Reflection for The Care of God’s Creation Mass

The following is a reflection given by Associate Lisa Steiner at a Creation Mass on September 23, 2019 in the Motherhouse Chapel. Lisa also serves as the Coordinator for Social Concerns for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.

We hear from today’s readings that God loved us into being. We were created in the likeness of God and called by the Holy Spirit to be in communion with God. We are called to set creation free from the slavery of corruption and to share in the glory of creation as children of God. We are given the awesome responsibility of loving everyone – especially the vulnerable and those who suffer – like God does. And we are empowered by the Spirit of God who dwells within us, a gift freely given from God. That is a lot to ponder. What could it possibly mean?

During this Season of Creation, Pope Francis implores us to be present and to reflect on the state of the world. We open our eyes and hearts to the reality of a dying planet, of starving people, of the many injustices that prevail when human power and greed are valued more than life and the common good. It is an inner-connected issue: our human condition and the vitality of earth. As much as our society likes to compartmentalize issues and think in “either-or” terms, there is no escaping that the health of earth – its water, air and soil, and all the plants and creatures dwelling on it – directly relates to human life. In fact, our future existence as a species fully depends on the existence of a life-giving planet.

I’d like to explore two ideas today. One is that our faith challenges us to think differently about the world and our place in it. The other is that the presence and promise of Christ are much bigger than anything we could ever fathom.

(Let me say, I recognize there is a lot of wisdom present in this chapel today, so I will likely be reminding you of what you already know. )

First, how might we think differently about the world and our place in it?  Yes, God clearly loves us and has gifted us, not only with bodies but also with minds and souls. We are the most like God of any living creature, we learn. Yet, God is God and we are God’s people. He is the potter, we are the clay. He is the vine, we are the branches.

This dependence, this unity with God, instills goodness and peace in the world. God’s love is big enough to encompass all of creation and heal every wounded or sinful heart. The good news of the Gospel is that we all belong; we are all worthy of redemption if we can love God and neighbor first.

Richard Rohr says, “When we can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then we will – ironically – find that we are more than enough.”  Yes, we are important because of the Creator who gives us life. And we learn from the Gospel reading today that our own holiness depends on how we treat “the least of our brothers and sisters.” And, I will add, how we treat animals and nature. We become better people when we realize – ironically – that we are in fact no better than anyone else. In Pope Francis’ words, “People have forgotten that they, too, are God’s creation and not lords of the universe, free to exploit anything they want.” Instead we are “stewards of this earth with a responsibility to care for our common home.”

It seems to me that grace comes from recognizing we are all one – we are connected through life and called to be in relationship with one another. Seeing ourselves above others creates separation, provokes violence and leads to sinfulness. Ronald Rolheiser writes, “One does not walk away with a clear conscience from the challenge Jesus gave to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give of our lives and resources to those less fortunate….The fuel that fires our quest for justice must be drawn from the same source as the truth of justice itself, namely from the person and teaching of Jesus.”

Speaking of Jesus, this leads me to the second idea – that the presence and promise of Christ are much bigger than anything we could ever fathom. I think it goes without saying that we know we are not God. The book of Wisdom asks: who would presume to know the mind of the Lord? And how might we ever grasp the infinite love of God?  Also, we have been told that Jesus is saving a place for us when our time comes to leave earth. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard.

And yet our faith is real not only because of the promise of the Resurrection, but also because of the presence of Jesus through the Incarnation. Life is so precious and humanity so blessed that God was revealed to us in human form. And so, in our lives, we are inspired to be like Jesus, to love and serve in his image.    

On a deeper level, not only do we believe in the beauty of life and the hope of salvation, we also believe in the cosmic mystery of Christ: that Christ was, is and ever shall be. As St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

This mystery leads me to ask, who are we and who are we in relation to our Creator?  I think Saint Angela Merici’s contemplative love of God shows us the way. Martha Buser writes, “[Angela] grasped the reality of her finiteness and of her limitations, and she accepted them. She stood at the foot of the Cross, and said, Let your first refuge be always at the feet of Jesus Christ.” May we be so humble and yet so confident in knowing that the love of God, manifest in Jesus, is the source of everything we are and ever will be.

