An Earth Day Confession

She holds life within her
She breathes, she sings, she cries
Yet I use her and step on her
As if she were already dead.

Forgive me, God, for moving so far away from Earth
For eating food from packages
Drinking water from cans
Consuming and discarding too much
And giving back too little.

Forgive me, God, for forgetting that I am a guest in her house
For not cleaning up after myself
Not minding the sacrifice of her life for mine
Not even noticing the burden
I have laid upon her.

Forgive me, God, for not seeing You in Earth’s abundance
For disregarding families of animals and plants
Tending only to what is useful to me
Not recognizing them as neighbors and friends
Of every person on earth.

I promise to do better
To love Mother Earth as she has loved me
May I seek the wisdom of Francis and Clare
As I work to restore our common home.

—Lisa Steiner, April 2021

The Women at the Cross

By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU

Three Marys: Crucifixion by Dawn Williams Boyd
Used with permission.

They did not think it was going to end this way. The women did not dream they would be standing at the foot of a cross. But death is women’s work. Blood is women’s mark. While the other Evangelists mention women at a distance, it is John alone who notes that the women known as Mary, Jesus’ mother; her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas; and Mary from Magdala were standing near the cross, perhaps under the cross. And they were courageous, and they stood there because perfect love casts out fear.

Women are not afraid of death. In many cultures and down through the ages, it is women who prepare bodies for the grave and women who wash and clean the bodies and wrap them for burial processions. And more recently, it is sometimes women who accompany death row inmates to their final chamber.

Women are not afraid of blood either, for it is the flow of blood that turns a little girl into a young woman and it is the stopping of that flow of blood that turns a mature woman into a wisdom-filled crone. Women give birth in blood and water and thereafter stop bloody noses and tend to bloody knees and elbows.   

The women near that cross were not afraid to look upon the bloodied head of Jesus nor the blood that spurted from the hands and feet when spikes were hammered through them. These women did not turn away or swoon when blood and water came from the pierced side of Jesus. Women stood under that cross and from then on women understood that cross.

They didn’t think it was going to end this way, but it had to. Jesus died this way because of the way he lived. Jesus lived a life of love and service and devotion especially to those who were on the margins…a woman who wanted only the scraps from the table, a woman who believed enough that she just needed to touch his hem, a little girl who was dead but then stood up and ate, a woman who had had five husbands, and a shunned woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Those women knew Jesus as compassionate friend, liberator from burdens, consoling friend in sorrows, and ally of women’s strivings.

The blessing that women find in their relationship with Jesus today is no longer just private and spiritual—it is moving them into public and social domains and it inspires in them the struggle for freedom from structures of domination in every dimension of life. It is women’s relationship to Jesus that gives them courage to call the Church and society to conversion of hearts, minds, and structures that can reflect the reign of God through Jesus.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. These women were not supposed to be standing under a cross, but thanks be to God, Good Friday did end this way, so that some women could find an empty tomb on Easter Sunday and go tell the men, “He is risen, He is not here.”

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, 
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop 
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

John 19:25-30

The Black Madonna

By Lisa Steiner, Associate and Social Concerns Liaison

Black Madonna by Katherine Skaggs, used with permission.

Today I pray to the Black Madonna, the mother of all creation. I pray that she will care for all the children of Earth, especially those who look like her. I pray that she can rescue our brothers and sisters who struggle against racism all over the world. And I pray especially that she will empower all mothers to love fiercely and live courageously as she did.

It is this Mary that moves me at this time in my life, not the European depictions of Mary from my upbringing. The Black Madonna offers me a pathway to a God who is in solidarity with the entire human family. This Lent especially, I have needed her intercession so that I can face some difficult truths. Who better than a Black Madonna to understand our troubles? She experienced the anguish of seeing Christ, her own child, humiliated and executed at the hands of the self-righteous. This image of Mary assures me that all people who experience persecution and lose loved ones because of injustice are not alone. The Queen of Heaven accompanies them with every struggle and offers them swift comfort.

For several years I have been getting to know the Black Madonna. Ever since meeting her in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2008 novel, The Secret Life of Bees, I have searched her out and communed with her. I have visited her at the summit of Montserrat, Spain, and closer to home at an exhibit of nativity scenes at University of Dayton. I have found ways to incorporate her meaning into the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows (sometimes called the Chaplet or Servite Rosary). Most of all I have sought ways to connect with our loving God through the Black Madonna’s sacred, feminine power. She consoles me and strengthens me.

