Sunday Reflection

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020
Reflection by Mother Marie Julie, SCMC

My Dear Good People,

A number of times during this Easter Season we have heard readings from Jesus’ conversation with His apostles during the Last Supper. Today’s Gospel includes a beautiful sentence that gives me great comfort during this pandemic, and I pray it touches a chord in you as well.

Jesus tells us not to be afraid. In His Father’s house, He says us, there are many mansions. Then He says something that we might have missed: “I go to prepare a place for you….And I will come back again and take you to Myself so that where I am you also may be.” His apostles must have found this confusing, unsure as they were of what was about to happen to Jesus. But today, these words should be seared into our minds as thousands have taken their last breath in nursing homes or hospitals with no family members there with them. Listen again to what Jesus says: “I will come back and take you to Myself.” That means that no one dies alone. NO one! Jesus doesn’t send an angel or a deceased relative to escort the dying person to eternity. Rather, He Himself comes back and walks your loved one, your friend, home. Can you see that image in your mind’s eye? Jesus bends over the bed and gently takes your aunt, you neighbor, a special teacher, a beloved friend, home to Heaven.

You have, I’m sure, grieved over the pain of people who could not say goodbye. Perhaps, sadly, it has happened in your family. But in today’s Gospel we hear this blessed promise of our loving Savior: at the most important moment of our lives He will be with us, lift us up, and take us to be with Him in His Father’s house.

In these days when so many people are anxious and fearful, when we mourn the loss of loved ones, trust that Jesus was there. And He will be for us, too, whenever our time comes, late or soon. Do not be afraid. He doesn’t just know the way. He IS the Way.

God bless you.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

(Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56)
 
My Dear Good People,
 
We begin today’s Liturgy with the procession with the palms, calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
 
Within the hour we are calling out (though reluctantly), “Crucify him.”
How could such a thing happen, that people who praised Jesus on Sunday called for His death on Friday? How quickly the human heart turns from compliment to criticism, from love to hatred. What makes us do that, for indeed, had we been there two thousand years ago, we might have been among those fickle crowds….
 
It’s the human condition, we say. Human nature. Go with the flow. Follow the crowd, jump on the band wagon, do what comes naturally. And so we do. Most of us have found ourselves at one time or another contradicting what we thought we believed in, or questioning what we once saw as the truth, or turning away from the good toward what is less than good. Yes, we all have the seeds of contention deep within us, and how watchful we must be to avoid letting them rear their ugly heads.
 
This Holy Week we are called by God to reconsider just what it is we do believe in. We are invited to rekindle our faith so that the fire that sometimes burns within us becomes the constant flame of love. This week we decide, consciously, who we are and Whose we are. As we come to the end of Lent and stand at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, we turn once again in conversion and renew the promises we have made over and over to be faithful men and women of the Gospel. It sounds easy, but it never is, really. It comes with a heavy price tag: it cost Jesus His Life to proclaim the truth. It will cost us daily as well, as we seek to see ourselves through the prism of the death of Jesus. But oh, what a reward. From Hosanna to Crucify to Alleluia. We journey together, and we pray for one another.
Have a meaningful and beautiful Holy Week.
Mother Marie Julie, SCMC

Fifth Sunday of Lent

(Is 43: 16-21; Phil. 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11(36))
 
My Dear Good People,
 
We find ourselves only one week away from Holy Week. This Sunday is called Passion Sunday because we are so close to the precious days of the passion and dying of Jesus. In many churches the crosses and images of Mary and the saints are covered in purple, reminding us of the darkness that will envelop Jesus as He pays the price for our sins. He will be ‘taken from us’ for a moment before He rises to new life, and that moment will burn itself into our hearts with a cry for mercy—for Him and for ourselves.
 
The Gospel for the fifth week of Lent tells the story of the woman caught in adultery. “Caught in the act!” How dreadfully embarrassing for her. And then to be brought to the Rabbi Jesus for condemnation must have been even more humiliating. But there she was, standing before Him, waiting for the verdict and the sentence. What must have been going through her mind?
 
