Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Discernment: open to God, learning from God

What does today's Gospel (Luke 10: 21-24) tell us about being open to, learning and understanding god's manner of interacting with us, that is, revealing the Father's will in our lives?  I believe the clue is in the phrase "I praise you. Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to the childlike."  One of the key elements of discerning god's plan is giving  God praise.  When we praise another human being for who she/he is, we open our beings to God at work in that person.  When we praise God for who God is, we open ourselves to who God is for us and in that openness God's power touches us.  The passage says of God that He has "hidden these things from the wise and learned."  In terms of deciphering the ways of the good Spirit, God's Holy Spirit revealing God's will to us implies that we need to approach God humbly and with a heart open to learning from God. A not knowing is present  as it is in the mind of a child. So three key aspects of discernment are revealed in this passage: praise of God, humility and openness to learning from God.

"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see"

"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see...and the ears that hear what you hear" (Luke 10: 23,24).  We see and hear with eyes and ears of faith because it is "the gracious will" (Lk. 10: 22) of the Father that we see and hear things the first disciples of Jesus saw and heard!  What a gift from a loving, caring, intimate God!  We see a sunrise and think of the risking Son of Justice. We see a rosebud opening to the sun light and see God opening our beings so as to reveal God's glory to those whose lives we touch.  We peer into the faces of the young and the old and see a reflection of God's radiance.  We grapple with sin in our lives and the hope of redemption swells from within.  We listen to the birds sing and we hear creation praising  their Creator. We listen to the Scriptures being read in each liturgy and hear God speaking to us personally.  "O blessed are the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear. and never heard it" (Lk 10: 23-24).

What will you see today that opens your heart and mind to the Kingdom of God in your midst and that reveals God's presence alive in the things you do and say today?

Monday, November 28, 2011

"My servant is paralyzed"

Notice  in today's Gospel (Mt. 8: 5-11) a centurion in a matter-of-fact manner telling Jesus that his servant is at home paralyzed.  Think for a moment of sharing a major concern with Jesus as you encounter Him throughout the day and believing that Jesus can help you, beyond a doubt, and is as concerned as you are.  Without a formal request, Jesus says to you: "I will help." "I'll be there for you." "I'll do whatever needs to be done to rectify this situation for you." "I will do whatever needs to be done."  That is the kind of person Jesus is: compassionate, understanding, insightful, intuitive, caring, looking for ways to assist you. 

We might also ask ourselves in light of the Scriptures: what in my life is paralyzed, not engaging, not life-giving, not love-generating, not reconciling?  What within me is paralyzing my faith, my hope, my love, my way of being there for others?  And bring all of that to the Lord, honestly sharing our concerns with him concerning our own paralyzing states.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

This coming Sunday we begin the celebration of Advent!  All of us can hear John the
Baptist’s cry: “Prepare the way for the Lord.”  Each of us faces several questions: what do I need to do to prepare for God’s daily visitations? How have I done that in the past? What has been missing in my preparations in past Advents? What do I want to be different this year? To make that difference, what needs to change in my routine or in my thinking?  In my meditation this morning, the following prayer came to mind:

Lord, open my heart to love you,
open my mind to know you
and open my will to follow you.

With that prayer, I hope that I will put forth serious efforts during this Advent to prepare for the Lord’s coming into my life each day: through the sisters with whom I live, how I interact with them; through the challenges to take care of myself so that I am able to serve others and carry our my ministry with greater love, deeper hope, and stronger faith and thus find God hidden in the mangers of my life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! As I began my thanksgiving list, the top of the list was my religious community. Seven of us gathered today for a thanksgiving dinner and Vespers. It was a joyous occasion for us. I am also grateful for the gift of my faith, a faith to which Daniel gives witness in today's first reading.  Daniel was thrown into the lion's den because he disobeyed the king's decree that no one in the kingdom was to pray to any god or man except to the king over the next thirty days. Daniel trusted God. God closed the lions' mouths and none of them attacked Daniel the whole night through. In the morning the king released Daniel and had those who came up with the wicked scheme to trap Daniel and guarantee his demise were thrown into the den. They were immediately devoured.  The miracle extended beyond saving Daniel's life.  The king declared a second decree and this one was that everyone one in his kingdom would worship the one true God: "He is the living God, he endures forever, his kingdom will never be destroyed and his empire never come to an end. He saves, sets free, and works signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth; he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions" (Dan 6:28).  From what has God saved you? And for what are you grateful this day?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The writing on the wall

Today’s first reading, Daniel 5: 1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28, tells the story of King Belshazzar who gives a great banquet for thousands of his lords, with whom he drank.  He used the golden and silver vessels used in temple, thus defiling these sacred vessels.  In the midst of this wild party a hand starts writing on the wall. The King calls Daniel to interpret the message.  God is always at work in our lives, calling us back to a life of holiness and integrity.  Satan’s power and deceitful ways will be exposed, as they were by the handwriting on the wall of the banquet room in which the Babylonian King and his friends were partying.  God sees the truth and how far we may have strayed. As with the King, God sends wise men and women into our lives to open our eyes to the truth. This intervention for some may be our justice system, for others a pastor, a minister or a rabbi; for still others a husband or wife, a sibling or friend, a church group or a coworker,  a professor or a counselor, a spiritual writer or the Bible itself, nature, the Eucharist, the sacrament of Reconciliation and so much more.  What opens your eyes? Who interprets the writing on the wall of your life?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Discernment: what does confusion tell me?

