Friday, November 30, 2012

In the Ordinary

(Leonardo da Vinci, Head of St. Andrew)

For a couple of weeks now, the lectionary has focused on the end times.  I have to admit that it's my least favorite part of the liturgical year.  It's confusing and misleading!  I want to sit down with Jesus and say, "explain this to me, in plain English."  

So, I was especially delighted to find the readings for St. Andrew in my prayer book this morning.  

The Apostles are rather extraordinary--but they are also very ordinary.  We do not know a whole lot about Andrew.  However, we know that he's the one who brought his brother, Simon Peter, to meet Jesus, and Peter becomes rather well-known among the Apostles.

It's important for us to see Jesus' companions as ordinary people. Jesus did not choose the most intelligent, or the best preachers, or those in influential positions in society.  He chose men (and women!) who were just like us.  They were doing what they knew how to do (fishing, for example) to bring food to their family table.  Some of Jesus' followers had pretty bad reputations in society. Most were simply unknown.  And then, Zacchaeus is known for his short stature!

Following Jesus is not for extraordinary people. Each one of us, with each of our foibles and all of our gifts, is called to follow Jesus, to live an ordinary Christian life, and to contribute to our world and church however we are able.  Paul speaks of the different parts of the body being necessary to the body as a whole.  So also, each of our abilities, big and small, are needed in our world.

One of Mother Teresa's most famous quotes is "We can do no great things, but only small things with great love."

And even before that, St. Philippine Duchesne said:  "We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self."

Help us, Jesus, to follow you in everything we do, even our smallest everyday actions.  Through them, may we show your love to the world.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Religious life reflection

Hello after a lovely Thanksgiving holiday!  I hope each of you has had a week full of blessings and delicious food.

In the midst of the festivities, the Giving Voice November newsletter was published with a reflection by me.  It's a variation of the homily I gave a few weeks ago (and posted here), on vulnerability.  Only, in this one, I focused more on the role of vulnerability in religious life these days.  Giving Voice's full version of the reflection is posted on their website, here.  If you're not familiar with Giving Voice, it's a way for women religious of the younger generations to connect with one another and find support and friendship across the boundaries of our separate congregations.  It's a wonderful community for me, and I am grateful to be part of it.  If that interests you, explore their website!  And then, sign up for an event!  The women in their 20s and 30s meet every year over Martin Luther King weekend for a retreat, and the wider group of women meets every other year for a conference.  Information on both of those events is on the GV website,

The reflection was also picked up by a blog on religious life being put together by Amy, a CSJ.  It's called Mystics and Prophets: Reflections on Emerging Religious Life in Today's Church.  She's been running a series of posts on the beguines, which is an interesting movement.  So, check it out here

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Images of Philippine

Two images to close out the days celebrating the feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.

This first window is from a church in St. Paul, Minnesota, clearly from before Philippine's canonization in 1988.  I don't fully understand all the symbolism, but you can see St. Charles in the upper left, and the Native Americans in the lower left.

And, finally, I love this image, in part because it ties in major pieces of my life.  I had just graduated from Saint Louis University when I began my journey into the Society of the Sacred Heart and started learning about Philippine.  In many ways, she was someone I could relate to, and her story touched me deeply.  This image is in the old library room of Saint Louis University (now called Pere Marquette Gallery, but still part of the campus). In that room, they have four depictions of more contemporary saints (small "s") -- Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Philippine.

Once again, the child is a Native American.  Here we also see the two rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, which meet in this area and together play a major part in the transportation and livelihood of this part of the country.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Images of Philippine

Though the feast of St Rose Philippine Duchesne was yesterday, it can't hurt to keep celebrating it!

This is a newer statue of Philippine, commissioned by the city of St Charles, Missouri, just a few years ago.  It can be found at the corner of the property of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, the first school Philippine founded in the United States, in 1818.  I love the way it captures her affection for the child and the child's affection for her!

Do you want more??  One more day--the grand finale will be posted tomorrow morning!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Images of Philippine

Happy Feast of St Rose Philippine Duchesne!

This is one of my favorite images of Philippine, which I posted just a couple of weeks ago.  It is from the Cathedral of the Angels in Los Angeles, California.  I like it so much because she is so real to me in this picture--she has such a beautiful, normal human face (rather than any glorified saintly face (though it's that too) and rather than the cold solid material of a statue).  As I stood in the aisle of the Cathedral taking this picture, I stopped and talked with her, which couldn't be more natural at that moment.  I felt her presence in a way that I didn't expect, especially since I've been to her Shrine and prayed in the presence of her body, on the property where she lived, ministered, and died.  But in this image, there was something about the kindness in her face, the joy at watching the altar (because that's what the image faces), and the wrinkled yet gentle hands of an old woman that made me feel at home, loved, and known by her.

Happy Feast, Philippine.  Pray for us, be with us, love with us.

(And, though her feast is today, there are more images to share!  Check back tomorrow!)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Images of Philippine

Continuing to celebrate the feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.  This statue stands outside the Old St. Ferdinand Church in Florissant, Missouri.  It was there in Florissant that she started her second school, in 1819.  She is often depicted with two students, one Native American and one of European descent, to show the populations she served.  While she only served the Native Americans for a brief time, the desire to be with them was in her heart for most of her life.

Come back tomorrow for another!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Images of Philippine

The feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne is being celebrated in Sacred Heart communities around the world this weekend (the official day is Sunday).  In Philippine's honor, I'll be sharing some images associated with her over the next few days.

This image is a stained glass window from Sacred Heart Schools - Sheridan Road in Chicago.  The oak leaves come from her name -- Duchesne -- which means "of the oak."  The quotation around it (Philippine's own words) reads "God does not require great achievements, but a heart that holds back nothing for self."

Come back tomorrow for another image of Philippine!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meeting God in Vulnerable Places

I preached today at mid-day prayer on the gospel passage Luke 17:11-19.

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying,
"Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
And when he saw them, he said,
"Go show yourselves to the priests."
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
"Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Then he said to him, "Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you."

My preaching follows:

Today’s story hinges on the experience of a leper – his encounter with God, being healed, and returning to thank Jesus. 
Scholars tell us that leprosy in the first century was not the leprosy we know today, Hansen’s Disease, but rather a skin ailment that resulted in discoloration.  In the first century, a leper was considered unclean and therefore was separated from society, isolated from friends and family until the time when he or she was healed and the leprosy removed.  Imagine, then, the effect of being healed from leprosy.  In this case, healing is a reconciliation, a reunification of the leper with the community and an end to the stigma and isolation.  The one healed leper who returns to thank Jesus must recognize the profound change that has overcome him, both physically and socially.  Once vulnerable, he is now returned to society a changed man.  He goes back to Jesus, praises God in a loud voice, and falls on the ground in adoration of the One who Heals.
            Just as the leper met God in his vulnerability, so also that is where we find God.  No one here is a leper, but certainly all human life is marked by vulnerability.  Perhaps it comes from serious illness, or from worry over the illness of a loved one.  Or maybe we are vulnerable because of recent life changes – getting married or having a child, moving to a new city, or losing a job.  Maybe our vulnerability arises out of loss and mourning.  At this time of year, it could just be the ordinary anxiety of the end of the semester or of the coming holiday season.  Whatever the cause, vulnerability opens us profoundly to God’s healing transformative touch. 
The theologian Sarah Coakley speaks of prayer itself as vulnerability—being open so that God can speak in us, and allowing God’s voice to transform us in unexpected ways.  She tells of how she was transformed as a theologian profoundly simply by silent prayer.  God found her in that silence, and her theological voice was changed. Each one of us here has at one time or another opened our hearts in silent vulnerability to God’s transforming call.  Some here have heard the call to religious life, or to be a parent, to teaching, preaching, or service.  Perhaps in our vulnerability we were touched by God – healed – so that we might heal others.
            It seems like this is a bit about control.  Maybe we had already planned our life when God spoke in our silence.  When we are vulnerable, we are not in control of what happens to us.  The most vulnerable in our society, children, the elderly, the sick, must live without being in control of their circumstances or surroundings, and sometimes even of their own bodies.  We want to control God, too.  We want God to be there when we seek comfort, and to bless us when we do what we want God to call us to.  It doesn’t always work like that, though God certainly wants us to be our best unique selves and to be happy.  In our relationship with God, we are not in control, and we are least in control when we think we are most in control.
            But, really, we do not control any of our relationships.  Each one of them must be a place of vulnerability, where we open ourselves to be known and changed by another person.  Anytime we love another person, any time we open ourselves to the love of another, we are letting go of our control, allowing another to shape and transform us in unexpected ways. 
             The leper returns to give glory to God loudly (as Luke says).  Jesus responds to the leper at his feet, saying, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”  We hear him say this many times in the Gospels, to the flocks who come seeking healing.  Each one is healed by faith.
            Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable requires faith in our loved ones and in our God, that they will allow us to be ourselves, that they will be vulnerable too, and that they will heal us rather than harm us.  Like the leper, we respond to God’s healing by giving thanks for all that we have received.  Next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and as we do every year, we remember the gifts we have been given – the food on our table, the love of our families, the companionship of our communities, our good health and healing.  These are our memories of God’s fidelity to us, a way for us to strengthen the faith it takes to become vulnerable again and again, to God and to the people we care about.  In thanksgiving, we may also remember the hardships, the times that bring what we have into sharp relief—the times of illness and suffering, of mourning and loss.  We remember that God comes to us in our times of trial, stands with us, and provides for our every need.
            Jesus tells us, with the leper, to Stand Up and Go, saved by our faith, transformed by God’s grace, to glorify God in all that we do.

(Note:  the article I most recently read by Sarah Coakley, and which contains this theme of the vulnerability of prayer, is "Prayer as Crucible: How My Mind Has Changed," in Christian Century, March 22, 2011, pages 32-40.  I highly recommend it!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now what?

Now we pray~
  • for a country badly divided, that we may find a way to work together
  • for a president who faces decisions that will affect our lives, that he choose pathways of wisdom
  • that all leaders guide with wisdom
  • for those who see this election outcome as hopeless, that they might quickly recover their hope
  • that the needs of each citizen and non-citizen be met
  • for patience, love, and generosity in our interactions with others
  • for understanding and the ability to communicate, even with those with whom we do not agree
Loving God, look with kindness on your people, and help us to place our trust in you every day anew.

Watch over our country and all those who live in it.  Lead us on the path of peace and mercy, always closer to your kingdom.

We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

VOTE! Your privilege and responsibility

Do you remember how exciting it was in 2005 when Iraqis voted in their first open election in over 50 years?

This election season has not been an exciting one, really.  It has been divisive, expensive, and depressing.  

Yet, it is our responsibility to vote.  We need to play a part in the democratic process, because while it is a right, it also carries responsibility, as all rights do.

So, pray, listen to your conscience about the issues, and cast your vote.

Yesterday's first reading can help guide your conscience: 

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also everyone for those of others. (Phil. 2:4)

That's right.  Paul is telling us to look after the common good, to seek the best for all of us together in this world. 

So, vote today.

And then, when the election is all over, pray some more, that our country can find a way to seek the common good, working together despite our differences.  Pray for our leaders, both those newly elected and those who remain in office.  Pray for the ones who lost the election.  Pray that the Spirit guide each one of us every day to do the right thing and to look out for one another.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Philippine Duchesne

I was asked about a close-up of yesterday's photo of Philippine Duchesne in the tapestry at the Los Angeles Cathedral.  Here's a bigger picture.  The tapestries are so big, and they hang so high, that it is very difficult to get a close picture, but this isn't bad!

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Woman-who-prays-always, pray for us!  Teach us to pray!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Celebrating the Saints

At mass today, the homily was about Our Lady of the Angels, the cathedral in Los Angeles--and it reminded me that I have pictures from there!  If you don't know about the cathedral, it was only built 10 years ago, and it's a little different.  The architecture is unlike any cathedral you've seen before, and the majority of the artwork is found in tapestries. The tapestries line the walls, and in them are depicted saints in profile, looking toward the altar at the front. They are extraordinary, both in their size and in their detail.  The artist, John Nava, chose to use real people as models for the images, and so they are very life-like.

In some of these, I was just so delighted to see favorite saints depicted--such as Augustine above.  They are depicted so normally, with the skin tones they probably had (Augustine was African, after all), and in clothing appropriate to their time period and role (notice, for instance, John the Baptist's cloth).

Francis and Clare next to each other.  Notice how the faces and hands are finely distinguished, and the robes sort of blend in with the tapestry background.
This one holds two of my favorite saints--Catherine of Siena and Joan of Arc.  I love Joan's look--so young, and the short hair of a woman who has turned herself into a warrior.  She looks so innocent here, so vulnerable.

Ah.  Philippine Duchesne.  Seeing her depicted here, I felt like she was standing with me in the church, and it brought me to tears.  I marvelled at being able to talk with her, to feel her presence with and in me.

One of the beautiful elements of the tapestries is that they contain men and women who are not canonized saints, a reminder that we are all members of the communion of saints, even those of us still here on earth.  In this tapestry, we have a young mother, and two small girls.

Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs from around the year 200.  Their story is amazing, but all the more amazing with such youthful faces in mind.

That's Kateri, next to Thomas More.
Our friend, Ignatius of Loyola.

So, today, let us pray with the saints, that God's kingdom may come.  Let us remember the beautiful, holy, and wholly ordinary people that make up the communion of saints--that great mystery in which we are united to one another across boundaries of time, space, and eternity.