We can’t know, exactly, but we’ve all been ‘caught in the act’ of being less than we have been called to be. Through our reflection and prayer during these weeks of Lent perhaps we have found in ourselves something that embarrasses and humbles us. Has the Holy Spirit cast a light that reveals places within us that need conversion? How blessed, how privileged we are to be able to stand before Jesus at any moment and receive from Him not the condemnation that we might feel we deserve, but the words that lifted this woman from her sin to freedom: “Neither do I condemn you.” What gift for her, and what gift for us.
 
And if Jesus would not condemn her, and will not condemn us, it should remind us that we can’t be too quick to condemn others. Even when we are sure we see what we think we see in another, there are always extenuating circumstances, always more to the story. St. Julie Billiart, a gentle woman who lived during the French Revolution and suffered much at the hands of detractors, once said, “Don’t judge others. But if you must judge, then judge with the heart.”
 
Good words to recall as we begin this Passiontide.
 
God bless you with His Mercy.
Reflection by Mother Marie Julie, SCMC

Fourth Week of Lent

On the Fourth Sunday of Lent the Church invites us to hear the story Jesus tells of the son who demanded of his father ‘his share of his estate,’ left home, squandered every penny, and found himself with absolutely nothing—-except the remembrance of his father. He makes his way home sadly, all the while preparing the desperate plan he will place before the one person he knows won’t let him down—the very one he treated so badly—his father. Then Luke’s gospel (15:1-32) recounts this beautiful line spoken by Jesus: “While [the son] was still a long way off, his father ran to him, embraced him and kissed him…”
          
His father ran to him. Sometimes we might find ourselves a long way off from God, as we consider our sinfulness. Jesus tells us that in the midst of our desolation, perhaps even self-loathing, we can know that He will be waiting for our return. Rather than accusing us, He will run to us and embrace us.
           
This is a story of reconciliation that gives us the extraordinary, incomprehensible image of our merciful God who watches for the first sign of our desire to return to Him. What kind of love is this? With hope and conviction we can turn to Him in the precious sacrament of confession (now so beautifully called Reconciliation) and know we will be forgiven.
          
And, if by the grace of God we already know Him as our forgiving Father, then let us pray for souls who do not, asking for them the great grace needed to return to Him this Lent that they, like us, may experience the embrace of God’s infinite mercy. Perhaps your prayer, my prayer, is all someone needs this week to be reconciled with the Father….
 
God bless you, and may you find rest in His welcome embrace.

Third Week of Lent

My Dear Good People,
 
In today’s first reading we hear God telling Moses to remove his sandals before the burning bush in the desert, because he was “standing on Holy Ground” (Exodus 3:5), ground made holy by the presence of God.
 
Pope Francis often reminds us that we walk on holy ground, usually when he is speaking in the context of our relationship with others. If we truly believe that God makes His dwelling in our souls, then He must dwell in the souls of those we encounter in the course of our day. As we come face to face with another person, we are indeed standing on Holy Ground, in the presence of God in the other. It’s easy to think of this when we think of mother and child, husband and wife, friend and friend, but when it comes to the homeless man asking for money from us at the stop light, difficult boss asking why that project isn’t ready, teacher who doesn’t understand our child, or the driver who cuts us off on the highway, it can be a different story. It’s hard to see the presence of God in people who don’t think like we do, don’t care about our feelings, make unreasonable demands of us, or simply interrupt our already busy day. But the Holy Father reminds us to ‘take off our shoes before the sacred ground of the other.” (Evangelii Gaudium)
 
Lent is a good time to call to mind the great gift of the Indwelling Presence of God. No burning bush for us, just the knowing that He is with us at every moment of the day and night. Here’s a good prayer I’d like to share with you. I say it many times a day, and it keeps me grounded. It also challenges me to ‘take off my shoes before the other,’ that is, to respect each person because she or he is intrinsically holy—whether or not it’s obvious. After all, God asks the same of those who stand before me. 
 
Most Holy Trinity, tender Father, beloved Jesus, precious Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, present within me and in every person I encounter this day. Humbly I acknowledge that I am unworthy to be Your dwelling place, but I embrace You, and I love. Amen.
 
