“Searching For the Newborn King”

 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

How do I seek out the Lord? What is the best way for me to draw closer to Him?

Jesus, show me the paths that lead me to you. 

 

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

What beacons of light and hope shine in my life?  Am I actually looking for them? Who are the people that lead me to Christ?

Lord, thank you for the people you put in my life—family, friends, spiritual leaders, and fellow pilgrims.  Help us to find ways to strengthen each other in our journey toward you.

 

“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Whom do I say Jesus is?  What does his birth mean to me?  In all the noise and clutter of this world, am I taking enough time to reflect on life’s most important questions?

Jesus, in your mercy and love, continue to guide me toward my life’s purpose.  Give me the courage to do Your will.

 

“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”

Whom do I follow?  What things or ideas do I pay most attention to?  What are the signs that point me to you?

God, help me to recognize you in all things.  Teach me how to stay focused on what is holy and good.  Remind me to look for your light when faced with difficult situations or decisions.  Guide my thoughts and actions.

 

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother.”

In what ways can I model the Holy Family?

Jesus, help me to choose happiness.  Let me be content with the person I am; the person you created. Help me to accept the circumstances of my life with joy. 

 

“Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

What are the things I value most?  Do I take those “treasures” for granted?  How can I show gratitude for my life?

Lord, thank you for loving me.  Help me follow you faithfully.  Continue to show me ways in which I can be a gift for others.  You are my treasure.  Amen.

 

Sally Meyer

 

 

 

PAROUSIA!

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Not long ago, I sat in my New Testament Greek class listening to my teacher discuss parousia. In a few concise, but loaded words, parousia, the Greek version of the Latin advent, means “coming,” “arrival” and also “presence.” How strange that this word can simultaneously refer to something that has happened, is yet to happen and now is. Jesus is, has come. Jesus is coming. Jesus is always here.

This thought also led me to another thought … that of babies. I have had three of them. As each baby grew inside, I could feel its flutters and turnings under a hand on my belly, the shallow depth of stretched muscle, membrane and skin. There was a thin veil of separation between us, a bit of human flesh. But a baby was on its way. This child I’d never met was right there within me and not yet arrived.

Every parent knows the thrill of first seeing a long awaited child. It is pure amazement, even if the baby bears striking resemblance to mother or father. There is familiarity, but in a previously unknown and unique package … a fresh and unexpected revelation. In the months and years to come, we see more of this one who is always present to us, but whose depth and complexity grows ever more richly apparent.

Recently, I heard a priest talking about a part of the Mass (epiclesis) where he invokes Christ’s presence upon the Communion elements and bells ring to signify the moment. He said that when he was a little boy sitting in the pew, his mother would tell him, “When you hear the bells, Jesus is coming.” A day or two after I heard this, it dawned on me that epiclesis is a two-part Greek word. Epi, means “upon” or “on’. It indicates personal touching. Clesis is from ka-lei-o meaning “to call.” During the epiclesis, the priest calls for the real presence of Christ to come upon the bread and the wine … to touch it. The epiclesis happens in every Mass a million places around the world. It has been happening over and over for 2,000 years. Christ has come to us, but he is always still coming.

Like a baby whose arrival we await, Christ is in our midst and yet always about to arrive. “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror …” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The veil of our human flesh prevents us from discerning the full revelation of him. And in his kindness, his own human flesh has veiled us from the burning brightness of His Majesty. Yet, as we call upon him in prayer, receive him in Communion, encounter him in Scripture, live in his Body, the Church, and are enlivened by the breath of his Spirit, we know him more … little by little. Christ is always coming to us until the day of his final coming when we will know him fully.

by Lisa D

 

“Ripples”

ripples

“Ripples”

When we lose someone we love, questions seem to surface, Why did this have to happen to such a good person? Can I envision living my life differently with this new empty place? Do I really know God’s purpose for my life? Does what I do really matter?

I watched the rays of the sun reflect off the surface of the lake. As I sat at the edge of the water, I felt a deep sense of sadness and loss. I had just left the funeral of my close friend, Annie, and I wanted some time to be alone with my own thoughts. She loved nature, and I was taking the opportunity to reflect on how grateful I was to have known her.

