Fairly certain that I was not alone in my “angst” since the elections in November, I began looking for support for my concerns for our country and what would come with January 20th and the inauguration of a “new era”, I thought. Then came January 6th. I felt frozen in fright!
“Can’t be,” I thought. Again, knowing I could not be alone in what I was thinking, observing, feeling, I pursued explanations, analysis and commentary. Sadness and anger were added to fear.
Then came the blaming, accusing, and more reasons for what happened.
Nothing satisfied, however.
Again, sure that once into a new presidency, and especially with such an uplifting inaugural ceremony, I soothed my anger and fear with “This will go away soon.” “They” will go away soon.
Then within the week came the feast of Angela Merici. And praying the Liturgy of the Hours from the Ursuline Book of Prayer by Cheryl Clemmons, OSUMSJ, I was immediately immersed in other messages, so familiar, and so easily forgotten: “I am continually among you with the Lover of us all,” “My last word…that you live in harmony, united, one heart and one will…bound to one another by bonds of charity, esteeming, helping, bearing with.…”
Yes, lover of us ALL. I think that means ALL. Everyone. No one is left out.
I felt my circle of those who are “in” begin to expand. Somehow those whose ideas I wanted to make disappear, go away, or silence, needed to be brought into my circle because ALL means those folks as well.
I cannot explain the change that came over me in that moment of what I can now call “conversion”, but what I do know is that my circle is expanding. Living in harmony, especially for those who have received such a rich inheritance from Angela means staying present to, no matter how difficult, the ones who perhaps have felt excluded, left out of somebody’s circle.
I recalled immediately two quotes that I have often used in working with groups dealing with conflict. The first is attributed to Abraham Lincoln who said, “The best way to change your enemy is to make them your friend.”
And the second came from my high school literature book and the quote is anonymous:
“He (she) drew a circle that left me out.
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him(her) in.”
I don’t presume easy answers to such complex problems that we face as a country, but I do believe that I/we can make a difference by making “friends” of those “others,” expanding our circles existentially and consciously. I generally feel that violence happens in word or in deed when people feel excluded for whatever reason. So, expanding my circle makes it just a little bit easier to “reach across the aisle,” or even make the aisle disappear so that the circle is continuous and holds the Lover of us All.
Epiphany is God’s day for show and tell. Really, it’s true—it’s God’s day for show and tell and it is our day—at least it was my day for recognition. Just as surely as Matthew needed to write this story of the Magi for his early Jewish/Christian community, I needed to hear it again. This time, as I reflected, I tried not to hear it with old ears, in the old way. It is a quaint story, and it is so familiar. This time I tried not to wonder if there really were Magi, if there really were just three, or if they came on camels or white Arabian horses, or if there really was a star or what planet it was and if there really was a dream. I tried to stay with the idea of recognition and not only recognition, but more importantly response…my response.
Epiphany is a day of recognition. It is the day that we commemorate the moment when the Christmas mystery was unleashed to become a world-wide revelation. Rome had not recognized the Christmas mystery. The Jewish people had no insight into it. It took shepherds the lowest of the low. And it took a politically naïve and politically inept question from Gentile strangers to bring insight into the Christmas mystery. And would you believe that Herod, one of Caesar’s puppet kings, in all his wickedness was one of the first to have insight…one of the first to realize what the Christmas mystery, fully recognized, can do to one’s life? Matthew tells us Herod was troubled, and further, all of Jerusalem with him. For Herod sharing with another king meant he would lose some of his power and this was troublesome for him. For the people of Jerusalem, recognizing that maybe this baby could be their long-awaited Messiah and realizing that they might have to share that Messiah with Gentiles was troublesome for them. It meant foreigners might draw close to the center of Jewish life. This was troublesome for the Jewish priests and Pharisees. Jerusalem would not be the same after this visit by the Gentile strangers. Recognition of the Christmas mystery would call for change.
And recognition changed the Magi, too. As they moved on in their journey toward recognition—and their recognition was progressive–they find the infant king in a simple house. What faith it must have taken to recognize a king in such humble surroundings! What trust it must have taken to open their gifts to this simple child! But somehow insight came, recognition was there…and the Magi responded. And you know —life was never the same after that—starting with the fact that they had to be re-routed on their homeward journey.
Remember T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi”? “A cold coming we had of it. The very worst time of the year.” The poem goes on to talk about what a hard journey it was with grumbling camels and discontent men and expensive hostels. They finally arrive and were not sure what they had seen. At the end of the poem, the Magi storyteller reflects that this was all a long time ago but “we returned to our places these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” That is what recognition of the Christmas mystery means, I think! That is what it meant to the wicked Herod; he was no longer at ease. That is what it meant to the Jews of Jerusalem; they were no longer at ease. That is what it meant to the Gentile strangers, and that is what it means to me. I can no longer be at ease with the old dispensation…with life going as usual. Nothing can ever be the same once Jesus has broken into my life. Once I have recognized the Word made Flesh inserted into this world, it can’t be business as usual. I can no longer walk in darkness once I have seen the great light.
And, you know, when I thought about that and reflected on how many Christmases I’ve celebrated but how seldom real recognition of the Christmas mystery has come with those celebrations, I was troubled…along with Herod and all of Jerusalem and the Magi.
I recognized this year—maybe for the first time or maybe once again in a new way—how dangerous and unsettling this warm, chubby, innocent curly-haired baby lying in the manger really is. He is surely as dangerous for me there, as he was for the Pharisees when he rode into Jerusalem some thirty-three years later. Remember the scene in Jesus Christ Super Star where the Pharisees sing, “He’s dangerous?” That baby in the manger is dangerous!
The Christmas mystery is dangerous and troubling for me because it calls me to radical conversion. Jesus calls me to power-sharing, and He calls me to allow the stranger in. He calls me to let people who are different from me get close to the center of my life. This infant God is inviting me to re-route my life and with the Magi to no longer be at ease in the old dispensation.
I said at the beginning of these reflections that I needed this Feast and I needed these readings, but there is a part of me that doesn’t want to have God’s show and tell project to go on any longer. There is a part of me that wants to say: “Some other time. Some other place. I don’t need any more light. I don’t want any more insight.” But now the insight has come and just as surely as the Magi followed their star—their insight—I will have to follow mine. I don’t know where this will lead. I don’t know when I am going to be called upon to share power. I am not at all sure when a stranger or a foreigner will want to get close to the center of my life and I don’t know where the re-routing will take me. All I know is that I need to be ready to respond as the Magi did with great faith and humility.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Probably every year they appear in Advent. But this time I noticed them more, or I paid better attention.
I refer to the number of times the biblical texts invite us to go up to a high mountain, a holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9), where sadness and mourning will be taken away (Isaiah 25:7), and from where justice and peace will flow (Psalm 71). A high mountain or hill is where we find streams of water (Isaiah 30:25), and from where the Good News is proclaimed (Isaiah 40:9) And there are more.
Early in Advent, reflecting on some of these passages and some memories, I recalled two incidents of going up to a high mountain. The first was in Cajabamba when, on horseback, I accompanied catechists to a village two days away. In the latter part of the journey we climbed through clusters and clusters of trees and you could feel the upward pull on the horse. We could see nothing but the trees, and I was sure we were reaching the highest point of the Andes. But when we reached the top of this hill, the view opened to another, and yet another valley and more hills and more villages in this very forsaken part of the province. Looking to the left, then to the right, the view was breathtaking. Stunning. Awesome. Magnificent. And when we arrived at the village where we were to celebrate their patron saint, I was, well, unbelieving. It was the chapel of Saint Ursula. A woman not forgotten here!
During the second experience, I was with Betty in the province of San Miguel. Again we were travelling by horse to a very distant village. When we had climbed to a high altitude, the climb opened into a level plain-like plateau. And the horse I was riding took off running toward a direction obviously he knew as home and which for me was adventure. Like no other experience, I enjoyed that brisk galloping through this high but open space. A sense of freedom, of adventure, of surprise, of daring, all wrapped into one.
The two experiences were clearly distinct. But they both had something in common: they opened my vision to an entirely new perspective of the “campo” and of life. As I pondered the high hills and mountains of the scriptures these days, my heart and my spirit returned to those two experiences. A newperspective is what I needed at this time. It is what I long for and pray for.
