Heartbreak in Kamloops

 Indigenous Catholic Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, BC artist André Prévost

Heart of Jesus, broken for our sins, have mercy on us.

By now you may have heard the shattering news of the mass grave of 215 children at Kamloops Residential School, a government school operated by Catholic religious in British Columbia, Canada. For many of our American readers, this may be the first time you have heard of the residential school system. But for our Canadian readers, this is the latest in a decades-long string of tragic revelations of the legacy of an educational system designed to rid Indigenous children of their culture. It was a government program founded on racist ideology, enabled by various churches that ran the schools in accordance with the government mandate.

Heart of Jesus, victim of our sins, have mercy on us.

Unfortunately, to identify the sin of racism as present solely in members of the government or churches of that era would not be accurate. The sin of racism was harbored in the hearts of many across Canadian society. It was systemic, as evidenced by the residential school system. With the last residential school closing in 1996, the wounds of this racism are still very fresh, and the sin of racism is far from eradicated.

Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.

In a recent video released by the Archdiocese of Edmonton with Chief Littlechild and Archbishop Smith, Chief Littlechild encouraged viewers not to let this news break us, not to let it rob us of our hope. As Catholics, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, this is a difficult history to face, accept, and take responsibility for. Where is our hope? Where is our comfort? Where is our transformation?

We find all these things in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.

Christ’s heart suffered, bled, and died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Christ’s heart broke for each and every child taken from their families to be put in a residential school, and for every family and community that lost them. Christ’s heart broke for the sins of those perpetrating wounds in Indigenous children, families, and communities. Christ’s heart broke for every time the dignity of his beloved Indigenous people is attacked in the streets and workplaces of today.

I was born in Winnipeg, the city with the highest Indigenous population in Canada. As of the last census, nearly 93 000 people identified as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit. In the climate of a richly Indigenous city, I witnessed many attacks on the dignity of my Indigenous brothers and sisters from people I knew and loved. It was heart-breaking. Yet I have also witnessed the conversion of racist attitudes in some of these same people. I have seen their conversion happen in Christ and know firsthand it is possible.

It is possible to face these dark realities together, honestly, as a Church, in the light of Jesus Truth. It is possible to open ourselves up to vulnerably examine our own hearts to find where we need conversion, in the light of Jesus Way. And it is possible to enact healing and reconciliation in the light of Jesus Life.

It is possible to face these dark realities together, honestly, as a Church, in the light of Jesus Truth. It is possible to open ourselves up to vulnerably examine our own hearts to find where we need conversion, in the light of Jesus Way.

Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.

As we turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus this week, let us pause to search our own hearts. Are there attitudes of resentment, self-righteousness, labeling, judgement, blanket annoyance, or impatience we hold toward another group of people? Do we look at people who are different from us and wish they were the same as us? Do we get defensive when mistakes or sins are pointed out to us instead of openly allowing the Lord to use people’s comments to convert us?

Let us make the final request of the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus our own: “Jesus, touch my heart and make it like your own.” In him we find the humility and the gentleness we need to allow ourselves to be changed, converted, and enflamed with a zealous love for him and his people. May he form his heart in us, so that we may love with his love–a love that can transform the world. And may we learn from the Indigenous wisdom of listening to others for as long it takes, so that we may truly understand, honour and love others with this gift of Christ.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, touch our hearts and make them like your own. Amen.

by Sr. Orianne Dyck

We are grateful to André Prévost for the use of the icon above.

To pray with this Indigenous Catholic Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, you can visit BC artist André Prévost’s webpage here: https://www.andreprevost.com/siksika-nation.html

Helpful Resources:

To learn more about Catholic efforts to seek truth and healing, you can read about “Our Lady of Guadalupe Circles” here: https://ourladyofguadalupecircle.ca/

To pray with an Indigenous Catholic Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, you can visit BC artist André Prévost’s webpage here: https://www.andreprevost.com/siksika-nation.html

To pray the full Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (excerpts of the Litany appear in this article in bold), visit: https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/litanies/litany-of-the-sacred-heart-of-jesus

To watch the joint statement and interview with Chief Littlechild and Archbishop Smith referenced in this article, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OXW395L2dU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPtpgvlsPAw

To read Pope Francis’ statements regarding the Kamloops discovery after Sunday’s Angelus, visit: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-06/pope-appeal-canada-residential-school-discovery-healing-reconcil.html

Guest Post: Set out to find the fountain of eternal joy

In the beginning, the Spirit hovered over the waters waiting for the creative Word of God to vivify the earth. The same Spirit waited for Mary’s Fiat before covering her with the shadow of the Most High to bring to the world its Savior.

Today, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit dwells in us.

