you and commit to it for the long haul.

Pray for me as I will for you that we will all come to the peace that we offer to our country and our world as our commitment to the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commitment

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asacrificeToday’s lectionary includes verses from Psalm 50 in which the psalmist expresses God’s desire for us to “step up” in our response to life, suggesting that our sacrificial offerings (bulls and goats – or for us checks and cash) are not enough. God says, “Why do you recite my statutes and profess my covenant with your mouth though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”

We could take offense at this and use more words to defend our actions or inactions. If I am honest and look in the mirror, I must admit to that kind of behavior at least some of the time. But then I hear verse 14 wherein God seems in need of relationship with us. “No! But this is what I want from you. Offer me grateful heart. Fulfill the vows that you have made.” It’s as if God is asking from us what each of us wants from others: the willingness to say what we mean and mean what we say – and then to live into what that means.

How can I refuse?

 

 

 

 

 

Greeting the Day

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arainshowerLate yesterday just after I had arrived at the party marking the 85th birthday of my friend, Florence, the skies opened and gave a torrential drink of water to the parched earth. Just before I left an hour later to return to the retreat I was hosting at home, the rain stopped. Sometimes things just happen that way. Had I been home without a group of people wrapping up an afternoon of deep reflection, I would have loved to go outside and let myself be washed by the cooling water falling from the sky, as I symbolically felt the sensation of having all things being made new. I opted instead for the reasonable option of staying dry.

Today is Sunday, the start not only of a new day, but a new week of life. I know my calendar holds information about many events this week and so good intentions must be made. I will need to be very focused to use my time well as the week unfolds. Right now, however, I wish only to breathe into the moment in which I find myself as I join with John Philip Newell to bless the day at hand.

For the gift of this new day, for waking again from the dreams of the night, for our bodies strengthened and our minds renewed, thanks be to you, O God. You are the stillness of the night. You are the genesis of the morning. You are the moistness of new conception. Let there be peace in the human soul, let there be wakings to new consciousness, let there be tears of love. In the life of the world this day and in our own hearts let there be fresh tears of love. (Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kateri, “Lily of the Mohawk”

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akateriToday is the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, whom we New Yorkers claim for our own. Kateri  was born in 1656 in what is now Auriesville, New York and died only 24 years later. The daughter of a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin mother, she became an orphan at age four when a smallpox epidemic claimed both her parents and her brother. Her short life was one of generosity and holiness, influenced by Jesuit missionaries and her own deep faith.

In our day, we have learned to celebrate the spirituality of Native peoples who understand more clearly than most inhabitants of our beautiful land that we are not here to take advantage of the natural world but rather to protect and honor it. As Chief Seattle wrote, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect…”

Today would be a good day to pray in gratitude for the gifts of the natural world and for those who work to protect it. A question to consider in our reflection might include our assessment of ourselves as environmentalists. Do I walk softly on the earth, trying never to disturb the balance of nature? Am I aware of my “carbon footprint” and taking steps to reduce it? Do I recycle and work to keep our waterways pure? The list goes on…How can we be kinder to our Mother Earth, each of us doing our part?

May you walk in beauty today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anticipation

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asunrisewomanOver the past half hour I have had a line from the movie, The Sound of Music, floating in and out of my mind. As Julie Andrews is about to embark on her adventure as a nanny/governess for seven children she muses, “What will this day be like…I wonder…” My wondering is nothing like that of Ms. Andrews/Maria. I am anticipating the arrival of eleven women who have been participating in book studies at The Sophia Center over the past year. They are coming for a sort of “reunion workshop” that I’m sure will be extraordinary as they are, themselves, no ordinary women. My anticipation is calm and willing, an expectation of blessing and rest. So I pray for all of us (and seekers everywhere) a lovely morning “Prayer of Awareness” from John Phillip Newell.

At the beginning of the day we seek your countenance among us, O God, in the countless forms of creation all around us, in the sun’s rising glory, in the face of friend and stranger. Your Presence within every presence, your Light within all light, your Heart at the heart of this moment. May the fresh light of morning wash our sight that we may see your Life in every life this day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Life!

