Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Greatest is Love

By Sr. Cecilia Harriendorf

The story goes like this . . .

Once upon a time there were two brothers - one was married, the other single.  Together, they worked the farm they had inherited from their father.  Their life was difficult; farming isn't easy. But they loved the land and took great pride in working it as their father and grandfather had done before them.

One year, they had a particularly rich and abundant crop.  Each was satisfied with the fruits of his labor.   The married brother sat in his home, watching his wife read and listening to his children at play and thought to himself, "My poor brother.  He works so hard and has no one with whom to share his life and good fortune.  Late tonight, I will take some of my crops and add them to his.  This way, when he markets the crop, he'll have an extra reason to be happy."

The single brother sat at home in his favorite chair with this faithful dog at his feet and thought to himself, "My poor brother.  He works so hard and never has a minute to himself.  He has a wife to support and three children to feed.  Late tonight, I will take some of my crops and add them to his.  This way, when he markets the crop, he'll have an extra reason to be happy."

Late that night, each brother gathered a portion of his crops and set out to visit his brother's barn.  Halfway between their houses, the brothers surprised each other.  The story goes on to say that a Chapel was built on the spot where the brothers met because it was on that spot that love was realized in the world.

This charming tale reminds us that whenever generosity is offered or kindness expressed, when forgiveness is shared or a truth is told, love is realized in our world.  And that's because at the heart of caring and giving and forgiving and truthfulness is the heart of God.  Furthermore, our faith teaches us that we are not only called to share our goodness and giftedness with others, but that we are actually graced to do so.   

So, if you are thinking about a career in Public Service, considering Associate Relationship with the Sisters of Charity, contemplating marriage or discerning the call to religious life, please remember that at the heart of each of these calls is an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with the source of all life.  It was love that brought each of us into this world and love that sustains us.  And every time  a man or woman says "yes" to God's intimate call, love is, once again, realized in our world.  

As Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians reminds us, "Only three things continue: faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love."

Monday, January 25, 2016

All Are Necessary

By Sr. Meg Kymes

Every month the L’Arche community in Frederick gathers for a time of fun and community building.  As part of the planning committee for the L’Arche community, I come to these monthly gatherings as much as possible. People with disabilities, their families, youth group members, college students, as well as the planning committee gather in the parish gym at St. Katharine Drexel parish in Frederick. 

Sunday's second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks of how all are necessary to carry out Christ’s mission on Earth.  He says, “Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary...God has so constructed the that there maybe no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.”  When I was reflecting on this passage I recalled a recent experience I had.

This past month, I left my house in Emmitsburg tired from a day of teaching to make the 30 minute drive to St. Katharine Drexel telling myself, “You need to be there.”  Slipping into my pajamas then watching the nightly news and Blue Bloods seemed much more appealing than an hour round trip drive and a night of being social with 65 or so other people.  Nonetheless I went.

 Pat, another member of the planning committee had planned a night of luau themed events.  This included a lesson on hula, decorating Hawaiian themed cookies, lei making, and a limbo contest.  Slowly throughout the first half hour of the event people trickled in from the rainy evening.  Some came with a big smile on their faces and with a big hug to offer random other guests, others came reluctantly, clinging to the arm of their caregivers.  After some time of finishing last minute preparations and adding extra tables and chairs for late coming guests Pat pulled me aside to ask if I could help her with reading the story to go with the hula lesson.  I enthusiastically agreed.  When I picked up the microphone and began to read the story I was in my element.  I read slowly and clearly just as I do when I read a story with my own students.  I watched in amusement as Pat led the steps to the hula with the other community members speeding up or slowing down the pace of her movements to the tone of the story.  I saw the growing smiles on the faces of those who were participating and even the excited screeches of a few of the guests whose disabilities are more severe. 

After the hula I greeted a man who went to the same daily Mass as my Sisters and me.  He commented on how much his son was enjoying himself and complimented Pat on how successful the evening was going.  After some small talk he mentioned he had found a work program for his son to participate in since he was too old now for school.  I told him I was glad to hear that since we had been praying for them.  He mentioned his fear that this would not work out since at times his son could be violent.  I told him about my own cousin and her struggles with finding placement for her son who also has a disability.  I encouraged him to be honest with the program and trust that God would send the right person to work with his son if this was God’s will.  He thanked me for my advice and gave me a hug.  Pat announced we were going to close with the L’Arche tradition of singing This Little Light of Mine.  We all gathered in a circle and sang together then went our separate ways. 

On my way home I reflected and prayed over the evening.  I remembered how I had to coax myself to leave the house to come to the L’Arche gathering that night.  I recalled the line from our song, “Hide it under a bushel? No!  I’m going to let it shine!”  I realized that I may not be a social butterfly like some of our other committee members or have lots of experience with people with disabilities, but I do have my own experiences and talents to offer.  God gave me my own gifts of reading and listening to share that evening.  Without those talents, the night would not have been the same.  It may have worked out, but as St. Paul said, “...the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary…”  No matter how small or weak we may seem in the eyes of the world, the Lord needs us just as much as anyone else to spread his love to the world.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mid-winter Prayer

By Sr. Alice Ann O'Neill

Mid-winter softly continues
Bright, bleak, white, gray;

January silently within
Easy, difficult, courage, fear;

Prayer singing on
Clear, foggy, beautiful, bumbling;

Sing unceasingly!

Heart seeking union
Soften, open, glowing, melting;

Salt Lake City, Utah - 2015

Monday, January 18, 2016

Justice, service, and MLK

By Sister Rejane Cytacki

As Martin Luther King Day comes to a close, I find myself reflecting.  Where I minister at the University of Saint Mary (USM), today we integrated two activities today: prayer and service. Starting with a lunchtime prayer service, we remembered and listened to excerpts of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

So much of what he said in 1963 still applies to our issues of today. Just as fear and hatred ran strong in Martin’s time, so, too, in our own. Racism is alive and well from Ferguson to Mizzou, and we need groups like Black Lives Matter to keep the issues in front of us.  Martin implored us to strive for the day “. . . when all God’s children, black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands . . .”   Today, I think Martin would further expand that list of all God’s children to include so many other groupings of people including refugees.  This week, I learned that Kansas’ governor has issued an executive order halting any refugees from being resettled in our state. While I was appalled and immediately called the governor’s office in protest, Martin Luther King reminds me to still have hope and faith and continue to work towards the freedom for all human beings:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King also said, “What are you doing for others?” 

In 1994, President Clinton signed into law the National Martin Luther King Day of Service. We took 18 USM students to a local nursing home facility to visit and play games with senior citizens. It was wonderful to see the shared smiles and laughter between the seniors and the students. Service breaks through people’s isolation, loneliness, and fear and lets the light of love shine through.

To what does your remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr., call you?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Hope of Mamie Till

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

Next week I will be examined on the quality of the theological synthesis I will bring to the world from my education at Boston College.

One of the exam’s practice questions captured my attention in the way it tied the theological virtue of hope with Christ’s Resurrection, and asked how we would speak of such lofty concepts to a person whose loved one had died by an act of injustice.

As we approach the MLK holiday, I’d like to apply the practice question to the compelling example of injustice in the death of Emmett Till.  For those who don’t recall, Till was the black teen who was tortured and murdered for “whistling at a white woman” in 1955. 
* * *

Hope is one of three theological virtues.  Karl Rahner argues that hope flows directly from the will of God, and unifies faith and love.  All three virtues orient humankind toward an ultimate future known already in the Resurrection of Christ.  Anthropologically, hope is the acceptance of an orientation toward God with which all men and women are made capable of receiving Revelation.  Rahner correlates hope with courage suggesting that its expression willingly renounces what is “unnecessary in the present” for what is promised in the absolute future by an “uncontrollable and incalculable God."

How do we grasp such a renunciation when that which is “unnecessary” is one’s own son?  Clearly Christ’s Resurrection indicates that human beings are not created to be perishable, but to live a transfigured life eternally in union with God.  What is “unnecessary”, therefore, is not the person who dies, but the control we desire over how our lives will unfold in relationship with others.  Till’s person today connects to millions of others who live an embodied existence, a fact easily proved in any U.S. history class.  Through a concept developed by Louis-Marie Chauvet, his presence to us now can be understood symbolically as the "presence of an absence."  Somewhat controversially, Chauvet used this phrase to explain how Christians throughout time experience the risen Christ. 

Mamie Till’s choices illustrate both Rahner’s correlation of hope with courage, and Chauvet’s symbolic “presence of an absence”.  By allowing the press to make her son’s wounds visible to all who read a newspaper, and by requiring that the coffin be opened in spite of the stench of her son’s rotting flesh, Mamie Till mediated the presence of her son’s absence in a powerful memory that continues to mobilize Americans in favor of a better justice.

When she demanded that Mississippi authorities deliver her son’s body to Chicago, Mamie Till could not have experienced hope as the oft-confused sunny disposition of optimism.  Like Mary, mother of Jesus, Mamie Till faced suffering with the vision of faith, something which allowed her to perceive a larger story than the one her own sorrow wanted to write.  The alacrity of her hope allowed no room for despair, nor did it presume that God would act without her cooperation.

As per Rahner, Mamie Till’s life reveals hope as an act of courage which possesses the capacity to reform secular structures of injustice.  Such an act powerfully demonstrates a “small hope” (secular justice) that lives within a “larger hope” (vision of God in the eschaton).  At some point following her son’s death, Mamie Till had what she describes as a vision which offered her the type of certainty for which Christians long:
“Emmett was not mine; he (Emmett) belonged to him (God)…God had chosen him (Emmett) for this mission.” 

Such a vision implies that we are invited to receive and act on the transcendent plan of God, even while God remains “incalculable and uncontrollable”.  The painful challenge of Rahner’s hope-as-courage, as well as of his image of God as uncontrollable mystery, is evidenced by the fact that both killers (J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant) were acquitted at the trial, and brazenly admitted to the murder afterward when they were no longer in danger of being retried for the same crime.  Their acquittal reveals the hard truth that Christian hope is not primarily a state of mind (optimism), but a state of persistence through suffering toward God’s end in mission.

Christian hope exerts itself for the coming of the Kingdom of God, something which would be an impossibility without the Resurrection of Christ.  But the Resurrection itself is a Trinitarian act, and indicates the importance God places on perfected relationships.  Because Mamie Till believed that her own relation to her son was held in the light of a larger relation to God, she knew that the secular acquittal of injustice was not the last word.  The first and last Word of God is raised in the love of the Trinity, a love whose distinctions of divinity are nonetheless held in absolute unity.  This love affirms that there is only one category of “race” that matters in the end.  On this knowledge of God, Mamie Till placed all her hope.

Rahner, Karl, On the Theology of Hope, Theological Investigations, vol. 10, ch 13, 1968.

Chauvet, Louis-Marie, Symbol and Sacrament. 1995.

The Untold Story of EMMETT LUIS TILL (Documentary 2005) by Keith Beauchamp,

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


By Sr. Roberta Treppa

January 6 is the traditional date for the Feast of the Epiphany, the day that the Magi came face-to-face with the Christ child.  Led by the light of a star, they journeyed through the desert to meet their King.

As I reflect on the journey of the three wise men, I think about the star-the light that led them to Jesus.  The magi traveled at night, and their only source of light to keep them from stumbling came simply from the stars in the heavens, and one star in particular.

No distractions…Just the stars and companions to lead the way.

Today, we are inundated with much man-made light that we often cannot see the natural lights in the heavens.

Distractions abound in our daily journey to find Christ-in experiences, people, even in ourselves sometimes.  Things like peer pressure, media, and personal expectations are modern-day tempters and distractions.  Catchy commercials and snazzy signs draw our attention to the gods of our time such as possessions and power.  They are all-too-frequent experiences that can blind us to the presence of-or even existence of-Christ.

But we are also blessed to have true lights in our lives-mentors, spiritual directors, family and friends who help us see Christ and journey each day closer to Him.  I am grateful for those in my life who are models of the faith, spiritual companions, and Sisters in Community.  These are my "stars" who light the way, who draw my attention to finding Christ in all.

Epiphanies happen every day.  I am constantly being led to the Christ child, as obscure as His existence may seem sometimes.  But He is there...He is HERE-in the child, in the elderly, in the poor I encounter each day, in experiences and in myself.  I need only to seek, and I will find Him.

I am a seeker, seeking Christ

I am a gift-bearer, offering myself

I am blessed…to have encountered Him.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

God of the Journey

By Sr. Tracy Kemme

Me with my wonderful newly-wed friends!
Yesterday, I witnessed two college friends enter into the covenant of marriage.  The beautiful Mass took place in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of our alma mater, the University of Dayton.  Appropriately celebrated on the feast of the Epiphany, it was a day filled with light.  There are few things more powerful and heart-warming than watching two people commit their lives to one another in Christ.

This afternoon, our congregation gathered in the chapel at the Motherhouse to celebrate the feast day of our foundress, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  During this Mass, Sisters renew their vows, and Associates renew their commitments.  For the first time, I was able to stand with all of my Sisters and renew the vows that I professed this past June.  What a joy!

Two different vocations; one faithful God at the heart of each of them. 

The celebrant at my friends’ Saturday wedding focused his homily on the theme of “journey.”  Several times throughout this past weekend, I found myself in awe at how God is made manifest through our varied vocations and diverse journeys, all intertwined with one another.

I saw it in the love between the new married couple and their families.  Tears were shed and laughter echoed throughout the weekend during walks down the aisle and wedding toasts.  I loved catching glimpses of the parents of the bride and groom, beaming with pride and filling with emotion as they watched the children they raised now form their own family.

I saw it in my college friends who are now spouses, and in some cases, parents.  It was beautiful to witness the light in one friend’s eyes when she said how much she loves being a mother or the quiet joy in another’s eyes when she talked about her first year of marriage.  I saw it when a friend, a new mom, left the dancefloor to pump breastmilk for her little girl and when another friend was lovingly attentive to his wife, who was feeling sick most of the day.

I saw it in the priest, a friend of the groom, who led an absolutely beautiful liturgy.  He is a young guy, full of energy for his vocation.  His down-to-earth manner, kindness, and insight filled the Mass with warmth.

I saw it today at our Elizabeth Seton celebration when we honored three women with our annual Elizabeth Seton Award.  One works in health care for the underserved, and the other two work to end human trafficking.  Their gifts and commitment have made such an impact in our city, and it seems that it just flows naturally from who they are.

Some of the beautiful sisters I get to journey with
gathered on New Years Eve
And, I saw it, as I always do, watching my fellow sisters and associates process up to receive the Eucharist during Mass.  I find myself filled with wonder as I look at each of their faces and think of all that each one uniquely is and does.  So many beautiful journeys are represented there.

When we pause to notice, it is simply a delight to watch another human being live her or his God-given journey with commitment and love.  Isn't it?  Our journeys are not perfect, easy, or glamorous, but they are ours, and they are sacred.  Not every day brings the thrill of a wedding or the joy of renewing vows, but it is in the stuff of daily life that the journey becomes real.

As we begin this new year, I give thanks for our God who comes alive to us in the billions of journeys unfolding around the world simultaneously, no two of which are alike.  

I ask for the grace that each of us may see the unrepeatable beauty in the journey that we walk, knowing that God is the beating heart of every vocation.