"God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Cor 14:33).  If "God is not a God of confusion but of peace, and St. Paul, I believe is correct, then, if I am confused about something, that is not the time to make a decision about that issue. I need to wait upon God to bring clarity and peace. I also need to continue my search for  a) the vocation in life to which God is calling me, b) the person I am called to marry, c) the career in which I will best serve the Lord and humankind or d) concerning the decision with which I am grappling.

Working in the Kingdom of God or serving this world's kingdoms

Today's reading, Daniel 2: 31-45, certainly speaks to us today. It relates the king's dream of a magnificent huge, exceedingly bright and terrifying statue. Its head pure gold, its chest and arms silver, bronze belly and thighs, iron legs and feet made of iron and clay. A humongous stone rolls down the mountain shattering this statue. This stone fills the entire earth--a kingdom set up by God that will never be destroyed.  The feet and toes of the statue are made of iron and clay, which never mix and symbolize a divided kingdom, fragility and strength.

What a portrait of today's world and of us. God created humankind in His image and likeness.  As such we are magnificent in Christ. Pure gold and silver symbolize our beauty in Christ Jesus. We, too, however, have feet of iron and clay--weak humanly speaking with a propensity to live divided lives: lives of greatness in God as well as lives chasing after that which alienates us from God and puts us in disharmony with ourselves and others. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we cannot serve both God and mammon. We will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other.  Am I aware that, left to myself apart from the sacraments and the Word of God, I am standing on clay feet, not growing in my love for God or of neighbor, that I can be as self-serving and engage simply in accumulating the riches and accolades of this world as did King Nebuchadnezzar, treasures that will be blown in the wind and become chaff that will be scattered at the final judgment?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving our all in obedience to God's laws

Today's Gospel,  Luke 21: 1-4, is the story of the woman who puts two small coins in the treasury. Jesus notices her generosity--she's give of her livelihood, everything she possesses.  In the first reading , Dan 1: 1-6, 8-20, Daniel, in order to remain true to the Mosaic dietary laws, requests that he and his companions be served a vegetarian diet. The chief chamberlain is terrified that if he says "yes" that he may be put to death by the King if Daniel and his companions do not measure up to the same physical robustness as other servants but goes along with Daniel's request for a trial period.  Daniel and his companions thrive physically and are found to excel, as well, in wisdom and prudence.  The woman, Daniel and his companions and Mary in the Presentation in the Temple, which feast we celebrate today,  give God their all. Their poverty is their wealth. God sees the heart. God notices the generosity of those who are obedient to His Father. It is God's noticing and it's our obedience to our God that transforms the little we have into wealth beyond measure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Father's house is a house of prayer

Today's Scripture readings (Mac 4: 36-37, 52-59 and Lk 19: 45-48) are about the rebuilding of  the Temple, a place of worship and prayer.      Our very beings are dwelling places for our God, built into holy dwellings through our baptism, renewed into the image of Christ in each Eucharist and cleansed in the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Spirit of God dwells within us and in all of creation. Just as the Gentiles in the first reading and the merchants in the Gospel  were using the Temple for purposes other than giving honor and glory to God, so, too, can we misuse the Temples of our bodies and of the universe. Both we and the universe were brought into existence to give glory and honor to our Creator, to further God's Kingdom here on this earth and to radiate God's goodness, love, justice, compassion, and forgiveness, as we wait the return of Christ when heaven and earth will be transformed. The question we now face is: what are we doing in the here and now to realize a world in which  wars will cease and nations, religions, cultures, races, women and men, parents and children, the young and the old, humankind and the universe  are working toward the harmony promised us when Christ returns?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

God's gift of adoption

Today was a travel day for me, a time to be alone in a very special way with the Lord. Through the grace of God, I chose to begin again to read the letters of St. Paul. What a gift he left us in all of the epistles. The ones I read today in their entirety were his letter to the Romans and 1 Corinthians.  I was deeply touched by many phrases but especially by the statement in Rom 11:5-6 that "there are a few people God has chosen by his grace" and "it is not for things they have done. If they could be made God's people by what they did, God's gift of grace would not really be a gift." What an awesome God, who gave His only begotten Son to ransom us from sin and adopt us as His children, a chosen people set apart to serve Him and one another!  How great thou art, O God!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Choosing to be faithful

