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.
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.