St. Paul’s words echo through the centuries: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16) The Spirit dwells in us, and it’s also in us that he awaits our openness to the will of God to come into our life and vivify us.

The Spirit generates in you new life

When we open ourselves to the action of the Spirit we open ourselves to a movement that generates life. It is like a soil prepared to be cultivated: in the movement of the land that has to be stirred, in the movement of planting the seed, and even in the movement of the very plant that grows. And it’s always the Spirit that initiates this movement in us as an invitation to let ourselves to be guided by him, to let ourselves to be guided to participate and to live in the love of the Trinity. But all invitations wait for a response.  The Spirit is powerful, but he cannot make us bear fruit if we don’t allow him to plant and work in us.

But when we open ourselves to the action of the Spirit, the life he vivifies in us bears the mark of the divine, because its fruits are divine. But they are also human. And it is in this balance—so difficult for us to understand and live—that the fruit can sometimes lose its flavor or even languish.

Scripture tells us that one of these fruits is joy: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal 5, 22-23).

In some moments of our life, for many different reasons for each one of us, the sources of joy dry up, and we’re faced with the fact that what makes us happy isn’t eternal. Then we cannot avoid feeling a void, one that ultimately makes us live in thirst.

How to find true joy

Being thirsty reminds me of Saint-Exupéry’s story The Little Prince, at the moment where the boy finds a seller of pills that he says will quench your thirst. This seller explains to the Little Prince that by taking just one of those pills a week, he would no longer need to drink water—thus saving a lot of time (to be more precise, fifty-three minutes) that could be spent doing whatever he wanted. But the Little Prince saw things in a different way: “If I had fifty-three minutes to spend, I would use it to go very quietly looking for a fountain…”

This story makes me wonder: how am I quenching my thirst? The Little Prince very wisely realized that his thirst would remain if he didn’t undertake a journey to find what could truly quench his thirst, rather than just postponing it. Do I want something that will stop my thirst, or will I start walking and look for a fountain?

Do I want something that temporarily takes away my thirst for joy, or do I set out to find the fountain of eternal joy?

In the Bible, the word joy is not a goal in itself; it’s a consequence of God’s presence among his people, a consequence of his fidelity to his promises, a consequence of his eternal love. And for us to feel this love, Jesus asks the Father to send us his Spirit to guide us in the truth and always be with us: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).  We can rejoice because even before our hearts feel abandoned, God is already there with us!

In the Bible, the word joy is not a goal in itself; it’s a consequence of God’s presence among his people, a consequence of his fidelity to his promises

Tomáš Halík, a priest from the Czech Republic, wrote a book whose title touches me deeply: My God is a Wounded God. In our fragilities and suffering, in our attempts to start living again, we have a God who can truly say: I understand. A God who, at those times when we want to rip our hearts out because suffering is so unbearable, can truly say to us: I understand, and I am here.

And it is in his word and in his presence that the source of life is contained which has the power to germinate in us the fruits of his Spirit—and thus also joy. And because the Spirit dwells in us, we should not let fear, doubts, limitation, fragilities, or suffering occupy the place in our hearts that belongs to God, the place that belongs to love. In his love we can rejoice always. 

May this Pentecost be our time to begin a journey guided by the Spirit toward the fountain of Eternal Life!

The first step is to find the joy that comes from the presence of the Lord with us in every step of the way. We don’t need to run, we can go quietly like the Little Prince, we can go at the pace our heart can manage in this moment, at this time.

God understands.

God walks with us, and when we arrive, he will be there waiting for us. 

by Sr Marta Gaspar

Photo by Gabriel Peter from Pexels

Guest Post: The Holy Spirit is a very polite guest

About ten years ago I was going through a rough time, the kind of struggle when you’re not sure what to do, who to ask for advice, if the problems will ever end, if you have the strength or virtue or courage to take that next best step. I remember the day I sat in chapel thinking, “You know what I need? What I REALLY need? Wisdom. I need some good counsel and the knowledge of what is right. And I need courage in spades right now.”

Midway through my rather impassioned prayer for these extraordinary graces, I stopped. I suddenly realized I was asking for what I already had. I was asking for gifts that had been given to me years ago: the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I felt a bit foolish, but it was also for me one of those life-changing Aha! moments. God wants me to have these gifts and he made sure they were already there for me. So why did I think they weren’t there? Why did I believe I was missing these vital gifts that would help me through life’s rough times?

Well, to put it simply, it is because the Holy Spirit is a very polite Guest and I hadn’t been a very good hostess. I had quite ignored the Spirit to my own detriment. I had spent years working hard and trying my best. Yet I always, always felt disappointingly inadequate. I wasn’t the strong woman I had set out to be or the apostle on fire I had dreamt of becoming. And now, in a moment of crisis, I found my hands empty.