Today’s Scripture passage is about a Maccabean mother and her seven sons who refused to violate the law and were put to death. Each of the sons were tortured as their mother watched. When her youngest son was faced with accepting the lavish gifts the king would bestow on him if he obeyed, the mother encouraged him to remain strong in his faith.  Though none of us will likely be faced with torture or death, yet every day we are invited to die to self and rise with Christ in small, heroic ways.  For instance, the Spirit invites us  1) to stand up for another who is being bullied by gossip, 2) to not entertain ourselves or other others by gossiping ourselves, 3) to tell the truth when tempted to be deceptive,  4) or,  when another is promoting her/himself with grandiose descriptions of how better his/her way is from ours, we can choose the way of humility rather than bringing this person down by countering  with our own personal grandiose accomplishments.  To realize by our behaviors that any good we do is God acting through us is an attitude that will give us the courage to sing God’s praises and “die” to singing our own, being the queen/king others worship and choosing to worship only God.  Will I, like the seven sons and the mother, serve God or self today in the little things that contribute to heroic choices made out of humility and from a stance of faith?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Come,fall in love with Jesus with us

This past weekend I have had the privilege of attending a program for young men and women
who are studying to become members of religious orders of women and men.  We looked at
the essence of religious life, namely falling in love with Jesus and nurturing that relationship day
in and day out.  The speaker, Brother Sean Sammon, FMS,  challenged us to go back to the charism of our religious communities. He described “charism” to all religious communities  as the Spirit leading our Founders and Foundresses to read the signs of the times and respond according to God’s will. His belief was that anyone completing a novitiate today needs to accomplish two things: 1) fall in love with Jesus and 2) assimilate and embrace the Founder/Foundresses’ gift to the church.   He  went on to suggest that the question that is before us religious, both our newest members—postulants and novices and temporary professed—and the “seasoned” members is how do  we read the signs of the times and to what is the Spirit leading us in response to the signs of the times?  Brother Sean  reminded us that in Mary’s day the Word of God broke out among the marginalized of society. Mary herself was a Jewish peasant, most likely illiterate, and considered, as a woman in the culture of her day, a second-class citizen.  Then, as now, the Word of God was revealed, not among the rich and powerful, but among the poor and marginalized, Brother Sean stated.  As members of religious communities today, we are among the marginalized of the world—this is where the Word of God will be revealed and God’s will manifested. So what a grace to be in religious life in this century, Brother Sean mused.  Just as Mary said “yes” to God’s call and transformed the world  and salvation history in her day, so, too, are we called to be a source of transformation in the world and in the church of our day.  Are we willing, Brother Sean asked, to allow the Spirit to lead us in the direction that God wants us to go as a congregation, all of us endorsing a common vision, a common mission to be carried out in a variety of ways, as our Foundresses and Founders and earliest members  did? Our Foundresses and Founders, Brother Sean commented,  would probably be impatient with us who say that we are dwindling, diminishing, dying, and therefore don’t have the resources to do what needs to be done in the world of today. With fewer members and much, much less material resources,  they committed themselves to a daunting task of developing a healthcare, educational, and social justice agencies/systems that thrive to this day. They read the signs of the times in their day and responded, not with material wealth, but with the wealth they possessed in loving God and His Ways above all else.  They truly had fallen in love with Jesus and nothing He asked was too much for them. What about us?

Monday, November 14, 2011

What do you want of the Lord

Today's Gospel is the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar shouting to Jesus to show him pity. The disciples want Bartimaeus to stop his shouting. But he does not. He persists and Jesus notices and instructs the crowd to tell Bartimaeus to come forward. "What do you want of me," Jesus asks. And Bartimaeus is just as direct: "I want to see." A couple of things, of course: am I as persistent? do I know what I want of Jesus? Does the crowd, or whoever or whatever wants to shut me up or wants me to remain blind, get to me? Do I then withdraw my request, melt into the floorboards or wall, so to speak, and simply give up in despair,  in apathy and/or  lukewarmness? Or do I persevere, knowing who Jesus is and who I am, that is, that I need God's intervention in my life if I am going to see clearly God's coming into my life and my world; if I am going to see clearly that God's Kingdom is imminent in the world of today; if I am going to see clearly what it is God is asking of me as His disciple in making Him and His ways known?