Prayer to Black Madonna
O Mother of the darkness
Of the deep rich soil
That brings forth new growth:
Bless all your children
Struggling for new ways
Of being community for each other.O Mother of the darkness
Of the infinite night sky
That graces us with endless stars:
Bless all your children
Looking for hope and light
To pierce the present shadows.O Mother of the darkness
Of the creative womb
That nurtures brilliant possibilities:Bless all your children
Seeking wisdom yet to be experienced
On paths still opening before us.O Mother of the darkness,
Black Madonna, Madre Negra,
Czarna Matka, who calls everyone
In the human community “My child”:
Bless us all and bring us all
Gift and grace as we reach out
For each other’s hands. Amen.
—Jane Deren, Ph.D
Copyright 2018, Education for Justice, a project of Center of Concern  

Our Lady of Chains

By Lisa Steiner, Associate and Social Concerns Liaison

Thank you to Nic Phillips for the use of his artwork. Please see link
below for his new book, Breaking Chains:

On this International Day of Remembrance of Victims of the Slave Trade, I reflect on the Black Madonna in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees. Every country must confront its sins, and the dehumanizing injustice of slavery is at the top of the list for most, not just as a shameful history but as a current reality. There can be no healing – no freedom to move forward – until we are willing to come together to remember, reconcile and rebuild. The harsh truth of slavery is seen in its victims and survivors, who have suffered for generations and who will continue to suffer if we remain passive and apathetic.

The Black Madonna in The Secret Life of Bees is called Our Lady of Chains. This figure was the masthead of an old ship that was found on the shores of a southern plantation. The slave master wrapped chains around her to entrap her and teach the slaves a lesson, yet the story is that she miraculously escaped.

In the novel, Our Lady of Chains was described as a hopeful icon for the Black slaves. She broke the chains of bondage and was a symbol of freedom. “Our Lady filled their hearts with fearlessness and whispered to them plans of escape,” the author writes. (p. 110) Importantly, they saw themselves in her: “When they looked at her, it occurred them for the first time in their lives that what’s divine could come in dark skin…everybody needs a God who looks like them.” (p.141)

Today I stand in solidarity with people who have been enslaved or are currently enslaved as trafficked persons. Millions of our brothers and sisters wear slavery’s scars, yet often we cannot see their reality – in fact, we cannot see them. How much longer will it take for power to kneel, willingly, and confess the truth?

Prayer to Black Madonna
O Mother of the darkness
Of the deep rich soil
That brings forth new growth:
Bless all your children
Struggling for new ways
Of being community for each other.

O Mother of the darkness
Of the infinite night sky
That graces us with endless stars:
Bless all your children
Looking for hope and light
To pierce the present shadows.

O Mother of the darkness
Of the creative womb
That nurtures brilliant possibilities:

Bless all your children
Seeking wisdom yet to be experienced
On paths still opening before us.

O Mother of the darkness,
Black Madonna, Madre Negra,
Czarna Matka, who calls everyone
In the human community “My child”:
Bless us all and bring us all
Gift and grace as we reach out
For each other’s hands. Amen.

—Jane Deren, Ph.D
Copyright 2018, Education for Justice, a project of Center of Concern          

’’I am the One who loves you.”

By Sister Martha Buser, OSU

Here we are, almost through Lent, and many of us are still asking ourselves or others, “What can I do for Lent? What can I give up? Should I give up candy? Watching TV? What other thing can I give up that would be a penance for me?” I realized that this year, due to the pandemic, we don’t have anything we can give up that we haven’t already given up. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to ask a different question. I know that I have to ask it reverently, seriously. I have to ask, “So what?” So what if I can’t go out to eat with my friends. So what if I haven’t seen my family in over a year. So what if I can’t go to Mass every day in person. The words, “So what?” have always pushed me back, saying to myself, “What can I do?” and, “What does my freewill tell me that I really am able to do at this point with love?”

So here I am, faced with not being able to see my family. When I say to myself “So what?” then I am forced to pray about my family and how I can love them more. To understand that they can’t see me either. That their children are growing up without the older people in their families. I think about the families that are missing members. A father, a mother, a brother, a sister has died because of COVID. What choices are around that? So what? So what that they have lost a loved one? What can they do? There are choices that we have, no matter how bad or how hard things are. We always have choices.

