Thursday, October 26, 2017

BREATH OF GOD

In Memory of Sr. Mary Anne Reed, OSsR,
who died October 18, 2017.

Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Gen 2

For the spirit of God made me, the breath of the Almighty keeps me alive. Job 22

When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mk 15

“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.  John 20

What do Jesus and Sr. Mary Anne have in common?  She breathed the same air Jesus did.    They both took in air at the moment of birth and released air at the final moment.  In between they breathed, and breathed, and breathed.  In and out they breathed the Spirit that gives us all life.  Jesus’, Mary Anne’s, ours, are the gift of God’s life-breath.    As Mary Anne would say, ‘All is gift.”  Truly, Sr. Mary Anne was a daughter of God.

In the Seventh Soliloquy, Blessed Celeste tells of the stage of prayer where, “God breathes a breath of love into the soul and the soul breathes it back to God.”  She continues, “In this union there is a wonderful peace and joy.  It is so simple you can scarcely see in it any mystery.”  Celeste concludes, “Yet, how incredible is it that a poor earthbound creature can rise into the life of the uncreated Being!” 

That is our calling:  to breathe as Jesus did; to breathe in and out the life-giving breath as we perform our daily tasks in the midst of a world longing for  peace and to experience the uniting, merciful love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Let us breathe in the life-giving Spirit as we renew our vows as we celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus this October 25th.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

FUMBLING TOWARD HEAVEN


I woke up with this phrase in mind, ‘fumbling toward heaven.’  It didn’t seem to be connected with a dream or anything – it just was there.

But it got me thinking about football. A fumble is when someone on the opposite team makes you drop the football and recovers it for their side.  I am going to stretch this metaphor so run with me on this one. 

Jesus is the football we carry through life tucked under our arm close to our heart.  We are advancing through the game of life toward our goal: heaven.   When certain circumstances of everyday life dislodge Jesus from our heart and make us drop the ball, how do we get it back?  In the second letter to Timothy St. Paul writes, ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but rather a spirit of power, and love and self-discipline.’
                                                                         MKQ'16
Relying on the Spirit of Jesus we gain the power of the practice of self-discipline to scoop up the ball of Love and continue to carry it to our final destination. If we are called to be Jesus to each other and the world, then it shouldn’t be so hard to stoop down to lift up Jesus, ourselves and one another.
Sometimes, we feel like we drop the ball constantly but thank goodness we have fans to cheer us on whether we are in possession of the ball or not.  Who are our fans?  Family and friends, co-workers, and all the angels and saints are cheering us on!  Not only are they fans but also our team!   They offer prayers and lend support, especially when the everyday cares and set backs get us down.  In our most desperate hours, we throw a ‘Hail Mary’ forward pass to our Lady and she is there to help us.

To all eyes, Jesus’ death on a cross seemed like the biggest fumble ever.  But those who gathered below his cross: his Mother, John and Magdalene, believed and hoped in Jesus who came to save and bring them to heaven. And we know their hope was not in vain.   


So, let us not be like Lucy who whips the football away just as Charlie Brown comes up to kick it.  Let us be like Charlie Brown who, even though he fumbles, he always believes and hopes.  Let us never, ever give up hope.  Let us continue to fumble our way to heaven believing in Him who comes to save.

 

Monday, July 24, 2017

SOLEMNITY OF ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI

On August 1st  we celebrate the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists.   Blessed Maria Celeste Crostarosa, foundress of the Redemptoristine Nuns, had this vision concerning her friend:

Jesus Christ showed Himself to Celeste surrounded by the light of glory, accompanied by the seraphic St. Francis de Assisi and Don Alfonso de Liguori. Then the Lord said to her, "This soul is chosen as the head of My Institute.  It is he who will be the first superior of the Congregation of men for the salvation of souls." 
                 
St. Alphonsus was a prolific writer and has been named a Doctor of Prayer.  Here are some nuggets mined for his feast day.

 “From starry skies descending, Thou comest, glorious King.”

 “Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends."

          "I love Jesus Christ, and that is why I am on fire with the desire to give Him souls; first of all my own, and then an incalculable number of others."

           "If we would completely rejoice the heart of God, let us strive to make God's will alone our will.”

“God loves you.  Believe in God, return and God will bring to you the joy of everlasting life.”

 “Be full of courage, be joyful!  Become saints and love Jesus Christ very much for He gave His life and blood for each one of you.”

Divina Pastora by St Alphonsus
“It is part of the love of God’s plan for us to acquire and nurture all the virtues which make one perfect.”    
“We are made in God’s likeness, and endowed with memory, intellect and will…so that we in turn might love God out of gratitude for so many gifts.”
“By giving us His Son, whom He did not spare, God bestowed on us at once every good: grace, love and heaven.” 

 “Immaculate and Most Holy Virgin, O most humble creature before God, you were chosen as His Mother therefore establishing you as Queen of heaven and of earth…She is a garden of delights, whose odors spread abroad and abound; that is, the gifts of graces. So that whatever good we have from God, we receive all by the intercession of Mary.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TOGETHER


John Lennon’s famous nonsense song I Am the Walrus begins with, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”  Substitute the word Christ for ‘he’ and you get, “I am Christ as you are Christ as you are me and we are all together.”  Together we are Christians. 
See that in Lennon’s own trippy way he is saying something similar to what Jesus said in John the Evangelist’s  Gospel, “I revealed your name to those you gave me… they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.”  Jesus revealed his name, ‘I AM,’ to those who are his own.  We are God’s own.  Christ is God’s.    We are Christ’s own and God’s own.  And we are all together!   
Together we glorify God by being Christ to one another.  We open our hearts to share our hopes and dreams; we reach out. Yet, how can we glorify God with our imperfect loving?  We come in all shapes and sizes, colors and ages, backgrounds, foibles, capabilities.  Together we share in common God’s unconditional love.    
Despite our lack of (fill in the blank), we are called to be Christ’s love. St. Peter encourages us, “Rejoice to share in the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ.”  Jesus loved all of us from the cross that we may have eternal life.   Whatever our sufferings may be, we too can offer love for the salvation of our sisters and brothers in Christ.   Together we are called to share this Christ-love with one another for the glory of the name. 
Rejoice! Together we are I Am.   


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.