Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Gospel of the Woman at the Well

For me, the Gospels are a source of life. I am grateful to be able to converse with them in prayer and in them find God speaking to me.

Among my special Gospels are "The Sermon on the Mount," "the Road to Emmaus," and "the Transfiguration." Interestingly, the woman at the well is not a Gospel that I've connected to in the past. I have respected and appreciated its message, but for some reason, I just never got close to it. I liked (and still like) the image of water it contains, but something has kept me from getting close and personal with this Gospel story.

As I prepared for this Sunday's liturgy, I thought a bit about the distance between me and this Gospel. Actually it was kind of bothering me. Then, not too long into my meditation, I was given a different approach to it: What if I am in the place of the woman? What if I am the woman at the well and Jesus is speaking to me?

Wow, what a different perspective! Definitely the beginning of a closer encounter with this Gospel story and with Jesus through it. I still have a lot to ponder about my new place with this Gospel story, but for now I am thankful that I've been able to get a closer look at it and now feel not so distanced from it.

I'll let you know what other thoughts I discover as I continue to comtemplate it. In the meantime, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on it or on other scriptures that have felt a bit distanced for you.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


This is the message I took from today's homily drawing the connections between the first reading on Abraham and Sarah and the Transfiguration Gospel on Jesus, James, and John:

Trust. Trust asks us to go beyond our reasoning, beyond what seems possible to us, to accept the boundless love of God and God's plan for us. "Listen to Him." Do not be afraid to listen to Him. Quiet my heart, my head, my soul. Be still, be not afraid. Listen to Him. Trust.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sacred Sculpture: An Artist's Reflections of the Heart

Kathleen Aucoin's "Mary At Prayer"

This is the second year of our parish's newly revived Sacred Music and Arts Series. It's a really beautiful ministry. I am grateful to be part of the coordinating committee and thankful that this year we were able to include a session on sacred sculpture led by Sister Kathleen "Katie" M. Aucoin, SC.

A Sister of Charity of New York, Sister Katie is truly a sacred sculptor; hers is beautiful gift and ministry. During the course of the hour and a half session, Sister Katie shared the reflections of her artist's heart, her journey with the Master Sculptor, and her relationship with the season of Lent. With samples of her work at the center of each of the roundtables at which we were seated, she faciliated our praying with the art and left us all renewed in our ability to engage God's voice speaking to us through the various media we encounter in our daily living.

Treat yourself to a visit to Sister Katie's website to get just a glimpse of her work. To be honest, the website is a good resource but does not fully capture the depth and breadth of Sister Katie or her work. Should you be looking to have such a program or something similar to it at your parish or community, consider inviting Sister Katie - you will not regret it. She can also be joined by Sister Margaret "Peggy" Beaudette, SC, the artist of DePaul Studios. Whereas Sister Katie specializes in table top size sculpture, Sister Peggy specializes in life-size sculptures. Both are amazingly gifted artists and souls and for me personally it was a grace-filled gift to share the afternoon with them and to reconnect with Sister Katie after many years. The time was prayerful and enjoyable! Definitely a well-spent Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"We Rise Again from Ashes..."

It's hard to believe that it's already the first day of the 2008 Lenten season, but it is. Today was a full day at work so I was really looking forward to closing the day with Mass at my parish.

In the same way that our parish is deliberate about its weekly celebration of Sunday liturgy, it is also intentional about walking the Lenten journey together. Today's liturgy was no different: reverant and engaging and motivating.

In one way, however, today's Liturgy was different because I had the grace-filled opportunity to assist with the distribution of ashes. For many years now, our parish has had lay leaders and ministers assist in this ritual after the ashes are blessed by the priest. Anytime I have the opportunity to have a more participatory role in a liturgy or sacred experience I try to be focused about it and appreciative of the opportunity. I've been a music minister on many occasions over the years, a lector, a Eucharistic Minister, a greeter, a presenter of the offertory gifts, a reader, a planner, to name a few. But this was the very first time I assisted with the distribution of ashes, and it was an soul-opening experience.

