Archive for the ‘the Gospels’ Category

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

One life and how it changed so many

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Yesterday I began my vacation. I enjoyed an exquisite kayaking trip up the Sudbury River in Concord, MA to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Reserve. The day ended with a wonderful family dinner to welcome home my brother-in-law as he visits from California.

I remember sitting in my kayak, looking at the scenery and thinking,  “It doesn’t get more beautiful than this.”

Yet after today, that beauty paled in comparison.

My favorite day of vacation won’t be the glorious kayak trip or the family reunion dinner.

It will be a funeral.

Today I witnessed something so beautiful that I couldn’t stop weeping. I was not sad; I was overwhelmed.

The essence of Henry

A very special man had died. He was a member of our parish family and our town for several decades. His wake was crowded and the funeral mass nearly full. Our pastor summed up the story of Henry this way:

“Henry was a gracious receiver.”

What in the world does that mean? Monsignor Mike used the gospel reading as the key.

The story of Henry

Monsignor had chosen John 13: 1-17 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It was a different choice for a funeral mass. But Henry was a most unique man.

Henry had fallen prey to a mental illness when he was 19 and spent many years institutionalized. Years later he was placed in a new experimental program where he would live in the community, and he moved to a small apartment in downtown Westboro, MA where he was to live out his days. He joined our parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, and began to use his special gift.

At first people were put off by Henry’s odd mannerisms and ways. But as eulogist Charley O’Neil pointed out, it didn’t take long for those same people to count this dear man as their friend.

A simple life full of love

Henry loved people. He exuded joy and made it a point to meet and greet as many people as he could. He never forgot a name nor a face. He was a fixture at daily mass, loving our Eucharistic Lord most passionately. He prayed his rosary regularly and became known as a powerful prayer warrior.

Henry was also a man who recognized his needs and weaknesses and never hesitated to call on parishioners for help. Charley remarked that once Henry asked you for help, you were a member for life of his little community!

His gift of “gracious receiving” enabled a large part of our parish family to be more like Jesus.

Henry taught us how to receive

Monsignor Mike pointed out Peter in the gospel, how he first refused the Lord’s offer to wash his feet. When Jesus told Peter that he could not be a disciple unless he received this gift, Peter understood and allowed the Lord to wash his feet. In turn, Peter would care for many of the flock throughout his life with greater love than he could have imagined.

Monsignor explained that Henry did that for people. He asked for help and received it graciously. As a result, Henry was Jesus to many and allowed others to be Jesus to him. He helped people live the verse from the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36, paraphrased)

Charley O’Neil as a key member of  Henry’s beautiful community of friends, driving Henry places and each year, hosting a big birthday party for him at his home. I imagine that each year, the guest list got longer.

Henry taught us how to love

And Charley reminded us that Henry indeed represented the least of us, a man disabled who had to depend on others for his needs. Henry was a man who would normally be shunned and forgotten, but he refused to play that role. His great joy and fearless love, fueled by his devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, enabled him to achieve the kind of legacy we could only dream of. (read Henry’s obituary here; read a letter to the town of Westboro about Henry here)

Surely Henry is “free of his demons” as Charley said, and “rests in the arms of the Lord.”

What Henry taught me

And why could I not stop weeping? Because, here was a man with a heart so big and so full that, despite his “demons” was able to change so many lives for the better.

Only this week the Lord has been showing me the painful truth of my small heart which I liken to the Grinch who stole Christmas. So small and stingy. So afraid.

Today I was exposed to a heart and a life that was lived fearlessly, in great joy. Henry’s light was so bright and although I barely knew the man, his funeral and life story would change me forever.

Henry understood the delicate balance of receiving and giving. “So simple,” said our pastor, and yet so profound.

True beauty

Today I saw a beauty and a truth that reminds me yet again that there is nothing in this world that can even begin to compare to the love of our God.

I may have kayaked down one of the most scenic rivers in the world yesterday. I may have enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family, full of laughter, love and stories.

