Transfiguration and Transformation: Five Years Later

By Sister Carol Curtis, OSU (formerly Mother John Baptist, prioress of the Discalced Carmelites of Louisville)

Icon by Theophanes the Greek (14th c. Russia).

Five years ago, August 6, 2015, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, our Carmelite community closed the doors of our Monastery. The icon of the Transfiguration still hung in the nuns’ choir as we crossed the cloister threshold onto an uncharted path. The liturgical calendar places this celebration forty days before the Exaltation of Holy Cross on September 14, a day Carmelites ritually reaffirm their vows to follow Christ, even as the autumn leaves begin to change color and fall. Although much has settled in the past five years, change has become part of this new pattern of stability. Observing this fifth anniversary in the midst of a global pandemic should disabuse us all of any lingering notion that things ever were supposed to stay the same. This world, as we know it, is passing away… [I Co 7:31] Transfiguration is, according to the Greek, Metamorphosis – changing form.

The Gospels place the Transfiguration just after the first of three predictions of the Passion. According to St. Luke, it occurs on the journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus will accomplish his exodus or passage. [Lk 9:31]. Our own community, after the tension of discernment and the confusion of preparations to move, sought an appropriate ritual for the transition. We drew on a monastic custom for the Paschal Triduum:  the Pardon of Maundy Thursday morning. Ceremonially, it is very simple, almost stark: a silent circle, a few brief verses on charity and forgiveness, then each offers a humble apology for any hurt and requests pardon of all; the Our Father is chanted as a kind of mutual absolution, sealed by each one’s embrace. Such a seismic shift in our community demanded that we be vigilant in remaining spiritually united. Aware that we were approaching dispersion, we desired all the more to be mutually supportive in the personal Passover each one would have to undergo.

As the familiar bonds of community have been redefined, new relationships continue to develop. In these five years, other communities have become familiar and supportive. Yet, by a gracious Providence, on Carmel’s All Souls Day the year after our move, our little Carmelite community was gathered again in the cloister cemetery as we buried Sister Mary of Jesus, our former extern sister.  There among the crosses, we sensed again that close solidarity with all those sisters we accompanied in their passage to eternity: My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Glory be…. [Ps 116] 

On Mount Tabor, after the thundering Voice of the Father falls silent and the dense cloud dissipates, the disciples see only Jesus. They follow him down the mountain, still without understanding what rising from the dead will mean. Our Transfiguration icon, remarkable for the dramatic star mandorla haloing Christ, is distinctive also for the three rays which proceed from him and touch the eyes of the prostrate disciples. Their vision itself is illuminated by Christ to discern his presence in changing circumstances and recognize him under different forms, ever working all things to good for those who love him. [Rm 8:28]. An ancient Armenian tradition names the Transfiguration, Rose-flame – expressive of a burning beauty—God’s guiding presence as a pillar of Fire in the night.  In the flyleaf of Bread in the Wilderness, Thomas Merton left the benediction: 

To the Carmelites of Louisville,

that they may continue to sing sweetly in exile

the songs of the Lord, as their Jesus guides them

through the desert to the Promised Land

                        Fr M Louis Merton ocso

The Great Women’s March

The following is a speech made by Kathy Williams on Saturday, September 12, 2020 at The Great Women’s March. She was invited to speak at the event by organizer Ruby Hyde, a fellow Ursuline Associate and longtime civil rights advocate. Kathy is also Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.

Mural at 11th and Main Streets, Louisville, Kentucky of Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, George Floyd and Elijah McClain

Good Afternoon. I am honored and humbled to be here with you today, and in the presence of such esteemed leaders in our community. I met Ruby Hyde a few years ago in my role as Communications director for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville. I later became an Ursuline Associate, like Ruby is.  And like Felicia, I am a Mercy Academy alumna, so I had the Sisters of Mercy, but I have come to love the Ursulines.

There are many things I admire about the Ursulines. One of the biggest is that they have long been a prophetic voice in the wilderness on the issues of social justice. They have been educators, they have served in communities of color, they have been advocates for fair housing and several participated in that famous March on Washington with Dr. King and John Lewis, getting into “good trouble.”

Lately, I find myself getting into a bit of that good trouble, both personally and professionally. I am the editor of several publications for the Sisters and their social media. In March, we decided to make the focus of our summer DOME magazine the pandemic—the isolation, the fear and trying to stay connected in the new normal. Then, Breonna Taylor was killed. Then, George Floyd. And before them, so many more. We realized we had to talk about two pandemics that were upon us. 

One was a virus that attacks the body; the other a virus that attacks our hearts. One was a new virus. The other, a virus that has been around for centuries. This virus is racism. 

So, we invited some of our Black Associates, including Ruby, to share what their life experiences have been for this summer issue.

Their words were honest, painful, full of struggle, but also hope-filled. We also included a photo on the back cover with the words: Pray For Peace. Work for Justice. Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Those three words make some white people VERY upset. Some of them, just a handful, let me know that. They ascribe to these three words meanings such as marxist, communist, anti-family and pro-abortion. And I questioned my decision. Was it too much? Too in your face? But then, the president of the Ursuline Sisters assured me that, “If some people are upset, we must be doing something right!” 

Thank you, Lord, for wise women. May we know them, may we raise them and may we be them.

I’ve gotten into squabbles with family and friends over these three words. I have been disappointed by so many white people. I’ve heard over and over, “All lives matter.” (Yes, we know that.) “He or she was a criminal.” “Systemic racism doesn’t exist.” “Black people just need to work harder.”

It makes me tired. Sad. 

And I also know that I don’t know. 

I don’t know what it’s like to be treated differently because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to have to tell my son to keep his hands on the wheel and to become invisible whenever a police officer is near. I don’t know what it’s like to see my family members killed for walking through their neighborhood with Skittles, or jogging or buying a soda, or simply trying to breathe. I don’t know what it’s like to have my daughter killed by police when she was just 26 years old. 

I do know this:

I can be an ally. I can use my voice as a communicator, as an Ursuline Associate, as a mother, as a grandmother, as a woman of faith to say that I see your pain. I see your suffering. I see you. And I stand with you.

The great Muhammad Ali said, “Some mountains are higher than others, some roads steeper than the next. There are hardships and setbacks, but you can’t let them stop you. Even on the steepest road, you must not turn back. You must keep going up. In order to reach the top of the mountain, you have to climb every rock.”

So, we have to keep going. We have to keep holding each other up. We have to be strong women of great faith.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Saint Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline Sisters:

If you all stand united in heart, you will be strong in adversities.

Thank you. God Bless you. Black Lives Matter. 

The Parable of the Vineyard, Revisited

The following is a reflection written by Sister Janet M. Peterworth for the Gospel of Matthew: 20:1-16A on Sunday, September 21, 2020, the Parable of the Vineyard.

The “Kindom” of God is like a landowner who had a vineyard in central California. She needed workers for her vineyard because the fires (caused by climate change) were getting closer to her property. So, she went out at 6:00 a.m. and found a few workers who had gotten up that early waiting to be hired.

So she said, “Come to my vineyard and I will give you a day’s wage for your work, and I will also bring other workers in as the day goes on so you can take breaks and rest. I know what a back-breaking job it is to pick grapes all day.”

So, as she said, she went out again at 9:00 AM and then at noon and got more workers. She promised to do right by them if they picked fast. The wind had shifted and now everyone was racing against the fire (caused by climate change.) The grapes in her vineyard were expensive because they were the grapes that were made into champagne.

Now the wind had shifted, and the fires (caused by climate change) were getting closer. The landowner decided that she needed more workers, but it was 3:00 pm and she was not sure there would be anyone waiting to be hired. As luck would have it however, there were still some folks who needed jobs and she said, “I need help getting my grapes in. If you want to work, jump in my truck and I will pay you what is right.” So, these workers came in and got to work. In the meantime, those who had been hired at 6:00 a.m. were really tired and she told them to rest for the rest of the day, but to hang around.

