Monday, March 13, 2017

INTO YOUR HANDS

Welcome to the Second Sunday of Lent. In today’s Gospel Jesus, after his transfiguration, reaches out and touches his disciples and says, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’  Jesus tells them not to say anything about this vision until he is raised from the dead. The disciples did a great job in spreading the Good News because 2000 years later we, the believers in the resurrected Christ, proclaim by our words and actions just that; a better way to live: Christ’s way, a more loving way to live that entails self-sacrifice so that all the world will know God’s plan of love, mercy and redemption.      

Do you remember the game ‘Simon Says’ where you follow the movements of the leader?  That is what I am going to invite you to do periodically throughout this talk as we sing the refrain from the hymn We Remember. 
 Please follow me.

Sing: 
Remembering is a big part of Bl. Maria Celeste Crostarosa’s charism.  Celeste called this special remembering viva memoria: to be a living memory. She says it is our call to be active participants in the life of Jesus who lived dying so that the world may be redeemed and rise to new life.  
Let me give you a quick reminder of who our foundress is.  Bl. Maria Celeste Crostarosa was born the tenth of twelve children in 1696 in Naples, Italy. From her earliest years she enjoyed an unusual sense of intimacy with Jesus who spoke quietly to her heart.  When she entered religious life, and was still a novice, Celeste had a revelation that she would be the instrument by which a new order of nuns would be established.  After many trials, and with the support of St Alphonsus, the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer was founded on Pentecost in 1731.   But tribulation continued to follow Celeste and she was expelled from the original monastery in Scala for being not afraid to be faithful to her conscience.  A few years later, she began a second monastery of the Redemptoristine Nuns in Foggia.    Since her death in 1755, Sister Celeste’s message of love, joy and liberty of conscience has spread throughout the world.  Following her lead to this day, her daughters the Redemptoristines, and by extension, you, have carried on her mission of being a viva memoria. This year marks the 60 year anniversary of Redemptoristines in the Hudson Valley.
Remembering Celeste let us Sing:

Bl. Celeste was a mystic and a prolific writer who regularly shared her experiences with her community.  Here are a few golden nuggets from her treasure chest of writings.  She had something to say about every aspect of life.

Bl. Celeste says:  ‘As soon as you rise from sleep, thank the Creator for all the blessings of this day and offer to God all your words, actions and sufferings, abandoning yourself into God’s blessed hands.’

Jesus, in turn, said to Celeste as he held his divine heart in his hands, and says to us now: ‘Receive my heart  to love me  with my own love forever.  Embrace in my heart  all my creatures  and give to those souls  all the love of my heart.’

During Lent we strive to have the heart of Jesus by loving as Jesus did.  Celeste says, ‘Make your life an echo of Jesus’ love.’  Every day we are not afraid to make our lives are an echo of Jesus’ love. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we lay your head on the pillow at night.  In our busy schedules we are called to abandon ourselves into the hands of our Creator as we offer a sacrifice of love, praise and intercession that reaches out to all our families, friends, co-workers and beyond; to embrace in our hearts all of God’s creatures. Our mission as Redemptoristines and Associates is to be transformed into pure love.   Celeste often quoted Jesus in saying, ‘If someone asks you who I am, tell them I am Pure Love.’

Raising our hands in praise for another day let us sing:

Celeste says, ‘Leave everything in God’s hands and all things will fall into place for you for the best purpose!  Believe in God with faith and hope.’     See the picture inside your handout of the ring.  This is the Redemptoristine profession ring:  two hands clasped.  In Celeste’s lifetime in the eighteenth century this ring was commonly given as wedding rings.   It is a mani in fede ring.  In Italian it means ‘hands in faith.’  All our rings are engraved on the inside with ‘I will espouse you.’  As Associates, all of you have made a commitment and have offered your hand to the Lord, and to one another; by faith your hands are united in love and hope.

Jesus says to Celeste, ‘In loving me, be espoused to all those who are mine.’