Without focusing on anything in particular, I picked up a small pebble and threw it into the lake. I immediately noticed how the ripples formed a perfect circle and moved outward. I repeated the process several times. Each time I threw a rock (regardless of size), I was amazed at how large the circles of waves became and how long they lasted before they disappeared. It also occurred to me that when the ripples formed, they stayed in proportion to each other. As the waves moved in a steady rhythm on their journey outward, one ripple didn’t become misshapen or disconnected from the others.

My thoughts returned to Annie. Her life impacted so many people more than I will ever know. Just like the ripples of the waves spreading out, so does Annie’s beautiful example of love and faith. Her influence will always be felt by those who knew her and loved her.

Those moments sitting by the lake also reminded me of God’s providential care. Our lives are impacted by many things, good and bad. But just like the waves of circles in the water, God holds us steady and somehow keeps us connected with one another according to His will. While I may not always recognize and feel this, or understand fully, I believe it. Even in my sadness and grief, I know that I am included in an unending rhythm of God’s love and care. I am grateful that there is a merciful God who holds each human heart close to Himself, His Son, and His Spirit, all laboring to create harmony with what is and what is yet to be. In a mysterious, yet beautiful way, watching those waves helped me affirm my worth and purpose in this life and feel secure about Annie’s in the next.

I have lost a special friend. But by the grace of God, I am more at peace knowing that Annie and I remain connected in a beautiful circle that will be forever.

…Sally

Stones in the River (by Carrie Newcomer)

Sally Meyer is a 6th grade teacher at St. Jude School in Indianapolis.  “Visiting the Oldenburg Franciscan Center has become one of my favorite ways to deepen my faith.  It is in such a welcoming place that I am able to practice being open to the Spirit, and in turn, write about finding God in my everyday life.  I hope readers can take something meaningful from my writing.

God Meets Us in Everyday Living: The Lady in the Grocery Story, by Sally Meyer

As I watched 2 people in front of me move through the checkout line, I didn’t notice anything unusual about the cashier. She was elderly with white hair, and had clear, blue eyes. When I got to the front of the line, she looked me square in the eye and gently asked, Do you have everything you need?” It was as if she really wanted to know the answer.

Her question touched me. Cashiers don’t normally ask that like that. Usually the phrase is something like, “Did you find everything?” It didn’t take long for me to answer. I looked directly back at her and said, “Yes, I do have everything I need.”

God finds a way to find me. And that day he met me through the woman in the check-out line.

What was it that stopped me in my tracks? What was it that made me feel like there was an urgency to her question? As I reflect back, it was eye contact. Her question meant something important because she looked at me. Then there was her voice.   There was a calmness and care in it, seeming to reach right out to me-as if I were important. I couldn’t help but think that this is how Jesus would look at me and speak to me if he were right here with me. It was in that precise moment, where the gentleness of voice, and the look of compassion, made me fully aware of God’s presence.

Questions continued to surface after that encounter. What does it mean for me to be grateful? Am I being grateful? Thanking God for all I have been given and acknowledging all the goodness in my life is important and something that is not to be taken lightly. But I can’t help but think I am being called to reflect more deeply on the cashier’s question. God’s love and care for me were affirmed in her words. How am I being called to use my own thankfulness to love others with more gentleness and compassion?

As I think about the most challenging times in my life, it is sometimes hard to imagine that God was there in all of it. Feeling grateful is difficult in hard situations. It’s easier to become angry, resentful, or depressed about what I do or don’t have. But God reaches out to us and meets us in all of our situations, messy or not. He is in the middle of all of it. We are not alone. The cashier behind the counter reminded me of that.

What are you thankful for? Who are you thankful for? Do you have everything you need?


 

Sally Meyer is a 6th grade teacher at St. Jude School in Indianapolis.  “Visiting the Oldenburg Franciscan Center has become one of my favorite ways to deepen my faith.  It is in such a welcoming place that I am able to practice being open to the Spirit, and in turn, write about finding God in my everyday life.  I hope readers can take something meaningful from my writing.