By now it was 5:00 p.m. and if the vineyard was to be saved at all, more people were needed. So once again, the landowner jumped in her truck and went into town. And sure enough, there were folks there who wanted to work. The landowner was curious, so she asked them, “Why have you been here all day? Why hasn’t anyone hired you?” One worker said in Spanish, “I don’t have a green card and business owners were afraid to hire me.” Another said, “I just got out of prison and served time for a felony, so no one trusted me.” One more spoke up, “I am a single mom and seems like every time an employer came here today, I was home with my sick baby. My neighbor is helping now, so that I can work the rest of the day.” So, the landowner said, “Hey, you are the kind of people I need. I bet I could train you to be really good workers. Jump in.” And off they went racing to the vineyard. The landowner was so happy now because it looked like her workers were going to get the grapes in before the fire (caused by climate change) got to the vineyard.

Finally, at the end of the day and they could not pick any longer because of the smoke and danger of the fire (caused by climate change), the owner called it quits. It was time to settle with the workers. She called them all into her winery and after consulting with her foreman, the landowner said, “You have all worked so hard and helped so much I am going to give every one of you the same pay for your work. Working together as a team, you have saved my vineyard, and you shall be paid as a team. The whole thing will probably go up in this fire (caused by climate change) later tonight, but we got this last crop in, and I will just have to plant more next season. Maybe I can hire you to help with the replanting. You are a good group of workers.”

One of the workers who was hired at 6:00 a.m. spoke up and said, “I am glad you brought in other workers to help. They really saved the day because we could not have gotten the grapes in without them. And I just want to say, it is generous of you to pay all of us the same. Really, if the grapes had gone up in flames, none of us might have been paid. I’m just grateful we all got something.” And the single mom who had been hired at 5:00 p.m. said through tears,” I never expected to even get hired, but this has been wonderful. I did work hard, and I am so glad I could help as much as I did. This pay is going to let me get the medicine I need for my sick baby.”

The landowner said, “I think this calls for a celebration! Foreman, please get some bottles of champagne off the shelf so we can offer a toast to one another for our hard work in saving the vineyard and a toast to God for sending such good workers into the vineyard.”

And so it is in the Kindom of God.

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. 
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard. 
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off. 
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise. 
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage. 
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage. 
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you. 
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 
Take what is yours and go. 
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

MT 20:1-16A

Walk the World with Love: Angela’s Way of Life

By Sister Carol Curtis, OSU

Pax et Bonum – Peace and Good. This Franciscan blessing expresses at once both praise for God’s goodness in creation and a prayer for God’s peace in all the earth.  The beauty of Desenzano, Angela’s birthplace, manifests this goodness, with heaven’s peace reflected in serene Lake Garda.  From her early years, the harmony of her natural surroundings and the warmth of her family circle seem to have instilled Angela with gentle reverence and inner balance.  Prayerfulness was a way of life for her, as much a part of engaging with the world, as of recollection.  In this, she had the example and companionship of Jesus Christ who lived in this world for love of us. [Rule 5:12] — for Angela, too, walked the world with love.

In her lifetime, Angela was considered a santa viva, a living saint and spiritual mother, a woman of interior prayer and gifted discernment.  She encourages us to discover this contemplative stance, and to dispose ourselves for it with frequent vocal prayer through which the bodily senses are awakened… [Rule 5:7]  One’s own voice quickens the senses to integral attentiveness, such that vocal prayer becomes incarnational. Such mindfulness attunes us to the inscape of creation itself, the dearest freshness deep down things, as Gerard Manley Hopkins poetically calls it [“God’s Grandeur”], and to the deep, life-giving spring of the Spirit welling up within us.  

Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who walked this earth for love of us, Angela’s impetus to pilgrimage expressed the internal dynamism of her prayer.  She walks with God, goes with God, and is drawn by God. In times of crisis, she calls us to a place of stillness, gathered at the feet of Jesus Christ. Yet, times of discernment set her in motion, in the sacred displacement of pilgrimage.  Again and again, walking the pilgrim way— body and soul – clarified the path for her ministry and for the Company. Even the mysterious physical blindness on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land initialized Angela’s inner vision, compelling her to see the holy places with the eyes of her soul, and to see a christened world.

The cobblestones of daily life pave our pilgrimage together—prayer marks its cadence. As we travel, let us not be desensitized, not dulled to the pax et bonum creation sings. In all life’s varied seasons and movements, let us strive to live in harmony.  Angela exhorts us to this integrity:  whether walking in liturgical procession or in protest for social justice, in our neighborhood or in the forest, to walk kindly, humbly, peaceably, reverently—for we walk together with the Lover of us all. May it be so.  In our beautiful and broken world, may we each, gifted and wounded and beloved of God, walk in love. [Eph 5:1-2]

Look Again

The Ursuline Sisters of Louisville’s mission statement proclaims in part: “Our mission…cutting across socio-economic, racial and national boundaries, assists [all] to live more fully and develop a personal relationship with God.” At our Chapter in August, 2020, we renewed our commitment to work for peace and justice for all. In consonance with this statement, we offer the following reflection by Reverend Ron Bell, a Black United Methodist Minister and lead pastor of Camphor Memorial UMC, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

My city is burning, but not in the way the media is showing. Did you see the fire, not the one burning down the precinct but the one burning in the hearts of the wounded in my community? The grieving mothers and grandmothers recalling the voice of our dear brother George Floyd, as he called for his mother, while taking his last breath. The burning of the hearts of we who wept, when our governmental leaders refused to arrest the murderer of this wicked and inhumane deed. Did you see that fire?

Did you see the shattered glass, not those easily replaceable windows scattered in pieces on the ground under our feet? Instead, the shattered glass of expectation for justice, the shattered glass of respect for our humanity that our murderers continue to display, the shattered glass of hope as we watched our brother’s body lay, lifeless under the knee of his murderer. Did you see that glass shatter?

You must have witnessed the looting? Not the ones the cameras and social media love to exploit, but instead the looting of our human rights. The looting of our constitutional rights as citizens. The looting of our communities for decades by corporations for greed. Did you see that looting?

I think you were so busy looking for a riot that you missed the gathering of the grieving. I think you were so busy looking for looters that you missed the lament and heartbreak of a community. I think you were so busy looking for trouble that you missed the tragedy of systemic racialized trauma on the bodies of black and brown people. Tonight, tomorrow, and even the next day I beg of you, look again. Look again.

I do not have a scripture for you. I do not have a perfectly curated historical epitaph from a giant like King or Martin to impress you with. Instead, I have a request for you. Look again. See the trauma and pain of my community. See the anger and anxiety. See the tiredness. Look again.

Once you have really looked upon our sorrow, once you have put away your hashtags, retweets and emojis, once you have set with the weight of our sorrow what you will discover is my city has become your city. My pain has become your pain. That young person protesting has become your young person grieving, that kid looting has become your kid weeping. Do not look away. For then and only then will you be truly with us! Look again.

Maybe

By Lori Hadorn-Disselkamp, Ursuline Associate and Retreat Director at Sacred Heart Academy, Louisville, Kentucky

Photo of participant in Black Catholics for Justice Peace March, August 15, 2020, Louisville, Kentucky

Maybe if Jesus were here on earth he would start the chant of Black Lives Matter with the protestors, release the immigrants from detention centers, free those enslaved in the system of mass incarceration, destroy all guns, talk to the homeless, rise up against white supremacy, tear down the statues that depict him as white and oppressive, help to find a way to save our natural world, and love each of us for exactly who we were created to be; flawed human beings who want to belong, need to be accepted and long to be loved.

Maybe because Jesus is not here in the flesh, we need to do it in his place. Maybe shame only stunts the learning. Maybe acceptance of our shortcomings and education of the oppression of all who have been marginalized; Black, Indigenous, Immigrants, People of Color, LGBTQ communities and so many more, will aid us in our fight for justice. Maybe it is our choice individually to decide what side of history we will stand on in this moment.

Maybe if we all let down our guard, defense, and fists, we could see, listen, learn, and be open to understand and empathize. Maybe we could bring the love of the creator, the life force, the light that brought us into being into existence through our action.

Maybe we have to face the truth, accept reality, knock down monuments that oppress, tear down the flags that endorse human inferiority, hold those in positions of power accountable, collapse systems of oppression, and build in their place relationships of intersection, love and acceptance.

Maybe just, maybe then we could learn to love.

Hiroshima and the Transfiguration

The following is a reflection written By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on August 6, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is also the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

It is the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. I was nine years old when it happened. I do not remember every detail, but I remember that we were just finishing dinner when we got the news. I remember feeling so good about it because I had been socialized by the newsreels and general conversation to hate the Japs (as we called them.) They were cruel to our soldiers fighting in the Pacific! They had bombed Pearl Harbor! I clapped in the movies when a plane with the big star on its wing was shot down and plunged into the ocean. The dirty Japs deserved to be bombed.

We ran out into the street at 38th and Market and banged on pots and pans and ran around excited because we knew this was the end of the war…a war we all hated because of all the things that were rationed, especially bubble gum and ice cream, which were full of sugar, but which I loved.

It was not until years later when I was taking a class on peacemaking at Spalding University that I realized exactly what transpired on August 6th, 1945. I just never thought much more about it. But that day we were asked to reflect on our relationship with the atom bomb. For some reason that reflection touched me, and I found myself in tears. I got in touch with what we Americans had done; how absolutely unaware I was of the great number of people who were destroyed instantaneously; what a power for evil that was unleashed that day; and how I celebrated all of this on that day. And so, I wanted to cry out and say, “I didn’t know.”  “I didn’t do it,”  and “I am so sorry.” And I wept!  What else can you do when you have those kinds of situations?

Some years ago, I went to the Nevada Desert to protest the testing of the nuclear bomb. It is unfortunate that those nuclear warheads still exist. Again when I was stationed in Omaha, we were near the Strategic Air Command base (SAC) and I remember that we had an extra prayer that we said at night prayer for our safety and for the safety of the country in the event that SAC were to be attacked. SAC controlled the nuclear siloes all over the surrounding states and had the capacity to call them up at a moment’s notice.

And now 75 years later, on this wonderful feast of the Transfiguration, I am aware of the irony of having this feast fall on this day or vice versa. What a difference both events made. Jesus was transfigured and His way of thinking about Himself changed. The world was transfigured in its way of thinking about war and destruction. And now I know that I, too, have been transfigured and my way of thinking has changed.

What has your experience been with the Atom bomb?

#Hiroshima75 #PeaceRibbon #Nagasaki75

Listening with my broken heart for His answer

By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU

As I write this, I am sitting on the balcony of my apartment. It is peaceful here, even pastoral. But my soul is not peaceful. My heart is breaking! Breaking over all the things going on in our country and city and community. My heart breaks for the loss of four of our sisters. My heart breaks because we cannot celebrate their lives as we usually do. It breaks because their families and friends—many former students–cannot hear the stories we tell both funny and touching. Neither can we hear what our sisters meant to them in other settings. It breaks my heart.

My heart is breaking for the frail Sisters at both Nazareth Homes who cannot have visitors and who have been displaced from the familiar places and routines that give them comfort. One day bleeds into the next, and they all seem the same … and are the same. This isolation is debilitating and depressing. The sudden moves to hospitals and new rooms did not even allow time to gather necessities or reading materials or music. It had to be quick and efficient.

My heart breaks because we cannot participate in our “Liturgy and Lunches” or “Mass and Meals” or community conversations or Taizé Prayer. We cannot get together for potlucks or birthday or holiday celebrations.

My heart breaks for over 100,000 people in the United States who have been lost to this unprecedented plague. It has left me confused and sad and uncertain. How can this be in our day? Yes, it happened in history books long ago. I’ve read about plagues in Saint Angela Merici’s day, in Charles Borromeo’s day, even in our country in 1917-18 with the flu pandemic and 1940 with Polio, but it seems that plagues should be impossible now.

My heart breaks over my own sin of racism… our sin of racism… my country’s sin of racism. How could this have happened right under my/our nose? Why did I not realize? How many African-America women and men must die before our collective consciousness is raised? I ask myself now, “What can I do? How can I be a part of the solution rather than the problem?” Listen to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ words:

“Racism has rightly been called America’s original sin. It remains a blot on our national life and continues to cause acts and attitudes of hatred, as recent events have made evident. The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism and racism has become especially urgent at this time. Our efforts must be constantly led and accompanied by prayer—but they must also include concrete action.” 