But all of that paled in comparison to the truth of God’s love as shown through the life of “the least of these.”

Henry, you’re in heaven now and I bet your giving has just begun. You gave me a most precious gift today. And I will continue to ask you to pray for me that God will grow my heart to be as big and generous as yours. Rest in peace.

 

 

In honor of the Virgin Mary and her Assumption into Heaven

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Today on this feast of the Assumption, a simple post: letting pictures and songs tell the story of Mary. We can gaze upon the beautiful faces of Jesus and Mary and thank  God for all the blessings we have received in our lives. We can lay down our burdens at the feet of Mary and ask her to take them to her Son for He will refuse her nothing.

Gaze upon the tender love shared between the two, knowing that we too are included in this intimate circle.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Readings for the Day:
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab, Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16, 1 Cor 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56

 

 

 

The price for taking one’s eyes off the prize

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Today I read two very different things that hit me in a big way.

Quote from classic literature’s favorite mother

The first was a quote from a biography I am currently reading on the life of Abba Alcott, “Marmee” of Little Women (Marmee, the Mother of Little Women by Sandford Meddick Salyer). This quote hit me right between the eyes:

From Abba Alcott: ” ‘Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth’ is a safer principle than that degree of caution which does little on faith and less in love.”

Balking at His call . . .

Yesterday I balked when the Lord asked me to do some ministerial work. An event was being proposed by a dear friend, someone I have worked together with several times, and our work has always born good fruit.

Excuses, excuses . . .

Yet yesterday I found myself filled with misgivings about the offer and I wrote back, citing a full calendar due to my commitments to the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester as its new chairman (and our upcoming women’s conference, Gather Us In 2011), plus a confirmation retreat happening the weekend after the proposed event.

I wrote back my friend, citing the long drive to his church, the time away from my family, the fact that I don’t have the stamina I used to have, etc., etc., etc. . . .

I even wrote, “I hope this doesn’t sound like copping out (maybe it does).”

What about love?

That’s why Abba Alcott’s quote hit me right between the eyes. All my misgivings were all about me. I wasn’t even giving God a chance to lead me through it. My heart was small, like the Grinch who stole Christmas. The last phrase, that degree of caution which does little on faith and less in love.” hit me with a thud.

Needless to say, I wrote back to my friend today and told him I was interested.

Walking or sinking?

Then today I read an outstanding meditation from the RC Catholic Spiritual Direction blog, using the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Matthew 14:22-33. It’s the story of Peter, walking on the water. The title is “Why Do We Doubt?” and it maintains that we don’t keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Hmmm. That sounds like something I was unwilling to do in accepting the proposed event from my friend. At least Peter gave Jesus a chance! I didn’t.

God’s bright, probing light

During my ride into work today I suspended my usual routine and just listened to music so I could reflect. God took that time to shine that bright-but-painful light into my inner self, revealing a spirit of cowardice, a lack of faith, a heart that is still too small, and a life still stuck in the mud.

A firm and loving message

While that bright light was harsh, it was also loving. Throughout the examination, I felt the presence of God encouraging me to continue on and not allow myself to get discouraged. His presence was firm and His desire was clear – keep my wandering eyes and heart fixed on Him! He alone is worthy of trust – He is the Prize.

Be like Peter – accept the invitation to walk on the water. But don’t be like Peter too – never take your eyes off the Prize.

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Lay down your burden

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I just loved the homily given on Sunday by our pastor, Monsignor Mike Foley. He shared a true and compelling story of how he applied the above verses from the gospel reading to his own life.

Several years ago, Monsignor Mike was pastor to the largest parish in our diocese, St. Ann’s in Milford, MA. With approximately 3500+ families in the parish, St. Ann’s at one time had 5 priests to serve. Back in the early 2000′s, the death of a pastor caused the bishop to effectively “shuffle the deck”, redistributing pastors and promoting an associate to pastor to fill the various needs of the diocese. Monsignor was at the bottom of the deck. In the end, he was left alone at St. Ann’s without even the help of a deacon because the deacon was sick. He would not be able to get extra help for at least 3 months. On top of everything else, it was during the height of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked Boston and surrounding communities.

