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”?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I won’t deny it: I am friends with many saints, not just a few. But there are some saints with whom I have a very particular relationship and who have mentored me throughout my life. One of these is St. Mary Magdalene.
I discovered her when I was a teenager, reading the Gospel attentively for the very first time. I had read the Gospel stories before and heard them at Mass, however with little understanding and probably little attention. But when I entered the convent as a young teenager, the Gospels suddenly became alive for me, drawing me into the life of Jesus and his followers.
There was just one problem: As I read through Matthew and Mark, it seemed like the “chosen ones” were men – with the exception, of course, of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then I began reading Luke’s Gospel account and there she was, a woman among women followers: Mary Magdalene. Yes, I had encountered her in Matthew and Mark, but not like this! Here it was clear: she followed Jesus and ministered to Him – in many ways just like the apostles. “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, …and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Lk 8:1-3).
Finally! Women who traveled with Jesus and the twelve as He went through cities and villages, and the first among them was Mary Magdalene. I began to look for her in the Gospel accounts. I started praying to her, carrying on conversations with her, asking that she teach me to be a faithful follower of Jesus.
I wondered about the seven demons (I knew I had a few of my own!), but those had been driven out by Jesus and that was the only part of the story that I needed to know, which is why the Gospel doesn’t elaborate. Jesus drives out demons and heals: all demons, all illnesses.
As I collected and pieced together the bits and pieces of data that the Gospels provide on Mary Magdalene, I stood amazed before this strong woman disciple of Jesus. After Luke’s introduction, the next mention of her is again with Jesus’ Mother and the other women at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), when most of the men – John excepted – had abandoned their Master. I can only imagine the strength it took to remain there, listening to the taunts and the blasphemies, taking in the barbaric torture and the agony of Jesus, hearing His heartrending last words. Still she did not flee. Her presence and the presence of the women, Mary Most Holy, and the youngest disciple were one of the few consolations Jesus had in His darkest hour.
Mary Magdalene is still there as the Lord’s body is removed from the cross and laid in the tomb (Lk 23:50-56). And even when most of the others go home, Mary Magdalene takes up her station opposite the tomb and keeps vigil (Mt 27:61).
When my own father’s life ended suddenly and tragically through suicide (because of depression caused by a cancer medication), this dear Saint was with me throughout the suffering and the grief. With Mary Most Holy she stayed with me, silently comforting and showing me how to grieve. She had always been a “best friend” saint, but now she became a “soul-sister” saint.
Mary Magdalene was the first to discover the empty tomb (Jn 20:1-2). More loss. Now she had nothing physical to hang on to, not even a tomb where she could go and pray. Her tears (Jn 20:11-13) showed me that I could honor my own bereavement and the deep loss I felt, with the tears I tried so desperately to keep back.
Mary Magdalene’s tears showed me that I could honor my own bereavement and the deep loss I felt, with the tears I tried so desperately to keep back.
Through her own story, my sister-saint showed me something else: namely, that Jesus is with us amid our suffering, even when we don’t recognize Him (see Jn 20:14-16). He is gentle and tender, listening, caring, moving according to our rhythm and readiness, reaching out and calling us by name. He says our name like no other can say it. The very sound of His voice brings comfort and healing.
It wasn’t the first time Jesus had healed Mary Magdalene and it probably wasn’t the last. Each healing brought with it a call (see Jn 20:17-18). This time the call was astounding! Jesus commissioned Mary to be the Apostle to the apostles, bringing them the stupendous news of His resurrection and His forthcoming ascension! It was totally unimaginable – a woman as the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection and the Apostle sent to the Twelve!
This is the woman who has inspired and mentored me throughout the whole of my long religious life. I encountered her 58 years ago in 1963, my first year in the convent. She has been a faithful friend and confidant ever since – in sorrow and in joy, in mission and in my relationship with Jesus. Mary Magdalene is like a prism reflecting for me the life and presence of Jesus, her Lord and mine.
I believe that it’s not we who choose the saints, but the saints who choose us. Which saints have chosen you? May they accompany you throughout this graced Lenten season.
