“There’s a monastic way of listening that lets the other define itself without my inner commentary and yes, judgment. Dialogue itself is enough and the ‘other’ is the topic. The message has no content, only presence” (Sr. Meg Funk, Bulletin 70).
Have you ever spoken with someone of a different world religion? Have you really wanted to know what they believe? What kind of conversation would you have with a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Jew? Could we possibly have anything in common?
I am in my fourth year of being a member of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue board that fosters dialogue between members of the major world religions. Established in 1978, the board itself is in its thirty-fourth year of existence.
“The success of (a meeting between Christian and non-Christian monastics in India in 1973) prompted Cardinal Pignedoli, who was then Prefect of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, to ask Abbot Primate Rembert Weakland to encourage Benedictines to become involved in interreligious dialogue because, as he put it, ‘monasticism is the bridge between religions’” (About MID).
Monasticism in the Christian tradition is ordered to cultivate a deep life of prayer and it is from this perspective that those following the Benedictine way of life were asked to dialogue with other religions.
My experience of dialogue has had a profound impact on my life. The first realization I came to early on is that to dialogue with another I must be firmly rooted in my own faith tradition. I must be grounded with both feet in my Catholic/ Benedictine tradition. Most importantly, Jesus Christ needs to be my center.
From this place of rootedness I can then sit at the table of dialogue with an honest and sincere desire to “listen” to another human being with very different and sometimes opposing beliefs. This need not shake us. These can be moments of profound respect for our diversity as creatures. As I practice listening with openness and (hopefully) transparency, I also share my own deeply held convictions as a vowed Catholic religious.
The particular event sponsored by the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue board that has been most meaningful to me and dear to my heart is an ongoing dialogue called “Nuns in the West.” This past Labor Day Weekend 2008 eight Benedictine nuns met with six Buddhist nuns from various lineages to discuss the inner life of training.
The meeting was the third in a series that began in with an inspiration in 2002. At this third meeting held at a Benedictine Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois, “Sister Meg explained how the first Nuns in the West began—the ‘genetic moment’ in her words. She and Ven. Yifa conceived the Nuns in the West project at the 2002 Gethsemani Encounter. They and the other women participants at Gethsemani II envisioned an event at which ‘just nuns’ would gather and dialogue in a more intense way and at a deeper level of personal relationships. There were to be no media, observers, or formal papers. This proposal was subsequently approved at an annual Monastic Interreligious Dialogue board meeting and the idea was on its way. The first gathering was so positive that another meeting was held two years later in 2005. According to Sister Meg, it has become ‘one of the most important events of interreligious dialogue that Monastic Interreligious Dialogue has ever sponsored’” (Bulletin 81).
In the next reflection I will share more about the content of our dialogue and the fruits of this dialogue, as I understand them. For now I would like to end as I began, with this quote that sums up for me the spirit of dialogue and how to be in the presence of another human being:
“There’s a monastic way of listening that lets the other define itself without my inner commentary and yes, judgment. Dialogue itself is enough and the ‘other’ is the topic. The message has no content, only presence” (Sr. Meg Funk)
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
“There’s a monastic way of listening that lets the other define itself without my inner commentary and yes, judgment. Dialogue itself is enough and the ‘other’ is the topic. The message has no content, only presence” (Sr. Meg Funk, Bulletin 70).
Monday, March 30, 2009
1. The last topic we need to explore in this Lenten series on the effects of the sacrament of Baptism is how Baptism makes us sharers in the servant ministry of Jesus Christ. The actual image is of Christ fulfiling the Old testament offices of Priest, Prophet and King. We have looked at Priest and Prophet, but King seems to be more problematic. Until we remember that the function of the King of Israel was to be a servant of the people, to help the people in their obedience to and journey to their God. To speak of King is to speak of a servant-minister and it's that aspect that Jesus embodies. Again we turn to the Second Vatican Council to hear the Church's teaching: "The lay apostolate is a participation in the salvific ministry of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord himself." (L.G. # 33) And in the years since the council this vision has been grasped by many individuals in the Church's pastoral associates, directors of religious ed, catechists, youth ministers, and the list goes on.
2. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council we have seen an incredible growth in the number of people who are partaking in the ministries of the Church. And I think there is ample evidence that many of these people have found their ministry and spirituality well fulfilled in their ministering. A recent example is an article in America magazine by a Mary Foley. She has served as a Parish Life Coordinator in several dioceses. She writes: "This has been a ministry full of joy and one in which I felt most fully alive. In a word, it is a ministry for which I was made. Pastoring is my vocation. I deeply love my church and I am thankful for every ministry opportunity I have had." (March 9, 2009, p. 12) The same themes appeared in another collection of ministry accounts: Why We Serve. They give a lot of different reasons for the motives that urged them to this work of ministry: wanting to serve, wanting to help people on their spiritual journeys, etc. But I didn't find many mentions of today's topic: wanting to share in the servant ministry of Jesus. I think they are missing out on something here. Just think of how powerful an invitation and meaning it was for generations of priests to know and feel that they were sharing in the priesthood of Christ. That same powerful invitation and meaning should be there for any Christian minister: they are sharing in the servant-ministry of Jesus. What exactly is that?
3. The patterns of Jesus' ministry provide a guide for the ministry of Christians. First of all, notice Jesus' great concern for human suffering. How many Gospel stories capture the immediate attentiveness Jesus gives to people who are blind, lame, crippled, emotionally disturbed, epileptic, hemorrhaging, deaf or the grieving (widow of Naim). Jesus deals personally with each suffering individual. Embedded in these stories is the fact that Jesus participates in the suffering of people. His concern was so powerful that he identified with and shared in the suffering being endured. Reading Jesus-stories of healings, a principle emerges: the kindness and understanding of Jesus towards those whose pain was profound. That example is a mandate to all his followers: Recognize human suffering! See it, respond to it; realize it as a dominant fact in people's lives and their relationship with God. Jesus' ministry is a response to the suffering of this world.