Mother Marie Julie, SCMC, Superior General

Second Week of Lent

My Dear Good People, as we enter the second week of Lent, we are invited to look at our relationship with God in prayer. In the Transfiguration narrative, we see Jesus taking Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. Prayer is always an invitation that comes not from within our own hearts but from the Heart of God. “Come. Take time to be with Me. I want to transform you, whether or not you can ‘feel’ it”, He says to our hearts, and we respond. Sometimes that response simply means allowing ourselves to be led into His presence.
 
Then, Jesus Himself is transfigured before the eyes of the disciples in a way that makes it possible for them to see Jesus as God in His glory. In prayer, first we come to know ourselves in God, then we know God in us. We won’t always experience our prayer in a way as dramatic as it was for Peter, James and John in this mystery, but it is always transformative. If we are distracted, worried, or, as happened to these men, even if we fall asleep, as long as we have followed the invitation of Jesus to be in the presence of God, transformation occurs. We see God in us in mysterious ways, and, surprisingly, others will see Jesus in us! John Henry Newman gave us a beautiful prayer that reads in part,
 
“Dear Jesus, shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with will see Your presence in my soul…. Let them look up and see, no longer me, but only You.”
 
Now THAT’s transformation!
 
God bless you, and God bless your Lenten prayer.
Mother Marie Julie, SCMC, Superior General

Ash Wednesday

Greetings in the Lord! Traditionally Lent is a season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to prepare and open us to receive the wonderful graces that the Paschal Mystery of Easter brings. As we practice these holy Lenten activities, the Church provides a lively liturgy that is meant to foster and guide our Lenten practices, especially our prayer throughout the forty days of preparation.
 
The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church will be offering their reflections to you each Sunday during Lent on the readings that the Church selected for Lent 2019. It is our collective effort and way of offering our thanks to you, our friends and benefactors, for the goodness that you share with us. It is my hope that our insights offered as members of Christ’s Body be meant as an encouragement for your prayer during these special days of grace. May our Loving God lead us all closer to the Lord Jesus during this Holy Season of Lenten Renewal.
 
Gratefully yours in Mary, Mother of Our Church,
Mother Marie Julie, SCMC, Superior General

Advent Prayer

Lord Jesus, You have chosen to enter our lives so that we may enter the life of the Trinity. This indwelling is a gift that only Your love could have designed. From dawn to dusk, from sunset to sunrise You and the Father and Your beloved Holy Spirit live and move and breathe within us. And too often we are unaware of this mystery.
Today, on this Advent Day, we ask for one more gift of You–the grace of a continual awareness of Your Presence within us. Unworthy though we are, You have chosen us to be the Bethlehem where the world may find You, the tabernacle where our sisters and brothers may come to warm themselves in Your mysterious presence. Make us so like You, so full of the richness of Your indwelling, that people “will look up and see, no longer us, but only Jesus.” Enkindle within us a flame so tender and so bright that we may become, for all the world, a living of Your radiant beauty. Amen.

Desperation, Dreams, and Tears: A Visit To Our Southern Border

Seven Connecticut College undergraduates, Fr. Bob Washabaugh, two Catholic chaplain interns from Yale Divinity School and I spent a week at the Arizona-Mexico border.  Some of the students went to get a better idea of the sacrifices their parents made so that they could have a better life here in the United States.  Others, coming from places of privilege, wanted to learn directly and personally who crosses the border, their reasons for crossing and how they are treated.  I went to see first-hand the experience of so many with whom I am privileged to minister – to “walk a mile in their moccasins”, so to speak, so as to understand with my heart.