I am a little weary of hearing “this birthday, (school year, Thanksgiving, graduation, baptism, Christmas, Fourth of July…) is like no other.” I yearn for a new perspective, a dreaming of who we can become: women, immigrants, LGBTQ, people of color, Latinx, Democrats, Republicans, Muslims, Christians, religious, and non-religious.
As in Isaiah 25, where a banquet is being prepared for all peoples, and as Carrie Newcomer sings: There’s room at the table for everyone. I long for this.
So let’s don’t waste time thinking of what was, (because that was not normal either), but of the new thing that is happening, and can we not see it? (Isaiah 43:18-19) Because it is within our vision, a new perspective! A new horizon! So if the Advent journey is to climb the mountain, go up the hill, where the view is changed and likewise the perspective on the “down below, “ from which we have journeyed, I’m ready for the climb.
It opens the way out for desperate men, lonely women,
Expectant youths all seeking fortunes in the lure of city lights.
O mountains, speak! What say you of this Progress?
O valleys, whisper! What say you of this exchange?
Speak! I want to hear.
Whisper! I need to listen.
Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water; The abode where jackals lurk will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus. A highway will be there, called the holy way; No one unclean may pass over it, nor fools go astray on it. No lion will be there, nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it. It is for those with a journey to make, and on it the redeemed will walk. Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.
The following is a reflection given by Sister Clara Fehringer at Historic Saint Paul Catholic Church in Lexington, Kentucky, at Mass on December 7, 2020, the second Sunday of Advent.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people says the Lord.”
This statement from the Prophet Isaiah gives us blessed assurance as we navigate through this pandemic that God is on our side—what a comfort!
We look around us and see so many people working tirelessly to bring comfort to others.
Doctors, nurses, health care workers with many titles—offering words of comfort as they try to restore physical health and hope to too many of our brothers and sisters confined to hospital beds.
Parents and teachers offering comfort to children who are trying to grasp the reality that this will not be an ordinary Christmas.
Funeral directors who offer comfort to families who have lost loved ones and now find themselves unable have an elaborate end of life celebration for their deceased loved ones.
The scientists and researchers whose comfort comes to us by way of hope for a vaccine that will set us on a path that relieves us of mask-wearing, social-distancing isolation.
These are but a few examples of how Isaiah’s dream of a wasteland becoming a highway for our God—the rugged land being made a plain .
As God’s co-workers, Isaiah’s dream becomes our challenge. How are we to speak words of tenderness to one another assuring each other that God has not abandoned us?
Consider the many LGBTQ persons whose path has been made more difficult by the Church and her members. They need comfort, and a level path in which together we all help one another fulfill hopes and dreams and together we find Jesus born again into this diverse community.
Children, still separated from their parents living in shelters at the border. Children here in our city, our state of Kentucky, our nation, who cry for comfort as they go to bed hungry because of a broken social system.
Persons who find life so burdensome they attempt, and too often succeed, to slip out of this world by taking their own life.
If we listen carefully, we can hear the cries for comfort all around us.
We know the saying “we cannot give what we do not have.” This Advent, unlike any other, with its stay-at-home restrictions offers us the opportunity to spend some quiet, reflective moments each day with our Creator—It is in the comfort of quiet that God will grace us with a deep-rooted belief that just as God cared for the exiled Israelites, God cares for each of us. We are precious in God’s eyes. All living creatures are precious to God.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people says the Lord.”
Let’s all say it together.
Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.
My musings today come from Isaiah (58:1-9a) on the kind of fast that our God wants.
I was musing about this in the context of my trip to El Salvador in 2015. The background of that trip started many years ago. A brutal civil war was raging in that country. The military was propping up the government and the two together were truly oppressing the indigenous people and the poor by confiscating their land for big multinational corporations—land that had been theirs for many years. The government was using a scorched earth policy, which meant the military went from village to village burning everything so that the people would have nothing to come back to. And, with monetary help and training from our United States government, they murdered over 72,000 people in that civil war.
Into this Civil War came an archbishop. At the beginning, the government was very happy with this archbishop. He was a gentle soul, and at first, he was living peacefully with the military and government regime. But the more he learned and listened to his people, the more he saw his priests murdered for being with their people, the more he became the archbishop of the poor and the dispossessed. You might say he went from the first fast that Isaiah mentioned and entered into a fasting that God wanted. This gentle archbishop’s fast was to lift the oppression from the peasant people. His fasting was to untie their yoke. His fasting was to bring hope to the poor. His fasting meant not turning his back on his people. And so Archbishop Oscar Romero began to speak out. He began to point out to the government that theirs was not the way of the Gospel—that their behavior was not what Catholic social teaching taught, that their behavior was basically wrong. And then one day in 1980 while he was saying Mass in the hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador—while he was standing at the altar with his arms extended in prayer, a sharpshooter shot a bullet from the window of a car through an open door of the chapel and into the heart of the archbishop. He died before he could finish Mass.
I stood at that altar. I stood on the floor where he bled out. I saw the alb (vestment) that the archbishop had on—the alb with the bloodstains—the alb that could not protect him. And I saw that day how dangerous Isaiah’s kind of fasting could be. It proved not only to be dangerous for Archbishop Romero; it proved to be deadly. And I was sad and strangely afraid.
Then, only months after the archbishop was murdered, there were four women—three of whom were living a vowed religious life; the other was a Catholic lay missionary, and they, too, were fasting as Isaiah tells us God wants us to fast. They were lifting the yoke of the poor; they were taking in the homeless; they were fleeing with the dispossessed into the fields when the soldiers came to burn the village; they were teaching the Gospel to God’s poor; they were loving children; they were living the Gospel; they were fasting.
Then one night, coming home from the airport where two of them had gone to pick up the other two, their van was forced off of the main highway, down a dirt road, past a village, and into a lonely field where they were raped, shot dead and buried in a shallow grave under a beautiful large pine tree. All these women were fasting. I went to that site, too.
When the buses turned down the dirt road off the main highway, our guide asked us to go the rest of the way in silence. And in that silence, I wondered when they were taken off the road that night, what Maura, Jean, Dorothy, and Ita were thinking. I wondered if they tried to negotiate with the soldiers. I wondered if they were speaking English so the soldiers might not understand. I wondered if they thought that this was the end—that their kind of fasting was leading to this. I have thought many times about that conversation and wondered what it was like. About a fourth of a mile before we got to the spot of the murder, we got out of the buses and walked in silence. Then, almost suddenly, we came upon the place where this murder happened. There was a simple white stone monument under that beautiful large pine tree. We were standing on the ground where the blood of these women had been shed that night, not so many years ago in a country not so far away.
But interestingly enough, this day was for celebration. Many people had gathered—people from the campos (countryside), people who came in pickup trucks, on foot, in cars—they came to that simple place, where we had a beautiful Eucharistic liturgy in memory of the church women.
The government says this all happened 35 years ago; just forget it. The people say: it seems like only yesterday, and we will not forget it. Nor will we let the next generation forget it. These women fasted for us. We will always remember them. And I stood there, on what was their shallow grave, overwhelmed with emotion, and prayed.
Then, in 1989, there were the six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter who were also fasting. The Jesuits were attempting to lift the yoke from the oppressed, too; they were helping people to make better decisions and to speak out about their lives. They were doing the most dangerous fast of all—they were educating. They were forming the minds of a new generation. They were discussing liberation theology with faculty and students. And they were shot and mutilated for this fast.
We went to the Catholic University of Central America, and there I stood in the garden where the bodies of these eight Christians were found. It’s unknown whether or not they were shot and killed in their beds and then dragged to the garden, or whether they were brought to the garden and shot there. We don’t know because it happened in the middle of the night so that there would be no witnesses. But it happened because they were fasting. And I stood looking at blooming rose bushes that now mark the spot where the bodies were discovered at daylight. And I wept—having had enough of this kind of fasting.
In Isaiah, we read “You shall call, and God will answer. You shall cry for help, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’” I have to believe that in each of these situations, in each of the places where I stood, our God said, “Here I am,” as these people ended their fast by giving their lives. I have to believe that else all they did would have been in vain.
So, it’s difficult to say what observing this kind of fast means. It’s difficult to say where this kind of fast might take us. But the Gospels tell us that now that the bridegroom is no longer with us in body, we can fast. So I suppose that is our role now—to enter deeply into this fast and to understand its dangers and to believe with all our might that no matter where this fast takes us, God will say to us, “Here I am.”
The following is a reflection written by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, for the Feast of Christ the King, 2018.