4. Whenever any of us respond to the needs of someone who is suffering in any way we are sharing in the servant-ministry of Jesus. A teacher helping a teenager struggling with life choices, a therapist assisting an aged woman suffering with arthritis, a nurse comforting a suffering patients they should see themselves sharing in the servant-ministry of Jesus. They need to know and feel that. Let's all pray now for an increase in such an awareness.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were so sure about our lives, our mission, our purpose in life? Truthfully, we pretty much flounder around…taking what comes…dealing with it as best we can…succeeding, failing, succeeding, failing…and learning all the while.
Maybe I’m just talking about myself. You may have things more in line in your life. The truth of the matter is, however, we can make all the plans we want but if they are not God’s plans…well, you know how that goes. There is a saying, “If you want to make God laugh…tell God your plans.” We have so little control over what comes our way.
What we can learn from Jesus’ comment is that there is no future in our saying No to God. God always wins! Would it do us any good to say, “God, save me from this illness, this situation, this relationship, this problem, this mess?” No. We’ve tried that and life just does not work that way.
Unlike Jesus, we do not know exactly the purpose for which we have come. We do know what we are supposed to do while we are here. It’s spelled out very clearly…feed the poor, cloth the naked, bury the dead, visit the sick. Be people of faith...people of hope...people whose lives are guided by love.
It is in so doing that we find our purpose. So, as we go through life let us not ask God to save us from this, that or the other. This, that and the other may just be the purpose for which we came.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Fr. Patrick Beidelman recently emailed this article to me by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.RR. I found it to be very helpful as I continue along this Lenten journey. I thought I would pass it on to you as well. Enjoy and may God bless our efforts to grow in holiness, with a joyful disposition, during this season of Lent.
Anyone who loves sports knows that in order to win, you need both a good offense and a good defense. One without the other isn't enough for victory. For example, in baseball you need good hitters to score a lot of runs; that's a good offense. But if you don't have good pitching and good fielding, the other team will score more runs and win. You can lose without a good defense. It's the same in football. You can have a team that plays good defense, keeping the other team from scoring too many points. That's critical for victory. But if the offense scores even fewer points, because the other team has a good defense, too, your team will lose for lack of scoring. Just as a good defense and a good offense go together in sports, so they must go together in the work of evangelization. In our last column, we looked at spiritual joy and its contribution to evangelism. But we focused on only one aspect of that contribution - namely, joy as a good defense, a help to the evangelist personally. In this regard, we saw how joy can help preserve the individual evangelist from various kinds of spiritual sadness, such as the sadness caused by discouragement, weariness, boredom, or criticism. Now just as a good defense without a good offense is not enough, so spiritual joy, if it's limited only to a supportive personal role for the evangelist, won't be enough to win others to Christ. We must put joy on the offense, because it's one of the most powerful tools for evangelizing. An important part of Mother Teresa's joyful-ness was her wonderful sense of humor. "If you want to make God laugh," she once said, "just tell Him your plans!" Spiritual joy affects not only the evangelizer, but also those being evangelized. Someone who understood the effectiveness of joy in dealing with others was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was certainly a persistently joyful person. I remember how, on my first visit to the Missionaries of Charity in the South Bronx, I was walking through a room near the chapel when a little poster caught my eye. It read, "Joy is the surest sign of God's presence in the soul." If we think of a person's face as the window of his soul, then a joyful look, a kind smile, unmistakably reflects God's presence within. For without God in the soul, we can't have love, joy, or peace within. This is why St. Paul can write: "For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). Mother Teresa was someone in whom we could see the joy of God's presence radiating out to others, even to the "poorest of the poor." This is why so many people of various social, cultural, ethnic, and even religious backgrounds were attracted to her. She valued joy so much that she actually designated "cheerfulness" as part of the charism or spirit of her religious community. I'd like to paraphrase two of Mother Teresa's sayings about joy. First: "A joyful servant of God is a net to catch souls for God." With so much drudgery and unhappiness in the world today, authentically joyful people stand out. Others stop and take notice of them - especially if it's a quality they lack and wish they could find for themselves. When they discover the joy they're looking for beaming at them from the face of another person, they're already caught like a fish in a net. A second saying of Mother Teresa's can be paraphrased this way: "A joyful servant of God preaches without preaching." If a picture is worth a thousand words, who can measure the effect of a joyful believer on others, believers and non-believers alike? I've experienced the powerful attraction of joy in my own life. When I was a young teenager, I was considering entering the seminary. I visited a friary one day where there were a number of young brothers in training, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. I remember coming home from my visit that day and thinking to myself, "I want that happiness for myself!" The best thing any salesperson can do to sell his or her product is to tell customers, "I use the product myself, and I like it!" The joyful attitude of an evangelist tells all that and more before he even utters a word. An important part of Mother Teresa's joyfulness was her wonderful sense of humor, often expressed in wry comments she would make to those around her. "If you want to make God laugh," she once said, "just tell Him your plans!" On another occasion, she said to me, "Father, I have a new prayer! I pray to God: "Use me! Do whatever You want with my life! Send me wherever You want! But don't consult me!" It's important for evangelists and apologists to have a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. When evangelizing, people more easily remember things said with some humor. After all, we're the only creatures God made in this world who can laugh. So humor must be an important aspect of what it means to be human. For apologists, wit can often make the difference between a fruitful discussion ending on a hopeful note and a harsh argument ending on a note of anger or hurt feelings. I recall, for