These last words challenge me and call me to figure out what I can do. I feel so powerless. Recently, I participated in a day of prayer and the facilitator gave some questions for reflection. These two were important to me:

Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?

Have I done enough to inform myself about the sin of racism, its roots, and its historical and contemporary manifestations?

I was raised in Louisville, the “Gateway to the South.”  During my formative years, segregation was something that I took for granted. I grew up in a segregated world, and I saw it simply as the way society was ordered. I know now that my family was shot through with racism. It is humiliating for me to own that. But it is real, and I must admit it. It breaks my heart and I must ask for forgiveness. I want to hear Jesus say, “God, forgive her for she knew not what she was doing.”  But now I know. Now I must act. I cannot plead ignorance anymore. Now, I must ask, together with the rich young man in the Gospels, “Master, what must I do?” And then I must listen… with my broken heart for His answer!

A Pentecost Reflection with Saint Angela Merici

By Sister Carol Curtis, OSU

After the Feast of the Ascension remain together in prayer with as much strength of spirit as possible until Pentecost, the day of the sending of the Holy Spirit, beseeching that great promise made by Jesus Christ to his well-disposed people. [Rule 4:15-16]

Attending together the sending of the Holy Spirit, Angela gathers the Company, strong in prayer, at the source of its charism. We sense the intense vitality of expectation swelling among them like buds in springtime. This simple convocation, remain together in prayer, sketches Angela Merici’s ideal of a contemplative and apostolic community, an image of the Church in communion and mission. Angela moves in the power and inspiration of the Spirit, even as she abides in that Spirit. Sharing her sure hope of the great promise of Jesus Christ to his people, we will consider the role of the Spirit in her Writings, as it recalls the Paraclete of John’s Gospel, the spiration of Love of the Father and Son, standing beside us always [Jn 14:16].

Our liturgical celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost depend on Luke’s account, while Angela’s own mention of the feasts is hidden in a humble rubric on fasting and a specification for prayer: seven Paters and Aves in honor of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit [Rule, chs. 4-5]. In fact, the Rule, Counsels, and Legacies, each have only a few explicit references to the Holy Spirit. In the 13th century Pentecost Sequence [Veni, Sancte Spiritus], however, we hear attributes of the Holy Spirit which resonate in Angela’s own expression: radiant light, Father of the Poor, kind Comforter, strength, confidence, gentle, moderate, mild. Reminiscent of the Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel [chs. 14-17], the Paraclete breathes throughout her spirituality: indwelling each one, gathering all into unity, and teaching every Truth [Jn 16:13; Rule 8:4]. Notably, according to John, the Passion of Jesus itself culminates in his handing over his spirit. [Jn 19:30]

Isaiah [11:2] names the Spirit’s gifts upon God’s Chosen One: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and awe (fear of the Lord). God gifts the person with a capacity to discern (conscience) and freedom to decide (free will) how to respond to the different invitations of grace and challenges of daily living. According to times and circumstances, is Angela’s repeated refrain, expressing delicate respect for persons and distinct situations above any hardline rule. Her boldness is greater than autonomy; it is parrhesia, the candor of conversation with God: Pray in the way and as much as the Spirit and conscience will dictate. [Rule 6: 7] This is an astounding personal echo of the early church pronouncement: We and the Holy Spirit have decided… [Acts 15:28] This interplay of the Holy Spirit and conscience is not merely a passive discernment, but a creative listening, an interior obedience realized in conscientious doing:

Above all, obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit continually sends into the heart, whose voice we will hear all the more clearly the more purified and clean our conscience, since the Holy Spirit is he who teaches us every truth.
[Jn 16:13]. [Rule 8: 14-16]