Monsignor knew he was in trouble. He described the various ways he could have reacted:

  • Get angry with the bishop
  • Work himself to death
  • Or turn to the Lord in prayer

He decided to turn the Lord in prayer. At at time when one would think more hours would need to be devoted to work, Monsignor Mike took 2 extra hours (together) out of his day to spend time with the Lord in prayer. He confessed his need and allowed the Lord to give him rest. He took the will of God (His yoke) on his shoulders, surrendering his own will for what he thought ought to be done, and surrendering the will and expectations of others.

In the end,  God showed him how to prioritize his work, helping Monsignor in his decision making, and ultimately, remaking the vision of the parish.

Monsignor Mike really shared from his heart. At one point, standing in front of the altar, he pointed back to the gospel book stating, ” I know that it works to allow God to carry your burden. I’ve lived it!”

All the while I’m marveling at the fact that this holy priest would spend 2 solid hours in prayer. As always, he, in essence, fertilized the desire already in me to deepen my prayer. It’s so helpful when God sets before you such wonderful examples like Monsignor Mike. We at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA are so fortunate!

The tortoise really can win!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I have often lamented the fact that I am a painfully slow reader. I will reread sections, and read every word. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve missed something.

I follow a delightful blog called A Room of One’s Own by a college lit student. She ‘s plunged into reading the classics after having only read current commercial fiction, and she’s keeping a literary journal as she reads. She has read an amazing number of books (and given me a tremendous reference to turn to as I slowly plod through different classics). She wrote a wonderfully thoughtful post wondering whether it was better to read quickly as she does, or read more slowly, like I do.

I have no choice, I have to read slowly, but I envied my friend’s speed reading skills. Until now.

Yesterday at Divine Liturgy, I heard the priest preach about a section in John 14, verse 15 where Jesus states, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Fr. Paul proceeded to explain that following the commandments is not just following a set of rules and then feeling good that you’ve done it. It’s so much more. He used Psalm 1, verse 2 as the example: But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” He focused on the word “meditates,” explaining that the word “murmurs” is a closer translation of the original text.

Murmuring, of course, involves speaking; in many cases, reading out loud. Students often use this method when studying; people who wish to memorize will also use this tact. Murmuring most definitely slows down the reading process. It also helps one to absorb the material.

While I haven’t actually employed murmuring before in meditating upon the scriptures, I have used note taking as a means of unlocking hidden treasures in books. Often it has involved reading a chapter or section twice to get down all the thoughts I had. Using this method, I spent 3-1/2 months reading a 187 page book! Seems absurd, but I unlocked countless treasures by outlining the chapters and the guts of the book (The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life) really sunk in.

Yet, I ‘d like to try murmuring. I have tried murmuring repeatedly the Jesus Prayer, and even have 3 different versions of it set to music so I can “murmur” by singing. Singing is a wonderful way to murmur.

The art of Lectio Divina invites such murmuring as it requires one to read and then pray on a particular scripture, repeating a line or lines over and over. This moves you into meditation and then divine contemplation (John Michael Talbot’s newest album, Worship and Bow Down, has a song by that title that beautifully lays out how to use Lectio Divina to pray the scriptures. Listen to a clip of the song here – track 17).

I felt a real affirmation yesterday at liturgy from the Lord as Fr. Paul described the art of murmuring. It’s okay to be slow. In fact, it’s good to be slow. As the lyrics to Talbot’s song say, “Prayerfully read the Word of God, prayerfully read, take your time . . .”

I am a tortoise who loves to read, and would like to read like the hare. However, as a tortoise, while I probably won’t be able to read everything I have on my list, I will read what I can very well. A slower approach will facilitate the unlocking of many a treasure in scripture and beyond. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Chapter 2 of Genevieve Kineke’s book, The Authentic Catholic Woman moves from the sacrament of baptism as it relates to purifying and hospitality, to our sustenance – food in its everyday and heavenly forms.