We visited several Catholic, ecumenical, and civic groups working with migrants on both sides of the border.  We heard the stories of those caught in the cross-fire of the immigration debate on this side of the border, as well as those trapped in desperation on the Mexican side.  Rosa Robles Loreto, on this side of the border, is confined to the property of a Presbyterian Church in South Tucson, a sanctuary church since the mid 80’s.  Rosa is in deportation proceedings.  Her attorney requested sanctuary for her while continuing to plead her case.  Thousands of letters have been sent to Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, to request a stay of deportation for this wife and mother of two young children who has been an active and contributing member of both civic and church communities.  Her crime?  A minor traffic violation which caused Arizona police to stop her and demand proof of legal status.  As Rosa had only her Mexican driver’s license, they immediately called Homeland Security.  She was held for a few months in a detention center,  i.e., a prison, at times suffering abusive treatment.  When released, she was placed in sanctuary.  If Rosa so much as steps off the property of this church, she is likely to be arrested, handed over to Homeland Security, and immediately deported.  She has been confined to one room on the property of this church since August.  You can learn more about Rosa’s story and join the campaign – “We Stand with Rosa” – by visiting www.southsidepresbyterian.org/sanctuary.

In Nogales, on the Mexican side of the border, we visited the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit ministry to migrants.  In a make-shift dining room, migrants can get a hot meal and much needed moral and physical support.  Some of those who come have just been deported while others are preparing to cross.  The Jesuits are not in the business of helping migrants cross the border.  Their purpose is to provide humanitarian aide for people in distress – whoever they are.  They serve two meals each day, both meals to a different group of 30-40 migrants.  We were there for one of the meals.  Some of us helped serve while others moved among the migrants, listening to their stories.  Women who were abused in the crossing; 16 and 17 year-olds from Guatemala preparing to cross; others, desperate for work and so attempting to cross again, a second or third time.

The Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, a Mexico-based Religious Community, work with the Jesuits.  We visited their shelter, a refuge for women just returned to Mexico.  Here they are given a place to stay and moral support before moving on.  For some, it will be another attempt to cross; for others, a return to where they came from – at least for now.

Here we heard Edna’s story.  She had recently come to the shelter.  She was crossing to be with her 6 year-old US citizen child diagnosed with leukemia when she was picked up by immigration agents and deported.  Her desire to be with her child is overwhelming.  She will again risk her life to cross.  In a few days she would try again.  This will be her third attempt to make the 4-5 day trip through the desert, known as “the Devil’s Highway.”  Here, temperatures exceed 100 degrees by day and drop below zero at night.  Edna said when she did sleep, she slept fitfully, always listening for the rustling of poisonous snakes.  Migrants are told to carry garlic so as to keep the snakes away.

As I flew home, I thought of her.  Would she make it this time?  Would she fall into the hands of the bandits and drug lords who violate and exploit women?  Would she be attacked by the snakes or other animals that inhabit the desert?  Or would she be captured by the Border Patrol and returned again.  I asked her to call me when she reached her destination.

On the last day of the trip we experienced for ourselves the challenges of travel on “The Devil’s Highway.”  After only a couple hours walking we had enough.  Migrants walk it for days.  Our guide was one of the Samaritans, an interfaith volunteer group established in 2002 to be “a healing presence in the desert.”  They do not assist people to cross the border; their purpose is to save lives and relieve suffering by providing humanitarian aide to those in distress.  He told us that he recently found human remains on this trail, the skeleton almost entirely intact – not the first time.  He called 911 and the authorities took it from there.  He wanted to return to mark the spot where this child of God had died.  With duct tape and two small branches, the students made a cross and planted it in the ground.  Our guide draped a rosary over the cross, and placed next to it a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an unlit candle, and a bottle of water.  The custom is to leave water for the dead in the desert.  Fr. Bob then led us in prayer for the repose of the soul of this child of God who died a horrific death, alone, unknown to all but to God.  A little further down the trail we came upon a pair of pants, already beginning to disintegrate.  A Mexican ID was still in the pocket.  Our guide will turn it over to the Mexican Consulate who will try to locate the family.  Another victim of the desert.  Along the trail we saw backpacks, sneakers, baseball caps, articles of clothing  – some left there long ago, others more recent – belongings of those who had passed that way or who had died there.  When someone dies in the desert the extreme heat will cause the body to disintegrate in a matter of days, or the body is torn apart by the animals of the desert.  Samaritans go out daily to look for migrants in distress and to leave food, water, and blankets along the trail for those passing by.