If I felt like I had missed the fire of Pentecost and those lavish gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was my own fault because I had been given all of the gifts I was praying for. I received all seven when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Right? That’s what we learned in catechism class. So what happened?

What if you are given seeds of rare and beautiful flowers, but then don’t bother to water them? If you are given the crown jewels but then don’t bother to wear them? If you are given the most exquisite bridal gown, but then insist on wearing your work clothes to the wedding? The seeds will dry up, someone else will inherit the jewels, and well…you won’t be the bride, will you?

So I decided to start by being the persistent widow in the Gospel and find a way to ask for an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. True, it was more out of desperation, but it counts! I made myself a chaplet to pray for each of the gifts three times. And I prayed it over and over again. It was like tilling the soil of my own heart, but it worked. Or rather, I should say the Holy Spirit worked!

Now I know that what I need, even in the most desperate moments, will always be there. I don’t wait for the Novena of Pentecost to pray to the Holy Spirit. I bother him all day long. I am absolutely certain that the Holy Spirit doesn’t mind. He knows I need these gifts to strengthen me for the long haul. It just took that really hard time in my life that couldn’t be avoided to finally open my eyes to the Helper, the Consoler, the Counselor who actually lived right in the Temple of my own Heart. The Sweet Guest who was just waiting to be asked.

I added a Marian flavor to the chaplet by ending it with the Angelus. A reminder of Our Lady’s open and willing heart, and a call for me, by every choice I make, to be like her, right here, right now: pure capacity for God, absolute YES to the direction of his Holy Spirit.

Sr Julia Mary Darrenkamp, FSP

Guest Post: The Entire World at my Door – A Pentecost Meditation

I can’t help but reflect on Pentecost this year in relation to the historical moment we are living as we slowly begin to emerge from a pandemic we’ve been experiencing for over a year.

The pandemic has left its marks, to a greater or lesser degree, on all of us. Like it or not, this year has changed us as people. Despite all the advice on how to live this extraordinarily difficult time in the best way, we realize now as we start to open the doors and emerge from our places of isolation that we have been affected physically, psychologically, and spiritually. And not only we ourselves, but our world and our churches.

The question arises: how are we called to respond to this situation?

In a similar way, after Jesus ascended into heaven, we could say the apostles were huddled all together behind closed doors. Under one roof were the memories of three years of intense discipleship in the company of Jesus, tainted by the memory of betrayal. Sadness and mourning illuminated by a resurrection they have not yet fully understood. The fear of what they might find on the other side of the door that for a while protected them from the outside undermined the hope of the promise of the Spirit’s coming.

But heaven never forgets its promises. On that first Pentecost, the Spirit came and filled the whole house where the apostles were and rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit manifested itself publicly in the ability to speak different languages, and the apostles opened the door and emerged from where they had been hiding.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”

In fact, Scripture does not mention that the apostles opened the door and went out into the street; the Word just tells us the people of Jerusalem could hear them speaking in their own language. But as extraordinary as the gift of tongues may be, perhaps opening the door and leaving was the first act of courage, the first of many, on the part of the apostles. This is important because the gift always comes from God, but the gift becomes sterile if we don’t open something in ourselves so it can come out.

The bestowing of the gift of the Spirit could have happened in a remote place, in a small town, but it happened in Jerusalem, which at that time was full of Jews “from every nation under heaven.” Unbeknownst to the apostles, the whole world was at their doors. The crowds guided by the same Spirit were concentrated beside them and when the apostles emerged from behind closed doors and went outside, every nation under the heaven was able to hear the wonders of God in its own language! Why is this important? Because the purpose of all the gifts we receive is to make the wonders of God known to the world.

Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 I ask myself if I live with this awareness, knowing that I too have the entire world at my door. I wonder if my heart can open this wide, wide enough to embrace the world. Because this is the measure of the heart of God, the entire world! But can the entire world fit in our hearts?

Something very beautiful about living in community is the opportunity to know the heart of God through my sisters. Letting my sisters enlarge my heart. It is on their faces that I see mirrored so many realities that I do not know, that I have never experienced, that are unknown to me. The Lord touches each of our hearts in a unique way, empowering us to speak a specific language for the benefit of someone, whether in the family, in the community, or in the world. That person is always there on the other side of the door of our heart.