So what about the person that says he has a God-given right to use the earth for his own gain, to put himself above other living things?  That because of the promise of Christ we are saved regardless of what harm we may do to the planet?  That scripture tells us the physical world we know is subject to futility and will disappear someday anyway?  I don’t have an answer for that person and I am certainly no better than that person. But I do believe that each of us needs to do our part, however we can, to honor and love the world God gave us. If we are willing to claim God as our parent, then we can learn to love more abundantly.

So as we come together around Christ’s table today, we pray, “Lord send out Your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”  We also pray for the renewal of our commitment to love the way God loves, with awe and respect for all of creation. Amen.

It is #CareForCreation month—let’s honor our Creator and home by caring for our planet! Join the movement at www.seasonofcreation.org

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I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

Catholic leaders and advocates protest the Trump administration’s handling of detained immigrant children during a “Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children” July 18, in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

By Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU
During this past Labor day holiday weekend when our country was focused on the beginning of college football season, and watching a hurricane in the Atlantic, the president of our country created two new regulations regarding children and immigration. These two regulations are violations of pro-life thinking and acting.

First, he decided to extend children separated from their families and keep them in detention indefinitely. Secondly, just this past Thursday, he decided to send letters to immigrant parents whose children need special medical treatment. The children are here in the U.S. receiving lifesaving medical treatment or experimental medical treatment. These parents and children have been told to leave in 30 days. 

I urge all of us who believe in pro-life issues to write or call the White House or your senator, and express your outrage over these two new cruel policies that this administration is trying to implement. We are better than this as a country. We know we are better than this as Christians.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me. I assure you, as often as you did it for the least among you, you did it for me.” —Matthew 25:35-40

“Cruelty toward the suffering and bullying the most vulnerable should not be national policy and we cannot allow it to continue,” —Bishop John Stowe, Lexington, KY

#CatholicDayofAction #Catholics4Migrants

The following is a statement from Network: Advocates for Justice, Inspired by Catholic Sisters:
End the Detention of Children and Families at the Border

We are deeply troubled by images of immigrant children detained in deplorable conditions at our border. We are disturbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations tearing families and communities apart and terrorizing our children. We are angered by the Trump administration’s new rule permitting DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) to indefinitely detain immigrant children and families seeking safety in the United States. The Senate has the power, through the appropriations process, to end these injustices.

The faith community condemns this cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrant children and families. Not only is it a violation of human dignity and human rights, it is contrary to religious teachings and our sacred call to care for people who are most at risk, especially children.

To contact your senator, call 188-436-6478

Touching the stars in Peru

Sister Carol Curtis is in Peru for six weeks, staying with our Ursuline Sisters of Louisville there who minister in Callao and San Miguel, Peru. She recounts some of her experiences in this blog entry:

Schoolchildren at El Colegio de Santa Angela Merici School with their fish art project on plastic

I am at the midpoint of my six-week stay in Peru. I had been forewarned about the reversed seasons between North and South America, and was glad for my winter coat; we have had some unusually warmer, sunny days, as well. For these first three weeks, I have been with Ursuline Sisters Yuli and Sue in Callao (near Lima). Today I am getting ready to go with Sister Kathy on the 14-hour bus trip up into the mountains to San Miguel in Cajamarca.

During our long layover in Miami, my immersion in the Spanish language and Latino culture began! A Puerto Rican sports team was on the flight with us, and we discovered that the Pan American Games were being held in Lima. In the past few weeks, I have visited different classes at El Colegio de Santa Angela Merici [SAM]: Montessori, Primary, and Secondary. After school, Sylvia, a fourth-grade teacher, has been tutoring me in Spanish; besides the daily immersion, I am also studying on my own to help get a clue what people are talking about… Sylvia is good at charades! Yuli and I are coaching each other.

Friends in the neighborhood and at the school greet each other daily with embraces. After three long months in the United States, Kathy was warmly welcomed back to Peru with an enthusiastic round of “Happy Birthday/Feliz Cumpeaños” during the school assembly. Word quickly traveled to San Miguel that she is back in town. It has been good to be with the Ursuline community here in Peru and realize its long, endearing history here in Callao.

Across the street from our house in Carmen de la Legua is the Rimac River. Just a league away from the port of Callao, the trash cascading down the embankment brings the reality of polluting the ocean close to home. Callao has improved its trash collection and recycling, but in Lima, the barrios built along the river still use it as a dumping ground. As a coastal country, fishing is an important part of Peru’s economy and the livelihood of many.