United in Jesus our Master and Lord and in His saints,
I want to talk about a journey, our journey to God. In some ways, that’s what Lent is: a journey through 40 days of anticipation to the cross and then through to the resurrection.
In the early Middle Ages Christians were encouraged to make a special journey, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the reasons for the Crusades was to protect pilgrims. But most people didn’t have the means or the ability to make such a difficult journey, and so a substitute had to be found.
That substitute was the labyrinth.
In 325 A.D. Christians placed a labyrinth on the floor of their church. Although Christians must have been using the labyrinth earlier, this is the first historical record we have of the Christian use of the labyrinth. Since that time labyrinths have been prayed, studied, danced, traced and drawn as Christians sought to use this spiritual tool to draw closer to God.
Using a labyrinth involves moving one’s body and opening one’s heart to Jesus. All you
have to do is follow the path and you will find the center. A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing oneself at the threshold, following the single path to the center, spending time in the center, following the same pathway out the threshold, and then responding to the experience.
Maze or Labyrinth?
We often use the words “maze” and “labyrinth” to mean the same thing, but they’re very different. A maze is a puzzle filled with dead ends, with the idea you’ll get lost a few times; a labyrinth has one circuitous path that brings you unerringly to the center.
A labyrinth is the ideal metaphor for our journey. It presents a long, sometimes frustrating path but if we stay on it, if we persevere, we reach the center. We reach God.
Why do it now? Just as on Monday we talked about incorporating fasting into our spiritual lives, so too can we incorporate labyrinth prayers into our prayer lives.
There are many ways to pray with a labyrinth. We’ll talk about them after the video.
Even if you don’t live near a full-sized labyrinth, you can still use one for prayer by simply printing it out on paper:
You probably can think of ways you can use this design in prayer. I’ll suggest a few more:
1) Ask God a question as you enter the path. Then, as you walk slowly through the twists and turns, listen for an answer. Let your steps and your silence invite the presence and guidance of God.
2) Start your journey to the center with confession (you may want to visualize your sins being left behind with every step you take). When you reach the center, journey out with affirmation (perhaps visualizing yourself picking things up or putting things on–like the righteousness of Christ, the smile of the Father, the purity of the Holy Spirit, etc.). Pause at the exit and give thanks for your cleansing journey.
3) Recite a breath prayer as you navigate the labyrinth, perhaps praying a different prayer on each leg or quadrant of your journey. (Breath prayers are short phrases that lend themselves to repetition: Lord, have mercy. When I am afraid, I trust you. Not my will, but yours. Say the word. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.Holy Wisdom, guide me.)
4) Lay down your burdens as you walk to the center of the labyrinth (perhaps marking your labyrinth with the symbols of what you’re letting go). In the center, pause to thank God for taking your burdens on himself. Then count your blessings and give thanks on the journey to the exit.
The word “labyrinth” isn’t anywhere in the Bible, but themes of following God’s way,
spiritual journeys, and enjoying God’s presence—all central to labyrinth experiences—are throughout Scripture. Two additional verses that can be used while praying the labyrinth are, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy”
(Psalm 16:11), and Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:16).
Has anyone here ever had an experience with a labyrinth? Is it something you might like to try?
When I was a postulant in St. Louis, I noticed during the Eucharist at the time of intercessions at one particular parish, one parishioner would always ask help for caregivers. This happened every time, and so one day when I didn’t hear him, I immediately noticed he wasn’t there. I remember his practice as a continual reminder, not only of the importance of this mission of caring for others, but also that it isn’t possible to give our lives for our brothers and sisters without the grace of God.
When our first parents disobeyed God, the question he asked them was: Where are you? In the moment humanity broke relationship with God, the consequences of original sin began to influence their destinies; but even then God himself was always looking for us. We see it in the question he asked Cain: Where is your brother? And in these two questions we are touched by the eternal movement of the Father’s love, which always seeks us—and finds us, so we can also find our brothers and sisters.