Mother Frances Streitel: Her riches were the Lord

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, aka Sister Angela Streitel: In my last blog on Mother Frances I mentioned that she was living for something beyond herself and that she lived her life for others. The Other for whom she lived her life, obviously, is Christ. She wanted to belong totally to the Lord by how she lived her life here on earth. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was to come between her and her Beloved. She’d give her all. One of the means she used was that of holy poverty. Her riches were Christ. Her “Enough” was Christ.  So she treated material things as unimportant. She wanted to be as detached from material things as humanly possible, as was St. Francis of Assisi, her model of living the vow of poverty. One of the things she did as superior of the Marian Institute was to ask the sisters to exchange rooms, taking nothing with them in the exchange except their personal linen, so as to practice the virtue of detachment. Her request was not appreciated by many of the Sisters who denounced her to her Superior General. I recall in my earlier religious life having nothing but three habits, a bible, the Constitution of the Congregation, and my personal “linens.”  It was a very freeing experience. My joy was complete. I had fallen in love with the Lord and the Lord alone. I could move from place to place with one suitcase!  My joy, to this day, is simplicity of living, having little and always trying to trim down to only the essentials. I tell myself: all you need, Dorothy Ann, is the Bible. How I wish!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Figuring out what God's will is for me

Discernment:  Concluding this segment of the discernment blogs which were based on St. Ignatius’ material of how to figure out  whether a good spirit or an evil spirit (a spirit that blocks us from following God’s will) is the motivating factor, I would like to share a summary of this section.  A prayerful decision will obviously include prayer, looking at the decision from as many angles as possible (marriage--this man/this woman, single life, religious life).  Making a good decision means that we need to be patient and trust the process. Waiting upon the Lord to reveal the direction is sometimes a lengthy process.  We need to trust that God, ultimately, will lead us in the right direction. We will know, in our heart of hearts, what direction that is.  In the end we need trust our gut instincts and move in the direction that seems right for us.  Complete clarity and certainty is a rarity.  Once, however, that we have prayerfully considered the decision, consulted spiritually mature individuals, and have gathered all the data that we need, then it is time to take that leap of faith and move forward with a decision.  In terms of religious life, the postulancy is the first step in becoming a sister. This is a period of discernment, in which God’s will continues to be sought, as is true as well,  in the novitiate and temporary vow periods.  If, at any time during the initial formative process, it is clear to you and your directors that religious life is not for you and that initial formation was simply a necessary means God used for you to arrive at that clarity, then that decision is followed at that time. Or, on the other hand,  initial formation may definitely confirm that religious life is right for you.  (Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615, p. 18-19)

Seeing the Creator in creation

How is it, the author of Wis 13: 1-9, asks that we can be ignorant of the author of creation, of which we stand in awe: sunsets, sunrises, the beauty of the seasons—fall, winter, spring, summer—the stateliness, strength or power of the horse, the bear, the deer,  and so much more of the natural world and know not the Source of that beauty and power.   “…who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan?” we are asked in the first reading of today’s liturgy.  If I am struck by the power and the energy of a vast universe, says the author of this passage, may I also realize how much more powerful  is the One who created it!

I just drove home from the Newark airport. The brightness of some of the autumn colors was striking. The harmony of the bright reds, oranges, yellows and browns touched my soul. Soon these trees will be bare, that is, they will enter into a dormant stage in preparation for winter and await rebirth in the spring of 2012. All of creation follows a similar pattern of letting go/dying that leads to new life, a dormancy that prepares for renewed living (sleep/awake pattern in humans), a springtime, a  summertime, an autumn and a winter.   These cycles occur on the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of our lives as well. They also occur on the interpersonal and social dimensions of human existence. Nature and human nature mirror each other: a reality orchestrated by our Creator!  What an awesome God!

Mother Frances Streitel: Finding meaning in suffering

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, aka Sister Angela Streitel:  In this morning’s meditation was a quoted reflection by Viktor Frankl on how anyone is able to survive suffering. He states, as quoted in the November 2011, Magnificat,  p. 151, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice….In accepting to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end…My comrades’…question was, ‘Will we survive the [concentration] camp? For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.’ The question which beset me was, ‘Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance—as whether one escapes or not—ultimately would not be worth living at all.’”

Sister Angela found meaning in her suffering and is the reason she was able to say to Mother Salesia, her Superior General, that taking up the assignment at the Marian Institute caused her no suffering.  When I first read that my reaction was: “Oh, yeah, sure. Who are you kidding! I just read that you stood beneath the cross with a bleeding heart (Walk in Love,  p. 29) and that you could neither eat nor sleep and asked the Lord to allow this chalice to pass you by! And then you say: “Before God I can declare that the occupying of the Marian Institute caused me absolutely no sorrow or pain” (Letter of July 8, 1879). 

Reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s experience of the concentration camp shed light on Sister Angela’s statement. She had found meaning in suffering, the same meaning that Jesus found in offering His life for His flock, in being obedient to the Father’s plan for our salvation. In explaining herself to Bishop Pankratius concerning this period in her life, Sister Angela states that she realized that she could offer her pain in reparation for her own sinful behaviors.  Not only did finding meaning in her sufferings help her, so, too, was the fact that Sister Angela lived for others and for something beyond herself. Dr. Frankl explains that “being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself…” (Ibid.)  Truly Sister Angela became more human through her suffering and became more and more her unique self, coming to her full potential as a human being.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion" (Wis 7: 24)