If Jesus were a politician what would His signature policies be? Apparently he would favor the poor, after all, He called them blessed.
No doubt He would be concerned about the homeless. He did say,” birds have nests and foxes have dens, but I have nowhere to lay my head.”
I am sure He would speak for nuclear disarmament and gun control, because He told His followers, “Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”
The protection of children would be a priority policy: trafficked children, abused children, street kids, foster children, uneducated kids. He told people not to send the children away from him. In fact He said “Suffer the little children to come to me.”
Don’t you think He would have a policy dealing with medical care for all? He healed lepers, blind people, those with fevers, those who could not walk, and those who begged next to the healing pools.
I think all of these things would be his signature policies. These would be the policies of the reign of God. Now hold that thought because I am coming back to it. However, I’m switching gears a minute to give you different take on the conversation that we heard in today’s passage between Jesus and Pilate. I ran across this as I was researching this passage.
When the Jews say, “This man makes himself a king,” Pilate is all ears, because now the crowds are talking politics. And people who believe in God can cause a lot of trouble for people who believe only in policies of the state.
So the paraphrase of the interview goes something like this:
Pilate: Are you the king of the Jews?
Jesus: Whose idea is that? Surely not yours . . .
Pilate: Am I a Jew? Am I a deluded member of your religious sect?
Jesus: If I were your kind of king, you would have a fight on your hands. But I am another kind of king. My power has another source.
Pilate: (now fixated on one idea) So you are a king?
Jesus: That’s what you say, but then you don’t know what you are saying. I was born to be king. O never mind.
The interview ends badly. Jesus refuses to be interrogated by a dictator. Jesus refuses to “crow” about being a king, he immediately speaks not about himself, but of his community calling it a kingdom. “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Today, some folk use the word “kindom” instead of kingdom. In the prayer book that some of us use daily, the word kingdom is replaced every time it appears with “kindom.” I think that has some interesting implications. What if all of us had Jesus as our kin? What if Jesus were our Kin and not our King? What if we lived in a kindom and not a kingdom? What if the whole world were kin?
You know, I lived in Southern West Virginia for 25 years. Let me tell you, there is a lot to be said in that region for “your kin.” Someone can be gone away for years, but if they come back and they are your kin, you take them in. If you get stopped on the highway for a coal truck that is overloaded, and that sheriff is your kin, you’ll get a wink, told not to do that anymore, and you’ll move on. If you leave the area and get educated or get a good job, when you come back being all puffed up, you might get accused of “livin’ above your kin.” And if someone of your kin is running for public office, you can be sure that their policies will be supported. Having someone as your kin is important.
So what if Jesus were our kin? What if Jesus were the kin of whole world? Do you think the world would embrace His policies? Do you think all peoples of the earth would serve the poor? If Jesus were kin to the whole world, do you think all people would help find homes for the homeless, and all people would protect children and work for nuclear disarmament and sensible gun control? And do you think if people were estranged from the kinship of Jesus, they would be welcomed back because they were kin? And what if one was caught driving a truck overloaded with sin and guilt, would they be given a wink and told not to do that anymore and be sent on their way? What do you think?
So on this last Sunday in the liturgical year 2017-18, I would propose that a lot of things would be different if the world could embrace Jesus as its kin…not as its king…as someone close to it, not someone who rules over it.
And now, I would like to propose that we re-name this feast that ends our liturgical year. Let’s call it the feast of Christ our Kin and leave here shouting “Long live our Kin.”
The original title of this essay was “Domination, Dismissal, and Dehumanization.” I decided that might feel too intimidating for an essay title, but I’m still going to share a few reflections on these things.
We live in a culture of domination, dismissal, and dehumanization. Regardless of our religion, political or ideological leanings, race, age, or other qualities, most of us fall into these patterns at some point or another because we are immersed in them. We don’t have to look too far in our relationships, communities, country, world to see these playing out all around us. If we’re in a position of privilege, we exert our power in ways that limit someone else’s, consciously and unconsciously. We write off someone we disagree with because they’re clearly wrong and therefore not worth our attention. Hmpf! We call a politician or a candidate a derogatory name because it makes us feel superior. All of these things separate us from each other.
If you’re like me, you may talk the good talk about compassion and love and then forget or choose not to extend compassion and love to the “bad” people, the ones we see doing harm. Doesn’t doing so let them off the hook?