We can always answer the question, “So what?” So what do I really want here in my own heart when I think of my family? I pray for them in a way I’ve never known before —that they stay well, that they love one another and that they really look at each other. I love the way it is to watch the newborns become three months old, six months old, and then stand up and walk. So, to be here and now and ask, “So what?” I can be in the here and now and find God’s love there. How blessed we are to be people of faith. Because if we have no sense of a God who loves us, then we are really left with despair.

A friend of mine who was a scripture scholar once said, “Always ask God in the burning bush: ‘Who are you? What is your name, so I can tell the other people want you want.’ And God said to Moses, ‘Tell the people I am the One that has always loved you.’” What a word. We don’t translate it that way so often. But this is a real translation: “I am the One who loves you.”

So I can say when I look at those places in my life where I feel like I have lost something or someone, the One who loves me is with me here. I am the One who is always with you. Then I can say, “What do you want me to do in this situation? If am in this situation what are you asking me to do? What do you want me to be? How can I be the way I really want to be?” Then I say to myself, “Well, I really want to be a loving person. How can I be a loving person when I can’t even get to the people I love?” Well, there are some ways to get to them that aren’t completely satisfactory. I could talk to them on the phone. I could Facetime with them. I could Zoom with them. That is not totally satisfactory, but I can pray for them. Not pray for them that they get well or they don’t have pain, but I can pray for them as they are, as I am and as they are. That’s where God is. I am where you are. God has always said, “I am always with you. I am the One who loves you.” My faith can help me there—because I have faith, I can be joyous during this painful time.

So what will I do with my fear? How can I use it to be alive? As I get older, that becomes a very important question. I can’t see as well as I used to. I can’t hear as well as I used to. But the question always is, “So what?” What can I do about my seeing? What do I want to see? Do I want to see God’s face? Do I want to see and to know and to love God where I am in the shadows and images that may come? Because where I am, that’s where God is.

Moved to Tears by Love

By Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU

I am sure we all have had the experiences of being “moved to tears.” News of a baby born, or the child’s first steps could bring that tear. It may be the passing of a loved one or remembering a special anniversary date of a significant occasion or experience. A tear or two may flow when you hear a special song or attend a wedding or funeral.  Or we may get teary eyed when someone says something to us that may hurt us or make us feel good with an affirmation. Tears may come while watching the famous Hallmark movies.

For me, as an Italian, my tears come easily for many reasons. But I was certainly surprised when I was reading a commentary by St. Athanasius of Alexandria (295-373) on the Prodigal Son. Who would have thought that what St. Athanasius said would move me to tears? During the second week of Lent, we had the reading of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). This gospel has such rich imagery of God’ overflowing unconditional love and mercy. Can you imagine being embraced by God who pours out love so freely to each of us? That ought to move us to tears.

Let me share what St. Athanasius said: “The father kisses him as a son, he counts him worthy of the divine feast and gives him a precious garment he once wore. What happened is the result of the father’s grace and loving kindness. Not only does he bring his son back from death, but also through the Spirit he clearly shows his grace. To replace corruption, he clothes him. The father provides shoes for his feet so that he will not travel far again. Most wonderful of all, he puts a divine signet ring upon his hand. By all these things, he begets the son anew in the image of the glory of God.”

What a wonderful description of God’s gracious love poured out for each of us individually and communally. Imagine for a moment our loving, faithful God clothing you with love, grace, and mercy, giving you shoes to walk in the path of Jesus, placing a ring on your finger as a sign of covenant fidelity. Can you imagine yourself anew in the image of the glory of God? Really, that is what happens every day if we are open to God’s grace and promise. Could this move you to tears?

This is the promise of our loving God to each of us from the very beginning of time, every single day of our lives. Each of us needs to take time each day, savor the moment, embrace the goodness of God lavishing you with unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness. This is truly a graced moment that could move one to tears.

So, it really is not what St. Athanasius said, as much as it being aware one more time who our faithful God is, the God of mercy, forgiveness, and love.

An Eternal Lent

By Sister Sue Scharfenberger, OSU

Did you have that experience on Ash Wednesday on February 17? They said Lent was beginning. To me, it felt more like a prolonging of what we had been living for a year now. Prayer, penance, almsgiving. Nothing new, really.

I struggled to find meaning in this “new” season of Lent. I think I felt fortunate not to have to receive ashes. (Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church.)

 I was grateful for a seminar in which I had just taken part where we revisited the evolution of the universe and were reminded again that we came from stardust. That’s it! “You are stardust and unto stardust you shall return”.