A picture is worth a thousand words: fourth-graders graphically presented the issue of fish ingesting microplastics by filling in with small bits of plastic bags their outlines of fish, while Mathias Quispe Narvaez noted in his science report that the “great sea of plastic formed in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii is the size of France, Germany and Spain combined.” Initiatives to decrease use of plastic bags and increase awareness of their environmental impact are promoted by the schools and some vendors. A “bring-your-own-bag” school project involves making cloth bags for families’ daily purchase of bread.

Next month includes a day for Special Needs Awareness. Santa Angela Merici [SAM] students will visit a partnered special learning school and engage with them on a project. A blind student attends SAM: at school dance performance, his mother assisted his learning the routine, and during the performance his partners gracefully transitioned him to the next position. Yuli is currently taking a course on identifying special learning needs and ways to work with learning differences in early education. Parenting retreats and Parent-Teacher conferences help orient collaboration between home and school in education.

Diversity awareness is part of the living curriculum of Santa Angela Merici School. Anticipating the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon in the fall, all grades are studying the region. On a recent field trip, the primary grades visited a community of people from the Amazon region who have resettled on the outskirts of Lima. They learned of the deforestation, terrorism, and illegal mining which are destroying their culture and environment.

Peru celebrates the diversity not only of its three topographical regions: coastal, mountains and jungle; but also the colorful cultural traditions of the different departments (states). The closing of the Pan-American Games showcased the folk dances and music, and a local celebration in Carmen de la Legua brought the cuisine, music, and energetic dance right into our neighborhood. On the Associates’ retreat, a 90+ year old abuelita (grandmother) delighted us by dancing and singing for us in Quechua, the language of Cuzco; two of the Associates share that heritage.

Yuli, Sue, and I visited Old Lima to attend the annual book fair, then again to visit the Cathedral and the churches of Santa Rosa de Lima and the Santo Domingo, where San Martin de Porres lived. A wedding party was in front of the Cathedral, the bridal party in glorious array, including numerous senoras in multi-tiered skirts with shawls and traditional hats.

Kathy arrived in time to go with us to the archaeological site of Huaca Pucllana (600 A.D.), a flat-topped pyramid honoring the Sea Mother (the Pacific Ocean can be seen from the top platform) which acquainted me with the ancient history of Peru. One of many huaca (sacred places) of the Lima people, it was respected by three successive civilizations – a lesson for our day. Afterwards, the Mira Flores Artisans’ Quarter overwhelmed us with its rainbow array of arts and crafts in every imaginable hue and medium: alpaca wool and cotton textiles, leather and wood, copper, silver, and gold, paintings, carvings, weavings…

Traffic here merges like the Derby horses do, and gives “mass transit” a whole new meaning – mototaxis (a motorcycle rickshaw), sardine-packed taxi-vans and buses, motorcycle and bicycle trucks and carts mingle like the Mad-hatter’s cocktail party, with traffic police directing the circus. Horns, whistles, calls of taxi-van ticketeers and hawking vendors make lively street conversation.

Kathy and I are heading to San Miguel in Cajamarca this evening. We will arrive in time for a fiesta in one of the villages (lots of fiestas here – including Santa Rosa at the end of the month). I am eager to experience the sierra and its vibrant culture. I just read my first Andean story in Spanish  – El zorro enamorado de la luna (“The fox enamored by the moon”), which tells of the “mysterious night of the sierra. People say you can touch the stars there…

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Sister Clara Fehringer, OSU, serves as the Parish Life Director at Historic Saint Paul Roman Catholic Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Their mission statement reads:
“We are Catholics making a difference in downtown Lexington. A diverse and inclusive community welcoming everyone with open arms!”

The following is her reflection on the Gospel of Saint Luke, from the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 2019.

Jesus came to set the earth on fire—we hear this in the Gospel. His message can cause a lot of division if lived properly and according to the Gospel we read.

In front of our church we have had many banners throughout the past few years. They generate much discussion and have caused some people to write ugly emails and even leave this parish. Our advocacy for immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ, and even reasonable gun control is absolutely congruent with the Gospel but has caused division. Some say the answer is to be quiet. Others claim we are being “political.” We are actually  being faithful to the Gospel, to Jesus. 

Racism is another hot topic. What would Jesus say about racist behavior, rhetoric, attitudes? His words would cause division, for sure. 

What would Jesus say about ICE raids that separate children from families? 

Would Jesus have strong words for those who use strong words to demean people from other countries, differing sexualities, or different manners of thinking or living?

Today’s Gospel should hit home. Jesus has set a fire and the Gospel causes division. On whose side of the divide are you, am I? Are we on fire with the Gospel? If so, are we willing to take risks to build the community of the beloved?

Jesus: A Cause of Division.
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
—Luke 12:49-53

Gospel Women and Men, Disciples All

The following is a reflection Sister Janet M. Peterworth, Ursuline Sisters of Louisville President, gave at the missioning ceremony for the Ursuline Sisters and Associates on July 21, 2019. She refers to Lydia from the Acts of the Apostles, who is depicted in this image by Mary Lou Sleevi.

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a donation, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

  You know Jesus did not become a human being just to make a donation to humanity,  He came to make a total commitment…such a total commitment…that He laid down His life for us.

And so here’s another story:

One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold.

The young woman dropped a few coins in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked, she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street.

And then the young woman’s guilt turned to anger. She found herself angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let this sort of thing happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?”

And then, to her surprise God answered. And God  said, “I did do something. I created you.”

So there you have it. The Master disciple who was totally committed and us who were created to follow in His footsteps and are being called to total commitment as well. Gospel people…women and men disciples all. A Gospel community imbued with the spirit of a 16th century Gospel woman, a saint of the church who in the brief moment of her life gave the Church her gift of a way of life…not a ministry, but a way of life. She gave this to anyone who would want to embrace it. Women or men, rich or poor, in the Roman church or in another manifestation of church, vowed followers or covenanted followers…disciples all.

Look at the card you have been given. This is a stylized picture of Lydia and her community in Phillipi. Remember Lydia? She was the only person in Philippi who was called by name in Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Macedonia. The only person…a woman! Of course, Lydia lived long before Angela, but Angela, Lydia and other women like her were not at the margins of the Jesus’ movement. When Paul first arrived in Philippi he found no synagogue, but he found a group of women in a prayer group—the local church…and he joined them in prayer and spoke to them of Jesus. Lydia, a trader in purple cloth and a business woman, was their leader.

These women were not silent in the churches or ineffective in evangelism. They cared for local congregations and were vital and strategic players at the forefront of the expanding Christian mission. Scripture scholars tell us that a church was established in Philippi because of Lydia’s open heart and her open home (Paul and his friends stayed there), and it grew because of her patronage, her initiative, her courage, her ministry. Lydia may have been a patron of the Jewish community at Philippi. It is likely she became both a patron and a leader of the new Christian church there. It is likely that she led the new Christian ritual of breaking bread around her house table. That is what your picture represents: the early church in Philippi—disciples all. The Orthodox Churches have given her the title of “Equal to the Apostles,” which signifies her importance and level of holiness.

And now I want take the liberty to pose a few questions that we can ask ourselves as we look at this picture of Lydia and her church.

  • How am I doing at being church? 
  • How Am I doing at using my gifts and abilities as Lydia did?
  • How am I doing what I can, where I am?
  • How am I listening to God’s word in such a way (as Angela did) that I am willing to take the next step on my spiritual journey?
  • How am I doing at opening my heart and all that I have (as Lydia and Angela did) to be a disciple of Jesus.
  • How am I doing at being willing to walk in their footsteps as a totally committed disciple?

As you look at this picture throughout this year remember Lydia, the disciple…the one equal to the apostles…the one who served the people of her city as a leader, a God worshipper. And remember that we are being sent to be disciples ourselves…not just to make a donation, but to make a total commitment.

Blessing for our building project

The Motherhouse is undergoing a renovation to add a new, handicapped accessible front entrance. The construction workers, supervisors, Ursuline Sisters and staff gathered on June 21, the summer solstice, for a blessing by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, president of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.

O God, please bless this building project that we begin today. It will provide a home for Sacred Heart Schools and the Ursuline Sisters. Let this site provide growth, development, relaxation and enjoyment for the many who serve here and the many who will visit here. Please provide all of the wisdom and resources that we will need to renovate this facility safely and with great care. We thank you that you have provided adequate funding, competent professionals, and skilled laborers to move forward with this project.

As these workers enter this workplace, go with them. Let them speak your peace, your graciousness, and your mercy while on this jobsite. God, we thank you for the gifts you have blessed these workers with. Help them to use their gifts responsibly and safely as they reshape this building for a new use. Give them a fresh supply of strength to do their jobs. Help them to realize that every part of this project, every idea that they bring to it and every bit of energy—even the smallest bit—brings you glory. 

Lord, when these workers are confused guide them, when they are weary, energize them, when they are burned out, infuse them with new light. May the work that they do and the way they do it bring joy and a smile to all they may contact in their work here. Bless the families of these workers and allow the workers to go home to them each day free from accident or hurt.

And,  Lord, finally we thank you for everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing and everything you are going to do here on this Lexington Road Campus. Amen.

Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders

This reflection is reprinted with permission from the editor of The Laurel, a publication of the Sacred Heart Schools.

2018 Large cropped Angela image

How appropriate it is that the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute at Sacred Heart Schools on the Ursuline Campus in Louisville will foster future leaders. Leadership is in our genes, so to speak. Our Sacred Heart Schools’ ancestors were leaders. There are the many Ursuline Sisters who founded, formed, led and encouraged education. Imagine the Sisters who carried significant and prominent responsibilities year in and year out. Imagine also the Sisters whose quiet work made well-rounded education happen over the decades.

Imagine the Ursuline Sisters who served and continue to serve God’s people in so many other ways, whether in education or in other kinds of service. The teachings of Jesus call us to answer the needs we see in the people around us. Some of our Ursuline Sisters founded important social services in Louisville, in West Virginia, in Peru, and many other places. These services empowered people on the margins of society or people whose needs were neglected. And in providing these various kinds of assistance, many co-workers and volunteers serving in these agencies and programs learned the art and the practical skills of leadership.

I learned leadership in, among other places, my Ursuline congregation. I’ve heard stories from my Ursuline Sisters about how they were assigned considerable responsibility when they were young, no matter their own sense of how ready they were for it! It was a school of learning as you go—learning from the other Sisters who gave tips and common sense advice on how to do what you thought you could not do. That is how leadership is learned, from stepping up, giving it a try and from the good people around us who share what they know about leadership.

Whether it is the upper case “L” Leadership or lower case “l” leadership, it is all about learning and listening from the guides that providence puts on the path with us. I am most interested in the one leader at the very beginning of our Ursuline family tree, Saint Angela Merici. We Ursuline Sisters refer to Saint Angela in a familiar way because we feel she’s a friend and companion, an example for us in the ways of Christian living. So, I will call her simply, Angela.

She must have been a leader, although Angela may not have described herself as a leader. In fact, she put a significant emphasis on humility. But the best leaders have humility as they grow to know themselves as flawed and still growing into wisdom and maturity.

From what I have learned, read and reflected upon in Angela’s writings and in books about her (especially Sister Martha Buser’s book, Also in Your Midst), it seems that the people around Angela looked to her for guidance and counsel. They knew she was wise, not only from her lifelong experiences, but also as they saw her and encountered her as a woman of profound prayer and reflection.

Angela learned in her family about leadership, about running a farm and managing a household. She learned about leadership and responsibility in her young adulthood from the Franciscans who sent her to Brescia to be a companion to a woman recently widowed. She visited the holy women of the locale, learning from them and taking in their deep trust in God. It is important to note that it wasn’t only the people in religious orders who served the poor or who led charitable programs. The lay people in Brescia, guided by their deep understanding of Jesus’ teachings, began and took responsibility for the works of charity so needed after the destruction of civic structures and services caused by the wars and by poor leadership in church and society at the time. Angela was a leader among leaders. It was a shared effort, as we would say today, a team effort.

I hope that you consider and reflect on your own leadership, your contributions to the good of the world or to the good of your family and your community. Over the years, the Sacred Heart Schools have taught the various skills of leadership and taking on responsibility. Students have learned how to solve problems together, how to match their skills and interests with what is most needed at the time. Teachers and staff have grown in their roles and in their accomplishments. Leadership is everywhere you look if you know how to look. Leadership is in our history and with the work of the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute, it is in our future.

Sister Agnes Coveney, OSU
Vice President
Ursuline Sisters of Louisville
Cabinet Member 
Jean Frazier Leadership Institute