Today’s first Scripture reading is from Wis 7: 22b-8:1). Wow!  What a reading!  The passage opens with the phrase: “In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy , unique.”   Think of the fact that each one of us is created in the image of God. That means that  we are created in the image of Wisdom. Each of us is “an intelligent, holy, unique spirit.”  Obviously, we don’t always experience ourselves or the other as speaking or acting out of that intelligence, holiness or uniqueness.  This is when life gets difficult and relationships suffer.  Our consolation certainly can be to remember that Wisdom, God’s gift to us who seek her,  is “firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeking, and pervading all spirits…”  Neither the other or myself are Wisdom; God is!  So each of us will experience limitation in being firm, in being secure and tranquil.  We are weak and God is strong. Our seeking is limited and blurred; God’s is not.  “… Wisdom… penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.”  Yes, she penetrates and pervades my being and yours and brings with her the purity of God.  She is “the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of God’s goodness. She, who is one, can do all things and renews everything...; and passing into holy souls from age to age.” Yes, she enters into that which is sullied by sin in order to purify us.  May each of us welcome God into  our “houses”  through love, forgiveness, humility and through the Eucharist, so we, in turn, “mirror the power of God,”   and image the goodness of God while being renewed by the Wisdom, who is one with God.

Tempations to avoid or reverse good decisions

Two spirits function within us: one encourages us and the other discourages us from doing God’s will.  We need to develop an awareness of both and decipher which one is pulling at our heart strings, so to speak.  St. Ignatius of Loyola calls the spirit of discouragement desolation.  When we are down and out that is not a time to make a new decision or change one we have already made.  In desolation the decision we are likely to make sits on sandy soil and could easily be a decision we regret when we are thinking clearly and are out of that foggy, confused state. When desolate, go apart to pray more intensely. Also talk to your spiritual director or a good friend, whom you consider wise, trustworthy and spiritually mature: put everything out on the table, so to speak.  Temptations to reverse or avoid good decisions are reduced in their potency when they are looked at in prayer and with another spiritually mature person, one, who with you, is seeking God’s will above all. Rev. Sazama, in Discernment of Spirits, gives an example of a young man who was confident of his decision to enter the seminary after graduation from college.  He had come to this decision over a three-year period and felt a lot of peace and joy, a sense of rightness, about the decision. A few months before the time of his entrance into the seminary approached, he was thrown into a lot of confusion about it. He followed this counsel not to reverse his decision—a decision  made in consolation—when thrown into turmoil.  Throughout his seminary training, he remained confident, his peace and joy returned over a subsequent five-year period.   Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615, p. 17-18.

Mother Frances Streitel: "Going up to Jerusalem" with Jesus

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, aka Sister Angela Streitel: In the last few blogs I shared with you Sister Angela’s way of embracing the cross of suffering, of walking with Jesus to “Calvary,” “going up to Jerusalem” with the Lord. Sister Angela, I believe, is a woman who gave 100-150%.  We have heard it said that if a marriage is going to work, both husband and wife need to give their all. Sometimes that “all” is translated into percentages!  Earlier in my religious life, I was taught a prayer that went something like: may I never count the cost.  All of us have mentors who never counted the cost of their discipleship as husband/wife, as members of a religious community, as lay ministers in the Church.  Sister Angela was that kind of woman, I believe. Truly an inspiration.  She says to her Superior General, after taking up her assignment at the Marian Institute:  “Before God I can declare that the occupying of the Marian Institute caused me absolutely no sorrow or pain” (Letter of July 8, 1879) We know from previous blogs, that a lot of pain preceded her and also surrounded her once she assumed full responsibility of bringing order back into a situation that had fallen into ruin.  No easy task for anyone. Resistances abound!  Jealousies rear their heads. Anger surfaces. Sister Angela was a young nun. “Who is this whipper snipper? I’m older than she? Who does she think she is?” are thoughts that could have emerged in the minds of much older religious. Of course, there were others who supported her 100% and were pleased that someone had the courage to “take the bull by the horns,” so to speak.  Sister Angela focused on what she was being asked to do. Her strength came from the Lord, “who made heaven and earth” (Ps 121) and from the fact, I believe,  that she lived a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:  Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Transformed by grace

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, aka Sister Angela Streitel:  Sister Angela was strong in the practice of virtue already in the early years of her religious life, as evidenced by the way she handled rejection, misunderstanding, and human heartache, experiences in every person’s life.  As indicated in the last blog entitled “Bitterness transformed into holiness,” through her sufferings she was transformed into the heart of Christ. When her pain was so great that she believed “mind and body would have suffered ruin,” she was still able, through grace, to show love and grace to her fellow Sisters.  “I had a cordial manner, and, in all this, in a house with a hundred persons of every type, with a heart steeped in sorrow….for in the motherhouse no one was regarded with less favour than I….I came to the [Marian] Institute, but what a flood of pain and suffering, of harshness and humiliation followed me” (Ibid.). She tells us in a letter to Bishop Pancratius that her goal, in all of this, was to increase her praying and to draw closer and closer to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. What she accomplished at Marian Institute in a few short months revealed the potency of her prayer, the depth of her faith and strength of her trust in God. (Source: Walk in Love, p. 29)