“Where is your brother?” This reminds me of two sisters in my community in Portugal, blood sisters as well as sisters in religious life. The elder one has been extremely sick for a number of years and her care has fallen to the younger of the two, who has certainly brought her back from the brink several times through her extraordinary care.
None of us has reservoirs of life we can spare. Caring for someone is giving the only life we have—our own. When my caregiver sister gives her life, it comes with an immense personal sacrifice, with tiredness and pain (because she is not young, either), with giving up many things that she’d like to be doing in the apostolate and in community life. But she does it anyway, and does it every day!
This summarizes the immense beauty of caregivers—and also the immense weight of their mission. How many times do these people reach the end of the day and feel they gave their lives, up to the last breath? But also how beautiful is this mystery of life we receive from those we care for, because God dwells in each of us and he enables us to receive and give life until the last moment of our own lives.
The disciple is no greater than the Master. Jesus our Divine Savior gave his life for us, up to the last drop of his blood, to make us children of God, children of the same merciful Father. With the awareness that we are all sisters and brothers, let’s ask him every day to breathe his divine life into each one of us, so that in the different situations of our lives we can continue to look for our brothers and sisters in need, and give our lives for them until the end.
For many years I was surprised by how many people came into our book centers and asked for the Chaplet to Our Lady of Sorrows. I personally never had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. I always thought I’d rather focus on the joys of Mary than on her sorrows! But as time went on, I too began to find comfort in the Sorrows of Mary.
Even as I type those words, however, it feels like an oxymoron: how can there be a feeling of comfort in sorrow? The answer is simple: because the sorrow is shared. It’s not that there’s a comfort because of the sorrow, but rather that through her own sorrows, our Blessed Mother is with me in my sorrows.
When I reflect on the sorrows of Mary I feel a deep connection to her as Our Lady of Sorrows, realizing that through the sorrows she carried in her life, she understands the sorrows we face today.
The sorrows in my life look very different from those of our Blessed Mother. I think for example of my parents’ divorce, or the loss of a friend to cancer. These sorrows affect me deeply and I think: these things should not have happened. That’s where part of my sorrow comes from. Ideally, my friend wouldn’t have died from cancer in his twenties. Ideally, my parents would not have gotten divorced. In a perfect world, these things wouldn’t have happened. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any sorrow. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and through the great sorrows that pierced Mary’s heart, she is able to be with us in our own suffering as a mother who deeply understands whatever we’re going through.
We’ll reach the place of no sorrow when we get to heaven, but until then, we are here to live both the joyful and the sorrowful moments of our lives, just as Mary did. And uniting ourselves to her in our joys and sorrows can give great comfort to us—the comfort that only a mother can give.
United in the sorrowful and immaculate heart of our Mother,
I found this on my Facebook page. It reminded me of a video I saw yesterday of a neighborhood in Italy where people were standing on the balconies of their apartments, singing together, waving, laughing, enjoying the glory of the silent streets, the relaxed neighborhood, and the happiness of creating music together.
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
– Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM
March 13th, 2020
Sr. Mary Leonora is one of those persons who lives her life as an artist. Great artists don’t create their own concept of what they wish to draw, but allow the subject of their painting to emerge from the colors they add, both dark and light, and lines both clear and smudged. I’ve known Sr Mary Leonora for many years now, and like an artist, she knows it is not about what she puts on the canvas, but what emerges under the guiding Hand of the Eternal Artist that creates of her life the beauty and hope the world so longs for. Having lived through great suffering in her life, there are a lot of dark colors the divine Hand has painted through the years, but she has touched up the sadder moments with colors that create a pathway of healing for the rest of us.
She has written:
Our culture is drawing more and more away from God while the need for healing is increasing. Where will we find healing, if not in the triune God who created and redeemed us? Yes, we can find healing for our bodies in doctors and the medical sciences. We can find at least some healing for our psyches and troubled minds from professionals. But where do we find healing and wholeness for our spirits, our souls, our hearts, when these have been abused and wounded? Who will heal our heart, if not he who created it? And who can heal the wounds of our spirit, if not he who let himself be wounded for our salvation?