Although conscience is personal, Angela recognizes the Spirit’s action within the community, also, as she addresses the leaders (colonelli): May the strength and true consolation of the Holy Spirit be in you all, so that you can sustain and carry out vigorously and faithfully the charge laid upon you. [Counsels, Prologue, 3-4] The consolation of the Paraclete is fortified with truth, a strength which gives stamina and vigor, for divine Truth is the bedrock of human faithfulness. Angela respects the ancient way and custom of the Church, established and confirmed by so many Saints…; yet not as a static tradition, but a springboard: under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit… live a new life. [Counsels 7:22]

In his farewell discourse, Jesus promises another Paraclete to remain with you always [John 13-16]. In Angela’s own Legacies, she confidently commends the vagaries of the Company’s future to the sure guidance and ready assistance of the Holy Spirit working in tandem with the Lady-Governors: provide for everything as the Holy Spirit inspires you; decide, among yourselves, according as charity and the Holy Spirit will enlighten and inspire you [Legacies 7:7; 9:6-7]. Angela lived in a time of upheaval and catastrophic circumstances, yet in her Last Legacy, as she hands over governance to the Matrons, she reassures them that their Advocate will engage with them, suggesting according to the times and circumstances. Thus, she invites them to eagerly step into the unknown: Rejoice, go forward willingly. [Last Legacy, 14] As they embrace their mission, they will taste the fruit of true joy, the infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.

May this strength and true consolation of the Holy Spirit be in us all.

[Counsels, Prologue, 3]

Feast of the Ascension

The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on the Feast of the Ascension in 2011.

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up to the sky?”

Here they are again. These two men dressed in white asking obvious questions. We first met them in the tomb in Luke’s account of the resurrection with their question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The question implies that the followers of Jesus are looking in the wrong place. But really it is a natural place to look for the man they thought they left for dead. And then these “men in white” go on to give specific directions to those who have come to the tomb. Go spread the message about the risen Christ. Go, tell people I am alive.

In today’s reading, we hear those men in white ask, “Why are you standing here looking up to the sky?” Well, I think that is a natural thing for the disciples to do…after all Jesus has just disappeared from them in some sort of cloud and they were trying to make some sense of what was going on. I think I would have been right there with them looking up to the sky. This time the question of the “men in white” seems also to imply that the disciples were looking in the wrong place. Or maybe in the wrong direction.

In the case of both questions though, they are questions that are meant to move to action. At the time of the Resurrection, the “men in white” told the disciples what to do specifically. Today, there are no specific directions given by the “men in white,” but Jesus Himself gave the directions this time. Don’t’ stand here looking up but go and start looking around. I am sending you to Judea and Samaria and even the ends of the earth. You heard my messengers. Don’t stand here looking up at the sky; start looking around.

Look around you for creatures everywhere who need to hear the word of God. Look around you for people who need healing— spiritual and emotional healing as well as physical healing. Look around you for people who need to learn how to cope with what life is giving them. Look around for those who do not believe and tell them the good news of my message; love God and then your neighbor as yourself. Look around you to meet the daily needs of the hungry, the thirsty, those who mourn, those who are in prison.

And imagine if you can, what it would be like if the “men in white” would come here and ask us “Hey, you! Why are you sitting here looking up?” Would we realize that it is not about looking up but rather it is about looking around? Would we realize that it is about service to others? Would we be willing to reach out to our neighbor and offer whatever we can to help? We hear Paul telling us that there are lots of different gifts that God gives us. Some are pastors, some are apostles, others are evangelists and still others are teachers. All these gifts are used to build up the body of Christ. Would we recognize our gifts and use them for building up the Body of Christ?

But wait you say…all of this is a big order. It was a big order for the disciples, and it is a big order for each of us. The good news is that Jesus did not expect His followers to go to the end of the earth alone. Paul tells us He said, ”You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. In a few days you will be baptized in the Spirit.” And Paul says again “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

And just as Jesus did not expect the disciples to carry out His command alone, He does not expect us to carry out ours alone. We, too, can rely on the Holy Spirit. We, too, can rely on grace being given to us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. So, I guess we better get started…we better get started looking around.

Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth…the Spirit is about to come…Jesus now has no hands but ours and He has no feet but ours. So,” Hey, you! Don’t sit here looking up to the sky, get started looking around.”