Made in God's image

Today's Scripture (Wis 23-3:9) begins with the statement: "God formed [me] to be imperishable; the image of [God's] own nature [God] made [me]."  God's nature is goodness, love, reconciliation, forgiveness, honesty, integrity and much, much more. Evil, hatred, disunity, revenge, deceit do not exist in God.  Having been made in God's image means that if I am being truly myself I then act out of goodness, truth and integrity (my inside self and outside self match or are in harmony--who I am inside is who I am outside and is what others experience of me). When I am living from my God-centered self, my behaviors reflect my truth, I am not living a pretentious life, I am not living a life of duplicity. As Jesus said of Nathaniel: there is no guile in him.  To live more and more of the truth of my life, I need to be seeking the truth that exists in the depth of my being and in others.  No one person has the whole truth, nor do I.  Each person possesses a part of the truth.  My truth and their truth contributes to a greater portion of the truth.  That is why openness, listening, dialogue and obedience are essential elements of spiritual growth. I need to be listening to my interior self as well as entering into dialogue with others concerning issues shared between us to arrive at more and more of the truth and hence greater personal and interpersonal freedom.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Discernment: The role of excuses

That spirit that wants to block us from the good we are called to do will attack our vulnerabilities.  This spirit knew, for instance, that Moses was weak as a speaker (Ex 4:10), that Gideon perceived himself as the least of his siblings (Judges 6:15), that Jeremiah considered his youth as a reason for not being God's chosen one (Jer 1:4).  So the spirit that is in opposition to God's will used these perceptions to discourage the one called. Moses said to God: I can't be your instrument in freeing your people from Pharaoh; I stutter.  Gideon's response to God was: I can't do what you are asking in saving the Israelites from their enemies; I am insignificant.  Jeremiah argued that he was a mere youth; how could he possibly be a prophet.  What excuses surface within you when God is calling you to be His instrument in bringing about a good?  Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Developing the contemplative dimension of our personalities

I am in Trinidad where we are having a retreat day—a day of solitude, prayer and reflection with the novice and pre-postulants.  Input is being given by Sisters Julie Marie, Delia Marie and myself. We are reflecting on the following elements of the charism—contemplation, service to the poor, sacrifice, Eucharist and obedience. The importance of developing a contemplative lifestyle was emphasized, that is developing an interior life.  On a daily basis, am I willing to become aware of who I am, what I am thinking, feeling, how I am acting and how those actions impact my relationship with self, others, God and creation? Am I engaging in life, fully participating in life each day or am I withdrawing, isolating? Am I listening (being obedient) to life and how it is impacting me and the messages from God that come to me through all of life, all of me (feeling self, thinking self, acting self, relating self, choosing self)?  We reflected on the importance of serving the poor, beginning with oneself. Am I aware of the poverty of my affective life, my thinking, my behaviors, my relationships and able to acknowledge this poverty?  Do I engage in the sacrifice of letting go by sharing my poverty with significant others: bringing it out into the open so that I can transform my poverty into a richness that comes from the truth, from dialogue, from engagement, from self-disclosure that leads self-integrity? Being Eucharistic people,  “bringing fuller life to others”—the tagline of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—means that I am living a full life, not an impoverished life that manifests itself in an unwillingness to become aware of, acknowledge, and accept the pains and sufferings of life (bread broken and shared with others), an unwillingness to stand beneath the cross,  to hold my pain and the pain of others on my lap, so to speak, as Mary held the body of her dead Son, to let go of my pain as Mary let go of her dead Son and buried Him. Do I live my Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays (enter into my emptiness) and heed Jesus command “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother”—take care of each other, relate to each other, in a way that  leads to the experience of Easter—the resurrection of a new  way of being me and  a new way of being in relationships? From entering into this Paschal Mystery and living as Eucharistic people, we also experience Pentecost, that is, our persons are set on fire with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we become both Good News persons and proclaimers of the Good News.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The joy of working with young women answering the call to religious life

Today I am in Trinidad at our new novitiate house.  What a blessing to be a part of this community. The rhythm of prayer and activity took me back to my years in formation.  What peace and what a great feeling of putting God at the very center of one's life, as symbolized by praying the divine office: morning prayer, midday prayer, vespers and night prayer.

I spent the day interviewing a young woman being called to religious life.  And what a blessing that was. Yes, there are many women out there being called to religious life--are you one of them? Answering that call is a challenge, takes a lot of faith and trust in the Lord. But what a grace for me to be with someone, who, above all, wants to be doing God's will and feels strongly attracted to St. Francis of Assisi and all that he stands for, especially his total commitment to God, his joy and delight in serving the Lord.  Like many, for a long time, this young woman was not paying attention to God's call to become a Franciscan but what a joy to now taking the first step in answering that call, that is going through the application process and becoming a pre-postulant.