Reflection for Corpus Christi Sunday by S. Bernice Stenger, OSF

corpuschristiFirst Reading: Dt: 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Second Reading: 1 Cor. 10:16-17
Gospel: Jn 6:51-58

Reflection
Today we celebrate Jesus Christ and all of us–THE BODY OF CHRIST. We are many parts but all one Body! In our readings today we hear how God provided manna for the people in the desert, a food that they had not seen or experienced before. We have Jesus giving us the saving bread of HIS OWN BODY, food never heard of or experienced before. And we who have been baptized into the Body of Christ are called to be food–bread for our hungry world. If we all live the gospel of love daily the world would experience something never before known. Daily we pray in the Our Father, “give us this day our daily bread.” If we believe this prayer, we shall see with new eyes God’s daily provisions for us. And we in turn will give of ourselves for the sake of others. We will come to know in a deeper way our relationship to all others and all that exists and our responsibility to care for one another, for together we make up the Body of Christ. How will you be “bread” for others today?

Prayer
God our Father, I ask for the grace to truly understand my role in being part of the “Body of Christ”. Help me to come to know the truth St. Teresa of Avila expresses in her prayer and invitation to me. “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; yours are the only hands with which He can do HIs work. Yours are the only feet with which He can go about the world; yours are the only eyes through which His compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body on earth but yours.” I ask for the grace to be the Body of Christ this week. So be it. Amen.

Bernice Stenger, OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

Reflection for the 6th Sunday in Easter, by Associate Pat Browne

First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Second Reading: 1Peter 3:15-18
Gospel: John 14:15-21

Reflection
This week’s readings offer us many challenges. We are asked to listen, be aware of the miracles in our lives, and accept the word of God just as those in the town of Samaria did. Peter’s letter encourages us to keep our consciences clear so that those who would defame our way of life in Christ might be disappointed, and those who seek to understand the reason for our hope, may find truth. The Gospel states that if we love Christ, the fruit of that love will be obedience to the commands he gave us. But all three readings assure us that we are not left to our own devices to meet these challenges. Even as Jesus tells the apostles that his physical presence on earth is about to end, he lets us know that we will not be left alone as orphans. As Jesus left the material world he did not abandon us, but rather sent us the spiritual presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. How wondrous is our God!

Prayer
Loving God, we thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to be our advocate. As we face the challenges of faith, hope, and obedience to your commands help us always to trust in His assistance, and be open to your ever present grace. Help us to be light in the world, and to spread the good news of your love for us in all that we do.

Pat Browne, Associate
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

Jesus Speaking from the Cross: a Lenten Retreat Experience

crucifixI have been coming to Oldenburg Franciscan Center for about 5 years now. The first time I came, it was at the invitation of S. Olga to attend a workshop on “spiritual tasks” for our journey with God. I learned so much that weekend, and the experience was powerful enough that it broke loose something inside of me that wanted to be freed. So I came back, again and again, seeking that wholeness, that liberty.

So much happens in five years, as any of us might know. After several months of absence here, I returned last night to make a ‘silent retreat’ of my own. It was a brief visit – just a moment I stole for myself to repeat a journey I’ve taken many times here at Oldenburg – an evening walk through the Sisters’ cemetery under a starlit sky. I love the dark, peaceful expanse of the cemetery, so far from city lights, so warm with prayer, and so populous with stars at night.

It was pretty cold outside, so I didn’t stay out as long as I might have liked. But it was a nice night for a stroll in the cemetery, and for all the walks I have taken there, I found myself pausing to do something I had never done before. I sat in front of the large crucifix in the middle of the cemetery and quietly pondered the image. It struck me that I’ve carried many a prayer through this cemetery, whispering prayers under the stars. So much of my life has changed since the first time I did that… and yet, I have new doubts. So, sitting under the crucifix, I placed my lenten confession: I don’t know whether I’m finding my faith or losing it. Where am I with God?

I recognized all the life-giving graces that have come into my life since the first time I walked this cemetery under the night sky… it’s been an amazing journey, full of God’s presence. So I just prayed for the grace to know what I need now to calm and direct my uncertainties. What’s next?

And, oh, for a moment my blurry eyes worked a spiritual blessing – as it seemed Jesus leaned forward and his arms came down from where they were pinned to the cross. What a true and beautiful prayer – to feel like I could be there to help Jesus down from the cross – to imagine how exhausting and deathly it is to remain there.

