Joseph Was Silent

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Today Catholics around the world celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church and the “silent partner” of Mary, in what we know as the Holy Family. I say that Joseph was silent because although he appears in several places in the gospels, there are no words attributed to him. It is up to us to imagine his part in the conversations that took place in family life, their travels and other significant events. That can be difficult for people who desire to know more about Joseph but much easier for those with active imaginations.

As I think of it, that is true for us with much of Scripture. We need to take the descriptions of events and fill-in the blanks where conversation is lacking. Those of us who live under the patronage of Joseph, e.g. Sisters of St. Joseph, carry him with us – most likely as a reflection of how we try to live our commitment to the religious life. What we can say about Joseph is that he heard God speaking to him in dreams, trusted what he heard and was obedient to God’s messages throughout his life.

I envision Joseph as a loving, gentle and kind spouse and father, humble about his work and his role in God’s plan. Although we do not hear him speak for himself, his humility and willingness to carry out God’s plan is evident in his actions. I have come to love the portrayal of his silent acceptance and way of moving through life as gift. Often words fail when God intervenes in our days in special ways or surprising moments. I believe Joseph treasured these events in his life and that they anchored him when the difficult moments came. Silence was his home, I think, and it served him well.

May Joseph’s gift of silence be a prayer to bless each of us today and may his love for God and his family be an example to all. Happy Feast!

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Day One

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The gift of yesterday will certainly be difficult to match but because the participants and the situation will differ this afternoon I have high hopes for day two of our four-day weekend extravaganza!

My lesson from yesterday included the power of music and word in the exquisite talents of instruments and voice, story and familiar texts all woven together in a liturgical celebration impossible to describe and not likely to be repeated. We often say among us (Sisters) that “this was the best jubilee ever!” but yesterday was, in truth, my vote for that honor. I mused later that we may be getting older but we certainly can still sing! The power of community was evident from the anticipatory morning greetings to the sharing of prayer, memories and laughter in the small group that celebrated our Sister Grace before bedtime.

Today I expect the best from family. In the context of the larger “Church family” I hope to see the smiles and know the hugs of cousins from near and far – three generations of them! It will certainly be “the more, the merrier” – all to celebrate the newest addition to the O’Malley-Maloney family on this most appropriate of feasts, St. Patrick’s Day!

May the blessing of Patrick bring you joy today. May God hold you always in the hollow of his hand.

Four-day Weekend

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Today, the Book of Deuteronomy tells me, is one on which we are to observe God’s statutes and decrees with all our heart and with all our soul. that will not be difficult for me as I drive to Albany, NY where the sisters of my heart (Sisters of St. Joseph) will gather in person or in spirit to celebrate those who are celebrating anniversaries of life in community (25, 40, 50, 60, 70 or 75 years). It is, for all of us, a very special time.

In a different way, but in a similarly holy event in a weekend that will stretch until Tuesday, we will say farewell to our friend, Rev. Alfred Bebel, at a funeral ritual that will be both sad (for us) and happy (for him) as we celebrate this “good and faithful servant” of over 85 years of full life.

In between these two events, I will participate tomorrow in the baptism ritual of a new tiny and already well-loved cousin as well as a day of Lenten reflection on Spiritual Wholeness on Monday. This event I will share with a parish group with whom I was privileged to celebrate Lent last year as well. The depth of sharing was great for a first meeting then so I feel in a small way that Monday will be like a homecoming, most especially in the similar liturgical ritual that will punctuate each of the events of these four days.

As I prepare to begin this four-day journey, I am well aware of the importance of each day of life – whatever the events or the passage of the hours – as being worthy of observation with my whole heart and soul. Let us all enter into the holiness of life with gratitude for life itself, for the rituals that unite us and for the companions that God has provided for us along the way.

Open Us

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If our Lenten journey has had a slow start or if we’re just ready for an increase of determination, here’s another prayer from Joyce Rupp to keep us going.

Open our hearts to you, Source of All Souls, you whose love dwells within and among us. Open us to believe how fully we are welcomed by you each moment of our lives. Open us to carry our union with you to those who are part of our daily encounters. Open us when we are weary, when we resist, when we forget, when we doubt, when we are anxious. Open our hearts to full confidence, to the trust that we have more than enough love to give away. Open, open, open us to the journey of love that is ours. (Prayer Seeds, p.94)

May I help you?

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The last line in today’s gospel is the familiar “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” I started thinking about what I would say if everyone I met today struck up a conversation and somewhere before departing asked me, “What may I do to/for you?” It occurs to me that when this happens (usually when I have what looks like too many things to carry), I usually respond, “I’m good,” which, if I think about it, really doesn’t answer their question. Why is that, do you think? Is it my need to be/seem independent? If so, what does that say about willingness to relate/be in union with others? If I don’t want to “bother” anyone, the further question about relationship is the same.

Wanting help and needing help are two different things but it might be good to think about both and allow acquiescence on occasion. It might – in some cases – build humility and at all times open the door to welcome.

Saving the World

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Two thoughts crossed my mind this morning as I was reading the account of Jonah’s second announcement from God (“post-whale,” JON 3: 1-10). First I mused on the fact that Nineveh was such a big city that it took three days to go through it. I wondered how long it would take now to traverse a place like New York City and whether the walk would include all five boroughs and maybe some further-out suburbs. Since Jonah was giving a warning about destruction of the city, it would seem that he would have needed to check in everywhere.

My following thought was more to the point and more complicated to consider. Actually, it became a whole rush of questions. I’ll use New York as an example because it is a big city but not to judge the population in any way. What if there was a clear message from God that the city and all its inhabitants were to be destroyed in 40 days unless everyone repented (honestly, not just mouthing the words) of all their sins. Maybe sackcloth and ashes wouldn’t do for evidence. Maybe it would need to be huge prayer vigils and “random acts of kindness” in addition to the fasting.

I hesitated to write that because it sounds – even in the face of my disclaimer above – that I am speaking of a vengeful God who punishes wrong with destruction. That’s not it at all. As a matter of fact, I’ve been seeing evidence of lovingkindness on the evening news lately which renews my hope. I’m speaking of a day when self-interest would be put aside in favor of unity and light.

Are we there yet? Could we do it city by city at least in our country? What about where you live? Would I be willing to propagate the message? First, I would need to believe in the possibility of success. Then I would need to gather people who believe we are capable of convincing others because of the sincerity and light coming from inside all the speakers. That’s just the beginning, I guess. Call me crazy, but who knows what could happen if we really decided for God and put our minds and the entire power of our loving hearts into it?

Merton’s View

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Up early, I am sitting in the quiet darkness. Feeling the need for someone else’s words to get me going into this day I turn to Thomas Merton, whom I have not visited lately. I can feel him sitting on the porch of his small hermitage taking in the very early morning and putting pen to paper with these words.

I am under the sky. The birds are all silent. But the frogs have begun singing their pleasure in all the waters and in the warm, green places where the sunshine is. wonderful. Praise Christ, all you living creatures. For Him you and I were created. With every breath we love Him. My psalms fulfill your dim, unconscious song, O brothers in this wood. (A Book of Hours, p. 93)

It must have been summer or later morning when he wrote those words as we have a long way to go until the sun appears today, but the hope of the meteorologists and their listeners is exactly that for a second day in a row. That would be enough, I think, to convince us that spring is truly not far off and the “warm, green places” will soon grace us once again.

I Am Holy

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Leviticus has never been my favorite book of the Bible. I am beginning to wonder if that’s because I never gave it a chance. Today’s first lectionary reading (www.usccb.org) is LV 19: 1-2, 11-18. The two introductory verses are a call from God through Moses about holiness. It’s easy for me to read those two verses and say something like, “Okay, that’s easy. It’s an often repeated theme” and then read the rest, i.e. the explicit content of the message, while allowing my mind to start a list of tasks for the day.

While I could probably guess most of what follows and be done with it, today I paid more attention and saw something old yet new to my consciousness. The key was in verse two which is not only God’s command for people to “be holy” but also gives the reason why they should make that the basis of all their actions: “for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

After that instruction, everything talks about things we should not do or be with or to other people: stealing, slandering, cheating, cursing, judging unjustly, hating & holding grudges. The reason, however, for all these strictures, is simply repeated at the end of each paragraph: “I am the Lord.”

My conclusion, then, about all of this is clear. What we do to others, we do to God. This leads me to a place that is fast becoming the most essential truth for me: We are all one – really and truly, all one. It means you are me and I am you and the reason and reality is because God is God.

The words on the page don’t seem revolutionary because I have heard them all before. In my heart, however, and hopefully in my life, I know them to be true in a new way that cannot (at least by me at this moment) be explained in any other way. And so I leave us all with what is.

Body Blessing for Lent

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Joyce Rupp is a very gifted spiritual writer and retreat leader. When I worked for my diocese in the Office of Faith Formation she was the “go to” person for many of our prayer services because the prayers in her many books touched hearts so powerfully. This morning I picked up her book, Prayer Seeds, (p.88) and found a service meant to be prayed in dyads. I thought, however, that it might be a good idea for each of us to use it personally as a reminder that our bodies function as vehicles for God’s grace. So instead of blessing another person while touching the place named on the body, why not engage our own eyes, hands, etc. in a movement toward mindfulness each day of Lent as we speak the words – preferably aloud.

Forehead: May the Gospel teachings about non-judgment resound in my thoughts of others.

Ears: May I listen closely to how God invites me to grow spiritually during this Lenten season.

Eyes: May I slow down and look more intently order to find God’s movement in my life.

Shoulders: May I carry my cross of difficulties with courage, trusting God’s strength to uphold me.

Hands: May my service be so intertwined with God that this love overflows from my heart.

Heart: May I keep turning my heart toward God and allow this love to be reflected in the way I live my life.

Feet: May I welcome God’s companionship and guidance as I travel the path of life.


What’s Your Name?

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There’re a great line from the book of the Prophet Isaiah today. In my opinion, it names the sort of person we all ought to aspire to become. First Isaiah offers a description and then speaks the name. Listen:

Thus says the Lord: If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusations and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise. (IS 58: 9-14)

That sounds like a pretty big reward for doing what we should all be working toward in our lives. And for that, Isaiah says, “Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you.” It sounds to me like naming ceremonies in many indigenous cultures when individuals are given their “Spirit name” which “tells something about the person, their personality, their mission in this life.” (manataka.org) Similarly, Christians often choose a name during their Confirmation ritual that speaks of a saint of the Church or honors the sponsor who witnesses to their willingness to act in a sacred manner in life.

What is your “spirit name?” If you could choose one today, what would it be? For myself, I am rather partial to “Repairer of the Breach.” Perhaps in solidarity of purpose, we could all add that one to names we already own. It could look something like this: “Lois Ann Barton, CSJ, RB” (Congregation of Saint Joseph, Repairer of the Breach.) A good and necessary reminder to carry forward, don’t you think?