Mother Frances Streitel: Bitterness transformed into holiness

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, aka Sister Angela Streitel.  As a Maria Stern Franciscan, Sister Angela's last assignment before answering God's call to enter Carmel was at the Marian Institute.  Within a few months of assuming her administrative responsibilities, Sister Angela  put that mission on solid financial footing and transformed its domestic woes, as well. Her efforts to bring the Sisters to embrace radical poverty as lived by St. Francis of Assisi, however, caused much suffering for herself and for some of the Sisters.  She took her suffering to the foot of the cross. There in prayer, as she was complaining bitterly of "condemned without a hearing," she says to herself: "Enough of this."    She resolved not to allow bitterness to lodge in her heart and united her pain with Jesus' sufferings on the cross in reparation for her own sinfulness.  In no way was Sister Angela going to allow bitterness and anger to block her openness to God.  How have you dealt with anger and bitterness in your life?(Walk in Love,  p. 29).

Discernment: what is motivating me?

Part of discerning where a desire originates--is it from God or a force blocking us from doing God's will--is to examine what one's motivation is.  Am I being moved by pride or humility, selfishness or altruism? Do I want to look better than another person or show up the other person?   Am I trying to get ahead? Am I motivated by greed? by anger or revenge? Or do I truly want to be doing what God wants of me as revealed to me in the Gospels? Do I truly want to be serving the Lord and to be of service to others as Jesus was? Am I acting out of love--love for God, love for others, truly loving myself and thus choosing what is best for me (what God is asking of me, choosing life, not death)? In short,how pure is my desire?

Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Belonging to the Lord

St. Paul tells me in the Scripture readings of Nov. 3, 2011 that  in life and in death, I belong to the Lord.  I live for the Lord and I die for the Lord, as does every human being and all of creation. All who enter this world do so for and through and with the Lord.  In God, with God and through God each of us lives, moves and has our being.  Blessed by the name of the Lord. What an awesome, humbling thought: the newest member of our families and the ones to be conceived in the future, the eldest member of our families and the ones who will be the next to die, each of our co-workers, all those we serve, every one with whom we live as well as those we struggle to love--yes, all have been created to live for God and die for God. Every knee, St. Paul tells us, shall bend before God and every tongue praise God. So what an insult when any one of us lives for selfish reasons and chooses that which is not of God, not for God and not through God but leads us on a path away from the Holy of Holies, the Giver of Life and the Savior from death.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Souls' Day: The faithful departed gazing on no stranger!

Today we celebrate “All Souls Day.”  In Job 19: 23-27, Job says: “I know that I have a living Defender and that he will rise up last, on the dust of the earth.   After my awakening, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. He whom I shall see will take my part: my eyes will be gazing on no stranger. My heart sinks within me.  …. since the wrath bursts into flame at wicked deeds and then  you will learn that there is indeed a judgement!”  Our loved ones who have passed through the threshold of death have learned that there is indeed a judgment.  In purgatory, the faithful departed are between death and eternal happiness as they endure the purification necessary to enter into the presence of God. Heaven is theirs but not yet. That intense longing is the pain that purifies them.  “They are joyful with their desires, for they already possess what they seek; they are sorrowful with their desires, for they do not completely possess what they seek. Their pain, consequently, is evoked by the intensity of their desire. This pain is purifying,… The more it purifies, the greater the love, the closer the full possession, and mysteriously  enough the greater the pain. Loving ever more passionately yet separated ever more slightly, how much more painful is the longing for the loved one”  (Carroll Stuhlmeuller, C.P., Biblical Meditation for Ordinary Time—Weeks 23-34, p. 414).

Mother Frances Streitel: Saved in the wounds of Christ

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, and, as a Maria Stern Franciscan, known as Sister Angela.  Sister Angela is assigned to the Marian Institute in April of 1880, “when conditions there were sorely in need of betterment” (Walk in Love, p. 27).  Sister Angela assumed the administrative position, knowing that the condition of the Marian Institute had serious economic problems as well as other challenges that needed the attention of a skilled administrator.   She went to the Marian Institute under obedience but knew in her heart, already then, that God had other plans in store for her. She says “yes” to her Superior General, but adds “I shall not work there long, for God is calling me elsewhere” (Walk in Love,  p. 27).
No reformer is met with open arms and exuberant cheers.  Sister Angela, in reforming the “financial, domestic, and even religious conditions” at the Marian institute, met significant opposition.  Some Sisters believed that she abused her authority and went too far in what she asked of the Sisters, especially in the observance of the vow of poverty. Complaints against her reached the ears of her Superior General. Sisters at the motherhouse regarded her with disdain. The results of her actions, even though she had permission to make changes, were disastrous, as some of the Sisters even  left the order as a result of Sister Angela’s reforms.   
Ever address issues that you were convinced needed to be talked about and changes made with the end result being anything you ever imagined! Suddenly the tables are turned on you, your intentions misinterpreted, your actions judged harshly!  That is the position in which Sister Angela found herself. She says “If the help of grace had not been so plentiful at that time, mind and body would have suffered ruin.  The salvific power of the wounds of the Lord saved me” (Walk in Love, p. 29).