How can we be espoused to all who are Christ’s? We are called to go unafraid beyond our selves, be transformed, and be Christ for one another.  During your life you have reached out to the poor and needy by lending a helping hand. Many of you were educators who imparted your firsthand knowledge by giving youngsters hands-on-experiences to expand their minds.  In your work, some of you have mentored others with a guiding hand.  Many of you, in caring for your families have laid healing hands on the sick.  Literally and figuratively, you weren’t afraid to get your hands dirty.  Sometimes, when life throws you a curve ball, its all-hands-on-deck! Throughout your life, consciously or unconsciously, by your words and actions have handed down the faith to all those around you. 

Jesus said to Celeste and says to us, ‘If you wish to give me pleasure, imitate that prayer which I offered in the Garden of Olives before my Passion, placing my whole spirit in my Father's hands!’    
               
Some of you are retired from work-life and have more graced time, time for prayer where you give God pleasure by just placing your lives in the hands of God.   Even without retiring, in your commitment as Associates, you have placed your whole spirit in the hands of the Father.  Here, you are gradually transformed and can say with the apostle Paul, ‘I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.’

With faith, hope and love let us sing:

Celeste says, ‘The just soul who loves takes delight in death at the hands of its Beloved.  Jesus lived dying and it is the living memory of Jesus dying that will be your life.’

How do we remember Jesus’ dying in our daily lives?  Remember what Jesus says at the Last Supper before he died, ‘Do this in memory of me.’   Every day at the holy sacrifice of the Mass we lift our hands as an offering to receive the Body of Christ.  This reminds me of a time when I was the Eucharistic minister;  a woman, instead of saying ‘Amen’ to the ‘The Body of Christ,’ responded saying, ‘I am.’  What a profound statement.  To me, her reply was a confident, yet humble remembering of our pledge of love, our commitment to be nourished by Christ who lives and dies and rises in us for the life of the world.  In presenting our hands we give our whole self so that Jesus may live and work and pray in us. 

To unite earth with heaven, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross to embrace everyone and everything with his redeeming love.  As Associates you stretch out your hands to embrace and support your family, friends, co-workers, parish and all creation by your life.

In regularly taking time to pray you give yourself the gift of, as the psalmist says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Ps 46:11      This gift pleases God, soothes the soul and enables you to share in the viva memoria as participants in the life of Jesus who lived dying so that the world may be redeemed and rise to new life.  
United with Jesus, you are offering into God’s hands your entire life for God’s divine plan of mercy and love. 

With grateful hearts we can say with Celeste, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for my very beginning and my very end.’ 


With confidence in God’s mercy we remember Jesus sacrifice of love as we raise our hands and sing:

What can I do this Lent to be open to transformations and place my life into the hands of God?


I invite you to trace your hand and write a word or two of what you pray for at this Lent.

To close this reflection let us all pray the prayer on the back of the handout.

Monday, December 12, 2016

THE HEART OF ADVENT

‘A Birth into Hope’  1Pt 1:3  MKQ '08
Years ago I remember seeing a photo in a magazine of a Christmas tableau: In the foreground is Mary, a young mother, serenely holding her baby Jesus.  Behind her on a scrim was a picture of an older Mary, full of grief, at the foot of the cross

I thought, ‘How odd to have these two pictures juxtaposition so at Christmas time.’  Upon reflection, though, I realized many women of the ancient world gave birth in poor conditions only to have their hearts broken to see their sons crucified. Sadly, in many places of our world today women grieve over their sons lost to violence.   Yet, we will celebrate this particular birth and make sense of it because of his death and resurrection, and of Jesus’ promise to be Emmanuel ‘with us to the end of the age.’ Mt 28:20 

During this season we recall Jesus’ first coming as a baby, the longed for Messiah, as we also await his Second Coming as the King of Glory.   We are a people stuck in the middle time.    Our being stuck in this middle time isn’t really bad because, in truth, not only has Jesus come and is coming, but Jesus, the Hope of all hearts, is here with us right now living among us.  

Where?  Not in our frantic Western culture that completely forgets that this is a time to slow down and savor that which we will celebrate on the 25th, that is Jesus, not a new born babe, but Jesus dwelling in each and every heart here and now! 

Looking how to tie all the above in with our charism and foundress Blessed Maria Celeste Crostarosa, I discovered she wrote nothing about Advent.  Any reflection she wrote in December was about her two basic themes: love of the cross and self-annihilation: letting go of everything that pleases the senses for love of God.  But Bl. Celeste does say we should awaken to the knowledge that our loving, incarnate Jesus is already in our hearts waiting for us there.   It is our mission to be consciously aware of this divine indwelling.  I found a book of Celeste’s Spiritual Songs translated by one of our sisters in Canada that had a few poems dedicated to the Infant Jesus. One poem, The Birth of Jesus Christ ends with her speaking to the Virgin Mary, “Give me your Son, do not refuse Him to me; that I may let him grow within my heart!  All my love I give as cradle.”  Isn’t that beautiful?  “All my love I give as a cradle.”

We can think of Advent as an invitation to welcome Jesus more deeply, more dearly, into our hearts so to share Jesus’ love more clearly in all our words and actions and thus make this middle time, this now, a visible witness of the kingdom of God active and alive in the present moment.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, of my friend John the Baptist, that his prophet was sent to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Mt 3:3   That reminds me think of Isaiah’s voice crying out about the rugged lands being made smooth and the old Spanish proverb, ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’  Top this off with something I read somewhere of an old wise black woman who said, ‘If the mountain is smooth you cannot climb it.’  Straight paths, crooked lines, rugged land, smooth mountains.   How can we prepare the way of the Lord into our hearts with such differing instructions and observations?

Bl. Maria Celeste wrote not so much of Christ’s birth but of his redeeming death.  In fact, another poem she wrote is entitled, Song to the Baby Jesus about His
Passion. She was a typical Neapolitan and a mystic of the eighteen century ~ a person full of passion.  She never backed away from the truth that in God’s love for us God became incarnate, lived and died and was raised to new life.  So, how can we prepare the way of the Lord with such differing instructions and observations?  Bl. Celeste had the answer: the fixed gaze.  With our gaze fixed on Jesus we will make a straight path for Emmanuel to come into our hearts where ‘he will guide us in the way of faith that is alive in hope and charity that leads directly to heaven.’ (Florilegium 19)  With our gaze fixed on Jesus we will see, usually in retrospect, how the crooked lines of our life were leading us straight to God according to God’s Divine Love.   We will see that all along Jesus has been gazing at us with such a tender smile of compassion, encouraging us to climb the rugged mountain, not the smooth, because we know the surest path is not the slippery slope, but rather the one we can hold on to; the one with all the rocks and boulders of our life: the highs and lows of our work-a-day life, the joys and sorrows, the challenges and struggles. All are means to climbing the heights to see clearer God’s action in our lives.

So, as we climb the rugged mountain along our crooked paths this Advent with our eyes fixed straight ahead on Jesus, let us sing praises to our God who is present to us in the here and now by our acts of faith, hope and love, as we strive to be visible witnesses of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and in us, and to one another.  This is the heart of Advent.


After her reflection, Sr. Moira led the Associates in doing an Advent craft of making hearts because “God so loved the world that God gave us his only Son.” Jn 3:16   We cut out 6 heart-shaped colored pieces and glued the insides together to make rounded, three dimensional hearts.  On the inside, before they glued them together, they could write an intention or a name of someone they wished to keep in prayer.  Then we hung our prayer hearts on an Advent tree. The meeting ended with prayer and Sr. Moira doing a touching liturgical dance to Amy Grant’s ‘Breath of Heaven.’