The apostles were also empowered by the Spirit to speak in different languages, to go to different peoples. God wants to reach everyone, and he speaks each person’s language. What a difference it makes when someone speaks our language! I understand this better now that I am in the United States. Even though I have no problems understanding and speaking English, when I really want to say something important, I feel an urgency to speak my native language, Portuguese. Whenever a particular chaplain celebrates Mass in our chapel, at the moment of the distribution of Communion, he says to me in Portuguese: “O corpo de Cristo. The Body of Christ.” This always moves me. Certainly I would understand if he spoke in English, but at that moment it is not the Portuguese that I hear but God saying that he loves me.

Let us not doubt that our openness to the Spirit makes things happen in our lives and—through us—in the life of the world.

It isn’t so much about hearing our own language the Scripture passage describing that first Pentecost is speaking about. It is above all to let every gift we receive become this language of Love. It is to discover that the other, who is different from me, speaks the same “language,” and that I am called to share with that person something about God himself.

Let us not doubt that our openness to the Spirit makes things happen in our lives and—through us—in the life of the world, even things that seem impossible. It doesn’t matter if these things are big or small, what matters is that they contain eternity. Every gift we receive and have the courage to share resounds for eternity.

Today, whether we are aware of it or not, the world is also at our door. It is in our neighbor, in our co-worker, in the stranger we come across in the streets of our city, it is on the screen of our phone or it pops up on our social networks. How many of these people speak the same “language” as us?

At this Pentecost, let us ask the Lord to help us recognize the gift that has been given to us by his Spirit, the language that has been entrusted to us. Every time we have the courage to open the door of our heart and go outside, we will find the entire world waiting for us, a world waiting to hear the wonders of God in its own “language.”

Sr Marta Gaspar

Photo Credit: Mateo Cerezo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Guest Post: Ice-cream with Chocolate Sprinkles: A Mother’s Day Reflection

Mother’s day is a special time of year that we can be grateful for our mothers living and deceased. We can thank God for both those who have naturally given us life as well as those who have nurtured us to being the people we are today.

I remember one phrase from my mom that pretty much has become a “philosophy of life” that I try to live by each day. “Let’s have ice-cream…with chocolate sprinkles when we can!” This is very much a reality for me as I live a missionary life. Basically, life is short and we only have a certain span of time to be with the ones we love and all those people who make up the tapestry of our lives. Don’t get lost in the trivialities. Keep the important things important.

I grew up in Kenya with a part-farm and part-city experience. Mom loves farming and along with that, she loves dogs, cats, chicken, cows, orchards, and gardens…and so we were blessed to have them growing up. Something about her love for nature and the care of God’s creatures and creation would, in time, grow on me. Everything is gift. We are stewards. The chores around the home would become my life lessons on responsibility (even if I didn’t like some of them). Even more precious were the lessons I learned about how to handle people over the handling of things. It was crystal clear that each person, no matter how they may be, needs to be loved and cared for, to be treated with respect, and to be given another chance. I learned from her to meet each person and accept them right where they are. I guess that’s why mom knows so many people!

A touch of the city life would bring with it an expansion of my childhood horizon of dreams. It was from mom that I would come to appreciate the love for life, dance, and good humor. She enjoys all kinds of music anywhere from vibrant tunes that we danced to with our jammies on Christmas morning as kids to an oldie goldie by the Bee Gees. Not to say that life was all rosy and smooth going. We have lived some hard times as a family and yet, even so, mom has challenged us to see beyond. In some of these dark times, it was the tender way in which she drew me out to pursue things that I would never have imagined. Perhaps a fine characteristic of the way that God works with each one of us is that he knows and sees our potential and constantly draws us out of ourselves so that we can be the best of who he created us to be.

I hope this Mother’s Day will be an opportunity to give thanks for the moments of joy or sorrow that we have encountered with the mothers in our lives. For all the lessons learned and experiences lived – blissful or challenging – may they remind us in a tangible way, that God works so tenderly for our good in our lives through theirs. So, don’t let the day pass by so quickly this year. Be sure to “enjoy some ice-cream…and some chocolate sprinkles if you can!” Be sure to say thank you mom and of course, thank you Lord. Everything is gift.

Sr. Jacqueline Jean-Marie Gitonga, FSP

Image by Ирина Александрова from Pixabay

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Jerome (c. 347-419/20)

Saint Jerome is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Jerome’s particular prescription for holiness can help us in our daily fidelity in doing God’s will.

Jerome was born in Dalmatia and later went to Rome for studies. He converted to Christianity at about the age of eighteen and was baptized by Pope Liberius. Attracted by the ascetical life, Jerome traveled widely and was ordained to the priesthood in Antioch. He also studied for about two years under Saint Gregory Nazianzen in Constantinople. Back in Rome, Jerome became a secretary to Pope Damasus. The pope supported him despite Jerome being an unpopular ascetic who stirred up opposition with his acerbic wit and criticisms of lax clergy. When the pope died, Jerome decided to travel to the Holy Land.

