Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Mystery of God's Love

           Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of Paul. At both Morning and Evening Prayer we prayed: God of grace and transformation, you chose Paul who zealously persecuted your Church to preach the Gospel. We give you thanks for the way you work in our lives and use what we would reject to spread the gospel.
            I was thinking about the reaction of Ananias and the Christians in Damascus at the change in Saul/Paul. I’m sure they were wondering what God was doing and when they finally accepted that he “was an instrument whom God had chosen” some of them wondered about God’s terrible taste in choosing people.
            I was reminded of a seminary faculty member on the Formation Team when I was working at the seminary. He was an impressive theologian and a brilliant teacher, but he also had terrible taste in people. He chose to be friends with and nurture people who ended up disappointing and betraying him. We rejoiced one day when he finally said, “I refuse to be part of this person’s ongoing soap opera drama any more.”
            I also thought of two times in my life when I was hurt and betrayed by two separate persons. As I was trying to work through each of  the experiences, talking to myself, whining, and running around in a useless loop of emotions, I heard God say, “Deborah, I love that person as much as I love you.” And I thought, “God, you have terrible taste in people.” But it was a powerful recognition for me.
            Today in all of the chaos in the world and our country, this insight comes back to remind me that I am not God and that God is better than anyone I know. I show my biases and share with you that:
            God loves Donald Trump as much as God loves Nancy Pelosi
            God loves Vladimir Putin as much as God loves Pope Francis
            God loves Mitch McConnell as much as God loves Bernie Sanders
God loves the ICE officials as much as God loves the immigrants at our borders.
            Try it yourself. Take the most disparate people you can think of and realize that God loves each of them as much as God loves any of them. God may not love their actions but God loves them.
            As a human being, I can’t stay with that thought very long, but when I return to it and try to process what to do with it, it is always an amazing insight and reminds me to be compassionate and to try to face my biases and prejudices..
            But God has terrible taste in people.

       Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

There is always more to every story

       You’ve probably seen something in the media about this - a high school boy and an elderly Native American man facing each other on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The incident has been on the news everywhere – national and local radio/ tv, print media, and of course, all over the internet. Several things in the photo propelled the interest: the obvious culture gap visible in the boy’s Make America Great Again cap and the Indian’s drum, the young white and elderly brown face, the countenance on each one as their faces almost touch, all this against a backdrop of boys chanting something. 
       I was one of the countless people whose attention was captured by the incident. For me, it was not just the apparent social justice conflict, but the boy was from a Catholic high school just a few miles down the road from where we live.  As a one-time professional photographer, I wondered about the story and the larger context not pictured. (By the very nature of a camera, every picture has to create a frame that necessarily excludes some part of the reality.) 
       One interpretation that rapidly spread over the internet was that the teen was a bigot, the conclusion based on the MAGA cap, the look on his face, the chants from other boys in the crowd, and the contrast presented by the young white man and elderly brown man. 
       Gradually, with interviews and more videos, additional information and context emerged. Depending upon the source, sometimes the teen was just a teenager caught in a situation beyond his experience, sometimes a biased white male, sometimes a misunderstood young man trying to help dampen a potential racial fire. The Indian elder, in some views, was trying to defuse the situation, in others he was pushing this young boy who was not respecting the Native American culture. In some narratives, there was a 3rd group that actually started the chaos by chanting taunts at the young white high schoolers. Added to all this are reports that nefarious groups used the story as propaganda to increase division and chaos in society. 
       At this writing, the real truth is buried in a jumble of fact, fiction, and interpretation, but one thing is very clear: in a divisive, antagonistic age of finger-pointing and quick condemnation like ours, we must not assume each story we read is true. No story is the end of the story. Here are some cautions I find in this entire episode:
1.      Be wary of news “alerts” or viral pieces that are so prolific on cable and the internet. What the reporter or sender does NOT say may be even more significant that what was actually reported. For e.g., long-established news sources are still grappling with a recent Buzzfeed report involving the current administration. No other news outlet could verify the story, but many of them repeated it over and over, though normally with a caveat: “We have not yet corroborated this story, but….” Each repetition inevitably added some kind of credence to the report.
Our own life situations have their own version of this. “So and so said……..” or “Did you know that…..” Dare we honestly ask ourselves, as we pass on the latest news, that it may just be gossip? Do we ever bother to qualify our “news” with, “I don’t know this for sure, but….”  We don’t call this kind of conversation “fake news,” but I think it may be a close relative!
2.      Never judge by 1st appearances; there is always something we don’t know. This applies not only to news flashes and possible gossip, but to personal interactions. Someone bumps me on the street. Was it carelessness? Intentional?  Was the person bumped and couldn’t avoid running into me? Can I give the person benefit of the doubt?
3.      Temper the response to someone almost “taking your head off” over a small mistake. Why was the person so on edge? Did he/she over react because they were already on emotional overload and this pushed them over the tipping point? Maybe they were really upset with someone else entirely. Maybe they were upset with themselves. Again, how do we judge the other?

        The story of the teenager and the Native American elder has stumbled through many interpretations, and the full truth is still being uncovered. The same holds true re political stories and daily gossip. These are areas of our lives where acceptance tempered with caution can help prevent mistaken judgments and pain . There is always more to every story!