Thursday, August 25, 2016

O GOD OF LOVELINESS

O Loveliness Supreme, and Beauty Infinite;
O ever flowing Stream. And Ocean of Delight;
O Life by which I live, my truest life above,
To Thee alone I give my undivided love.  
Hymn by St Alphonsus

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.  At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”   MT 14 25-33

The Rio Olympics have come to a close.  Over the past two weeks we were inspired by the dedication, courage and graciousness of the Olympians who mesmerized us with their skill. And on the nightly news we were also stirred by the sight of the majestic statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the bay below.

During the summer, or when on retreat, people often like to go to the seashore.  There is something majestic, mesmerizing, mysterious about the vast expanse of water that makes us feel insignificant, yet full of a wonder that is akin to our relationship to God.  We want to dive in but we hesitate.  It is too big for us.  Yet we are drawn to it.  We only have to summon our faith and have courage to become one with the Mystery.    

Peter is a good example of how this is done because actually, Peter jumped into the sea twice to be closer to Jesus.  The first time, as we just read, was when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water during a stormy night and Jesus bade Peter come to him. Peter moved timidly and was chided for his lack of faith when he sank in the water.   The other occasion was at dawn a few days after the resurrection and Jesus was on the seashore preparing breakfast. That time, Peter did not wait for an invitation - he jumped right in.  Neither time did Peter walk on water.   But the second time he felt no fear or limitation, just a longing for union with Jesus.
      
That describes what Bl. Celeste wrote of her experience of union with Jesus:  “You have shown me how you are that most vast sea of perfect and infinite Good and how I am like a drop of water which falls into you and is changed in that vast sea, where, losing my own being, I see myself become an ocean of every kind of good. Consequently, losing any sense of my own limited being and of my littleness, I now feel myself to be a new being, vast and divine, in which I feel no more fear or the limitation of time. Indeed, in this new state I am like a force, a power, an infinite greatness and an unlimited goodness.”


Like Peter, like Celeste, like Alphonsus, like the Olympians, let us dive into the Ocean of Delight by letting go of our fears and be transformed into a new being in union with Christ: a fearless force of unlimited goodness that is as vast as the sea.        

Monday, July 25, 2016

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…’ so the song goes, but is it?  The other day, while I was surfing the TV channels, I came across a Christmas movie on Hallmark.  In July?  With all this heat?  There is another Christmas song, ‘Why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around, why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around.’ 

When we think of Christmas we tend to think of the baby Jesus and gifts.  Not Blessed Celeste.  She speaks of Jesus’ incarnation as how Jesus crossed  “…an abyss in which the angels still get lost, that humiliation he underwent as God when, in the first instant of his incarnation, he lowered himself to take human flesh, and, though God, became a man.”  Most times Celeste speaks of the God-Man, Man-God, and his “…admirable excess of Divine Love,” that led him to the cross. 

That is what Jesus’ incarnation, his living, dying and rising was all about: an excess of Divine Love.  The reason why Celeste speaks of Christ in the present tense: living, rising, dying, is to call us to participation in the Intent of the Father, through our joyful participation in and union with the Life of Jesus  as the on-going carrying out of God’s loving plan of redemption.  

How can we have Christmas, live the incarnation, the whole year around? 

News flash:  we are human.  Invariably, as people living together, we grate on each other with our failings and foibles.  As Redemptoristines, we open the gift of excessive Divine Love given to us by God to lift us beyond our imperfections and eccentricities and humanly, humbly give the gift of love and understanding to one another.


To help us keep Christmas in our hearts all year around we would do well to receive the gift excessive Divine Love at the beginning of the day by invoking, in Jesus words to Celeste, “the Holy Spirit as a memorial of the hour of my Incarnation, because at that hour the sunrise of the divine Sun rose upon the world and warmed on the earth the Dew of the Grace of the Holy Spirit on all my creatures.”  

So, I wish you a Merry Christmas, in July.  Let us renew the gift of our vows to live the incarnation the whole year around.

Monday, March 14, 2016

CELESTE AND LOVE OF THE CROSS

We gather today a week before Palm Sunday and Holy Week, the pinnacle of the church year, to see what Celeste says about Love of the Cross.  How could I not reflect on {our soon to be Blessed} M. Celeste Crostarosa’s Love of the Cross since it is so fundamental to her spirituality.
          Celeste begins the section of the Rule on the Love of the Cross with the scripture quote: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, take up your cross every day and follow me."  Lk. 9:23
       
   Love of the Cross is essentially love and imitation of Jesus Christ who freed the world by embracing our painful death to transform it into His redemptive death.  In contemplating Christ crucified we find the grace to accept, in communion with Him, the difficulties inherent in all aspects of our life, and the sadness and suffering of all of humanity.  Uniting ourselves to the sufferings of Christ we participate in the building up of His Church and world.   There is no comparison between the sufferings of the present time and the glory of heaven.  Hence we journey with complete confidence towards a new world where there will be no more tears, nor weeping, nor sorrows.
          Celeste was a mystic and over the length of her life she was in continual heart-to-heart dialogue with her Redeemer.  He said, “Listen to me on the Cathedral of the Cross which I have placed in your heart so that I may live My life in you.  Make your will the echo of Mine: if I should say to you ‘Cross,’ reply willingly, ‘Yes, cross,’ or if I say, ‘Kiss,’ reply, “Yes, kiss.’ ” Jesus continued, “You are my friend and my delight; therefore, I will keep you in my Kingdom of the Cross.  I shall bring this about in such a way that it will be for you both My cross and My peace.”
          My response is, “Gee, thanks, Lord, more crosses.” We don’t go looking for crosses; they are a part of life.  It is how we handle these crosses that come our way that make them redemptive. This reminded me of an animated movie some of us saw recently,  Inside Out, which explored in a very clever way how we need all our emotions, especially  ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ in our lives.  They balance our lives so that we can cope with the realities of our life experiences.  The cross helps to balance our lives.
          We know this world with its crosses is not heaven.  However, we are not alone in our suffering.  In heaven God/Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all those who have gone before us to the heavenly realm weep to see the pain and struggles we endure. They understand.  They are one with us.  That is why we ask them to intercede for us to God, the Father of mercy.  And we intercede to heaven for each other.  Even Jesus prayed for his disciples that “they may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.”   Jn 17:21-22
          How is it possible that we are one with God?  Jesus “emptied himself  (to become) human like one of us, obeying to the death, death on a cross.” Phil 2: 7-8   As a human being he shared all our joys and sadnesses.  Everything.  And we are called to share in His life.
          The bigger question is why?  Why would God become Incarnate?  Celeste has the answer, “Jesus passed from the fragility of the flesh to the supreme glory of the resurrection” and by the means of “His most precious death has brought me (us) back to life!”
          Celeste often speaks of self-abnegation, another one of those phrases that does not sit well with modern thinking, but abnegation is a participation in the self-emptying of Christ. The other side of Celeste’s coin of abnegation is purity of heart which is a loving fixed gaze on Jesus who, from the beginning, has gazed on us with such love.  Love of the cross is a totally positive virtue where we fix our gaze on the Crucified and he gazes at us with such mercy.  Thus, Celeste’s spirituality is not a mere acceptance of the cross, but a positive love of it.  
          Recently, I heard a sister give a reflection that described to me the fixed gaze.  She said the word intimacy can mean ‘Into-Me-See:’ Jesus into–me-sees and Jesus invites me to into-me-see Him. 
          Celeste also has a unique viewpoint which she calls image-theology.  The Crostarosan Love of the Cross is a bringing to life the Redeemer who is present within us by our participation-union.  She says from the beginning there was a “first-creation” where she saw in all of natural creation an “impress” of the Divine.  “Let us create humankind in our own image and likeness.” Gen. 1:26   St. Paul says, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.” Eph 2:10  We are that work of art, impressed with the Divine to be a living image of the Redeemer.  This is the origin of the Viva Memoria we so often speak of in our charism: We are created in God’s image and we accomplish the work of the Redeemer in our lives by our participation in the Paschal Mystery through the Love of the Cross.                   


References are from the Associates Constitutions, The Mystic Who Remembered by Fr. Oppitz, and the Florilegium

Thursday, February 25, 2016

LIKE ONE OF US

Though in the form of God, Jesus did not claim equality with God but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, human like one of us.  Flesh and blood, he humbled himself, obeying to the death, death on a cross.  For this very reason God lifted him high and gave him the name above all names. So at the name of Jesus every knee will bend in heaven, on earth, and in the world below and every tongue exclaim to the glory of God the Father, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  Phil 2:6-11

          Here we are in the Second Week of Lent celebrating the Incarnation of Jesus.  At Christmas we pondered his wondrous birth.  We remembered his adolescent self-assured remark of “being about my Father’s business,” and then having to go home to be obedient to his parents and learning a trade.  We gather he lost his father Joseph and worked to support his mother before striking out on his own.  A pretty ordinary life until he starts doing miracles (his first at his mother’s instigation) and speaking out in the synagogues and lakesides about the Kingdom.  But when the crowds become crushing his family thinks he has lost his mind, he’s gone too far.   

Too far? Blessed Celeste tells us the God-Man lives in me and you!  Christ comes to live in us “for the precise purpose of letting Jesus be again a Wayfarer-Redeemer in us by our ever deepening participation-union with God by letting Christ live again in us as a viva memoria.” 1   Celeste uses words such as humiliations, abnegation, annihilation, modifications to describe what the God-Man endured for our sake to become human like one of us.  How is that for lowering God’s-self? And we are called to do the same.

That doesn’t sound like something we would want to assume for ourselves.   But for Celeste these are positive terms because they mean a purity of intention, our opportunity to become transformed by “seeing ourselves for what we really are in the light of the divine within us.” 2   That is our call: to join in Jesus’ kenosis, self-emptying, to “strip ourselves of our humanity in order to take on a share in the divine being of Christ and His Father through the Spirit.” 3 To be filled with the transforming power of the Spirit: to become deified.  

Celeste said, “How can I ever thank you for these marvelous humiliations while you invite me to keep you company and in your mercy you deign to gaze on me with your divine light.” 4   For our part, we are to fix our gaze on the Redeemer not only for own salvation but so as to be a light for the Church and the world.  
1-4 Opptiz ~ Mystic who Remembered    

Monday, January 25, 2016

UNITY OF HEARTS

‘All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified.  I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they be one like us’   Jn 17, 10-11


The news of Celeste’s beatification calls us to a renewed enthusiasm to share her message of God’s love and mercy for the world.   Our community has an opportunity to ‘share Jesus’ joy through our participation in God’s love.’  Florilegium 51. Colloquies V, 31     ‘By the union of hearts (charity) we come to possess by participation that divine perfection which is found in its essence in our heavenly Father. There the unity of charity makes God’s infinite perfections to be ours to the extent that our virtuous acts are performed by God in us and by us in God.’ Exercise of love for every day, 26 February

By the way we participate, handle the everyday highs and lows of life we strive to be ‘a visible witness and a living memorial of the Paschal Mystery of Redemption in which the Father has accomplished His plan of love through Christ and in the spirit.’ C&S 1

‘The more we strive to live the love of Christ, the more the thoughts and feelings of Christ will fill our spirit and our heart, the more we will become His faithful images.’  C&S 6

This is the way we glorify Jesus, and give thanks and praise to the Father and stay true to God’s name and incarnate God’s love to the world.


Let us use this new interest in Celeste as an opportunity to raise our voices in harmony in unity of hearts, helping each other, surrendering to the mystery and trusting in the future that we may become one voice, one community, one spirit of Christ in our world today.