Hearing that did help change and alter my perspective. A smile came to my face. A connection came to my heart. And that, it seems, is what I had been longing for—a way to be connected even in this time of quarantine, even when we cannot accompany friends and neighbors to the cemetery, or visit in the hospital, or stop by their home to see how they are, to encourage, to animate, to support, to share an embrace. That is and has been the eternal penance: the separation, the distance.

I feel it with my family, the teachers and students, the Associates. No hugs from the little ones in the school patio.

Sorry, Zoom does not cut it for me.

So as in every “new Lent,” I began to take stock of how I am doing. I discovered a strange and new frown embedded on my face, not completely due to aging!

And so, my number one resolution is to smile more, even when on the inside I am not feeling that way. Smile, yes, even behind the mask. It is an outer sign of an inner grace. And even in spite of the mask, a smile becomes contagious.

Number two: is to exercise. As we exercise, we increase our stamina, becoming conscious more than ever before, that our lungs can take in what I have learned to appreciate is the marvelous gift of air.

Number three: to remind others with words, gestures, smiles, affirmations, that they too are stardust.

My hope is that in writing this, I will remind myself to be faithful to my Lenten resolutions, and perhaps you will be inclined to share yours. Being stardust together may just brighten this Lent that millions are facing . And I have a feeling that this Lent will continue far beyond what we believe to be “Easter.”

Catholic Sisters Week: Thinking Ahead for Me—and for Others

Joan DiLeonardo Leotta attended Ursuline Academy in Pittsburgh from grades one through eight. This is her story of how Sister Mary Anne Murkowsky, OSU, encouraged her to become a writer, beginning in the 6th grade with the school newspaper. Sister Mary Anne Murkowsky, OSU, taught at Ursuline Academy from 1936-1962. She died on September 25, 1990. Joan did become a writer and also performs stories on stage—often these are tales of food, family, and strong caring women like Sister Mary Anne.

Writing for Ursuline Academy–Pittsburgh’s grade school newspaper during my sixth grade year encouraged my love for writing and solidified a desire to have a career that would have my work in print. The four-page mimeographed monthly “newspaper” begun by Sister Mary Anne only lasted that one year, but while it was operating, I never missed a deadline, competing with the other students in my grade to have a piece published. I wrote furiously—poems, short articles, whatever Sister said was needed, hoping my work would be selected. Indeed, my pieces made it into most of the issues. That year confirmed for life my already growing love for seeing my work in print. Imagine my surprise when years later (in 1987) I learned that Sister Mary Anne began that newspaper specifically to encourage me!

It was an event during the year before, in my fifth grade year, which showed Sister Mary Anne how much I loved words. By age ten, I was already reading the newspaper that landed on our doorstep each morning. Every article’s author was noted under the article headline—by Jane Doe. That notation is known as the byline in newspaper lingo.

At the end of the fifth grade, we had an assignment to write a short story. I penned a rhyming tale about a dinosaur, complete with illustrations. She posted my story and all of the stories that got A’s on the school’s main bulletin board. I proudly enjoyed my story’s prominent place, with my byline right under the story title! After few days, however, the board was empty. I waited for the return of my story. Finally, a few days before summer vacation started, I asked Sister Mary Anne about my story.

“Oh, dear. I threw them all out just last night,” she replied.

I felt as if I could not breathe—she had thrown out my wonderful work, the closest I had ever come to a public byline. I tried not to dissolve into a puddle of tears, but Sister Mary Anne could see how upset I was.

“I will look for it,” she promised.

True to her word, later that afternoon, she handed me the two halves of my torn story. She had ripped it in half before putting it in the trash can. However, she had searched for both halves and returned them to me.

“I’m sorry about the misunderstanding,” she said, “No one else wanted their stories back.”

I thanked her. Somewhere I still have that story, each page still carefully taped together.

That following fall, when we started sixth grade Sister Anne started the school paper. Funny, I don’t recall the name of the paper, but that little blue mimeographed monthly, gave me the chance to prove how much I loved to write. Anyone who wished to do so, in all eight grades of the school, could submit their writing. Every month at least one submission from each grade was selected, by some juried process, (probably Sister Mary Anne’s choices) for publication.