Each time I placed my thumb into the small bowl of blessed ashes and embarked upon making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person before me, I tried to convey a true sense of invitation as I stated the words our parish uses: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

As I performed this ritual over 100 times, sometimes upon faces I recognized, sometimes upon faces I did not recognize, I was struck many times by the range of facial expressions and postures of the individuals who come forth to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday and I came to realize the profoundly personal and intimate God and person experience that coming forth to receive ashes is.
Much has been said, often critically, sometimes sadly, about the people who only come to Church on Ash Wednesday, who only come for ashes and rarely or never come for Eucharist. In our parish we are deliberate in expressing how glad we are you are here with us today, hoping that the spirit of genuine welcome helps to overcome whatever has kept a person away. However, as I distributed ashes, I came to realize (thankfully) how the act of coming for ashes - whether for the frequent Church-goer or the "estranged" -- isn't about the ashes: coming forward for ashes is about bowing before God to receive God's invitation to "turn away from sin and be faithful for the Gospel," hoping that God's grace will provide the power and strength needed to do that. The signing of the cross with ashes on the forehead means that, at minimum, the person is open to the invitation and the possibility that God's grace will take root and make its home within him/her. For that we should be grateful and, yes, even rejoice in God's goodness.

As the distribution of ashes to the congregation concluded, the choir was still singing so we waited to be able to include them in the marking of ashes ritual as well. Once we had concluded, I returned my small dish of ashes to the stand next to the cauldron in which the blessed palms were burnt and after bowing before the altar returned to my seat. As the Mass continued, I contemplated what I had experienced, marked by the backdrop of the song "We rise again from ashes, from the good we've failed to do...", and thought of the invitation that God has extended to me: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

As the Liturgy drew to a close, I realized that, for me, the challenge of the invitation is found in the "and": the Lenten journey is about turning away from sin (our human weaknesses) AND being faithful to the Gospel. I pray that I may be receptive to God's grace that awaits me.

Let's continue to pray for one another as we walk this journey with Jesus!

Friday, February 01, 2008

From the Writings of Dorothy Day...

During the holy hour for First Friday, the Sisters at the Motherhouse shared this reflection from the writings of Dorothy Day. Someone shared the reflection with me via e-mail. Since I found it very inspiring, I thought I'd share it here with you. My apologies for not being able to reference the exact source. If anyone knows, please feel free to mention it in the comments.

It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that He speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that He gazes, with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that He gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that He walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that He longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving to Christ. We can do now what those who knew Him in the day of His flesh did. I am sure that the shepherds did not adore and then go away to leave Mary and her Child in the stable, but somehow found them room, even though what they had to offer might have been primitive enough. All that the friends of Christ did for Him in His lifetime, we can do. Peter’s mother-in-law hastened to cook a meal for Him, and if anything in the Gospels can be inferred, it surely is that she gave the very best she had, with no thought of extravagance. Matthew made a feast for Him, inviting the whole town, so that the house was in an uproar of enjoyment. We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and
strangers, in everyone with whom we come in contact.

Christ Himself has proved it for us; and no one has to go further than that. For He said that a glass of water given to a beggar was given for Him. He made heaven hinge on the way we act toward Him in His disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity.

Did you give Me to eat when I was hungry?
Did you give Me to drink when I was thirsty?
Did you give Me clothes when My own were all rags?
Did you come to see Me when I was sick, or in prison or in trouble?

For a total Christian, the goal of duty is not needed ---always prodding one to perform this or that good deed. It is not a duty to help Christ, it is a privilege. Is it likely that Martha and Mary sat back and considered that they had done all that was expected of them---is it likely that Peter’s mother-in-law grudgingly served the chicken she had meant to keep till Sunday because she thought it was her “duty”? She did it gladly - she would have served ten chickens if she had had them.

If that is the way they gave hospitality to Christ, it is certain that that is the way it should still be given. Not for the sake of humanity. Not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ, but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for Him, exactly as He did at the first Christmas.