example, how Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was on a train one day when he got into a discussion with an Episcopal priest about the validity of Anglican priestly ordination. (The Catholic Church concluded in the nineteenth century, after an extensive study of Anglican orders, that it could not accept the validity of those orders.) The archbishop was presenting the Catholic position, while the Episcopal priest was insisting that his orders were valid. A large crowd gathered around in the train. The discussion started to get a bit tense. Finally, when the train came to a certain stop, the Episcopal priest got off. But still continuing the discussion from the station platform, the priest said to the archbishop through the open window of the train, "Archbishop Sheen, my orders are as valid as yours! There's nothing you can do that I cannot do also!" Sheen wittily responded: "Well, I can kiss your wife, but you can't kiss mine!" I'm sure everyone got a good laugh out of that remark, including the Episcopal priest! We should be aware that people more often respond initially to how we relate to them, to our openness and acceptance of them, rather than to our message. Once they believe we accept them and respect them, they will be much more open to listening to what we have to say. This is where kindness and especially cheerfulness can do wonders! Where a frown or even an overly serious expression may scare potential inquirers off, a kind and easy smile will be welcoming. As another great evangelist in Church history, St. Francis de Sales, used to put it: "You will attract more bees with an ounce of honey than with a barrel of vinegar." Someone who understood the effectiveness of joy in dealing with others was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was certainly a persistently joyful person. At the Missionaries of Charity in the South Bronx, in a room near the chapel a little poster caught my eye. It read, "Joy is the surest sign of God's presence in the soul." If we think of a person's face as the window of his soul, then a joyful look, a kind smile, unmistakably reflects God's presence within. St. Teresa of Jesus (from Avila) used to pray: "From sour-faced saints, O Lord, deliver us!" We can echo that prayer in support of the Church's evangelization mission: "O Lord, from sour-faced evangelists, deliver us!" A bad impression, once made, can easily be a lasting impression, especially for those who already have a negative image or intense suspicion of the Catholic Church. As a popular saying puts it, "If you're happy, please remember to inform your face!" Besides, they say it takes more facial muscles to frown than to smile; so why would we want to overwork ourselves for the wrong results? Joy is our secret weapon in evangelization. Jesus gave us this promise at the Last Supper: "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). The Holy Spirit produces joy in us as one of His fruits (see Gal. 5:22) When we have evangelists who are filled with the Lord's joy and communicate that joy to others, we have the total defense and offense together. Let's pray that the Lord will fill His Church with such evangelists!
Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.RR., is a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, St. Felix Friary, 15 Trinity Plaza, Yonkers, NY 10701; 914-476-7279; website: www.ministryalliance.com/youthevang/fortunaweb.htm
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Hearing God’s Call
God calls everyone to love him and to serve his people. Priests, Deacons, and religious brothers and sisters each help us do this in so many different ways.
First, priests and deacons probably help us the most by leading each and every mass with a strong devotion to God. They also teach us God’s call in every homily they preach. Another good thing about priests and deacons is that they are always willing to talk with you about anything. Another way they help us is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We confess our sins to the priest who gives them to God so that we can live a holy life and go on and follow God’s call.
Next we have religious brothers and sisters. They also play a big role in teaching us God’s call. A big portion of them help by going to schools and spreading the word of God. They spread the word of God by telling us what we, Catholics, are supposed to do in order to get into heaven. They teach us things about our religion like; what makes us different from other religions, all the religious holidays and what they really celebrate, how Jesus grew up and praised his Father, our Father, by doing all what is good, and much more. They also have prayer services where they pray for everyone. Praying for someone is also another way to love them which is part of God’s vocation. Religious brothers and sisters are the branches on God’s tree, and we are just the leaves. It is up to us to decide, with our God given free will, if our seeds will grow big and strong to be like God or if they will rot and turn away from God.
It is important that we remember these types of people. They teach us to listen, call us to service and witness to the God that calls each of us by name. Their vocation reminds us of the importance of discovering and living out our own. So we shall always remember to love God and serve God’s people.
Tommy B. 8th Grade
Monday, March 23, 2009
Total surrender to God is a difficult place to come to; we try to surrender and then take ourselves back. “Some offer themselves at first, but later, beaten down by temptations, they go back to their old ways…” wrote Thomas a Kempis (p. 129). What can we learn from St. Therese in this lesson? “I choose all!” exclaimed Therese: she abandoned herself with her whole heart to God.
The following passage will help give us insight into the degree of surrender she came to by the end of her life:
“One day, Leonie, thinking she was too big to be playing any longer with dolls, came to us with a basket filled with dresses and pretty pieces for making others; her doll was resting on top. ‘Here, my little sisters, choose; I’m giving you all this.’ Celine stretched out her hand and took a little ball of wool that pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out mine saying: ‘I choose all!’ and I took the basket without further ceremony. Those who witnessed the scene saw nothing wrong and even Celine herself didn’t dream of complaining (besides, she had all sorts of toys, her godfather gave her lots of presents, and Louise found ways of getting her everything she desired).
This little incident of my childhood is a summary of my whole life; later on when perfection was set before me, I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, there were many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: ‘My God, I choose all! I don’t want to be a saint by halves, I’m not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that you will!’” (Therese, p. 27)
Lest we see just a childhood story here, we must realize that Therese was not only spiritually graced but also a very responsible young woman. At age 20 the Mother Superior involved her in the spiritual formation of the novices. At age 23 she was given complete charge of the novices (including some who were older than her) without keeping the title of novice mistress.