Yesterday’s gospel reading at church was the one about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Regardless of your spiritual tradition, it’s likely that this idea of unconditional love is a part of your belief system. But how do we do it? And why?
We repeat what we don’t repair.
If I wish to live in a world in which power-with, rather than power-over, is the norm, I practice it now.
If I wish to live in a world in which I am seen and heard and so is everyone else, I practice it now.
If I wish to live in a world in which respect is the norm, I practice it now.
If I don’t practice them now, I perpetuate the very systems I wish to interrupt and change, just maybe with people in leadership with whom I align myself more.
Acknowledging someone’s humanity doesn’t mean I accept the harm that they’re doing. It does mean that I can see that person as more than the harm they’re doing. I’ll still work to end the harm, but I’ll also live in the possibility that the person can change. It doesn’t mean I stay in relationship with the person. I can still have boundaries. I can wish them well from afar, and when I say “well,” I mean that their needs are truly met on a deep level, so deeply that they won’t continue to do harm. Their well-being, their healing, brings me and you and everyone else closer to collective our well-being. 2020 has shown us how much we need to heal.
The goal is to heal me and you and everybody else. Patching the fabric of humanity. Mending the tears. Stitch by tiny stitch. Practice by tiny practice. Practicing love toward my neighbor as myself. Remembering that everyone is my neighbor. Practicing until these acts are the ones we automatically repeat and not the acts of domination, dismissal, and dehumanization. With every action a new stitch in the tapestry of interconnection. Slowly. Steadily. Stepping back every so often to see the bigger picture, the progress we’ve made. Bringing the cloth close again to continue the work. Stitch. Stitch. Stitch.
What patterns of harm-doing in our world do you see reflected in your own actions?
What is one practice that helps you or could help you to interrupt the pattern?
What do you think would change as a result of your “mending”?
The above reflection is written by Cory Lockhart, a 2016 Angeline Award recipient, which is awarded by the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville to a woman who reflects the spirit and Charism (special gift) of Saint Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline Sisters. Cory is a teacher, artist, writer, public speaker, and peacemaker. She facilitates classes and workshops for teens and adults on living and communicating with compassion and speaks to groups about the experiences and ideas that have shaped her. She believes in the fundamental dignity of every person and the interconnectedness of all people and Creation. She does her best to practice what she preaches, often stumbling along the path, but always getting back up and continuing forward. To learn more about Cory and her work, visit corylockhart.com
Today as I sit at my desk and ponder two significant days in the church year of All Saints and All Souls, I noticed the desk. It is the same desk I sat on the other side of 50 years ago when I was being interviewed by Sister Adelaide for first vows in 1970.
It is the very same desk where Sisters Mary Lavinia, Angelice, Rosella, Sarah, Lynn, and Janet Marie sat at as they too, were fulfilling their ministry of leadership.
If this desk could talk, what would it say about the decisions that had to be made, the letters signed or the sharing of the Sisters who came to talk to those in leadership. How many tears were shed or sounds of laugher did it hear? How many phone calls were received, expressing pain or joy, as the ones sitting behind the desk called on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, understanding, compassion or forgiveness.
I do not know the origins of the desk, but I first saw this desk in the Presidents office in the Administration Building. When the Administration Building closed and as Brescia was being renovated, it traveled to the Motherhouse, then to Brescia and back to the Motherhouse, now in the former chapel of the formation home. The desk is surely a symbol of how flexible we have been over the years, about making decisions, responding to circumstances or needs, as Saint Angela Merici stated in her writings.
The desk is a bit worn, with a few scratches, the drawers squeak, but it is still in fairly good shape. But…most of all, it is sturdy and durable—like us.
So, what does this desk have to do with the two feasts of All Saints and All Souls? Just think for a moment…all the Sisters in our community we have known, loved, lived and prayed with or prayed for, all the Associates or coworkers we have related to, all the decisions made, and the missioning cards signed that sent us forth to minster to so many people. That surely is the communion of saints—both living and deceased that we are a part of, not because of this desk, but because of the love of God poured into hearts in us through Christ Jesus.
By Sister Carol Curtis, OSU (formerly Mother John Baptist, prioress of the Discalced Carmelites of Louisville)
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: