Mary Magdalene and Alleluia

The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth on April 12, 2020, Easter Sunday Mass via Zoom to Saint William Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.

It wasn’t natural…a woman going out early in the morning without a man while it was dark. It wasn’t natural for a woman to be walking in this darkness in a cemetery toward a tomb. It wasn’t natural to see a large stone that was certainly there before, removed as if by magic or earthquake, from the entrance of that tomb. It wasn’t natural to see an empty slab where a really dead body had been only three days before. It wasn’t natural for someone to leave their tomb so orderly…to take time to roll the head covering neatly and set it aside. It is not natural to speak with two angels sitting there in the tomb. And it isn’t natural for us to be here on this Easter morning looking at each other through tiny rectangles on the Zoom app.

But what is natural? It is natural for a woman who anticipates the dawn to brave the darkness. It is natural for a woman to get direction from others when the way is confusing. It is natural for two-thirds of any group to run away when fear takes over. It is natural for a woman to face fear through her blinding tears when love is involved. It is natural for Jesus to ordain a woman to go tell the others, because women have a way with words—even though their words are often not believed as credible. And it is natural for us to be here celebrating, shouting Alleluia and singing and smiling at one another albeit in little rectangular boxes because we are community.

Though synoptic writers namely, Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest the number of women including Mary of Magdala varied from two to four, it was Mary Magdalene, the woman anticipating the dawn, the woman staying and weeping, the woman sent to tell the brothers that Jesus had gone to his Abba, it was that woman who was constantly mentioned in all four gospels as the first witness of the Resurrection. She was an incredible believer in Jesus and an incredible spokesperson of his resurrection. Jesus had sent her to tell what she saw and heard in their great moment of intimacy together. But it wasn’t long before Mary, that name whispered so softly and sweetly in the garden that morning, became Magdalene “that woman.” 

Little is known of Mary of Magdala after her first-time mission of apostleship. I want to believe she stayed the course. I would like to believe she came away from delivering Jesus’ message to the brothers singing and twirling and jumping and dancing. I like to believe that her first-time mission turned into a lifetime mission of apostleship.

According to Judy Cannato, author of Fields of Compassion, the empowerment to Christ consciousness came through the experience we call resurrection. She says that “while we cannot know exactly what happened at Resurrection, we know that it was more than a resuscitation of a corpse…what we do know is that somehow the risen Christ made himself known to those he had called friends and from this new way of knowing Jesus, this formerly fear-filled band of followers became bold and wise.” And I submit that Mary of Magdala was the first of these followers to experience this. Ms. Cannato goes on to say that Jesus was God enfleshed and now God wanted Jesus’ followers to become God enfleshed. “Resurrection changed their consciousness in every way, and the world has never been the same.”  Thank God, Mary delivered her message whether it was natural for a woman or not.

And what if resurrection would change our consciousness in every way?  And what if we became God enfleshed because of Jesus?  And what if we were offered the possibility of being Christ in the world?  What if we were all invited and empowered to manifest God-consciousness brought about by resurrection?  What if we manifested it in the here and now, just as Jesus did?  Would that be natural?  I think so, because that is what Easter is all about. So, when we get out of our little rectangle boxes, let us deliver Jesus’ message and sing and twirl and jump and dance in solidarity with Mary of Magdala. And shout Alleluia—Whether it seems natural or not.


Sister Judy Rice, OSU, submitted these lyrics by Leonard Cohen for reflection:

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to seeI can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets inYou can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in

Finding Peace in the Middle of a Pandemic

By Ginny Schaeffer, Director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality

First it was toilet paper swooped off the shelves by the cart-full. Shortly after that, other food items became hard to find. Despite the assurances of government officials and food supply spokespeople, panic had gripped the hearts and minds of a population preparing for a siege. Anxiety, fear and panic do not let go easily, especially when they are fed daily by images that seemed unimaginable only a few months ago, by the numbers of people infected and the daily death totals that we cannot wrap our minds around.

The vast majority of us are living under a state of emergency declared by governors and mayors. Our lives have been reduced to the bare minimum – home, work and grocery. We are constantly warned to reduce our exposure to others and to stay at least six feet away from those we encounter at work, in the grocery or on our daily walks to guard against a virus that is easily transmittable and threatens everyone, but most especially our older parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone with underlying health issues. To paraphrase a saying, “If you’re not anxious, you’re not paying attention.” At least that’s the conventional wisdom.

This is where we find ourselves as we are about to enter the most sacred days in the Christian calendar. On Holy Thursday we will remember the last supper, the Passover meal Jesus shared with his closest friends. According to St. John’s retelling of this moment, Jesus knew what was about to happen. He saw the storm clouds gathering and he could read the signs of the times.

He had seen men crucified and knew it was a horrendous, torturous death. He knew that this is how the Roman government took care of trouble-makers, criminals and anyone who threatened Pax Romana – the peace Rome imposed through oppression, intimidation and executions.

St. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus did not want to leave those he loved empty-handed or feeling abandoned. He spoke to them of love, joy, peace and unity.

This is what is so astounding, even bordering on the unbelievable. How could anyone who was about to face the horrors Jesus knew was coming his way speak of peace, much less promise it? Yet, that’s what he does:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

I do not give to you as the world gives.

Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

                                                –John 14:27

How many of us, in this time of pandemic could use the peace that Jesus offers? How do we avail ourselves to the peace that Jesus offers?

We follow Jesus’ example. After the Passover meal was finished, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, accompanied by three of his closest friends. After instructing them to pray, he goes off to a secluded place and begins to beg God, his Abba, to be spared. Three times he pleads with God for his life. These are not sweet, poetic prayers. They were guttural, primal, filled with fear, dread and anguish. In Luke’s gospel Jesus experiences such agony that “his sweat becomes like drops of blood.”

What happened? God met Jesus in his agony and the struggle within him was quieted, the division in his soul was made whole and he was able, once again, to live from a place of integrity and purpose. Jesus was not delivered from what was about to happen. He was not miraculously whisked away by angels. He was not given super-human powers to overcome the pain and suffering he was about to experience. Instead, Jesus was able to accept Judas’ kiss of betrayal, to denounce the violence of Peter and to heal the high priest’s slave. He asked the temple police who they were looking for and handed himself over to them. This was the grace, the power and strength of what we now know as the “peace of Christ.”

In the next few weeks and months the invitation that is extended to us is to follow the example of Jesus. As we see the infection rates and death totals rise, as we face the possible loss of loved ones, as we struggle to survive financially and have more questions than answers then let us remember how Jesus turned to God. Like Jesus, we must be honest and real with ourselves and God. No more pretending that we have everything under control. No more denying what is happening around us or to us. God desires to be with us in our fears, anxiety and pain not because God is some kind of sadistic peeping-Tom; but because Love seeks to make whole and transform. As we walk through this “valley of the shadow of death” we can trust in God who brings life out of death.

History Will Remember When The World Stopped

By Donna Ashworth

History will remember when the world stopped
And the flights stayed on the ground.
And the cars parked in the street.
And the trains didn’t run.

History will remember when the schools closed
And the children stayed indoors
And the medical staff walked towards the fire
And they didn’t run.

History will remember when the people sang
On their balconies, in isolation
But so very much together
In courage and song.

History will remember when the people fought
For their old and their weak
Protected the vulnerable
By doing nothing at all.

History will remember when the virus left
And the houses opened
And the people came out
And hugged and kissed
And started again

Kinder than before.

Copyright Donna Ashworth ©2020

A Simple Gift

By Sister Mary Lee Hansen, OSU

I am sitting in chapel trying to keep focused on Christ. My thoughts wonder and wander. For some unknown reason I put my hand out in front of me. Stretch one of your hands out in front of you. Turn it upward. Yes, there are probably some crooked fingers and a number of lines of life in the palm no doubt. I ask myself: What has my hand done these days during the confinement of COVID-19? Oh no, not just accomplishments, but what has it done for others besides myself?

God has given me this simple gift. I need not touch my neighbor physically. This hand, through the power of touch, brings healing, love and comfort. How? Has it done so? All Christ asks of me is that I love my neighbor as myself. You probably are saying to yourself, as I am, that we are not to touch anyone during this pandemic. It is too dangerous. So how can I touch another? I ask Christ. Have you noticed the media coverage of helping hands? Volumes of pictures reveal the multitudes of common folk like you and me lending a helping hand, but not touching another person.

I am awed by the ways people have used this simple gift during these traumatic weeks and months. Are you one of those who inspire me to write, call and text or creatively do something for my neighbor? I am sure you are letting God guide you. Mother Teresa told us she was just a pencil in the hand of God. Let us, together, be a bundle of pencils, too, for good. Just ask God to help you. Remember Michelangelo’s ceiling painting of God the Father’s finger stretched out to humankind?  Put your hand out and let God touch yours. Just hope and trust and it will happen, I assure you.

Oh my, it is breakfast time. But before I go, here is my prayer for you today: May your hand perform many deeds of love.

“I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more.”

 — Saint Teresa of Calcutta

A God Who Gives Us Hope

By Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU

The governor has asked us to light a green light for all the Kentucky citizens who have died from the Coronavirus as a sign of grief for the deceased as well as a sign of hope and compassion. The mystery of grace and our Christian faith enables us to cope with deep feelings of fear, pain and grief. Our faith does not provide a magical formula to eradicate those feelings, but it does sustain us as we try to make sense out of our pain, fear or grief. Our faith offers us a sense of hope and peace in the midst of pain and suffering. Our faith is not a replacement for suffering or grief, but rather mediates the grief to a greater sense of growth and life. Are we able to find courage and hope in this present situation of the coronavirus? 

St. Paul reminds us in Romans 5: 3-5, “We boast of our afflictions. We know that our afflictions make for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And hope will not leave us disappointed because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

Our Christian faith does not tell us to embrace suffering or grief or to suppress our feelings or fears. Rather, our faith comforts us in our pain and suffering, knowing that the fidelity of God is with us. The word compassion means to “suffer with.” God is a God of compassion. God walks with us, suffers with us, and shares in our brokenness, vulnerability and powerlessness. 

When we experience the God of compassion in our sorrow and brokenness, our defenses break down and we can allow God to enter into our hearts. Suffering, fear and grief is not about endurance for the sake of our faith; it is about courage in the midst of pain, compassion in the midst of suffering, healing in the midst of brokenness. It is about endurance because we believe in a God of compassion, a God who suffers with us, a God who gives us hope.

What is God Doing?

By Ginny Schaeffer, Director of the Angela Merici Center, a ministry of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville

Look instead for what God can do.
                                             –John 9: 4 (The Message)
Watch what God does, and then you do it…
                                                      -Ephesians 5: 1 (The Message)

Some would say that God is doing nothing but allowing one more plague to run rampant around the globe killing hundreds-of-thousands, if not millions. This is just one more example of God’s callous disregard for the human life God supposedly created. Just add it to the list of all the other times that God has not intervened to stop war, end world hunger, bring poverty to a screeching halt, cure the Black Death, cancer, HIV/Aids, or Covid-19 or put a stop to child abuse and human trafficking.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God is an opportunist and will use anyone and everyone to bring healing to this world. As followers of Christ, we trust that God is incarnational. God acts and moves through what God has created, including us. We believe, hopefully not only with our intellect but also deep within our hearts, that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. We trust that Jesus allowed the divinity within him, and that is within us, to be fully manifested through him. Through his life and teachings Jesus showed us that we too are created to allow God’s nature to flow through us and out to others. It doesn’t matter who or what we are—rich, middle-class or poor, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic or atheist, Caucasian, Latino, of African or Asian heritage or native/indigenous peoples, educated or illiterate. Each and every one of us is created to reflect the image of the Creator and to allow the nature of the Creator to be manifested through us.

All we have to do is turn on the news to see this being lived out in real time:

  • Just like the firefighters who raced into the Twin Towers on 9/11, healthcare providers walk into the fire day-after-day to care for people they don’t know.
  • Cafeteria staff at schools and volunteers at senior citizen centers, homeless shelters and community ministries are working tirelessly to ensure that children and other vulnerable members of our society do not go hungry.
  • Scientist around the world are working around the clock to find a vaccine and treatments to save lives.
  • Custodians, house-keepers and janitors are cleaning hospitals, manufacturing plants, offices and other areas so that those with essential jobs are safe to work.

The list could go on and on. All we have to do is open our eyes to see the awesome sacrifices that so many are making for each and every one of us: the long-haul truck drivers, warehouse workers, grocery clerks, garbage collectors and all those who keep our infrastructure working – I told you the list could go on.

Jesus once told his disciples, “Blessed are you who have eyes that see and ears that hear.” If you are wondering where God is in this horrendous, global catastrophe then I implore you to ask God/the Source/the Universe, whatever you call the Divine, for eyes that see and ears that hear. God is all around us and acting for our good.

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