Sister Nancy Schreck, OSF, used this question - the same one God had spoken to the man and woman in the garden in Genesis - "Where are you?" to challenge those of us present at the Religious Formation Conference Congress in St. Louis, MO, November 14-17, 2013.
Where are you?
Are you in the Philippines helping to relieve the suffering of the people after the typhoon? Are you in your neighborhood working to help eliminate violence of all kinds? Are you teaching? Are you caring for the sick or the poor or the elderly? Are you spending time in contemplation for the healing of yourself and the world? Are you in the struggle and in the dialogue within the Church and with those in society who continue to deny the gifts of women.
Reading Pope Francis' exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) reminded me of an image shared by Rev. George Smiga in the publication Living With Christ (May 2010). "The presence of God is vast and varied. That is why we can find so many different images of the Spirit. Jesus draws from the legal sphere to describe the Spirit as a 'Paraclete' or 'Advocate'. He using the image of a prosecuting attorney who will lead the disciples against the evils of the world. An old Celtic tradition builds upon this image, presenting the Holy Spirit as a goose. A goose honks loudly and forcibly inserts itself into its surroundings. When we sense God's presence as a dramatic force, grabbing us by the neck and impelling us in directions we would rather avoid, we should know that the Spirit is alive within us. We cannot limit the scope of God's action.
At the top of my "bucket list" for the last few years was my desire to meet Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, that will never happen. This towering figure long has been a model for me of courageous leadership, one who led by example. As former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, said so well, "His life was the triumph of the human spirit."
A late Thanksgiving this year and a mere three weeks plus three days of Advent makes for what seems like a very short time to prepare for Christmas. And "prepare" is such an active word. Unlike "wait" which feels so much slower. But Advent is both.
God has the initiative. Whether we are speaking of the coming of the full reign of God at the end of time and the kingdom of justice and peace described by Isaiah, or our own meeting with God at the end of our earthly life; or Jesus' own birth in Bethlehem "in the fullness of time," the timing is not of our making. The doing is God's; ours is the waiting.
Ah, but how do we wait? John the Baptist says we wait for God to act by actively preparing. It is not enough, he tells the Pharisees and Sadducees, to claim a connection to Abraham. No, we actively prepare, we are challenged to "produce good fruit."
In much of the world, the beautiful season of Advent is buried amid the constant clamor of commercialism that precedes Christmas. In many circles, hardly a thought is given to the real reason for our hope in a world that can seem to be overrun by the effects of power, greed, war and poverty, not to mention the havoc created by natural disasters. We have only to look at our local, national and international headlines to confirm the truth of this statement.
And then along comes Advent. It’s the beginning of the new Church year that reminds us of the eternal hope and light that came into the world over 2000 years ago, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the hype we should believe in! May each of us continue to live this new spiritual year in Advent hope.
An Aquinas preaching student is in the solitary throes of writing her thesis. Actually, she’s not writing at all. She feels flat. Empty. Organizationally challenged. Dry as a bone. Cold embers where passion once flamed. She e-mailed me the other day to schedule a get-together, "Help! What do you turn to when you need new energy, when you feel like you’re totally wasting even the little time you have to write? Where do you find for inspiration?"
A good question for preachers as well as writers. As I labor for ideas and words under the too-familiar nimbus "cloud of unknowing" where do I turn for some salve for my soul, encouragement in my stuckness? These are some of my well-loved friends and coaches who comfort and inspire me, and have stood by me all these many years and offer me seeds and songs of hope.
"Meet you at the gate." This is the gate of Fort Benning, GA, where the School of the Americas (SOA) or as it was renamed in 2001, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), continues to train Latin American Soldiers for combat. Thousands of people from around the United States and Canada traveled to Columbus, Georgia, to tell the SOA to stop training Latin Americans to assassinate their own people On November 22-24, in the name of the Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace, nine members: Srs. Cathy Arnold, Kathy Broussard, Suzanne Brauer, and Francine Schwarzenberger; Candidate Ana Gonzalez; and Associates Chris Cahalan, Kevin Cahalan, JoAnna Magee, and Jerry Stein spoke out by word and action against this injustice.
Catherine of Siena called the terrible, terrible, and the ungodly, ungodly, and in that act, she is calling all of us – yet, still and always – to do the same. Indeed Catherine of Siena is not an event; Catherine of Siena is a sign of what we all must go on being….Her teaching was from the Holy Spirit. She went into the heart of God to see the world as God saw the world, and she spoke from the perspective of what was right, rather than what was legal, normal, or 'necessary.'
~ Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB from her acceptance speech for the St. Catherine of Siena Award April 1992, St. Catharine, Kentucky
Thanksgiving means millions will travel to join families and friends and share memories as well as a delicious meal. This special time of year is also a desperate time for many whose financial reality does not allow for turkey dinners. After Congress cut food stamps by $36 each month, as well as other food assistance programs, families scramble to cover the loss and food banks run out of food. While many try not to overeat on Thanksgiving, many go hungry.
On Thanksgiving Day 1969, people around Kentucky woke up to a stunning headline: "Nine –year-old Bobby Ellis Starves to Death on Thanksgiving Eve." How could a young child starve to death in the world’s richest country? He was one of the "invisible poor." As families sat down for turkey and the trimmings, hearts were moved with sorrow and a desire that this not happen again.
It had already been a long day of difficult eye surgery. The next patient was prepped but was moving around and would not stop talking. A bit fatigued, I pleaded, “Mohamed, please ask this patient to stop talking. I am about to begin his eye surgery but he is moving around too much with all of his talking.” “Doc, wait a minute. He is telling us a story that you need to understand. This man has lived in a poor, desolate shelter for blind people, most of his life. He met a blind woman there, got married and they had a blind baby boy. Six months ago you did cataract surgery on this man’s first eye. Since regaining his sight he has been able to get a job and move his family out of the blind shelter and into their own private home. Today you are doing surgery on his second eye.