She is, of course, referring to the sacrament of Communion and the Eucharist, the true and real presence of Jesus Christ in the physical form of bread.

The theme of bread

Bread is a core theme throughout the Bible.  God rains down manna (bread) from heaven for the Israelites, sustaining them during their 40 year trek across the desert to the Promised Land:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”  (Exodus 16, 4-5)

Jesus as bread

In the gospels, Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15), taking five loaves and two fish and miraculously multiplying them to feed the multitudes. He takes it a step further as shown in John 6, declaring Himself to be the bread of life:

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them,  I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:26-35)

During the Last Supper, Jesus makes good on His word, offering Himself as the Bread of Life by instituting the sacrament of Communion during the last passover meal he was to share with the apostles:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying,“This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

How can the Eucharist make meal time sacred?

Kineke, taking the literal meaning of bread as food, demonstrates how we can live out our daily tasks of preparing and serving food sacramentally by reflecting on the meaning of the Last Supper. What really happened here?

Jesus gave of Himself in totality to his disciples (and the world), sustaining them in all ways through the gift of the Eucharist. We too can offer ourselves, perhaps not as dramatically as did Christ, but through our daily meal preparation and service.

I am no cook but my husband and his family are wonderful cooks. Much love goes into the preparation of meals, done with utmost care and often, as in the case of my sister-in-law, with an artistic flair. I found meal time at my in-law’s house to be a time of healing and consolation. In my own home, due to a member of the family having an eating disorder, formal meal time first became battlefields and then dissolved altogether with the exception of the holidays. It became too painful to eat at the table so meals were taken in front of the TV.

At my in-law’s home, meals were eaten slowly at the table. Filled with laughter, stories and love, the food seemed to taste extra good in that setting of warmth. Once again, mealtime was a time of family getting together and sharing their love with one another. Holiday meals especially were legendary! :-)

Keeping this in mind, I tried to make sure my own family sat down together  at the table to eat rather than in front of the TV. As the children grew older, this became more challenging with school and work. Yet, every now and then when both kids are at home for a visit, I will get the request: “Can we eat at the table?” So while we weren’t always at the table when we ate, everyone intuitively knew that gathering at the table was special.

Where and how we feed others

Most women seem to be especially adept at feeding others, and we do it in so many places:

  • in the womb
  • from the breast
  • at the dinner table
  • at a picnic table
  • at a soup kitchen
  • spoon feeding an elderly parent

Feeding others is an act of giving of ourselves and it always needs to focus on others. If it turns into a performance where we are inviting praise or are too stressed out over the preparation, the point is lost. By focusing on the sacramental nature of feeding (reflecting on the ways Jesus gave of Himself as food), we find the richness that is hidden behind the veil of ordinary life (The Authentic Catholic Woman, page 23). The mundane becomes sacred.

So even for those of us who are not good cooks, we too can give love and sustenance to others through our humble efforts, especially if it is done in the spirit of love. This is something I need to think about the next time I struggle over making a meal that may be far from perfect. Perfection in the art of cooking is not the aim. Rather, what counts is the love that is put into it with the intent of giving that love to others. This lifts even the plainest of meals into something sacred, and beautiful.

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Links to all posts in this 11 part series

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Part 2: The beauty of a Godly woman – learning to say “Yes.”

Part 3: What makes a beautiful Godly woman – Holiness.

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Part 5: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? Modeling ourselves after Holy Mother Church

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Part 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Part 11: Conclusion – Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – the journey is just beginning

 

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Today’s Gospel reading tied in so beautifully with the next topic I wanted to discuss in my series on becoming a beautiful Godly woman that I had to include in today’s post. The reading was from John 12:1-11; John describes a extravagant act of worship and devotion on the part of Mary, the woman who knew that sitting at the feet of Jesus was the most important thing to do. We read in verse 3:

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

John describes the scene in such a compelling way that you can experience it with your senses. I found myself turning it over and over in my mind while driving in to work today.