Rejected pieces were always returned with helpful comments for improving it. When her funding expired, some time before the end of the year, Sister Mary Anne simply urged us all to send our work to the many countywide publications open to public, private and Catholic school students at the time. I did, often successfully. I left Ursuline in 1961 at the end of eighth grade to attend Our Lady of Mercy Academy (OLOMA), and when OLOMA moved their campus to Monroeville, I attended and graduated from Taylor Allderdice in Pittsburgh.

Though I did not keep up with Sister Mary Anne, I followed her advice to keep sending out my work. Throughout high school, college and into adulthood, I have continued to write all manner of stories, poems, essays, even a play or two. I was attending OLOMA when I heard a teacher urge a classmate to send her poetry to Horn Book Magazine, an adult publication that published work by teens. Remembering my early teacher’s faith in me, I looked up the address and sent one of my poems; it was accepted, and I received payment! Many of my other poems and essays found their way into print in the school papers and Allegheny County literary anthologies, rewarding me with that all-important byline.

College started off for me with journalism and then diverted to political science and international relations. I worked for the government. I wrote on the job, but did not submit any of my own work anywhere.

Fast forward to February 1987. I was living in Washington, DC. My husband, children and I were in Pittsburgh for my father’s funeral. Ursuline Academy had closed down as a school, but the Sisters were still there, operating the wonderful old Victorian mansion as a community center. The visit would also serve as a break on that sorrowful first weekend without my Dad, their beloved grandfather. We drove through the iron gates, up the asphalt driveway to the front door. The sight of the magnificent red brick building replete with wooden gingerbread decoration and an angel over the door, amazed our five- and seven-year-old children. They had never seen a school that looked quite like that!

I rang the bell on that Saturday afternoon, fully expecting someone I knew to answer. Sister Mary Anne, looking somewhat fragile, greeted us. After exchanging hugs, she took us on a short tour of the classrooms, (grand old rooms with fireplaces) and let our children hop down the mahogany center hall stairs where we students once paraded in Halloween costumes. Then we all sat together in the sunroom, once off limits to students. She was a font of information about some of my former classmates who had remained in Pittsburgh.

Sister Mary Anne then asked me a question.

“Joanie, do you still like writing?”

“Oh yes, Sister! In fact, I am a professional writing and story performer now. I write for The Washington Post, The Journal newspapers and lots of business magazines. I don’t have much time for writing poetry and short stores right now, but I tell stories for children and adults on stage. The school newspaper you started really encouraged me.”

She smiled. “I’m glad.” She took a deep breath and spoke her next words, softly, slowly, and deliberately, as if confessing a deeply held secret. “You know, I started that school newspaper especially for you—to encourage your writing.”

I was amazed. I did not know what to answer except to say, “Thank you.”

We talked some more. Then, after more hugs, I thanked her again. All the way back to my mother’s home, in between answering questions from my children about the school, I marveled at the new information that had rocketed into my life that afternoon. What I had always assumed was simply a happy accidental intersection of my love of writing with a regular way to express that love, had instead, been a purposeful act to encourage me. Sister Mary Anne had me in mind. Not only that, but her question also demonstrated that she had, over the years, obviously thought of me, probably prayed for my expression of talent through writing. Her goal had been to fan the spark of my love of writing into a flame that would burn brightly and our meeting in 1987 confirmed the success of her project.

What is even more amazing is that the project she chose to encourage me also showed her love for all of us—for all of her students. By opening the paper to all students, she knew that students who perhaps had ever been interested in writing, might discover a love for the verbal arts.

Her project would benefit many, not just me. That realization makes me humble and happy, knowing that my obsession perhaps sparked a love of writing in someone else. You see, Sister Mary Anne worked with us every day to help others in the classroom. Older students helped younger ones. If you were strong in a subject, you helped others. We lived this every day under her care and tutelage. Perhaps we did not have the latest equipment or tools or theories of education operating, but we definitely had a teacher who loved us all in Sister Mary Anne. This true love for all of her students, exhibited by using one person’s interest to make a way for many, is the mark of a wonderful teacher.

Sister Mary Anne and I exchanged letters after that meeting in 1987. However, this dear woman died in 1990. But the power of her faith in me and the enormity of the encouragement provided by learning her action had been taken specifically for me, continues to shine brightly in my life.

In fact, although I had been writing newspaper and magazine articles for almost ten years, hearing of her faith in my work, gave me the courage to send out the first piece of poetry I had written in years—a poem I composed in late 1987 in honor of my father. Shells of the Summer of ’62 was the poem and its acceptance set of a round of work in poetry. Whenever I am discouraged, I remember this wonderful woman who saw a love of words in me and believed I could succeed with words.

I have often pondered how she recognized my talent and why she chose the little newspaper as the means of encouragement. Over time, I also, humbly have come to realize that although I was the inspiration for her action in founding the paper, her solutions was a way to also encourage talent and interest in others. And, over time, I have come to realize that what Sister Mary Anne noticed in me was not a mind-boggling talent, but a simple love for words, my own to be sure, evidenced by my desire the year before to retain a copy of my short story.

She knew that writing as a career is about more than talent—success means willingness to revise and to keep improving your writing and the desire to do the hard work of finding a publication outlet for those words you place on paper. Perseverance. Rejections, she noted, were simply a part of the path to later success.

Even today, when a piece is accepted; I celebrate, but do not “stand still.” I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, to expand my range of ability, to expand my impact on potential readers. Rejections the same.

Both my acceptances and rejections, I imagine, elicit smiles from Sister Mary Anne, as they did back in sixth grade. Both are occasions for me to learn to improve as a writer and to become the kind of writer and person that Sister Mary Anne would have wanted me to be, sharing my love of writing with others.

Thank you, Sister Mary Anne Murkowsky, Ursuline Academy in Pittsburgh, Order of Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.

—Joan Leotta


It’s Time to Cleanse the Temple

The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, at St. William Church in Louisville on Sunday, March 7, 2021.

OK, folks, listen up. There is a new sheriff in town! And this sheriff is no namby-pamby. This sheriff means business. He is upset with what is going around town. He means to clean it up! He means to clean it out! He’s not angry exactly. He just calls ‘em as he sees ‘em. And what does he see—injustice, scandal, thievery, cheating, stealing, mockery.  It is just that zeal for God’s house is consuming him. That is what His disciples thought as they stood there in amazement. It’s just he had to do it, no matter the consequences.

Finally, after he had let the pigeons go, the temple authorities intervened. “What right do you have to do this?” they asked. “Give us a sign.” Then this new sheriff, Jesus from Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, (the same one who Paul says is an obstacle to the Jews and madness to the Greeks), perhaps pointing a finger to himself, said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Maybe everyone around missed him pointing to himself because the authorities did not see it. They thought he meant the temple of stones and mortar. The disciples did not see it. They did not get it until after the resurrection and then they said “Oh, is that what he meant!”

So, Jesus cleansed the temple. So what? So, what is that to us today?

Well, look around. Can we think of any temples that need cleansing.? Our governments—international, national, and local? Any whip of cords that could be used here? How about against the same things that Karina called “wild beasts” a couple weeks ago? Have those wild beasts turned up in government temples today? Racism, excessive nationalism, fear of immigrants (even children), police brutality, unjust arrests? Hatred of LGBTQ persons? Maybe the beasts have turned up in the temples of governments.

And what about the temple of the churches ours and others? Do the tables of clericalism, thievery, pedophilia, self-righteousness, misogyny, or power need to be turned over, chased out, spoken to in harsh words? Maybe.

And what about the temples of ourselves? “Ah, now there’s the rub.” (to quote Hamlet). Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Cleansing ourselves—turning our own tables over before we can have the zeal, the right, to overturn other’s tables. Looking at our own attitude toward skin color. Looking at our own carbon footprint. Looking at our own greed. Looking at our own jealousy. Looking at our own prejudices. Looking for our own blind spots. Looking at our own____________. We each need to fill in that blank.

Today’s first reading is a guide for cleansing our personal temple. Let’s close our eyes and think of ourselves in our inner temple and see ourselves turning over the table that lets us rationalize that we don’t have time for God or prayer or reflection. Let’s see ourselves turning over that booth that wants to tell the “little white lie” about our actions or whereabouts or opinions that might not go well with friends. Let’s imagine ourselves taking a whip to what makes us want to look at the porn magazine or dwell on that salacious thought. Let’s envision ourselves opening our cages and shooing out those pigeons of jealousy about wanting a different spouse or house or car or job or_____________ (another blank to be filled in).

And so, it’s Lent. It’s temple cleansing time. Cleansing on the outside? Yes. Helping to cleanse other temples? Yes. Cleansing on the inside? Definitely! Yes, definitely!

“But there’s one more thing,” as Columbo would say. After Jesus, the new sheriff in town, left the temple, people were in awe. They never saw anyone with that courage…They never saw anyone  with that kind of “quick draw.” The sheriff, however, was not about to be flattered by them. And he walked away. Jesus knew our nature way too well.