We spent an afternoon in court, witnessing “Operation Streamline” in action.  This is an initiative of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice which began in 2005.  It’s purpose is to establish “zero-tolerance” along the US-Mexico border.  Annually, it’s estimated total cost is more than $170 million.  Every Monday, some 80 migrants – “criminals”- are sentenced in this Tucson court.  Some for first-time entry, others for re-entry.  They are hand-cuffed and shackled.  Men, women, and baby-faced boys.  Mexicans and Central Americans.  Their sentence is anywhere from 30-180 days in a US prison before being deported, and with a criminal record.  We witnessed the sentencing of 79 migrants in 40 minutes.  Their crime?  A desperate need to provide food for themselves and their families.   The judge later met with us.  After a very heated 90-minute conversation, he ended the discussion by quoting Oliver Wendall Holmes who said that the law does not deliver justice.  It is a policy that we agree upon.  Justice requires sacrifice and pain. He urged us to take up the hard work of justice that requires changing the law.

Immigration that is termed “illegal” is, without a doubt, a controversial issue.  It is historical, political, and economic.  As we met migrants, heard their stories, and saw their willingness to risk their lives, we realized that it is also deeply human.  It is the story of desperate people seeking a better life for themselves and their children – people so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives in an unforgiving and unrelenting desert.  Our Catholic Bishops are strongly united in a campaign for immigration reform.  I don’t find it hard to know why.  Our Church teaches that people have a right to a decent living in their own country, but when that is not possible, they also have a right to seek that living somewhere else, even when it means crossing borders.  Together we make up the Body of Christ therefore we cannot ignore or forget the brother or sister traveling “The Devil’s Highway” today, as well as those living among us who traveled that road to get here.  Every death in the desert leaves us all diminished and God calls us to respond.  Perhaps a good way to start is to look deep into our own hearts and to tear down those walls that separate us from the brother or sister who is different, in whatever way, or in need.  Our faith challenges us to continually cross borders, all sorts of borders, as we prepare to cross that great and final border that will bring us to our eternal home.

“Let What Breaks Your Heart, Break Mine”

We are still reeling from the reports coming from Sandy Hook School. It will be some time before we can hear that name without feeling a chill at the bone, especially since so many of us are involved with little people in our schools.

But one added sadness is that the reports usually speak of “the 26 who died.” There were, after all, 27 who died in that building. The circumstances were tragically different, but for us who are constantly trying to bring about the Culture of Life that John Paul the Great spoke of so often, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there was once on this earth a human being who suffered so intensely that he could only find release in taking the lives of others and then his own. What loneliness, what emptiness he must have felt. With what longing his mother must have tried to lead him out of his frequent darknesses into the light of hope. They were both parishioners of the Catholic parish in Newtown, after all. We can only imagine how fervently she must have prayed, day after day, for her son. And the media calls him a monster…. He was a child of God and of his mother, but now the world only knows him as a monster.

Ah. I almost forgot. There were 28 who died. Forgive me.

Who met Adam Lanza when he came to Eternity? Was it his mother, so newly having arrived there herself? Was it the Mother of Jesus? Was it Jesus Himself? Might He Who once spoke of the Prodigal Son have put His arms around this young man and said, “Come, sit down here and tell me all about it, Adam” ?

There is a beautiful song making the rounds on the Christian radio stations, in which the artist asks God to transform him into a new creation. He prays, “Let what breaks Your Heart, break mine.” He is asking that he be filled with the compassion of God for all the heartache and pain that fills the world. He asks to be taught to look upon the sinfulness that frightens us with the same desire to save the sinner that God feels. And the singer wants to look upon all the darkness in the world with the same love that sent the very Son of God down to lead us into the Light of Hope.

May all the Adam Lanzas of the world today find themselves face to face with a compassionate heart that splits their darkness and fills their souls with Hope so that no more children have to die. And no more Adam Lanzas have to snuff out little lives before taking their own. May each of us be transformed into hearts of compassion for our suffering world. This morning’s Holy Communion was meant to do that.

In Christ’s broken Heart,

Mother Marie Julie

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