Suddenly, I imagined myself walking up, letting his arms fall around me to finally come down off that cross. What it really said to me is that it’s time to come down from the cross. Jesus, and me. And I relaxed into a dream of comforting rest, with that role reversed. The crucifixion has passed. I’m coming off my self-imposed cross into the arms of a comforting Jesus. It is time for life after death.

As for the question of finding or losing my faith, that seemed so simply answered with a thought of John 12:24.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls upon the ground and dies, it remains a single grain with no life.”  Belief as I have known it may have died. But my faith hasn’t departed. It’s just sprouting up through a new seed, a new gift of God’s love and incarnation.

With new peace, my life continues forward – and with such gratitude for the presence and ministries of the Sisters in Oldenburg. What a gift they have to bring new life to others through the living of their Franciscan values and the sharing of that through Oldenburg Franciscan Center. Here I have truly learned: God is Good, God is Love, God Gives Life.

— W.B.C., Indianapolis

Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Lent, by OSF Associate Marty Kollstedt

joyFirst Reading: 1Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Second Reading: Eph 5:8-14
Gospel: John 9:1-41

Reflection
Imagine for a moment that you were born blind as is the central character in the Gospel reading for this week. Consider the following questions. How did you live day to day in blindness? Did you long to see? Who or what did you most want to lay eyes on? How have you viewed your parents for the legacy you have grown up with? Did you consciously or unconsciously adopt the cultural belief of attributing a child’s disability to parental sin? How did this affect your relationship with your parents? Did you experience loneliness, social isolation or dehumanizing feelings? Did you hide away from the world to avoid the challenges of daily living? Did you, or how did you envision your world differently if miraculously you did gain the ability to see?

As the gospel narrative proceeds Jesus enters your life. He transforms your world giving you sight for the very first time in your life. Good News to be sure? Imagine how grateful you must feel toward Jesus for such a wonderful and transforming gift? How do you see you life differently now? How are you living a transformed life? Before you can fully comprehend your new reality, Jesus, the one responsible for your “cure” is challenged for bringing sight to your life. And you find yourself drawn into the fray? You too are challenged and threatened as a result of your new vision. Would you too question the authenticity of your new and perhaps frightening world? Would you hide in the shadows? The gospel relates that you refuse to reject your new sight despite not completely understanding and are yourself rejected. Then Jesus returns to present you “follow up” questions to more fully open your understanding of his role in your responsibility for being given sight. Do you echo the blind man of the gospel responding: “I do believe, Lord.”

Prayer
Lord God, giver of sight and insight, guide us toward embracing a vision that more clearly gives witness to our belief in your vision for our world. Help us to see beyond outward appearances seeing into the hearts of our sisters and brothers. Help us live in goodness, righteousness and truth with each other and our world so that works of God may be made visible.

Marty Kollstedt, Associate

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, by S. Lorraine Geis, OSF

2ndSundayFirst Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Reflection
Is this MY Transfiguration Day?

How much time, every day, do I spend remembering news that was said to me, or about me!  Many thoughts, during the course of the day, find me remembering what was said on TV, or from friends by phone, Skype or cell phone.  How does that remembering time compare to remembering the Word of God, spoken directly, personally, to me?

In the Reading of Genesis, God says, “Go forth (put your name), to a land that I will show you.”  Already, my daily schedule is planned for me by my Creator God!  All I have to do is follow.

My name appears again, at the beginning of Timothy: “(put your name), bear your share of hardships for the Gospel.”  The needed strength, to be transfigured by these words, come from God.

Matthew’s descriptive Gospel, also, includes me!  “Jesus took (put your name) up a high mountain.”  Where is it that Jesus takes me so we can be alone?  Then, how often do I proclaim “Lord, it is good for me, (put your name), to be here.”  Jesus touches me and says “Go, (put your name), and do not be afraid.”

Prayer
Thanks, God, for the invitation and grace to be transfigured. Thanks for calling me by name. Lord, it is good to be with You.

S. Lorraine Geis, OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

On Hearing Every Story as a Lesson, by Kelly Quirino

The following story was written by Kelly Quirino about her experience with the Oldenburg Sisters of St. Francis while on retreat at Oldenburg Franciscan Center.  The full article was published by Atlantic magazine.  Permission has been granted by the author for reproduction here.  Thank you, Kelly, for this beautiful reflection!