Even though everyone’s story of woundedness and healing is unique and personal, I have noticed there are some common denominators in this journey, and I think these are what make up what I would like to call a spirituality of healing: a spirituality that focuses on Jesus and relates to him as the Divine Physician, who heals and transforms our wounds into channels of grace for ourselves and for others, leading us to wholeness and fullness of life.
I’m so happy to welcome Sr Mary Leonora to Touching the Sunrise and know that you will find the reflections she shares in these next couple of months both helpful and healing.
The Spirituality of Healing:
In His Wounds, We Are Healed
by Sr. Mary Leonora, FSP
I’m back to continue our reflection on the spirituality of healing. You probably remember that in my last article I defined the spirituality of healing as “a spirituality that focuses on Jesus and relates to him as the Divine Physician, who heals and transforms our wounds into channels of grace for ourselves and for others, leading us to wholeness and fullness of life.” I would like to begin to unpack what I mean by that, beginning with focusing on Jesus. Holy Week seems the perfect time for it.
Why? First, because in this week we fix our attention on Jesus, on His sufferings, death and resurrection. Second, because I have lived first hand the amazing healing power of his wounds. St. Peter, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says that by Jesus’ wounds we are healed (cf. 1 Pt 2:24; Is 53:5).
Someone might contest that both Isaiah and Peter are speaking of spiritual wounds caused by sin. But when we speak of wounds caused by abuse, are we not speaking of woundedness caused by sin? Even sickness can be traced back to original sin and the loss of those special gifts possessed by our very first parents.
What does Isaiah say when speaking of the suffering servant? “He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Is 53:5). Peter rephrases Isaiah’s thought, making explicit reference to the crucifixion of Jesus: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross…; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24).
As I continue these articles, I plan to tell you some of my story and my journey to healing, since the Lord is letting me understand that he wants me to share my experience to encourage others in their own journey of healing. Early on in childhood I discovered that gazing on the crucifix and praying before it is a great source of strength and spiritual healing.
Ever since I can remember, suffering has been a part of my life – physical, emotional, spiritual—trying to find a mother’s love, but never succeeding; seeking to make sense of explosive anger and blows that seemed to come unprovoked; and, the most difficult of all, dealing with rejection. By the time I was eight I was convinced that there was something terribly wrong with me and at the age of ten I decided that the only thing for me to do was to leave home. So, I got on my bike and left.
After pedaling for a couple of hours I was tired and stopped in front of a small church. The door was open, so I went inside. There, in the entranceway, was a more-than-life-size crucifix. Jesus’ arms were spread out, nailed to the cross and his head was bent as if he were looking at me. There was a terrible gash in his side and blood was coming out of his wounds. The expression on his face was so kind! His image burned itself into my memory and tears still come to my eyes when I remember that cross. I stood there, mesmerized, and just kept gazing on that face and bruised body. I felt his pain and wanted to comfort him; I was so taken with Jesus that I forgot my own pain.
Then suddenly, without even realizing I was speaking aloud, my hushed voice filled that small space, “You understand me,” I said. I don’t know what happened in that moment, except that I experienced a kind of all-encompassing embrace that left me knowing I was understood, accepted, loved. I didn’t want to leave that place. I just kept looking and loving—a response to the love that was pouring out upon me from that crucifix. Then, quietly, without any kind of deliberation, as if I were being gently guided, I left the church, climbed back on my bike and pedaled home.
I was not healed in that moment (I was still too young to even know how broken and wounded I was), but this was a tremendous turning point in my life. I now had a friend, a grownup friend, someone I could go to, someone who had suffered and someone who accepted and loved me! Later in life, I would discover that he had the power to heal me. But a relationship had begun, a relationship that would be crucial for my healing. In the years to come that relationship would grow and blossom into something alive and intimate, yielding fruits of love, forgiveness, happiness and healing that I could not even have dreamed were possible.
Relationship with Jesus is the first common denominator of spiritual healing.