So, how did Therese abandon herself to so completely, especially in the midst of her suffering? Therese refused to insist on her own will, she begged Jesus to take it from her. Instead, she chose to let another be her “compass” (Therese, p. 218-19). In Christianity we have mediators between God and us. As children, we obey our parents; married couples, each other; in school, our teachers; at work, our employers; in civil life our elected officials, and finally in the Church, our Superiors. As a religious, the Superior holds the place of Christ. Therese always carried out the will of her Superior, without rationalizing, and in a spirit of love and gratitude.
Sometimes Therese would disagree, and respectfully express her opinion or insight, but in the end she always obeyed out of love, offering this as a sacrifice to God. We must form our conscience, but obeying is essential in loving God.
This is no small thing. To obey takes great faith – faith and trust in Jesus who, we know, wants only our good. To obey another and give up our will allows God to work and bring His will, not ours, to fruition. Every day when reciting the “Our Father” we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We can only give up our will by being accountable to another; otherwise, whose voice are we listening to – God’s voice, our own, or the voice of evil? God’s glory shines through when we surrender in faith, but concretely in time.
Therese practiced giving up her will by:
* not imposing her will on others
* holding back a reply
* in rendering little services without recognition
* not defending herself
* instead of answering back, giving a smile
* allowing others to take what belonged to her
* anticipating other’s needs
It was through these “nothings” that Therese prepared herself for her union with Jesus (p.143-4). Therese spent her life offering up these flowers of love and sacrifice. Her heart was purified and she became a channel of love. We can learn from her to be love for each other.
Lisieux, Therese of. Story of a Soul: the autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux. A new translation by John Clark. ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.: Third Edition Published, 1996.
A Kempis, Thomas. The Imitation of Christ. Translated by William C. Creasy. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1989.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
1. Last week we explored how Baptism gave us a share in the priestly office of Christ. Today we see how that sacrament also gives us a share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ. "The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office. It spread abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to his name." (LG #12) Jesus is a prophet in many ways, and we share in all of them. But we want to see which way is most important.
2. I think sometimes today we have very skewed notions of the prophetic role. For example, we can think of the prophet as one who rather glamourously stands up against the institution and the powers that be. The prophet is the one who has the courage "to tell it like it is." In the heady post-Vatican II years the prophet was the rebel who called for new ways of doing things. With that image we all can have a little feeling of pride when someone calls us a prophet.
3. But the ministry of Jesus shows us that the heart of the prophetic task is far different from all that. The prophet is one who speaks a comforting word to the neglected, forgotten and downtrodden members of society. The prophet says to these marginal individuals: "God still cares for you." The word prophet means literally, "to speak for." The prophet speaks for God and brings the word of God to those who are usually overlooked. In speaking a comforting and healing word to the lepers, the blind, the lame, the possessed, the prostitutes and tax collectors Jesus was carrying out his prophetic role. And it’s THAT prophetic role that is most important in what we have received in baptism.
4. There are certainly other aspects to the traditional prophetic office in Israel and Jesus does participate in these. He does make known the "signs of the times" (Mt 16:2f). His attitude towards accepted (but unreflected) customs is a critical one. He is often severe to those who are authorities, especially when they are guilty of religious hypocrisy (Mt 15:7) and ignore the lowlier members of society. But these are all subservient to the main characteristic of the prophetic office, to speak a comforting word to the neglected, forgotten and downtrodden members of society and the church, to say to these individuals "God still cares for you." It is very possible to be prophetic without all the public fanfare of standing up to the authorities.
5. In fact, most of you carry out that central prophetic role in very quiet and unassuming ways. In speaking a kind word to people at the food pantry, in going out of your way to speak a reassuring word to one of your students facing a difficult family situation, in a welcoming word spoken to guests here at the monastery, in taking the time to speak an encouraging word to a co-worker who is facing hard decisions. This is where you carry on the prophetic office of Jesus. You say to all of these people: "God still cares for you." Let’s take some time now to reflect on that and reaffirm our commitment to it.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
There are many ways that priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters help us to hear God’s calling. All of our religious leaders help us by teaching us about our vocation. We learn about the calling of being a priest, religious brother or sister, married life or living a life of a single person. These callings from God are different for each and every one of us.
When do we hear God’s calling? There is not a given time when we will hear God’s calling. You may hear your calling when you are a child or you may not hear your calling until you are an adult. You may also not hear your calling until you go though a great deal of pain, happiness, or both. Just remember that God will not abandon you. You must stay patient with God. He will call you when he knows it is the right time for you.
How do we know if our calling is to be a religious brother or sister, a married person, or to live a life of a single person? We may always question if we made the right decision, if that was what God really had planned for us. But if God calls you to live a single life we shall not search for a partner. If God’s plan is for us to be a religious brother or sister we shall not disobey him. If God’s calling is for us to be a married person and to have a wonderful family we should try to be true to our commitment.
No matter what the commitment is that God has called you to do, remember to stay honest and true to that commitment because only God knows what is best for you. He would never lead you in the wrong path.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Learning the “Little Way” as a Prayer Practice
On September 26, 1897, just four days prior to her death this conversation between Therese and one of her sisters took place:
(Sr. Genevieve) said to her…: “You will look at us from up there in heaven, right?” (Therese) replied spontaneously:
“No, I shall come down!” (Therese, p. 228).
And an anonymous nun reported, “We asked her what name we should call her when we prayed to her in heaven”:
“You will call me little Therese,” she answered humbly (Therese, p. 270).
We have many saints in our Christian tradition to serve as role models for our own sanctification. St. Therese had a great desire “to spend her heaven doing good on earth” and made a specific promise to return after her death to assist those of us who need help in deepening our relationship with God and Jesus. But the most important lesson we can learn here is not “about” Therese; the lesson is to actually learn and practice her “little way of love and confidence” ourselves.
In this reflection we will learn a prayer practice that will enable us to love and serve Jesus better. This teaching will be especially helpful for anyone who needs help in managing his or her emotions and feelings. We can learn to notice our feelings and let them become the prayer by offering them up to Jesus.
Training the Mind and Heart
The following is a teaching from one of the nuns here at Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Sr. Meg Funk. The full teaching can be found on her website www.megfunk.com:
There is story after story of conversions. Many priests and sinners attribute their new life of apostolic love to some connection with St. Therese. Her “Little Way” of using ordinary consciousness of feelings and relationships is prayer.
Now, lest this practice of the “Little Way” be just one more theory about prayer let me provide an example from life here today at Our Lady of Grace Monastery:
Today is the anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. Beech Grove is having a vigil but it seemed better to me if we have one here along with Vespers. So, I went to the Prioress who was not home. Then, to the presider who said to go to the Liturgical Director. I went to the Liturgy Director who said, “no” as it was the feast of St. Joseph and we had bell practice after Vespers that makes a long evening. So, I felt my anger rising and asked if at least we would have a petition to end this war incorporated into today’s Vespers.
I realized that in a monastery I should have started the planning earlier and that the horarium is set and sealed, but we did have a vigil four years ago to pray for peace. Now, that is the setting, but let me factor through with this real incident the practice of the “Little Way” as the prayer:
* I did not get my ego-idea met and felt angry.
* I expressed my anger to Sister Harriet, but then apologized as she was just expressing her view.
* I felt badly on several counts . . . no vigil, my anger expressed, causing dissention around the very issue of peace, etc.
* I now offer my feelings about the situation, all of them, and refrain from a lot of analysis.
* The feelings are the prayer for peace.
* I feel weak, powerless even over my own emotions so how to stop a war!
* I take those very feelings and send them to Our Lord as Little Flowers and ask them to be the prayer for peace.
*I offer my sad, angry feelings about the war and my causing stress around here trying to initiate a vigil at such a late date as my prayer for peace.
*I exchange my emotions as substitution for those who are suffering in this war.
*I call on St. Thérèse to intercede for me on behalf of this prayer so that my energies of anger are transmuted into prayer for those who are victims of this war.
* I offer these flowers (emotions) as many times as they rise and as many times as I feel them. It feels like a steady chant of offering, this “Little Way” that becomes a prayer.
* I refrain from any self-centered thoughts about how to justify my anger or to take parts of the war picture and restart my anger.
*I use this way of being little as a prayer of sacrifice knowing in faith that God hears my prayer.
*In faith I know that my practice of the “Little Way” really is more effective than if I got a large Vigil service planned and executed to our usual perfection. God knows me better than I know myself.
Conclusion: The "Little Way" is a practice that becomes prayer when made into one's way of life. Prayer is lifting up the heart to God.
Therese of Lisieux. Her Last Conversations. Translated by John Clarke, OCD. Washington D.C.: ICS
Funk, Sr. Mary Margaret. “What is Prayer: A Reflection on Therese of Lisieux, Part 2.” MegFunk.com. April 15, 2008.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
1. These Sundays of Lent we have been exploring some of the effects of the sacrament of Baptism. First, we considered how Baptism makes us participants in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Last week we looked at Baptism making us members of the People of God. Today we will reflect on Baptism giving us a share in the priestly office of Christ. What exactly does that mean? The Second Vatican Council explained it clearly in its Constitution on the Church: "The sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation through the sacraments and the exercise of virtues. Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful are appointed by their baptismal character to Christian religious worship.... The faithful indeed, by virtue of their priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist." (## 11,10)
2. I personally think that this is one of the richest teachings of the Council and one that we still have a long way to go in helping people understand this and making it an active part of their faith. A little history will give us some context. Back in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation denied that there was any legitimate Christian priesthood They couldn’t find any mention of Christian priests in the New Testament. So the leaders in the new Reformation churches took titles like pastor, minister, elder or even prophet. The Catholic Council of Trent, reacting against this Protestant trend, strongly reaffirmed the traditional Catholic teaching on the validity of the priestly order as a church ministry and office. In the centuries that followed the priesthood was praised more and more, often to the detriment of the laity. There was less and less a proper role for the laity. In terms of the sacraments and liturgy, the priest did everything; the laity were merely passive participants. That view the Second Vatican Council wanted to broaden; they wanted to restore the active participation of every baptized person in the church in the sacraments and liturgy. Listen again to those words: "Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful are appointed by their baptismal character to Christian religious worship.... The faithful indeed, by virtue of their priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist." (## 11,10)
3. There are any number of practical results that come from this. I’d like to mention just three of them. First of all, it says that the faithful participate in the offering of the Eucharist. How does that happen? It happens when you offer your life as a spiritual sacrifice to God during the Eucharist. That means that all you do during the week to live a good Christian life—being honest and fair and just and loving in your dealings with people. These you offer to God at the Eucharist. When the priest raises the bread and wine in offering them to God, in your mind and heart you should be offering yourself as a spiritual sacrifice.
4. A second result of this "appointment by baptismal character to religious worship is that we can once again refer to the priesthood of all the faithful. In the four hundred years before Vatican II that was a no-no idea, even though it had a strong biblical basis. In the first letter of Peter it says: "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2:5) The priestly character that each of you possess means that worship is your right and responsibility.
5. A third result and one that follows also from the priesthood of all the faithful is the ability of every baptized believer to bless. In blessing those people and things that are proper to your life, you exercise your priestly power. In blessing you make holy and relate to God what you bless. Parents should bless their children. Teachers should bless their students. All these things flow from the sacrament of baptism. Let us be thankful.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The quote is from Psalm 69 and it is changed to the future in John’s Gospel to tell us the ardent love that Jesus will display for all humanity. Each of us, in the vows we have taken, have promised the same—we want our love for God to consume us.
I find myself back in last week’s Gospel on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration, filled with awe and bewilderment! How can I let my zeal for God consume me? I seem to be like a dam or lock system that only lets out so much zeal. This is good for today and then shut down.
The voice from the mountaintop calls out: “Listen”.
Benedict’s voice adds “. . . and attend with the ear of your heart.”
For God’s love to consume us, we have to have a willing heart ready to listen.
Is there anything cluttering up my heart? Your heart? Our heart?
Please God, cleanse our temples so we can rest with You and be consumed for You!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Doing everything with moderation reminds me to work on balancing my day. Making sure I take quality time for prayer both personal and communal in addition to getting enough sleep, eating properly, exercising, etc will keep me in balance. Too much of anything is not good and Benedict is reminding us to keep things in good order and to find the balance.
This is not an easy task and one that I work on constantly. When I am aware of an area out of balance I work on getting things back under control so that my life can flow better.
Monday, March 9, 2009
We all suffer; since we are human it is inevitable that we will have trials throughout our life. Suffering, especially when it is intense, can seem intelligible and senseless at the time. So, how can we look at our suffering and see it as a blessing?
Therese suffered very much in her short life. But she begged God for the grace to not just endure it, but to embrace it. Here are a few of her thoughts on the subject from her autobiography, Story of a Soul:
“Yes, suffering opened wide it’s arms to me and I threw myself into them with love” (p. 149).
“I am truly happy to suffer” (p. 210).
“My God, I accept everything out of love for You: if You will it, I really want to suffer even to the point of dying of grief” (p.217).
When reading the third quote, especially, we really get a sense of Therese’s anguish. It might be helpful to understand the background from which she wrote that particular line. Her favorite blood sister in the Carmel community – the one she loved most – was Sr. Agnes of Jesus (Pauline). The Superior was considering sending Sr. Agnes to a mission in Asia, which meant that Therese would probably never see her again. Her anguish and distress at the possibility of this move was immense. But she accepted it, especially her feelings about it, and offered it up as a sacrifice to Jesus.
Therese understood that to love Jesus, she had to participate in His suffering for humanity. The suffering was never just for the sake of suffering. She didn’t wallow in it. She believed that if she accepted suffering she could offer it up to Jesus and let Him transform it by His love. But she very much wanted to suffer for others and take on their burden out of love. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? He took on the sins of humanity. His agony in the Garden of Gethsemani was a very deep and unspeakable grief. He even asked that “this cup might pass”! But, He then continued: “Not my will, but Your will be done” (Matthew 26.39). Jesus laid down His life for us.
Therese laid down her life for her sisters. It certainly wasn’t as dramatic, but she laid it down, nevertheless. For example: She worked hard but was not efficient in practical matters. She knew that some of the nuns talked about how she was lazy and incompetent. This hurt, but she still smiled at them and went out of her way to do kind things for them, offering up each sacrifice as a flower to Jesus.
Much of her suffering was due to her emotional immaturity. She was unusually spiritually mature, but emotionally immature. This often caused “a raging storm” inside of her, such as at the thought of her dear sister, Sr. Agnes leaving. Most of the time her sacrifices were hidden and unknown until after her death. Many were surprised at her sanctity.
To suffer out of love is very Christian. Let us visit another author, Martin Israel. In his book The Pain That Heals he wrote:
"To bear another's pain means to be constantly present in thought and prayer, silent except when moved to speak by the Holy Spirit, always aware of the depth of distress and yet even more conscious of the power and light of God, who rules omnipotently in all worlds and over all situations. Such a person suffers vicariously, and in taking on the victim's burdens gives them to God in prayer. And God transfigures both the victim and the intercessor while changing the burden from an unbearable tragedy to a presage of triumph (p. 117)."
Love can do all things. Jesus can take both the smallest sacrifice and the most “unbearable tragedy” and transform them into the greatest of blessings. Let us pray to Therese, she will be our teacher on this path of love.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Readings: Gen 22:1-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
1. Last week we explored how Baptism incorporates us into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Today we want to look at how Baptism makes us members of the People of God. Like the "Paschal Mystery" the "People of God" is another notion that was recaptured by modern scholarship and was fully affirmed by the Second Vatican Council. It added some vitally important dimensions to what was the then-current understanding of the Church. We need to examine this.
2. The People of God is an idea with strong biblical roots. Its foundation lay in the covenant that God formed with the people of Israel. (Lev 26:9-12) The promise that God made was made precisely with a whole people, not first with individuals; indeed it was that promise that in fact made them a holy people. This promise was later made with each and every member of the People. (Jer 31:31-34) It is that covenant that Jesus Christ transformed into the New Covenant by his Body and Blood poured out for all. That was ratified by the water and blood that came forth from the side of Christ on the cross.
3. By being washed in the waters of Baptism each of us enters into that covenant, that promise. It is made with each one of us as we are a member of the People of God. And so we live with a promise, a promise that the Lord God will be our special God and lead us to the promise of everlasting life. But again we have this promise as a people and so we are to live with one another, sharing the journey of life and faith.
4. So many of those themes entered over time into monastic identity and practice: the theme of monastic profession as a second baptism; the theme of the monastic community as an ecclesiola, a little version of the whole church, of the People of God; the theme of the fruits of the Spirit as the outpouring of monastic profession.
5. This weekend all of you have been engaged in an important step on your journey as the People of God in the election of a new prioress. The grace of God has begun this good work in you. Let us pray especially in this Eucharist that the same grace of God will bring this work to perfection.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Indianapolis native, Sr. Juliann Babcock was overwhelmingly elected the 7th Prioress of the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Beech Grove, Indiana. The canonical election took place on Saturday, March 7th in the monastery chapel. Sr. Joella Kidwell, OSB, President of the Federation of St. Gertrude presided over the election. Sr. Juliann humbly accepted the decision of the community and will officially become the next Prioress at her Installation on June 7, 2009. She will succeed Sr. Carol Falkner who has been Prioress for the last eight years.
Sr. Juliann is the daughter of the late Jim and Evelyn Babcock. She grew up on the eastside of Indianapolis and graduated for Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Grade School. She attended Our Lady of Grace Academy and entered the Sisters of St. Benedict upon her graduation in September, 1966. She made her First Monastic Profession in 1968 and her Perpetual Monastic Profession in 1973. Sr. Juliann received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Indianapolis and her Master’s Degree in the same field from Ball State University. She also received a Master’s Degree in Spirituality from Holy Name College.
Sr. Juliann began her career as an educator in 1971 and continued in that ministry until 1981 when she became a staff member at the newly created Benedictine Center (now the Benedictine Retreat & Conference Center.) She has also served her community as the Vocation Director from 1989-1993 and then as Sub-Prioress from 1993-2001. Most recently, she has been the Formation Director assisting women in the early stages of their religious vocation.
Sr. Juliann will shepherd a community of 71 members for a term of six years.
How is one to be perfect just as our heavenly Father? As I continued to reflect and pray I came across a quote from St. John of the Cross. It is short but to the point.
"God measures our perfection neither by the multitude nor the magnitude of our deeds, but by the manner in which we perform them."
Being perfect is more about attitude than the deed itself. Today as I continue to discern with my sisters who would best serve us as Prioress I am going to be mindful of my attitude. I want to serve with love and joy. Will I be perfect like my heavenly Father? I can only strive for such greatness. Knowing that God is always right there with me helping me be the person I'm called to be gives me the strength to be the person I'm called to be.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Do not get too involved in purely worldly affairs and count nothing more important than the love you should cherish for Christ.
(RB Ch 4, v 20-21)
There are many quotes in the Rule of St. Benedict that I appreciate, so I would not be able to select a favorite. However, this quote is one that speaks to me right now. I find myself becoming so engaged with the issues of our world, our political campaign and new president, our economic crisis, global warming and our environment, and other world affairs. While it is very important to stay informed, especially as citizens of our country, I often catch myself looking for the next news story or an update on the latest development. If I am not careful, I can allow this interest to determine how my day is spent. When this happens, then it is an addiction - not Christ - that is at the center of my life.
So many activities can become addictive – following our favorite sports team; shopping for the best bargains or playing video games or Wii. Even hobbies such as reading or crafts can become so. There is nothing wrong with these activities, and are healthy in proper doses. The question becomes “Does this activity determine how I spend my day?” It comes down to the small choices we make, the activities that we choose to fill our free time, and how we approach these activities. More importantly, what do we exclude? Are we making time to share with others? Do we have time to listen to Christ in our lives? Are these activities helping me to grow in my relationships with Christ and others? These are daily questions that help guide me in my choices in living my life for Christ.
Monday, March 2, 2009
“What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy.”
In the previous reflection we learned that “Manuscript B” of Story of a Soul is Therese’s masterpiece to us. It was originally written as a letter at the request of Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, one of her own blood sisters in community. Sr. Marie recognized the unusual spiritual maturity of her younger sister and requested that Therese explain her doctrine to her once again in writing.
However, after Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart read the letter she was not only overwhelmed by its content, but she even misunderstood a very important and basic principle of Therese’s message. Lucky for us! We also have the reply that Therese quickly wrote back to Sr. Marie gently correcting her and explaining once again her “little way.”
This is perhaps the core of that reply, “What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy” (Letters, Vol. II, p. 999).
Therese’s message to her Sr. Marie is the same message she still speaks to us today, that is, to recognize our weakness, poverty and total dependence upon God. In the world we are taught to be strong, self-reliant and strive to stand out. Therese turns all of this upside down. Her message is none other than Jesus’ message to us, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:18)
Our little saint, Therese, fully recognized and accepted her own weaknesses. She had been extremely sensitive as a child, prone to severe depression and emotional breakdowns, and had a propensity to be overly dependent on others. She was also clumsy and lacked a good formal education due to her inability to cope with being in a school setting.
Instead of giving up hope, she begged God to give her the grace to love Him in spite of her weakness, or in and through her weakness. Fully embraced, this very weakness became her means to God. She learned that to love God she had to accept herself as she was, love her littleness, and offer it up to God. “When I am weak, then I am strong!” declared St. Paul (2 Cor 12:10).
However, because she accepted her weaknesses, does not mean that she gave in to them. With patience and persistence she strove, with God’s grace, to overcome them. For example, when another nun irritated her or caused her distress, she smiled and gave a kind word, offering this small gesture of love up to Jesus, as a beautiful flower.
Since Therese did not rely on herself she could rely totally on God and abandon herself to Him as a child does in its mother’s arms. Because she loved her littleness, she was confident that Jesus would come looking for her and “transform (her) in flames of love…” (Letters, p. 999).
Lisieux, Therese of. Story of a Soul: the autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux. A new translation by John Clark. ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.: Third Edition Published, 1996.
______________. The Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux and Those Who Knew Her: General Correspondence, Volume I (translated by John Clarke)
______________. The Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux and Those Who Knew Her: General Correspondence, Volume II (translated by John Clarke)
______________. St. Therese of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations (translated by John Clarke)
______________. The Prayers of St. Therese of Lisieux (translated by A. Kane)
______________. The Poetry of St. Therese of Lisieux (translated by D. Kinney)
Funk, Sr. Mary Margaret. Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life. New York: Continuum, 2001, 102-107.