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amapThis morning I got up at 6:00, the absolutely last moment possible if I were to complete the several tasks (or at least the majority) before scooting out the door for an 8:30 meeting 20ish miles away. Then I remembered that I had promised directions to a group of people who will be attending a workshop this weekend at The Spiritual Center where I live. I had told them at our evening book group meeting last evening that I would send the information about getting there  before I went to bed. When I got home, however, I had no service, a distress for all of us and the electronic devices in our home last night. The upside of that predicament was that I got to sleep a bit earlier, but I was left with that task for this morning – thus the delay in this writing.

The task of sending directions became more complex when I decided I needed to offer alternatives to the normal way of getting to Windsor because of the HUGE construction project going on at the confluence of all the major roads in Binghamton. Since there are people coming from northwest, northeast and west of the city as well as directly in the midst of the many detours, I needed to plot several routes – some with more than one possibility for avoiding the worst late afternoon slowdowns. It took much longer than I thought and I actually had to google a map of Binghamton to help me remember the name of a street that I have known for 40 years! I have confidence now that everyone will arrive safely and in a timely manner. (In case they get lost, I did include my cell phone  number.)

This is a weekend that the group has been looking forward to for a long time and I am happy to provide it to them (organizationally). Even happier am I that I am not the presenter but just need to be “one of the girls” involved. I got to thinking later in the morning, as I began to get responses to my message with the directions, that my project this morning could be seen as a metaphor for life. There are times when what is usually seen as simple becomes complicated simply because of an added element – like a necessary e-mail or a multi-year construction project. It takes time to figure out ways around what blocks us. Sometimes the way is also simple but for some situations or for some people it is full of twists and turns that make it almost impossible to figure out. Sometimes we even need to ask for help.

I’ll be happy to welcome the participants to our workshop tomorrow and will be glad when the last one arrives, making that step on the journey complete and readying us for the adventure that awaits us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Benedict

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astbenedictThere is much to say about St. Benedict, whose feast is today, known the world over as the man who brought monasticism to the western world. Although Benedict lived 1,500 years ago his influence is still felt and one might say is being proliferated more broadly than ever before because of a movement called “monasteries without walls.” Lay people who are interested in deepening their spiritual life often turn to The Rule of St. Benedict for guidance and a way to live his principles in secular society.

Most prominent in “the Benedictine Way” is ora et labora. That phrase, meaning “prayer and work” speaks of the balanced way in which the day is designed in his Rule. It includes work alone and work with others as well as prayer alone and prayer with others, experienced in a rhythm that gives not only form but meaning to each day and thus to all of life. (See Joan Chittister, OSB: Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, chapter 6 for a brilliant explanation of this concept.) In this world of excess for some and lack for others as well as in the use of time, we could do well to reflect on how we spend our days.

In tandem with this concept of balance is the call to hospitality. Based on Hebrews 13:2 that says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares,” St. Benedict preached the necessity of welcoming everyone that we meet. How our world would change today if we took that advice to heart!

As we think of the influence of well-known people in our own day like Joan Chittister, Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating who have followed the rule of Benedict and shared it with the world, let us pray in thanksgiving also for the countless Benedictine monks and nuns through the centuries who have lived the life and carried the legacy of Benedict faithfully into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to Work

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afactoryworkers.pngI can’t say that I am excited about going to work this morning. My list of homegrown tasks is long enough to fill the whole week, but an office day will bring me back to focus on the part of life that is more difficult to celebrate on lovely summer days.

Joan Chittister says in her book, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, that in the monastic tradition “work is not a punishment or a penance. Work is a privilege.” She is certainly right about that in my life. I’m so grateful for all the different positions I have held and every kind of work I have been called to in all my years. My work has put me in touch with a huge number of people – some tangentially and some directly – all of whom have added to my growth as a person.

I think today of all the people who work in monotonous situations, as in factories where there work consists of one repeated task all day, every day. My prayer for them would be the knowledge of how their work is essential to whatever is being created by the collective work of all the employees, and perhaps that they might consider their part as a mantra, repeated for the good of all. And for those who work in sanitation departments, I pray in thanksgiving for their service to the rest of us as they take away all the things that clutter our lives so that we can come to see more clearly.

I could go on but I need to get ready to leave for work. I do, however, want to continue thinking about those who offer essential services to the public and to pray in gratitude for them. And my hope is that they can find satisfaction in their service, especially in relationships with those who share in their work. And for the unemployed, I pray that work will soon be offered to them and that they will be taken care of by the generosity of others until that day comes.