By their fruits you will know the source

Discernment: If the choices we make are respectable ones, ones that lead us to virtue, then, of course, the spirit directing us is also good. Any desire from God will lead to godliness, a noble, virtuous end, one that delights us.   Inner promptings that lead to an evil end, even if our first impression is that what is happening is good, the spirit moving us is not of God.  So we need to look at the results of an action. If the results are evil, degrading, malevolent, sinful, obviously the inner movement that led us toward that end is also evil.  The spirit guiding us to sin is not the Spirit of God.

Let’s say that the choices we are making lead us more into selfishness than altruism, more deeply into self-centeredness than being other-centered, more toward avarice than generosity, further into deceitfulness rather than the truth of who we are,  then the spirit directing us is not of God. The good spirit always leads to unselfishness, concern for others, charity and truth.

Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Feast of All Saints

Today is the feast of All Saints! We are celebrating the people in heaven from   every nationality, every culture, every language, every race upon the earth—too many to count, we read in the book of Revelation—who stand “before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cry out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.’”  I believe, that the fullness of salvation—the gift of life with God in heaven--has come to  my deceased grandparents, parents, siblings, Aunts and Uncles, cousins, and every deceased Sister of the Sorrowful Mother, SSM Associate, and their family members. They are, I believe, among the huge, uncountable number of saints in heaven. And I know that is our inheritance, as well, as Peter praises God on our behalf in 1 Peter: 1: 3-5: Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into a heritage that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away. It is reserved in heaven for you who are being kept safe by God’s power through faith until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the final point of time.”

The two kinds of spirits involved in our lives

Discernment:  Back to St. Ignatius’ teaching on the two kinds of spirits involved in our lives: those that encourage us to carry out the will of God and those that put whatever obstacle possible in our paths. When following the urges of the Holy Spirit, one’s being is filled with joy, peace, and contentment.  There is an upsurge of confidence that one is able to overcome whatever obstacles one comes upon in doing what is perceived as God’s will.  Nothing is too much for the person who is determined to follow God’s will, as God’s help is abundant. Think of David slaying the Phillistine or Moses going to Pharaoh or parting the Red Sea. Think of Mary and Joseph. Think of the apostles who immediately left their boats and followed Jesus.   For the person being called to religious life and following that call, the Holy Spirit offers encouragement and provides the necessary strength. The discerner is consoled as he/she encounters opposition.
 The evil spirit, on the other hand, will put doubts in the mind of the discerner, do whatever possible to discourage the person from taking the necessary steps, and will surface all kinds of fears. Think of Moses telling God that he is not an eloquent speaker (Ex. 4: 10-12), Jeremiah telling God that he is too young (Jer. 1:4), Gideon telling God that he is unimportant (Judges 6:15), and Isaiah telling God that he comes from a people of unclean lips(Is 6:5). Or think of the people Jesus invited to the banquet and all of them had excuses: I just got married, I just bought some oxen, I have to bury the dead; in short, I’m too busy with other things.

Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Which spirit is guiding you?

Mother Frances Streitel: Strong in the storms of life

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, and, as a Maria Stern Franciscan, known as Sister Angela. As you probably surmised from the entries above, Father Beckert repented of his actions and begged for Sister Angela to be reassigned to the Marian Institute. In one of his correspondences or by word of mouth, he says: “Tell Sister Angela I will entrust the direction to her with utmost confidence, and not only shall I keep Father Braun entirely away but myself shall also keep out of the way….”   That statement certainly must have meant a lot to Sister Angela, at least it would have been a welcomed message to my ears. One of the most difficult situations to be in, humanly speaking, for me is to be given a position and then have another person micromanage that position or interfere in its operation. Confidence is eroded, to say the least; creativity is then stretched to the hilt!  Sister Angela reveals her strength in her prayers for Father Braun, begging the Lord to “preserve him from grief such as He permitted me to have”  (May 9, 1879 Letter to Mother Salesia Ellersdorfer, her Superior General). In that same letter she prays that God’s holy will be done concerning the Marian Institute and thanks the Lord for the humiliations she endured. That she has been blessed throughout this ordeal is obvious in the following statements: “May the Lord extol me in eternity. Oh, how good the Lord is to the soul who loves Him. It will be strong in the storms of this life….In spite of insomnia and lack of appetite, I am, God be praised, well and cheerful. Never before have I felt, as I do this time, the power of sufferings borne for the love of God” (Ibid.).  Wow! What a testimony to grace working within her.  Definitely she did not get in God’s way but let God be God in working through the messiness of this situation.