Eventually, around 386, Jerome took up residence in a cave in Bethlehem. There he focused on his writing and on Scripture studies. An expert linguist, he translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin. This translation, known as the Vulgate, became standard in the Church for many centuries. Jerome wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible and answered biblical questions from the entire Catholic world. He also directed a group of women ascetics and helped those in need. But for the most part, this brilliant man lived out his last years in quiet solitude, meditating on and translating the word of God.

Jerome’s Prescription: Read the Bible!

While Jerome wrote widely on many topics, he is outstanding for his work on the Bible, which is where we learn what God has revealed to us over many centuries. Jerome taught that the Bible is the Word of God and was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The human authors wrote according to their natural talents, but were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that what they wrote is truly the Word of God. Through this Word we come to know the saving truth that leads us to salvation.

No matter what you think is wrong with the world today, the Bible is the answer because it gives us the basic, foundational truth about humanity and God. If people read the Bible and put what they read into practice, many problems would disappear. Just think of the Ten Commandments, for instance. Take merely one commandment, “You shall not steal.” Imagine what the world would be like if we could feel assured that no one was going to steal what we own. No fraud, no stealing, no forgeries, etc. Not only would society be a much safer place, but people would also be able to trust each other more.

On a personal level, reading the Bible brings us into relationship with God and in particular with Jesus. Jerome famously wrote that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (From the Prologue of a commentary on Isaiah). (See Alba House book p. 121)

 If we want to know Jesus better, we need to soak ourselves in Scripture, especially the four Gospels.

How to read the Bible

Get a good Catholic study Bible and start to read it. It may be easier to start with the New Testament, which is already somewhat familiar to Catholics who listen carefully to the Mass readings each Sunday. If you read three chapters a day and five on Sundays, you can finish the whole Bible in about a year.

If your parish has a Bible study group, join it! It’s always easier to learn something together with others. Catholic online resources can also help you learn to read and understand the Bible better. For example, check out the Saint Paul Center online: https://stpaulcenter.com/ It’s best to stick with Catholic resources so you can be sure that what you are learning is according to Catholic teaching.

Some practical things to do:

  • Learn about lectio divina, a time-honored way of praying with Scripture.
  • Buy a Bible if you don’t have one. Read it!
  • Read one Gospel in one month.


Saint Jerome, you devoted many years to studying the Bible and giving the fruits of your study to others. Pray for us that like you we may have a deep devotion to the holy Scriptures and let them illumine our path through life.

Feast: September 30

Patron: archaeologists, librarians, students, translators, Bible scholars

Selection from Saint Jerome:

On the benefits of reading Sacred Scripture:

Tell me whether you know of anything more sacred than this sacred mystery, anything more delightful than the pleasure found herein? What food, what honey could be sweeter than to learn of God’s Providence, to enter into his shrine and look into the mind of the Creator, to listen to the Lord’s words at which the wise of this world laugh, but which really are full of spiritual teaching? Others may have their wealth, may drink out of jeweled cups, be clad in silks, enjoy popular applause, find it impossible to exhaust their wealth by dissipating it in pleasures of all kinds; but our delight is to meditate on the Law of the Lord day and night, to knock at his door when shut, to receive our food from the Trinity of Persons, and, under the guidance of the Lord, trample underfoot the swelling tumults of this world.

Letter to Paula, 30, 13 as quoted in Pope Benedict XV: On Saint Jerome (Spiritus Paraclitus), no. 59. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3865

by Sr Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Guest Post: Finding Our Way Back

Yesterday, for the first time in many months, I spent some time in my garden.

You have to understand: I’m not a gardener. I have a garden. There’s a difference. I cannot talk knowledgeably about this plant or that; I don’t have an instinctive feel for what seedlings will work best together. But last year the coronavirus challenged me to plant my very first vegetables—tomatoes and cucumbers and lettuce—and so I started taking my garden more seriously.

Yesterday I began cautiously (one might even say humbly) clearing out some of the winter’s debris and assessing what’s needed for the spring. And immediately some scenes from this past year sprang to my mind. The pandemic may have inspired me to become more self-sufficient, yet as a beginner, I had—for example—no idea how many tomato plants one needs, and so I planted… well, let’s just say, quite a few! I ended up spending much of the summer delivering tomatoes and cucumbers and herbs and flowers to other people—masked, with a furtive knock on their door followed by a quick exit so we wouldn’t be within six feet of each other.

I learned a lot about growing things in this pandemic year. About how to tend to living things. About the need for water; my area experienced a drought last summer on top of everything else. About others’ needs for fresh food when scarcities happen at grocery stores.

I also saw the joy something small and living can bring to lives starved for beauty. The smile on someone’s face when I dropped off some seeds or a small plant. I’m remembering that as I consider next month—May—marks the end of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ anniversary year, declared in the hope that this year and the ensuing decade would be a time of grace—for humanity, and for all God’s creatures. It feels in some ways as if the pandemic put everything else on the back burner for a while.

And so perhaps this season is one of finding our way back.

The pandemic didn’t eliminate our need for connection. Connection to each other. Connection to nature. And as we approach Earth Day 2021, I’m remembering everything is truly all related. The pandemic taught us we don’t need to clog our highways with fuel-burning vehicles to get the best out of life. My gardening experience taught me that we can start small, with just a few plants, just an offering that’s easily shared with others.

We don’t have to join Greenpeace or live entirely off the grid to make the world better. We can start with the very title of Pope Francis’ encyclical—Laudato si’: “Praise be to you!”

How can we praise God? What energizes me is knowing we can do it in the smallest ways as well as the sweeping ones. By planting one tree. By growing one garden. By visiting an elderly neighbor. By sharing whatever we have with others. By volunteering. By praying for God’s beautiful and fragile creation. By acknowledging the economic, climactic, and health inequities of the world, and finding ways we can take steps—even small ones—toward alleviating them.

As I stood in my garden, picking up paper and plastic the wind had blown in, I felt in a small way that I was, indeed, finding my way back. What about you? How can you find your way back, in this moment, in this day?

Pope Francis’ challenge remains relevant to us all today. Do we “dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it”?

We can. By finding our way back… right now.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Guest Post: Daily conversion, a journey toward God!

At the beginning of Lent, we heard the words of the Prophet Joel stir our hearts for the need to convert:

Even now,” declares the Lord, “come back to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning” (Joel 2.12).

But in our hearts we know this isn’t an invitation only for the beginning of Lent, this is an invitation for every day of our lives. God is waiting for us …

One day, one of my sisters in community told me she always tried to surprise her parents by not telling them when she was coming home. Every time she arrived unannounced, her parents were always immensely happy she had come, because in their hearts they were always waiting for her. How beautiful that is: they were always waiting for her! And, later, reflecting on this conversation, I found myself thinking about how this is the way God loves me.

God sees us as more than sinners—that’s how often we think of ourselves, dwelling on our limitations. To God, we are sons and daughters, we are loved unconditionally. Every day, and until our last breath, we will always have this moment … even now … to return to God—because God is always waiting for us. God is waiting for me until my whole being belongs to him, whole and undivided.

God sees us as more than sinners. To God we are sons and daughters. We are loved unconditionally.

And whether we are aware of it or not, belonging to God entirely and undividedly is our heart’s deepest desire. It is true that because of the consequences of original sin our lives seem to alternate between periods of light and darkness. We have glimpses of this truth of God’s love for us in some moments, and then we lose it in others. We both yearn for it and revolt against it—as if it were a prison suffocating our freedom.

But the truth is that God created us free because he knows better than anyone that only those who are free can love. And God wants nothing but our love. Sin distorts our notion of freedom, and with it our notion of love. We must not deceive ourselves, the devil also wants us for himself—whole and undivided—not to elevate us to our true identity but to take possession of us by imprisoning us in something we are not.

And it is quite true that at the root of the word “devil” we find the one who divides, divides us from God, from each other, and causes division in our own being. As the devil tempted Jesus in the desert, the devil will approach us and tempt us, even when we walk with Jesus, even when we have faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the only one who can save us.

In the depth of our hearts there is an impregnable place where the Word of God never fails to echo, even now. Come back to me with all your heart. Anyone who hears this word must not ignore this invitation to look at their life and examine their heart.

In the depths of our hearts there is an impregnable place where the Word of God never fails to echo, even now.

Many times we live our life as if conversion were something that happens only once in a lifetime, or only happens in the life of those who have walked away from God. However, if we look at conversion in this way, we can spend a lifetime waiting for it to happen or, on the other hand, never feeling the need for conversion in our life.

Conversion is a radical change in life, something that involves our whole mind, our will, and our heart. And if we look at the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus or the conversion of so many other saints, we see how the radicality of that moment was renewed every day of their lives in a constant return to God.

The Greek word for sin means to miss the target, to change direction. When we think about this image of walking to a specific destination, if we were to change direction even an inch, in the end we would  reach a completely different place. Sin is like that “inch.” With sin, little by little, we end up changing the direction God would set for our life.

In the heart of our founder, Fr. Alberione, a question constantly burned: “How many times do you ask yourselves: where, how, and toward what is humanity moving, this humanity that is constantly renewing itself on the face of the earth?”

A river does not follow a straight path, yet even with the most rugged path it is intended to flow into the ocean. Our life of faith is also a river. Our faith doesn’t go forward in a straight line. It is sin that causes us to change direction, diverting us in our progress toward holiness. It is precisely here that daily conversion comes in, so that we can adjust our route to flow into eternity!

In all the chapels of our congregation around the world we have words that Jesus the Divine Master gave to our founder to enlighten the entire Pauline Family:

Fear not, I am with you, from here I want to enlighten, live in continuous conversion.

The last sentence is translated slightly differently in Pauline chapels around the world, but this is the version that is on the wall of the chapel of my community in Lisbon. Praying with this phrase weighed heavily on my heart as I was reflecting about my vocation as a Daughter of St. Paul. Living in continuous conversion means openness to establish a relationship of love with the God who awaits me every day in the tabernacle. It is not an obsessive search for sin. Being aware of sin outside this relation of love with God does not lead us anywhere; it is a pool of stagnant water that will not reach any sea.

At the end of the day what matters is love, as Pope Francis reminds us so many times. It is God who first loved us. Only by trusting in this love can we truly be aware of our sin. Only trusting in God’s love can we be healed and saved. Only trusting in this love can we walk toward the promise of eternal life. Love must always be the fuel for our journey towards God.

It is God who first loved us. Only trusting in God’s love can we be healed and saved.

Even now … return to me with all your heart …

Conversion is more than returning to God. It is the right thing to do. Conversion is returning to God because we love him. It is walking toward him without straying, because we want to love him for all eternity.

Mary our blessed Mother knows what it is to belong to God entirely and with an undivided heart. We ask through her intercession the grace to love God with all our heart, mind, and will, so that, like her, we can say yes to what God asks of us each day in freedom and holiness.

By Sr Marta Gaspar

Image: Cathopic: Gonzalo Gutierrez

Mary, Cause of Our Joy

“And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:43–44).

Word of Elizabeth to Mary

Mary, the Virgin-Mother Who Brings Us Joy

It would be a truism to say that everybody wants to be happy. Who doesn’t desire happiness? Yet at times it is so hard to find. But Mary can show us the way to be happy.

One of Mary’s titles is “Cause of Our Joy.” Why do we call her that? How does Mary bring us joy? To see why, let’s re-read the beautiful Gospel account of the Annunciation to Mary:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Lk 1:26–38).

When Gabriel greets Mary, he tells her to rejoice. “Greetings,” used in the translation above, doesn’t express the wonderful richness of the actual Greek word, chaire, which literally means “rejoice!” The angel is bringing Mary good news, which will make her happy. God has chosen her for a special mission—so special, in fact, that it is completely unique in the history of the human race. God asked Mary to become the mother of his own Son.

But notice that even before the angel gets to that part, he tells Mary to rejoice because “the Lord is with you.” God was already present in Mary through grace, which is a wonderful reason to rejoice. Through the gift of grace, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was already dwelling in Mary’s soul.

Yet the news would get even better.

God was proposing an invitation to Mary. He was asking her to become the mother of his Son. God wanted to take on flesh and become a man—if Mary would agree to accept this important role of motherhood. Mary only had one question: How would it happen since, as she said, “I know not man”?

Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and bring about this conception in a miraculous way—Mary would remain a virgin—because the holy child to be born would be the Son of God. Gabriel’s words were enough for Mary. Immediately she accepted God’s invitation: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And the Incarnation happened.

Mary shows us how to have a happy life

How do we know that Mary accepted God’s invitation with joy? We can say this because the word used in the Gospel—genoito—indicates it. Scripture scholars tell us that this word is in a form that expresses a desire, in fact an ardent desire or a joyful willingness to take on a task.* The entire account of the Annunciation, from the opening word “Rejoice!” to Mary’s joyful acceptance, is filled with a spirit of joy and happiness.

What stands out most in the Annunciation is how willing Mary was to make a gift of herself to God. She offered herself with joy, and this meant specifically that she offered the gift of her virginity.

It’s hard for us to understand how radical her gift was, because she lived in a culture where marriage was prized above all, and virginity offered to God was not an option for a young Jewish girl. So why did Mary accept so readily? It could only be because somehow the Holy Spirit gave her the light to understand. It happened because Mary had a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Mary was full of joy

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Gal 5:22). So we can be sure that Mary, being so open to the Spirit, was full of joy. And Mary was free from sin, the source of sadness. Saint Thomas reminds us: “Sadness, as an evil or vice, is caused by a disordered love for oneself, which … is the general root of all vices” (Summa Theol., II-II, q. 28, a. 4, ad 1; see I-II, q. 72, a. 4). Notice that Saint Thomas isn’t saying that love for oneself is wrong, but a disordered love for oneself is. That’s the kind of love that makes us seek our own good at the expense of others.

Mary wasn’t like that at all. The Gospel of Luke goes on to tell us that once Mary had heard from the Angel Gabriel that Elizabeth was in need, Mary hurried to help her, putting her cousin’s needs ahead of her own. And when she visited her relatives, she brought joy not only to Elizabeth but also to the baby in her womb:

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Lk 1:39–44)

John leaped in the womb; he danced for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She bore within her the presence of the unborn Christ as the source of joy. John was destined to be a prophet, also filled with the Holy Spirit. This beautiful scene of the Visitation tells us that somehow Mary’s fullness of grace, along with the joy it brought her, can be communicated to others. Her voice was like a spark that ignited a fire in John, and that fire would burn in his prophetic words calling the people to repentance. The fire had its source in the Holy Spirit, of course, but Mary was the kindling that the Holy Spirit used.

Just as she did for John, Mary can kindle in us the fire of God’s love and the dance of joy. Mary shows us that doing God’s will is not drudgery or, worse yet, an enslavement. Instead, it is the breath of fresh air that lifts us up and carries us along so that we can fly straight to God: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Is 40:31).

What lesson can we draw for our own lives?

Mary teaches us that the way to be happy is to make a joyful gift of ourselves to God and to others. The details of how we do that are different for each person. God calls each of us to our own unique vocation. Most people live out this vocation in the beauty of marriage and family life. God calls others to a form of consecrated life, to continence “for the sake of the kingdom.” Whatever our vocation, we will find happiness to the degree that we make a gift of ourselves to others and do God’s will. Then we, too, can joyfully say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

*For details on this, see Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, Ignace de la Potterie, trans. Bertrand Buby, New York: Alba House, 1992.

Photo Credit: Luis Ángel Espinosa

Guest Post: Our Second Pandemic St. Patrick’s Day

It was just over a year ago that the first Covid-19 lockdown began. I remember, because for the first time in years I’d decided to cook a St. Patrick’s Day dinner for a small group of friends. I ended up making little packages of the dinner and leaving them on people’s doorsteps instead!

So much has happened this year, and it’s somehow appropriate to turn to the saint whose feast day fell at such a significant time in our lives. Because, in one sense, he’s been with us all along—throughout this plague year, and well before it.

Today most people associate St. Patrick with banishing snakes from Ireland or using shamrocks to teach the Trinity. Those are nice stories, but that’s all they are—stories. Yet the real Patrick’s life and faith and work were much more compelling than any of the legends that have sprung up around him. In fact, his life provides an inspiring lesson in God’s grace and mercy.

Captured as a teenager, Patrick was sold into slavery in Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd (his companions, we are told, were Cold and Hunger), and became a Christian. He escaped to Britain, but after 25 years God sent him back to Ireland to convert and minister to his former captors.

Patrick served in regions of Ireland where outsiders had never traveled, bringing a new way of life to a violent, war-oriented pagan culture. “Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises,” he wrote. “But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven.” What a sentiment for our times, as the pandemic continues to claim lives all around us!

I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven.

There is a lot we can learn this year from Patrick’s story. He wasn’t afraid to try and change what was wrong with the culture. He taught that women were not a commodity, but that they had choices for their lives. He advocated reading and learning in a culture that clung to superstition. He was one of Christianity’s first outspoken opponents of slavery.

There is also comfort we can draw this year from Patrick’s story. This has not just been a pandemic year for us: the earth has been rocked with civil unrest, with the breakdown of structures we once thought permanent, with wild economic disparities throughout the world. Patrick’s Ireland was perceived pretty much as the end of the earth: the collapsing Roman Empire meant many people believed civilized society was drawing to a close. That feels familiar, doesn’t it? Yet Patrick’s story tells us clearly that no matter what empires might come and go, no matter how barbaric the civilizations around us may seem, the Word of God endures it all. Like the forgotten Irish people, we are all worthy to be saved.

A tenth-century manuscript in Dublin is known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate—a suit of armor, as it were, for going out into the world. Patrick didn’t actually write it, but its protective words echo his faith and are particularly relevant to us in March of 2021:

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,            
the Three in One and One in Three

The prayer goes on for several stanzas, and concludes with:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three,
of Whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

This Lent, this St. Patrick’s Day, this time of turmoil and uncertainty might be a good time to include the St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer in our daily routines. It is a prayer of protection, a prayer of faith, and ultimately a prayer of joy in our salvation.

And we can all use a little joy right now.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Photo Credit: bobosh_t AKA “Father Ted” on Flickr, Christ the Saviour Church