Mother Seton

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I’ve just been reading about the life of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the first American-born saint. She is not a stranger to me. She was born in New York (less than 200 miles from my home) and although she lived from just before the American Revolution until the early 19th century (1774-1821) she was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic church in 1975 when I had already been teaching for four years in a Catholic high school. It was quite a celebration for the United States, for women, especially women religious, and for teachers to see “one of our own” – in any one or all of those categories – raised to the level of sainthood.

Mother Seton, as she is commonly known, knew many sorrows in her life, losing many loved ones including her parents, husband and several children at a young age. She was, however, always steadfast in her faith – first as an Episcopalian and later a Roman Catholic with a fervent belief in and love of the Eucharist. A reflection on the website http://www.franciscanmedia.com described her as someone who was an ordinary person who led an extraordinary life. “Not a mystic or a stigmatic,” she lived with great faith and said, “God has given me a great deal to do, and I have always and hope always to prefer his will to every wish of my own.” All she needed was the love for God that enabled her to keep going and keep loving. That is a brand of sanctity that is open to all of us and that is the best reason to celebrate Mother Seton on this, her feast day.

Paul's Passion

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According to the liturgical calendar, today is a “Christmas weekday.” Would you know it if I hadn’t told you? Are your presents still visible under your tree? Are you saying: “What tree?” I’m being facetious, of course – trying to make the point that sometimes we move from expectation (a long process) through experience (sometimes very brief) to let-down (“business as usual”) without savoring the event itself or being changed by it at all.

There are two sets of readings for today and in both St. Paul seems to be pleading for our attention to the effect of Jesus coming into the world. First, the Christmas weekday reading says this: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we are children of God…Beloved, we are God’s children NOW!” (1 JN 2) The second, from the Letter to the Philippians, urges an even deeper consciousness of who we must be in the name of Jesus. “Brothers and sisters,” Paul says, ” if there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind with the same love, united in heart…”

Can you feel it? Did you experience the love that Christmas calls us to? If not, is there still a chance you might manifest it today or work toward the recognition of which Paul speaks even in some small way? A “hello” or a kind word to a colleague? Even a smile would do for a start. You may be surprised to “see what love God has bestowed upon us.”

Blessings on you this day, children of God.

Prayer of Fastening

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Joyce Rupp never disappoints when giving meaning to images that can bring new understandings to our relationship with God. Using ordinary life experiences as a “way in” to deeper meanings is a great gift for me and many others…like this morning.

I recently bought a new pair of slacks which are very comfortable except as I try to fit the button into the buttonhole. The slacks are not too tight at the waist but the buttonhole seems too small so it is an annoying challenge to finish the task of dressing unless I pay attention and get just the right pitch on the button as it goes through the hole. I also have a new blouse that I really like but the small buttons are round, not flat, so I am faced with another challenge getting the closure secured.You may not see the value of this analogy but, for me, it is helpful. Here is a bit of Sister Joyce’s prayer.

“Fasten my entire heart to you, Love of all Loves, that all I am and do finds its motivation in you. Fasten my mind to you, Inner Peace, that whatever stirs within leads to tranquillity. Fasten my days to you, Divine Presence, that in each happening I remain united with you. Fasten my nights to you, Holy Darkness, that I find restoration in your embracing silence….” (Prayer Seeds, p. 145)

She goes on, but you can perhaps get the idea. It’s just one moment in the day when something simple becomes a prompt to bring me back to the presence of God. What does that for you?

The First Day

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Today is a new day. How is that different from any other day? Well, it’s a new year as well. Someone once said: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” and that became a standard for greeting cards and slogans everywhere. When something is that self-evident we need to stop and think why it becomes so popular to say or think. It is, of course, the surface and beginning point of a long and sometimes arduous reflective adventure.

What does your desired future look like? Do you have any idea? Any goals? Would you be dissatisfied if today becomes like yesterday or this year like the last? Are there things you want to or need to change? How will you make it happen? Of what are you certain now and what will make the rest of your life more meaningful? Is there even a need for all these questions ?

This exercise is for myself, of course, and perhaps something on which to spend at least a moment each day, even though today may warrant a deeper dive. May this new beginning be a gift of hope for you as you step into this new year. May clear seeing (20/20 vision) guide you along with sincerity and clarity and may you welcome the joys and challenges of this year with acceptance and gratitude that you still have this new day to open yourself to life!

The Last Day

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Today is the last day of the year. That is not “new news” to anyone but it does invite reflection. My mother used to tell us not to wish for time to pass more quickly no matter what we were waiting for, because as we got older things – time – would seem to speed up and we would wish it would slow down. She was a wise woman and now I know the truth of her prediction.

Today I hope to take some time to reflect on 2019 asking myself questions about the high points and the low points: what were they and why do I see them that way. I will consider the important happenings and the people who figured most importantly into my days. What have I learned from/during this year? Is there anything left “hanging” that needs to be completed and am I willing/able to complete it?

You have your own questions and memories from the year. In your review, should you wish to “accept the challenge,” be kind to yourself in judging it all. Be grateful for all you have learned about yourself that you wish to take into 2020 (a great image for seeing clearly) and thank God for another chance to begin. Rejoice that you are still alive and smile at the people who cross your path today. Pray for those who need your prayer and smile at God who knows how to answer better than we do. Have a blessed new year…

A Christmas Prayer

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Joyce Rupp has a meaningful Christmas prayer in her book, Prayer Seeds, that seems appropriate for this sixth day in the octave of Christmas, to remind us that the spirit of the feast lives on beyond a one-day celebration. Won’t you pray it in connection with all those reading this post?

Emmanuel, God-with-us, you chose to come for each person, the destitute and the wealthy, the unfortunate and the privileged, the troubled and the peaceful, the healthy and the ill.

You came in human form with a message of extravagant love, showing us how to be with those who have much less than we do. You came offering a gesture of respect and reverence instead of indifference and disdain; giving courteous kindness in place of thoughtless disregard; contributing ongoing support rather than a mere holiday handout.

Change my heart. Turn it inside out, toward the larger world. Remind me daily of those who struggle with their basic existence. Lead me to help change social systems that contribute to this ongoing struggle. Enlarge my awareness. Increase my generosity. Guide my choices of how I live, what I purchase, and how I use my material wealth.

Remind me often of your presence in those I tend to ignore or forget. Boundless Love, thank you for cherishing each person on this planet. (p.2-3)

Holy Innocents

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Today Christians mark the massacre of all boy babies in Bethlehem under the age of two years by King Herod. The story is told in Matthew’s gospel (2: 1-18). Herod was afraid of losing the power of his kingdom when he heard of the birth of Jesus from the astrologers from the East who came seeking “the newborn King.” His solution was the massacre, certain that Jesus would be among the slain children.

I cannot help seeing in my mind pictures of the southern border of the United States where in our day families are seeking asylum from the dangers in their own countries. The situation is dire, reminiscent of Matthew’s report that “a voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children.” (MT 2:18)

Let us pray for these “holy innocents” today and continue to call our government officials to right the wrong that has been done to them and their families. Each of us must ask ourselves: “What is one thing I can do in this crisis that will alleviate the suffering?” and then do it. We cannot all go to the border to work among the refugees, but we can and must do something to make our voices be heard. Let us not wait but rather act for those who have no means to help themselves.

John's View

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When I read verses from the Scriptures like the first reading from today, (1 JN 1:1-4) the feast of John, Apostle and Evangelist that proclaims: What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life…I wonder what it would have been like to live in the time of Jesus and walk with him as John did. Having the presence of Jesus in human form must have been more than we could imagine…But then there are times when people in the gospels admit they did not know him, that he seemed at best to be a loving, helpful, observant Jew and at worst a rabble rouser.

Perhaps we are better off, knowing Jesus the Christ with the eyes of faith and 2,000 years of evidence to trust who he was and is for us and for the world. And who is that, exactly, for you?

A New Day

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Today we take a breath. Some return to work. For some it is enough to put away gifts received and put out the trash, saying goodbye to loved ones and checking the calendar to keep appointments straight. Regardless of the events of yesterday and how we celebrated Christmas (or not at all), the tumult of the holiday fades today as we return to “normal life.” We might well use the Wednesday morning prayer from John Philip Newell to guide us along into renewed awareness that we can be somehow changed for the better each day, whether a grand holiday or a stitch in ordinary time.

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.

All things are born of you, O God. We carry within us your light and your life. In the mystery of matter and deep in the cells of our souls are your longings for oneness. The oneness of the universe, vast and vibrating with the sound of its beginning. The oneness of the earth, greening and teeming as a single body. The oneness of the human soul a sacred countenance in infinite form. Grant us your longings for oneness, O God, amidst life’s glorious multiplicities. (Praying With the Earth, p. 26, 28)

Sleep Medicine

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Somewhere in the middle of the night, I read a paragraph from the Brothers of St. John the Evangelist. I had already been in bed for some time and sleep wasn’t coming. If I were a young child I would have said I was awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus but at this “older age” I knew that wasn’t the issue. I simply had too much on my mind that wouldn’t go away, I got up then and checked my e-mail (something never advisable!) and it was there that I found what I felt was worthy of sharing on this Christmas morning. Then I went back to bed and fell asleep immediately.

The angel of the Lord speaks these words to us tonight: do not be afraid; do NOT be afraid. We may live in dark times. We may be afraid of the dark. We may be afraid of the darkness of the world and of our own lives. But the light of Christ shining forth this night from the manger in Bethlehem promises to banish that darkness with the radiance of God’s glory. (Br. James Koester)

Today the sun is shining brightly and the darkness has truly been overcome so I send blessings to you on this special day. May your burdens be light and your hope abound!