Funk, Sr. Meg. What is Prayer?: A Reflection on Therese of Lisieux, Part 1. November 5, 2007. http://megfunk.com/entry.php?id=2
Funk, Sr. Meg. What is Prayer?: A Reflection on Therese of Lisieux, Part 2. April 15, 2008. http://megfunk.com/entry.php?id=3
Chowning, Daniel. Sleeping Jesus, Sleeping Therese: the Prayer of St. Therese. July 6, 2008. http://www.megfunk.com/entry.php?id=34
Chowning, Daniel. The Little Way. July 9, 2008. http://www.megfunk.com/entry.php?id=37
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Readings: Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
1. This Lent I would like to do the Sunday homilies on the various themes of baptism that I will be alluding to in my opening blessing. It’s a way of emphasizing the importance of baptism as a Lenten theme. This Sunday the topic is: Baptism joins us to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The rediscovery of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ as the very heart and core of the Christian faith was one of the great achievements of the 19th and 20th century Catholic Church. It had been lost sight of over the centuries due to a variety of cultural and historical circumstances and the Catholic Church had become the poorer for it. But through the work of many liturgical and historical scholars that centrality was recaptured and later fully accepted by the Second Vatican Council as the best expression of what is at the very heart of Catholic Faith.
2. The phrase, Paschal Mystery, refers to the whole dynamic of what occurred in the last days of Jesus’ life, but especially his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. The Church sees in this "passing over" the core event of Christian faith, the foundation from which everything else flows. It is this event that saves all of humanity and all of creation. It is an event that happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and it continues happening today in the Holy Spirit poured out in the Church and the world, and will continue to the end of time.
3. The way that we fully enter into this dynamic of the Paschal Mystery is, first of all, through the sacraments, esp. the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. They bring us into the Christ-dynamic of the Paschal Mystery. But just as the Paschal Mystery happened in the life of Jesus and extends forward in history, so it begins in us with our own baptism but then extends forward through the rest of our lives.
The second way we enter this dynamic of the Paschal Mystery is by seeing and living our lives as a process of transformation through passion and death to Resurrection.
4. It is mostly in facing the reality of death that the Paschal Mystery becomes real for most people. As a part of our own entry into the Paschal Mystery each of us should do some reflection on the reality of death during this Lenten season, our own death and the deaths of those we love. I especially like a quotation from Sheila Cassidy’s Sharing the Darkness: "At a religious level perhaps the most important gift (for a care giver to the elderly and the dying) is a paschal overview—the ability to hold in the same focus the harsh reality of suffering and the mind-boggling truth of resurrection, of life after death. One must develop the ability to stand with feet firmly planted on an earth inhabited by wounds and vomit bowls, but with the gaze focused beyond the mess of the here and now to a future of hope beyond imaginings. More than anything, one must know deep in one’s guts that death is the beginning, not the end." (p. 7)
5. We don’t usually think of Christian death as an act of faith in God, and yet that is precisely what it is. St. Paul knew that when he wrote: "We were buried with him by means of Baptism into death..." (Rm 6:4) Remember though that we don’t go through this alone, but in union with the communion of saints. Many years ago a seminarian told me of an old man who was dying in a hospital. The seminarian was serving as a chaplain and he visited the old man and prayed over him every day. The old man said nothing. And then one day at the end of the prayers the old man motioned to come closer. The seminarian did so, and heard the old man say weakly: "Thank you for dying with me." That says it all. In Baptism we become participants in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.
Each month, Anne, a lay apostle, receives a message from Jesus. This is the message for March. To read more about the locutions Anne receives from Jesus and His Blessed Mother click on this link: Direction For Our Times.
My children, your work stretches out before you. How many serve? How many resist My will for them? When you consider others who do not seem to be serving Me, I want you to turn your face away. I want you to consider only My will for you in a given moment. This will protect you from many temptations. You can answer Me with simplicity when I ask you at the end of the day, “Have you served Me well today?” You can simply say, “Yes, Lord. I have done My best.” Then you can lay down your worries and rest. Beloved apostles of God, do not be distracted by others. I know this is hard for you. I know that others can cause you upset. But if you consider how I have asked you to experience others, you will do better. I want you to view those around you as pilgrims journeying toward Me. That is what you are, after all. Can you deny others the need to move gradually to perfection when you, yourself are doing the same? You are involved in a process which means that you remain imperfect. Why would it be different for those around you? You have come to trust My loving compassion, My forgiveness and My uninterrupted affection. That is because you have come to know Me. If others do not know Me as well as you do, they will trust Me less. If they trust Me less, they will experience fear and this will cause them difficulty which moves out from the fear to greater and greater pain. If My apostles will accept that fear of being unloved is the source of great pain for others, My apostles will view the mistakes of others with compassion, as I do. Yes, the pain of humanity can only be remedied by loving compassion. This is why you are sent out by Me. You move into the world with heaven’s healing compassion. My apostles, perhaps you do not feel this compassion from others. Perhaps you feel that you are in need of compassion and find only condemnation. I make two remarks about this. One, please be willing to ask for understanding from other holy apostles and then accept what they offer to you in humility. Next, ask Me if I am judging you. Ask Me if I view you harshly. You know that I do not. I am pleased with whatever you offer Me in terms of fidelity and service. I am pleased with whatever you give to Me in terms of prayer and silence. I work so well in your little soul when you allow Me. I feel the greatest compassion for you. I am happy with your efforts to be holy and to love those around you. I rejoice in you. I rejoice in your commitment to Me. I urge you today in the most serious way to trust Me and trust in My plan for you.