This leads into Genevieve Kineke’s examples of living according to the sacraments, using Holy Mother Church as our best example. In Chapter 2 of her book  The Authentic Catholic Woman, Kineke talks about the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist) and how we can mirror them in our lives. Baptism was the one that came to mind while reading today’s Gospel and here’s why.

On page 15 Kineke writes:

“It is God’s gift to us that we can lift up our mundane tasks of washing and purifying and link them to Christ’s own work.”

She gives a couple of compelling examples:

Example 1: Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity wanted to minister to patients in a Russian hospital but they were only allowed to scrub toilets. Rather than complain about the menial work, the sisters conducted their work with such fidelity that the beauty of the Spirit shown through everything they did. This most menial of tasks ended up changing the hearts of the officials who then allowed the sisters to minister to the patients.

Example 2:  The women who visited the tomb of Jesus went there to attend to His corpse and prepare it for burial by washing the body and anointing it with oil and spices.

In a sense, this is what Mary was doing in anticipation of Jesus’ death as Jesus points out in verse 8:

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

In order to anoint the feet of Jesus, I am guessing she had to wash them first,  not a pleasant job since feet were largely unprotected from the elements and the main mode of transportation. But she attended to His feet with such love and tenderness, turning a possibly unpleasant job into something beautiful. It was an act that transcended time so that you and I could meditate on it today.

I must admit, I never could make cleaning sacramental. I am not good at cleaning and I dislike the task very much. I only do it when I have to and then it’s such a big job that it gets me very aggravated. I tend to complain loudly while I’m doing it and put myself in a bad mood over it which will spill out in the way I treat others. Hardly sacramental!

I tackled spring cleaning yesterday and tried hard to remember the idea of making it sacramental. I can’t say I succeeded but at least I remained calm and didn’t take out any bad mood on my family. I’m guessing I don’t have a clear enough understanding of baptism yet to make the connection. Or perhaps, it’s just a matter of coming outside of myself and turning towards Jesus, as Mary did. She certainly wasn’t put off by His dirty feet! She relished the idea of ministering to Him in such an intimate manner.

So, with an example like Mary, perhaps cleaning will take on a new dimension. I also love reflecting on those Sisters of Charity and how even cleaning toilets could be used as a way to bring Jesus to others.

I’ll be doing more spring cleaning this week and will try to keep those examples in front of me. I know I need to ask God for help before I begin any task. I’ll let you know if I make any progress. :-)

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Links to all posts in this 11 part series

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Part 2: The beauty of a Godly woman – learning to say “Yes.”

Part 3: What makes a beautiful Godly woman – Holiness.

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Part 5: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? Modeling ourselves after Holy Mother Church

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Part 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Part 11: Conclusion – Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – the journey is just beginning

 

 

“Loving God . . . Loving Neighbor: A Lenten Transformation” Retreat Wrap-up

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

This past weekend (March 11-13), my partner Ann Wagstaff and I had the privilege of presenting to a group of extraordinary women at the Vita Nova Women’s retreat at the Barbara C. Harris Center in Greenfield, NH. The weekend exceeded our wildest expectations! The spirit of fraternity, affection and fellowship coupled with a real move of the Holy Spirit made it a weekend we all will remember for a long time to come.

Here are pictures from the weekend, and below the pictures, a description of what went on (including one of the talks that you can download).

Prayers for Detachment; time for reconciliation

After settling in on Friday, Ann and I led a prayer to help the women detach from their cares and focus solely on God. Music, prayers, candles and sweet scents lifted hearts to Heaven. Each woman wrote down their cares on a piece of paper – all the papers were put in a bag that was attached to mylar balloons that would lift the bag up to the ceiling!

After the prayer, everyone went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with 3 wonderful priests, setting the tone for a Spirit-filled weekend.

Prayer

Prayer was a central part of the retreat – the Sung Rosary was done throughout the day using a Power Point presentation with images, scripture and the music of the Sung Rosary. Here’s a sample:

Loving God . . .

