June 19, 2016

Forgiveness

While Southwest airlines allows you to “select your own seat,” I am confident that it was not I who selected my seat on a recent return to Alton.  As the flight began, the woman next to me inquired about the book I was reading.  I explained the title and summarized the contents saying, “It deals with what it means to receive God’s love and from that receptivity, learning to love one’s neighbor.”  She followed with hard questions about suffering, death, grief, and forgiveness, sharing her story about her son’s tragic death with honesty and vulnerability.  It was clear that there was a great deal of hurt, resentment, anger, and a dire need to forgive and experience forgiveness.  Thanks to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the providence of the recent lectionary cycle at daily Mass, we carried on this conversation for almost the entirety of the two-and-a-half-hour flight during which I was able to share the Gospel (literally) and some insights on forgiveness that I found practical and effective.

Just two days prior, the selection of the Gospel of Matthew proclaimed at daily Mass was Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, giving them the words of the Our Father.  The homilist that day focused on the fact that after doing so, Jesus reiterated a challenging aspect of the prayer, namely that “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15).  The priest then led the congregation in what he called a “microwave” forgiveness session.  He invited us to picture a person that has hurt us and to visualize him at his judgment; as he stands before God, God looks to us and asks, “What should I do with him?  Should I let him in?”  While we imagined that scene, he challenged us to make our own the words of St. Stephen for his executioners, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).  This helps us to understand that forgiveness means to see a person as more than his sin, to know what he has done and to know that he is more than that action and more than the hurt inflicted.  It was a powerful exercise, and one that I shared with the woman on the plane. 

But forgiveness is a complex reality.  It’s not always a “one and done” scenario.  There are often layers of hurt and one might need to forgive the same person for the same thing multiple times.  Forgiveness is an act of the will, but it needs to go as deep as the hurt, which is usually nestled in the depths of the heart.  An image that the priest gave in his homily was that of a spiral staircase he once saw that led to a small Eucharistic chapel.  He relayed that each time we choose to forgive, we ascend closer to the heart of Christ.  The “70x7” that Jesus speaks of in the Gospels is sometimes forgiving the same hurt “70x7” times.  Ultimately, our human hearts are incapable of forgiving on our own.  It is only capable of forgiveness when it is united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in fact, when our hearts are transformed to be his heart in the world.  Only in this way can we truly “make the merciful love of Christ visible,” and indeed to live the spiritual work of mercy forgiving injuries.

As we began our descent into St. Louis, I ripped out the pages of my Magnificat on which that Gospel was found along with the notes I made in prayer after hearing that homily and gave them to my new friend.  My prayer is that the Lord will give her his heart so that in experiencing his mercy and healing, she can share that with the next person with whom she sits on her next Southwest flight.

- Sister M. Karolyn, FSGM

March 27, 2016

Seeking like Mary Magdalene

Blessed Easter! May the joy of our Risen Lord fill your heart with His joy and peace! 

        Mary Magdalene and her story of encounter with the Risen Lord has often been a favorite meditation of mine. Throughout the time of our Lord’s Passion, Mary’s deep love for Our Lord compels her to walk with Him experiencing His Passion and Death. Her grief was so deep because she loved much. She knew Jesus, she knew Love. Mary Magdalene walks with Our Lady, who must have also taught her love by receiving Mary Magdalen into her heart. What were those encounters like for Mary Magdalen, between her and the Mother of God. She must have known Mary well to remain with Our Lady during Christ’s Passion. She must have known the deep love, mercy and kindness Mary had towards Mary Magdalene after her conversion from her previous sinful life. She knew Christ through His Mother.

When Mary Magdalen goes to the tomb and finds the tomb empty, her heart sinks once again with grief.  Mary’s heart cries out as in Song of Songs, “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but did not find him” (Songs of Songs 3:1). She is searching for the One her heart belongs to. She searches in her grief which is more than her hope. At this moment she remains on the earthly, what her physical eyes see but not what her spiritual eyes can see. The spiritual eyes struggle to tell her of the Bridegroom’s Resurrection. Mary Magdalene is tossed into a sea of anxiety, with the waves of confusion and fear and deep sorrow. Her peace is gone and through her weeping, frantically she searches, begging anyone who may come near her to give Him back to her. Little does Mary know how close her Beloved is to her. 

What must Jesus have been thinking in the moment as He watches her from a distance, knowing every emotion racing through her mind and heart? This beloved friend of His. I can’t help but think that Our Lord sees one of His beautiful creatures and is overcome with the love His little one has for Him. He sees the love her heart bears in the desire to be united with Him. This is the union He so desires with each of His beloved children. A union of love so deep, that if ever to be separated, His creature would search madly to find Him. This was Magdalene’s deepest fear, to be separated completely from Our Lord. In her grief, the Lord must have been moved with pity to console this poor Magdalene and change her sorrow in to indescribable joy! So He approaches her. His Sacred Heart must have beaten so intensely for His little one to see that He was bringing light into her darkness.  

As Jesus speaks, He speaks with the same endearing words as He spoke with His Mother, “Woman”. “Woman, why are you weeping.”  Mary Magdalene is unable to see or look upon the man who is speaking to her. She only hears and expresses her grief, asking, pleading for the man to show and give her the one she so desperately loves. She doesn’t recognize His voice. The moment she does recognizes who is speaking to her is in the moment that Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!”  By calling her by name, Jesus shakes her and it is as if time has stopped and her heart is flooded with joy. She has heard Him call her by name before. How could she ever forget the sweet and gentle way He had always called to her? It is as if the chains of fear, anxiety and every ounce of confusion is broken and replaced with inexpressible joy! She knew the voice of her Bridegroom when He so strongly called to her. 

Just like this beautiful account in Scripture, Jesus also calls to us in the confusion, fears and anxieties we face every day. Do you hear Him calling out to you in your confusion, your sorrows, in the very depth of the pain in your heart. Listen, He calls to you! He calls you. He says your name with such sweetness and gentleness. He tells you “Look, I am here, I am here and will not leave you. Recognize Me.”  Will you turn to see Him standing there with you in your heart? Will you allow Him to tell you how much you are loved? Let His loving Heart consume every fear, worry, and drop of confusion. Rejoice in the truth that you are deeply loved and belong to Him. Do you feel your heart searching for Him and the unrest it feels until it rests upon His Heart? 

       “Comfort me, you whom I love! It is because you are so little that you are able to rest so deeply in my Heart.” 

 - Sister M. Isabella, FSGM

March 25, 2016

DRAWN OUT of the Well Springs of His Sacred Side

      Lent is a time for all of us to look to Jesus Christ crucified and receive His mercy which is DRAWN OUT of the wellsprings of His Sacred Heart.  This year I believe is especially graced as Pope Francis has declared this an extraordinary jubilee of mercy.  Each of us is invited to stand with Mary, the mother of mercy, at the foot of the Cross as she gazed upon her Son Jesus with tenderness and open ourselves to all the graces that have overflowed from His pierced side: the source of mercy.  As Catholics, we have the incredible gift of the Holy Eucharist in which we receive His Precious Body and Blood, which was shed for our sins at Calvary.  During the consecration, we should call to mind this reality and place ourselves with Mary at the foot of the cross as the Eucharist is elevated.  St. John Marie Vianney proposed a question that goes perfectly with this idea, he asked: “are you there at Mass with the same dispositions as Our Lady on Calvary, realizing that you are in the Presence of God Himself, and are present at the enactment of that very same sacrifice?”  So I would like to ask all of us:  are we truly present to this mystery before us just as Mary was to Jesus at Calvary? 
      If we are, then what does it mean for how we live out our daily lives?  It should radically change us just as it did Mary and the Beloved Disciple when they witnessed the Crucifixion of our Lord.  Jesus spoke to them with such tenderness as He uttered the words “Behold your son” and “Behold your mother”.  These words spoke to the core of their beings, their true identities and stirred their hearts to go out and carry the love they received when Christ commended Himself into the hands of the Father and His sacred side was pierced.  The love they had received did not allow them to stay as they were before the crucifixion, because it penetrated their hearts so deeply and drew them out into mission. 
      Like Mary and the Beloved Disciple we must be DRAWN OUT and take the graces received from the Mass and bring Jesus’ pierced heart of love to all those we encounter.  We can look to Mary’s example as she left the hill of Calvary.  She was DRAWN OUT to be a mother to the Apostles and all the faithful.  Her identity as mother didn’t end at the death of Jesus, but was transformed into something different, something very beautiful.  This happened because of her openness to the Father and trust in His will.  She received all from the Father in love including her Son and was able to give Her Son back to the Father in love as well.  She could not keep the love for Her Son to herself, she had to give it away to all those who came to her.  Do we as Catholics do this?  When people encounter us do they receive the merciful love of the Father poured out through the Son?   Do they leave our presence knowing the love of the Father or do they leave us feeling unwanted and unloved?  They should leave our presence feeling deeply loved just as the disciples did after being in Mary’s presence.
      Each of our daily encounters with others is to be seen in light of the Pascal mystery in which we allow ourselves to be drawn out by giving fully of ourselves just as Mary gave of herself to John and the Apostles after the death of Her Son.  Are we open to the Lord allowing Him to transform us and use us as He wills not holding anything back for ourselves?  You may wonder if this is even possible.  This is possible when we call to mind the Lord’s presence dwelling within us frequently throughout the day and allow it to penetrate into every one of our actions.  At the conclusion of the day we can examine our hearts and minds, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we spent ourselves for souls that day and also where we are still lacking.  When we exhaust ourselves for souls, we can rest in the arms of Mary, who in turn gives us over to Her Son.  We are then restored for the next day in which we will return once again to the foot of the cross at the consecration, receive the Lord’s mercy and then be drawn out again to go and be a witness of mercy to the world and bring many souls to the Father’s heart. 
- Sister M. Dolorosa, FSGM 

March 22, 2016

My Mission: Giving Drink to the Thirsty

Through our Spirituality “Looking on Him Whom We have Pierced.” (Jn 19:27)

Sister Maria Teresita, a second year novice, shares about her experience being on mission.

               “Give Me a drink... If you only knew the gift of God and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Jesus repeats His longing on the Cross, “I thirst.”  This is what Jesus kept telling me during my 5 months on Mission. What is He thirsty for? He thirsts to love, forgive, strengthen, and fill us – Jesus thirsts to satisfy our thirst, for that is what we thirst for too. But how do we let Him do that? Jesus said “If any man is thirsty, let Him come to Me”, so that is exactly what I did; I went to the foot of the Cross, and “looked upon Him, whom I have pierced.” I fixed my gaze on Him, whom I’ve wounded, and I was filled with hope, for as I looked into His merciful eyes, I only saw love, compassion, and forgiveness. Remaining in His loving gaze, He filled me with overflowing graces in the form of Blood and Water coming from His pierced Heart. What beautiful mystery; as I quenched His thirst, He quenched mine… if we only truly knew the gift…

                It was a privilege to work and take care of the chapel, God’s house, for the first 2 months, like Mary did. Every time I cleaned something, or ironed linen, I did it with love, with and for Him, to quench His thirst. And most beautiful and breathtaking, was to set up for Mass, which is the source and center of our life, and having the privilege to literally give the Most Precious Blood of our Lord (that flows from His side) to my co-sisters.
                At the daycare, from the moment I walked in, I was bombarded with silent cries of thirst from babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and the staff! Except when the babies cried for a bottle, or toddlers said the only word they knew, “more!”, while waving their cups, no one told me “I thirst”, or even “I need love”, for love is what we all thirst for. It was a silent cry. I received the grace to “hear” it in their moodiness, complaints, naughtiness, or disobedience. Since I had received the love they thirsted for, by gazing on Him (in the Eucharist), I became a simple channel of His love! I was able to make it visible to others and quench their thirst by lending a listening ear, giving a smile or a hug, or doing an act of service.  Sometimes, the same way that Jesus died for me to quench my thirst, I sometimes had to die to myself to quench other’s thirst; when I was exhausted, for example, that was the moment when a child wanted me to run after him and catch him, which would later turn to them running after me!

                Now, I miss being at the daycare, and I think that the greatest reason is because I can’t quench their thirst.  But I can! It is not my love that they were receiving but Christ’s.  I was only a little channel and I can still be one by offering my prayers and sacrifices for them. And it really is to Jesus that I return this love, that I give a drink, for it is His silent cry that I heard in others.

- Sister Maria Teresita, FSGM

March 20, 2016

Overwhelmed by Mercy

Overwhelmed by Mercy
as You reach out,
reveal the Door.
 

Lord, You never stop reaching for us
You never stop longing for us.
Looking back,
I recall the Great Jubilee.
I walked through those doors in Rome
but my heart wasn't there for You.
Then, much more a tourist than a pilgrim.

This time, I awaited eagerly
on our own campus
for the Door of Mercy to open here
grateful for the wonders You've worked in my heart
and those of many others
in the intervening years.
You call us still, You love us still.
Nothing we earned. Total Gift. Pouring from Your side.