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, 
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, 
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables, 
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here, 
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, 
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them, 
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said, 
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, 
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, 
his disciples remembered that he had said this, 
and they came to believe the Scripture 
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 
many began to believe in his name 
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, 
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.
Jn 2:13-25

God Heals the Broken-Hearted

The following is a reflection by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU on the readings for Sunday, February 7, 2021.

Seems to me that all the main characters in this past Sunday’s readings on February 7th are a bit testy. Job is really in a bad mood. Hasn’t been sleeping, sees life as drudgery, and thinks he will never see happiness again. He is definitely crabby. Along with Alexander, in the children’s book, Job is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Then there is Paul. He is not a happy camper either. In the passages just before what we heard on Sunday, Paul is telling the Corinthians that he would at least like a meal or two from them for all the work he has been doing among them. He says not to get him wrong…that he is proclaiming the Gospel not to get anything out of it. He has to do it. He is compelled to do it! But a sandwich or two wouldn’t hurt. Paul is trying to become all things to all people. That could make one testy.

And then there is Jesus. He is tired. He had a busy day in the synagogue healing and casting out devils. Then when he got to his new friend’s home to rest, and the first thing he is asked to do before he even sits down is a private healing of his new friend’s mother-in-law. Healing of a woman in her room when all he wanted was to eat supper? Then, He works well into the night healing all the people who have turned up at the door. Exhausted, He sleeps a bit and tries to get some private time to pray. And what happens? The guys come and say in a testy way, “Where did you go? Everyone is looking for you.” Enough to make even Jesus testy. He ignores his guys and says, “I’ve got to get out of here. I have more villages to go to and more preaching to do.” Now everyone is a little testy.

But there is glimmer of happiness in these readings, and that is in the Psalm that says “Praise our God who heals the broken hearted.” And I think about the broken hearted…about Job and Paul and, yes, even Jesus. All of then turned to God at one time or another to heal their broken hearts. Job, when he had lost everything. Paul, when he was stoned and whipped and put in prison. And Jesus, when he wept over Jerusalem, and in the garden and on the cross when he called out to Abba. But, praise our God who heals the broken hearted!

And then I wonder about us. What about us? It makes me think, “When was I broken hearted?” When were you broken hearted? When we heard or parents yelling at one another or at us…when we realized that they were hanging it up and going their separate ways…when we lost a parent to death way too soon? When were we broken hearted?

Were we broken-hearted when we realized that we were being treated differently because of the color of our skin or because we did not have money for lunch or a field trip when all the other kids did? Did we even know that God heals the broken-hearted then? When did you come to that realization?

When were we broken-hearted? When we let drugs or alcohol control our lives or when we saw a sibling or child taken down by these chemicals? When we sent a loved one into a war that was useless or immoral? Or were we broken-hearted when we saw someone from another country than the U.S. turned away from our borders…or taken back across those borders? Were we broken-hearted when we “came out” to family, and we were told to get out of their lives? Did we then grab onto today’s Psalm and say, “God, heal my broken heart! Heal my broken heart!”

And then I thought about Mother Earth! How must she be broken-hearted! How her heart must break when she knows her surface marred and scared and poisoned so that human beings can get to her precious minerals, coal, diamonds, gold, oil, natural gas. Is her heart broken when she feels her ice caps melting and her seas rising and her streams running with red and black water where there used to be clear, blue, and sweet water? And how her heart must break when she sees her natural life especially her beautiful and unique animals killed for gain and glory and not for sustenance—and even then, even then? And how she must grieve when she sees her forests taken down to clear the way for mega-industries that want to use the land for bigger farms and more genetically engineered crops. But we do believe that through us, God will heal her broken heart.

And how our world’s heart must break! Our world, a human race, that was meant from the start to live in harmony, but was soon broken with brother killing brother and then tribes fighting tribes and nations destroying nations and countries now consuming their own people. The heart of our world must be broken with so many people running from oppression or dying from starvation or diseases. But the glimmer of hope that we have is that our God will heal the broken-hearted.

And so the next time we are testy in our own personal lives, or about what is happening to Mother Earth or when we hear the news of what is going on in the human race…when we get testy about these things, we just need to remember that our God heals the broken-hearted.

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

Jb 7:1-4, 6-7

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left 
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Mk 1:29-39