On Saturday morning, the presentations began. The theme of the retreat was the Two Great Commandments, based on Mark 12:28-34 – loving God, and loving neighbor.  A strong emphasis was placed upon priorities – how important it is to love God first and allowing that growing relationship to spill over into loving your neighbor. I shared teaching  on why loving God first was so important in my talk on Martha and Mary (read the text of the talk here), and Ann proceeded to share from her life about her struggles to balance between being a Martha and a Mary, and how she is becoming a “contemplative in action.”

I then spoke about how service happens through an outpouring of grace resulting from loving God, and how that grace can equip us for difficult service (in my case, helping to care for my dying mother).

The morning session concluded with an Emmaus walk, where the women, after hearing the scripture about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus at Emmaus, were instructed to take their own individual walk around the grounds as the disciples did, conversing and listening to Jesus.

Time of  Fellowship

Mealtimes at the dining hall were a highpoint as the food was so well prepared, and everyone was so warm and friendly. There was an extraordinary move of the Spirit through all the women which created a wonderful atmosphere of fellowship. It was a taste of Heaven.

Loving Neighbor . . .

The afternoon session focused on loving our neighbor by discovering and developing our natural talents and gifts, and then becoming aware of and praying for the spiritual gifts (based on scripture from 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) . Ann and I gave a talk tracing our time lines to see what talents and gifts kept appearing throughout our lifetimes as a way of identifying what we do well (I also traced my husband’s interesting time line which led to his vocation as a deacon). I also spoke on what I termed “hidden gifts”  – those things such as being hospitable, being a good listener, or being a good caregiver – talents our society does not value but God does.  Each woman took a written survey to dig deeper into their own gifts and talents, and small group discussion followed sharing what they found out.

The scripture on the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30 set the stage for a talk on the responsibilities we have to use our gifts to serve others. Blessed Mother Teresa was held up as the best modern example of a woman who used her immense gifts to help the poorest of the poor and that her ‘secret’ to her success what that it was all for Jesus. She had a unique talent for seeing Christ in every person she saw. I shared my song about Mother Teresa, “Teach Me to Love” (click here to listen).

Afterwards, the women gathered in small groups where they read sayings from Mother Teresa about service and applied them to their lives. The work they did produced some wonderful ideas – I took pictures of all the work they did so you can see for yourself and perhaps apply them to your life:

A beautiful meditation of the Stations of the Cross (a Power Point presentation with narration) was presented in the evening.

Blessing of the Hands

Sunday morning we were treated to a beautiful mass by Father Benedict of the Franciscans of the Primitive Order out of Lawrence, MA. Afterwards, we gathered back in the gym for our sending forth ceremony known as the Blessing of the Hands. Father blessed the water and the bowl was passed around from woman to woman; each woman dipped a finger in the water and did a sign of the cross in the hand of the woman next to her as a litany was read.  Eventually the litany was opened up and women shared their own blessings. It was a very moving ceremony with many tears shed. The ceremony strongly demonstrated the spirit of love and fellowship that bound together these new friends.

More information on Vita Nova

Ann and I were delighted and honored to have been a part of this event. The Vita Nova team (all volunteer), led by Rose Marie Cussom and Shannon Best were extraordinary in their efforts; their support made it possible for Ann and I to focus solely on the content and presentation of the material. I can’t rave about the team enough! Vita Nova is holding other events – be sure and check out their website for more information.

Update on baby Joseph – keep the prayers coming!

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Thank the Lord and our Lady for interceding for baby Joseph – there has been a temporary stay on pulling the plug:

Baby Joseph saved from life support removal –
transfer to Michigan hospital likely

Today’s gospel reading from Mk 9:14-29 is the perfect reading to reflect upon for this miracle – the father of the boy possessed by the demon cries out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Later, Jesus tells the disciples that this type of demon can only be driven out by prayer.

It appears this demon responds to prayer as well. Let us keep up the fight, and I will keep you informed.