                           Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Beauty of the Snow

       The first good snowfall (6.5 inches) hit our area this week. I did not have to go out and face the elements. I have the luxury of staying home and observing from my warm and dry house. Spending time looking out the window at the gorgeous drape of the landscape my mind wandered into snows of the past.
  •        Playing in the school yard in first grade.  Dragging my feet through the snow in my little red galoshes meant to keep my shoes and feet dry.
  •        Struggling to get the middle ball on the snow man. Flakes were light but snow was heavy.
  •        Sled riding on our street. We had a lovely valley so you could go down one side and rise on the second side.  There was always competition for distance achieved on the second hill.
  •        My sister’s sled crashing into a bush and breaking her little finger.
  •        At age 10 walking to Sunday Mass in the center of the Dixie Highway whose four lanes provided the only direct route from Michigan to Florida and back.  We had to do a lot of high stepping but we did not have to dodge any cars.
  •        Also walking about 4 miles home from high school at the completion of January exams.  That may have been the coldest I have ever been.
  •       At eighteen being unable to stop the station wagon and running into the rear end of a truck waiting at a stop sign.  (Somebody left out of my training to gear down in such circumstances.) No one was hurt.
       And I grew up and the hazards and the anxieties became a first consideration. But for this snow I chose to focus on the beauty and to be amazed. 
      I invite you to choose something and do the same.Several years ago a friend gave me a card showing little purple crocus blossoms coming up through the snow.  A hymn from Isaiah (35) reads: The wilderness and dry lands shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The crocus I pray about comes up through the snow and it is beautiful and I am glad. 

          Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Epiphany Manifestations

       This past Sunday, January 6, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany: the coming of the Magi to visit the newborn King. On January 13, we will celebrate the epiphany of this King’s Baptism. Let’s investigate this use of the word epiphany. It has been described as a mysterious term. The first known use of the word’s use was noted in the 14th century. Its use in a liturgical settting only  appeared in the 16th century.

Greek meaning:  Manifestation of the Divine or refers to a moment of revelation.
Other meanings or descriptions of the term of epiphany include:
              1.   A new insight
               2.  An intuitive grasp of reality through something [as an event] usually simple giving a striking or illuminating discovery.
               3.  A moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.

       In the liturgical setting an epiphany refers to the celebration of Jesus revelation to the  people of the world. The focus is on the actual mission of Jesus’  arrival on as earth one of salvation and peace.  These ‘epiphanies’ point to Jesus mystery and majestic glory as the Son of the Father.

       The Incarnation shows the humble newborn babe being sung to by choirs of angels on high proclaiming his glory and majesty. The Magi came from afar revealing this newborn king to all people. Mt.2:11  “ Upon seeing the babe they were filled with joy and prostrated themselves and did him homage presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were warned to go  home by a different route.

Jesus Baptism:  Mk; 1:11   The clouds opened and a voice thundered down from abvove proclaiming  “you are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”

Wedding Feast at Cana:  Here Jesus transforms copious amounts of water in to choice wines. Jn. 2:11 : Jesus did this at the beginning of his signs in Galilee and so revealed his glory. His disciples began to believe in him.

Jesus Transfiguration:  Lk.9:28-35  “From the cloud a voice said:  ‘This is my beloved son, Listen to Him..the disciples fell prostrate and said ‘we have seen his glory.’

       There are many other manifestations or epiphanies in the bible search them out. The Roman Catholic Church has separated each manifestation and kept January 6 as associated with the ‘Epiphany.’ The Eastern Orthodox Church primarily celebrates the Baptism of Jesus.

A few other thoughts:
      Karl  Rahner notes that the Incarnation shows the potential to be completely inhabited  by the Word made Flesh.
      Thomas Merton writes about the point of pure truth, the spark of the Divine Presence that like a pure diamond blazing with invisible light is the pure glory of God within us.

Having been touched by these epiphanies, are we prepared to examine the route we have chosen  on our way to our heavenly home?

                   Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A New Year to Go to Jesus through Mary

       I was happy to discover that my blog was due the day after New Year’s Day because it sounded like an easy and quick blog to write. Many associations came to my mind—party, countdown, dropping of the ball, big dinner followed by  a party, midnight, New Year’s eve, ring in the New Year, tradition, and of course resolutions, and lastly an important Holy Day.  I shocked and embarrassed myself that the most meaningful and important association came last. This made all the previous associations fade from my thoughts.
       January 1 is the feast of the Motherhood of Mary, our Holy Mother. Just typing these words astounded me. Mary, Child of the Father, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church, whose members are the body of Christ, Mary, mother of us all. How Awesome!
       Mary is also the Queen of heaven, Queen of all the saints, both living and deceased. Now I am overcome with yet another emotion—that I, so sinful, so poor, so ordinary, am a descendant of such royalty including the Holy Spirit who lives and breathes in me and all creation!
       How appropriate that Mary, queen of all saints and Mother of our Savior was chosen by the Church to be celebrated on January 1, the first day of each year, reminding us to honor her above all saints in heaven.
       When we are sad we can find consolation remembering Our Lady of Sorrows who will send comfort to us just as her Son comforted her by giving her John as her son. We likewise can find comfort in sorrow by praying to Mary by a personal prayer to her or by praying some of the beautiful prayers that have been composed in her honor—the Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, the Rosary, Hail Mary or one of your own favorite.
       By reflecting on this feast of Mary, I feel called to pray more often to her throughout the day and to thank God for sharing His Mother with all God’s children.  

                                Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB