Tag Archives: Saints

On Presence

I want to continue to believe in the presence of God, the one who strengthens, cheers, and encourages me at all times. – St. John XXIII

I have a little prayer booklet I use sometimes from Twenty Third Publications called Walking with St. John XXIII: 30 days with a good and beloved Pope. This morning I turned at random to a page, which happened to be the second to last page, and read this quote.

Interestingly enough, just a few minutes earlier, I had read this post on our current Pope’s Twitter feed:

In the midst of all those passing things in which we are so caught up, help us, Father, to seek what truly lasts; your presence and that of our brother or sister. – Pope Francis

And I was reminded, instantly, of this quote in our CSJP Constitutions:

We value the ministry of presence as an important dimension of the gospel of peace. In the hope of continuing our tradition of gracious hospitality, we welcome others to our communities and also try to be present to people in their own situations. – CSJP Constitution 18

We are so in danger of disconnection and tuning out all the noise and chaos and bad news and suffering, when truly the invitation is to see God present with us in and through and and beyond all that. Emmanuel, after all, means God with us. God created us, Jesus became one of us, and the Spirit is present among us. Ours is to grow in understanding what this means. Ours is to be open to the presence of God in our day to day moments, not only those precious aha spiritual moments, but in the messy bits too. And I don’t know about you but I have a lot more messy bits than spiritual highs. Our is to be the presence of God for others, and to experience (and accept) the presence of God in others.

At least that’s what my morning prayer time led me to ponder, and I join John XXII in praying and trusting in my loving God who strengthens, cheers, and encourages me/us at all times. If we but listen.

Amen

St. Edith Stein, pray for us … a Saint for these times

I have long been haunted by a quote by Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite nun, Jewish daughter and sister, philosopher, one time atheist, convert, contemplative, martyr of Auschwitz .

“Nowadays I always feel transported into Napoleonic times, and I can imagine in what tension people lived then everywhere in Europe. I wonder: will we live to see the events of our days become ‘history’? I have a great desire to see all this sometime in the light of eternity. For one realizes ever more clearly how blind we are toward everything. One marvels at how mistakenly one viewed a lot of things before, and yet the very next moment one commits the blunder again of forming an opinion without having the necessary basis for it.” Edith Stein: A Self-Portrait in Letters, quoted in the People’s Companion to the Breviary.

This quote is included in the office book published by the Carmelites of Indianapolis. It is the reading for Week IV, Friday, evening prayer. The first time I heard this read during community prayer when I was a candidate back in 2005, my heart stopped. I didn’t know much about Edith Stein, except that she had been killed in a concentration camp. But it led me to learn more about her, which only made the quote that much more powerful.

When she was a professor of philosophy she studied the problem of empathy. Writing in 1925–the same year that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published–she proposed that the capacity for empathy ensures “openness among human beings” rather than separation or alienation. She engaged in her philosophical study of this capacity for empathy because she believed it “to be descriptive of human reality and the foundation needed for productive action” for life in the human community.

Now, on this sad day almost 100 years later, a day which our nation’s present leader has chosen to round up children, women and men–largely of one ethnic group–transporting them to camps, separating families and causing terror to thousands of people, I cannot help but ask for her intercession.

Nowadays, I sometimes feel transported to her times. And it is a scary time to be, one that rocks one’s faith in humanity and causes one to cry out to the heavens. What tension we live in today. Are we complicit? Are we bystanders? Or do we stand on the right side of history, crying out “Not in My Name,” and acting on behalf of human dignity?

And then of course there is today’s Gospel reading, the Good Samaritan, which makes it crystal clear what we are to do. What sad twisted irony that the raids against our immigrant brothers and sisters are set to begin today when this Gospel is proclaimed in churches across our nation. Of course, no doubt, many families are staying away from church today, afraid that they might be swept up, no matter what their legal status. And others listen with deaf ears.

Today, the Carmelite Nuns of Great Britain shared a quote from Edith Stein on their Twitter account in which she reflects on today’s Gospel reading.

“‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This commandment is valid unconditionally and without qualification. The neighbour is not the one whom I ‘like’ but any and every human being with whom I come into contact, without exception.”

Without exception. Unconditional. Without qualification.

When Edith Stein was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 in the chapel of her monastery in the Netherlands and taken to a transit camp for deportation, eventually to Auschwitz, she commented: “I never knew that people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this. … I pray for them every hour. Will God hear my prayers? He will certainly hear them in their distress.” 

When she arrived at Auschwitz, she ministered to God’s people in distress, even as she was one among them.

“It was Edith Stein’s complete calm and self-possession that marked her out from the rest of the prisoners. There was a spirit of indescribable misery in the camp; the new prisoners, especially suffered from extreme anxiety. Edith Stein went among the women like an angel, comforting, helping, and consoling them. Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and had sat moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children. She immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.” –Edith Stein,  A Biography, quoted on Carmelites of Boston website.

And so I pray.

St. Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, you who studied empathy, lived a life of compassionate love, pray for us. Inspire empathy, respect for human dignity, and action for justice. Lead those of us who might become bystanders instead to solidarity and compassionate love. Help us to pray for conversion of heart in those who wield their power without enough apparent capacity for empathy or neighborliness. Most of all, be with those who suffer. Comfort the mothers, fathers and children facing inhumanity in these dark times. Pray for us all, that our hearts may become wider, wide enough to encompass all our neighbors, unconditionally and without exception. Amen.

Shine like the sun

I awoke this morning to brilliant orange sunlight breaking through the opening in my curtains right into my eyes.

Good morning sun, I thought. I know there is a book titled Good Night Moon … is there a morning equivalent?

Each and every day, to varying degrees depending on the weather and other sciency factors, the sun rises for everyone, everywhere.

Think about that. This same sun woke your ancestors. This same sun has shed light on good and bad alike since time began. This same sun shines on us and reminds us, to paraphrase L.L. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, that this very day is a new fresh day without any mistakes.

We tend to focus too much on the mistakes, but the sun invites us just to shine, at least for a moment, before the clouds cast shadows and diffuse the light.

I am praying these days with a little book of meditations on the sayings of John XXIII. I happened upon this saying this morning, entirely appropriate for this train of thought (and heart).

“See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.”

The sun, like our loving God, sees it all. We see where the light shines and presume much in the shadows, at least I do. But today my prayer is that I focus on the good, give people the benefit of the doubt, and help shine the light where I can.

Remembering, renewing, risking – Global Sisters Report

My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report. This one is more of a reflection where I mull over the communion of saints and what their witness and presence means to us today:

There is great wisdom in our Catholic tradition of setting aside time in the liturgical year to remember all the saints and souls, just as we take time to remember and celebrate the impact of our loved ones upon their passing. As theologian Flora Keshgegian writes in Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, remembering is meant to be oriented to ‘affect present action'(p. 25). We do not remember to stay in the past. Rather, we remember for the present, and dare I say, for the future.”

Head over to Global Sisters Report to read the whole column.

Franz Jägerstätter – Courage to Resist Nonviolently

Today is the feast day of Franz Jägerstätter who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2007. I learned a bit about his life, witness, and sacrifice for peace during my graduate studies as part of my research into nonviolent resistance. Here is an excerpt of a paper I wrote about nonviolent resistance to the Holocaust:

FranzAlthough one might consider his 2007 beatification to have shifted his “ordinary” status, Franz Jägerstätter lived a rather ordinary and simple life. His primary occupations were husband, father, and farmer.  His marriage to Franziska, a very devout Christian, was happy and deepened his own commitment to his Catholic faith. He was a volunteer parish sacristan and later became a lay tertiary Franciscan. Equipped with only a seventh-grade education, he was nevertheless widely read—periodicals, devotionals, papal encyclicals, lives of the saints, and scripture.

Jägerstätter had a vivid dream in 1938, two months prior to the arrival of Hitler’s army in his native Austria. It was a dream upon which he later reflected and acted.

“Suddenly, I saw a beautiful train, which was going around a mountain. Grown-ups and children were streaming toward it and could hardly be held back. I would rather not say how few adults did not get on the train. Then suddenly a voice said to me: ‘This train is going to Hell’ … And now I realize that it embodies National Socialism, as it descends upon us with all its many organizations.”

“From the very beginning,” notes his biographer Erna Putz, Jägerstätter “refused all cooperation” with the Nazi regime, even refusing government payments for raising children or crop damage.  He was the only person in his village to vote “No” to the April 1938 German annexation of Austria, even though the annexation vote had been endorsed by Austrian Cardinal Innitzer. Conscription soon became the fate of able bodied Austrian men, now German citizens.

Jägerstätter was no exception.  He received six months of army training in 1941, during which time he realized that he could not in good conscience serve in the Nazi military. As a devout Catholic, he discussed his decision with his priest, who told him in confession that such a decision would be akin to suicide, and even with his local Bishop, who advised him to think of his duty to his family. His resolve was unchanged. He wrote: “Does it still bear witness to Christian love of the neighbor if I commit an act, which I truly regard as evil and very unjust, and yet I continue to commit the act because otherwise I would suffer either physical or economic harm?”

When Jägerstätter was called to active duty in 1943, he declared his refusal to participate. He was beheaded on August 9, 1943. Faced with evil, and commanded to participate in that evil, he responded by seizing the moral initiative, refusing to submit, and being willing both to suffer rather than retaliate and to undergo the penalty of breaking an unjust law.

Praying with Joseph – Video Prayer Reflection

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph! Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Francis Clare) chose St. Joseph as the patron of my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, because he was a model of peace.  In the words of our original 1884 Constitutions:

Joseph1884

A few years ago I made this video prayer reflection for St. Joseph’s Day (complete with a rather funny typo).  I invite you to spend some time today with Joseph, model of peace.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

Bakhita: Model of Resistance – Prayer & Action Against Human Trafficking

Children raise their hands in front of a mural of St. Bakhita at  a displacement camp  near Khartoum
Children raise their hands in front of a mural of St. Bakhita at a displacement camp near Khartoum

Today (February 8) is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita who has beatified by Pope John Paul II. Today has also been declared, under the leadership of Pope Francis, as the first International Day of Prayer and Action against human trafficking.  I wrote about the connection between these two important dates in my latest column on Global Sisters Report.

The column draws upon research I did for my Masters thesis, “Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance.” I see Bakhita as a model of resistance and believe that her story can help evoke in contemporary people of good will the motivation needed to take actions of solidarity and resistance to human trafficking today.

The story of St. Josephine Bakhita invites us to take an honest look at our own connections to the social sin of human trafficking. What are the unjust social and economic structures and distorted social norms which allow human trafficking to thrive? What actions of resistance might we take to heal relationships distorted by human trafficking?

Here are some resources for this first ever International Day of Prayer and Action against human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a social evil perpetrated by human beings. Human trafficking is not inevitable. As St. Josephine Bakhita’s story tells us, it is possible to resist, and it is possible for ordinary persons to resist in solidarity with trafficked persons.  We can start today through our prayer and action against human trafficking.

Angela Merici: “Do Something”

companyursulaToday is the feast day of St. Angela Merici who died in 1540. She was a visionary woman who gathered others around her.  She won approval from her Diocese for the first rule written by a woman for a community of women.

Just before I embarked upon my new adventure in leadership, a friend recommend a book to me – Redeeming Administration 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions.  (If this fits you, I highly recommend it!)

The first chapter speaks about the need to have  a breadth of vision and includes this powerful quote from Angela:

‘This charge must not be a burden for you; on the contrary, you have to thank God most greatly that he has deigned to see to it that you are among those he wants to spend themselves in governing and safeguarding such a treasure [as] his own … Do not be afraid of not knowing and not being able to do what is rightly required in such a singular government. Do something. Get moving. Be confident. Risk new things. Stick with it. Get on your knees. Then be ready for big surprises.’

She wrote these words just before her death. They were written for the Company of Ursula, the small community she had gathered just five years earlier.

Given my new adventure, I have been struck by her words in a particular way, but I think they apply to so many people and situations.  If we waited until we had everything figured out, then nothing would ever happen. Sometimes we have to just do something. To move. To risk. To stick with it. And to pray.  And when we do, to be sure, God has even more surprises in store.

Margaret Anna Fridays – Our Common Work

Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)
Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)

Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day.  She wrote lives of the saints, spiritual works, histories, and social reform. She also wrote copious letters to her Sisters. This gem is from her April 1887 general letter to the new Congregation.

“We must all have more consideration for each other, and make full allowance for difference of birth, education and temper. We have a common work to do for God, and His poor which should be our union and our bond of charity and this motive should enable us to put aside all little differences, and troubles.”

Margaret Anna Fridays – Desire to live the life of a sister

Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)
Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)

Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day.  She wrote lives of the saints, spiritual works, histories, and social reform. I find great inspiration in her life’s word and work. For example, this simple desire which she articulated at some point in her life resonates with the simplest desire in my own heart as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

My desire to live the life of a sister, to give my life to God, and to work for his poor – this seemed to me the only object worth existing for.