After the Mass
we awaited to process out
to the chapel with the Door of Mercy.
As one row after another emptied
my heart realized with awe and joy
that this is what could be happening
in purgatory this year...
purgatory emptying
souls who long for You
finally arriving home
the fruit of Your blood, Your love
and the graces for which You ask us to beg.

Lord, I'm overwhelmed by Mercy.
- Sister M. Lucy, FSGM

March 18, 2016

On the edge

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart.
~St Francis of Assisi

As we drove to Mass the other morning, I could not help but notice the amazing, beautiful sunrise. As someone who loves the color purple, it is always my favorite part. This particular morning I noticed something I had never noticed before. The purple was most vivid at a particular point, when the light of the Sun first touched the darkness of night. As lent was fast approaching, it got me thinking. We clothe the season in purple, a symbol of penance and sacrifice, but for me on this particular morning it took on a new meaning. This season is about allowing the light of Christ to touch the places in me, in my life, that have become darkened by sin and negligence. More than just clearing out, it is also a letting in, a gradual encounter.  Eventually we will be completely consumed by the light, ready to celebrate the joyful brilliance of the Easer Resurrection.

- Sister Mary Francis, FSGM

March 16, 2016

To Gaze upon Christ

This Lent the Lord has put on my heart the awareness of gazing upon Christ.  In our Franciscan congregation, our spirituality flows from John 19:37 “they will look on the one whom they have pierced.”  With this spirituality, we gaze upon the pierced side of Christ and receive from His pierced heart His love and mercy. Then we may go forth to give what we have received.  Throughout this Lent, this action of gazing has been foremost in both my spiritual reading and in prayer.  It also brought to mind a graced trip to Assisi in 2014, by which this “gazing” became so real to me.

           While in Assisi, there are many things to see and let soak into one’s soul. The first place where I was moved to gaze was in the side chapel in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, where the Crucifix from which Our Lord spoke to St. Francis is now housed.  What an awe-filled moment it was to kneel before this Crucifix and to gaze into the eyes of Christ. It was a joyful and prayerful time there. All who entered gazed and prayed, gazing up at the Crucifix suspended above us, into the open eyes of Christ.  There was silence and profound prayer; as each one spoke and sought to hear what words the Lord would speak to the heart. What would the Lord say? He spoke to St. Francis. He speaks today. 
A second place where I was captivated was in San Damiano, and again, by a second crucifix of Christ. There, in a small side chapel is the deeply moving crucifix by Frate Innocenzo da Palermo.  When I walked into this room and gazed upon Christ there on the Cross, I was filled with peace, and a complete desire to simply be before Him, to sit in His presence, to gaze upon Him, and love. As I did this, I experienced our charism anew, of making Christ’s merciful love visible and I saw Mercy before my eyes.
 This Lent I encountered a book, Franciscan Prayer by Ilia Delio, OSF, which has brought this all to mind.  She quotes from St. Clare’s Letter to St. Agnes of Prague, “O most noble Queen, gaze upon [Him], consider [Him], contemplate [Him], as you desire to imitate [Him].”  St. Clare gazes upon the “book” of the crucified Christ”, she writes, and continues, “‘in this ‘book of life’ we are to come to know God and ourselves in God. To gaze upon the Crucified Christ is to see ourselves, others and the world with a deep, penetrating vision—to see the truth of things in their relation to God. Gazing on this book each day should lead us to ask, what do we see? How do we see? “
Taking those questions to heart, when I see Christ on the crucifix, what do I see? How do I see Him? Can He show me myself? How does He see me? Am I afraid? Do I need to ask forgiveness? Do I find rest?  Love?  May the Lord give you His peace and the gift of His merciful love.

Reflections on The Cross of San Damiano 
By Patrick McNamara, OFM,Cap
.
I look to the Cross, I gaze upon its figure,
I wait, I listen, I hope.
Will you speak, will you move, will I be moved.
Will you once again touch the heart of one who seeks.
Of one who questions, of one who seems so lost.
Will you embrace the soul, as you did that of Francis.
Will you take it to Yourself.
Will you give it peace, give it comfort, give it love
This soul waits, listens, prays for such grace. 
This soul seeks the Love from the Lover.
It wavers. It stumbles. It falls.
Your gaze looks down, embraces all. 
Takes all, Loves All. Your Grace heals, accepts.
Again you respond, Again you Love. 
Again you speak to a searching and troubled heart.
I turn. I continue the journey. I continue in Hope. 
I too have heard you Speak.



 - Sister M. Seraphica, FSGM