…My mom had already given me my birthday present. The week before, we had set out into a blizzard, aimed for a Franciscan convent about an hour away from where we live. The roads were bad and it got dark early, but we made our way slowly, on slick, wind-whipped roads. The headlights illuminated the snow in front of us, the sky was the same color as the ground around us, and to pass the time I tried to convince my mom that this road was some sort of Miyazakian segue into the underworld. She countered with C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe, and for a while we amused each other with what we thought this Other reality would be, what it would do, how we would interact with it.

We thought we were being funny and clever, but as we drove through Oldenburg, Indiana (population 674) looking for the spires of the Franciscan convent, we realized that what we were imagining together had more or less come true. This was an Other reality, one completely foreign to us, and—viewed through the snow illuminated by the streetlights—probably magic.

Kelly Quirino

We pulled into the convent’s retreat center, separate from the church itself, and were greeted by a tiny and smiling woman. She let us in, she showed us around. The retreat center was three floors of rooms that used to belong to the sisters before they had all moved into the convent itself. Each room was almost identical: cinder block walls, single beds, a sink, a mirror, a closet, a single window. There were stairs, but the sister led us from floor to floor with the aid of an ancient, sea foam green elevator with flickering lights and creaking cables.

She showed us the kitchen, a room as simple as any of the others we had seen, but with a gleaming, automated coffee machine in the center. She was so proud of and grateful for this coffee machine. She grinned and showed me with pointed arthritic fingers how to operate it, how to coax dozens of specialized drinks out of the humming electric machine. She made herself some hot chocolate as an example, and took my mom and me to our room.

Everything about the building was simple, functional, and old. Our sheets were worn but freshly ironed. The blankets were small and thin, but they were thoughtfully placed everywhere, on the backs of chairs, draped over the arms of couches, in almost every cabinet I opened. There were soft chairs arranged in small circles around tables of books and tables in nearly every available space: places to stop, to sit, to think, to talk. In contrast with the cinder block walls and the cemetery just outside the windows, these small comforts did feel luxurious, and important. The place felt whole and large; bigger than the building that contained it.

I spent almost my entire first night in the library, the sister had led me through the dark, long room, and ended with their selection of feminist and mystic texts, which she pointed out to me and winked. So this is how I came to spend an evening, while a blizzard swirled around me, in the dark, silent library of a convent reading about the shadow-feminine and Jungian mother-archetypes. It was one of the most quietly exhilarating nights I have ever had.

My mom and I had signed up for a silent, private retreat. The idea was that we would spend a quiet weekend at the convent reading, writing, thinking. We had free run of everything, could take our meals with the sisters (or not), we had a full weekend to be free of any obligation. The silence did not last long, because the sisters treated us like a miracle: We had come to them in the storm, a mother and daughter. To them we seemed impossibly young, and they doted on us and told us stories.

I am still not sure how, but in the beginning I was introduced to everyone as “Shirley.” The sisters fussed over me, asked how I felt, if I needed anything, told me the history of everything in the room. I missed my chance to correct them, and they were so sweet and friendly that after a while I just couldn’t bear to. At lunch on our first full day at the convent, sitting at a table full of beaming sisters, another approached and I had to introduce myself as “Shirley,” so as not to let the others down. I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good. I was more than ready to spend the weekend being someone else.

Every sister I met made me guess how old she was. Grinning and gleeful, each time they would tell me how much older they were than what I had guessed. They told me stories about when they were novices, the traveling they had done, the sisters they had studied under. Some of them had grown up in Oldenburg, had gone to the high school attached to the convent.

One sister took me to the chapel she was sitting in at 16 years old, when she received the call to serve. I spent a lot of time in that chapel; it was small, all blue and cream and gold, with swans in the stained glass windows and an angel who looked like Frida Kahlo on the ceiling.

Kelly Quirino

It was hot and sometimes filled with the hissing and banging of the radiators that lined the walls. The pews were dark and the corners were dark and shadowy. On Sunday, when all the sisters were at mass, I could hear them singing far off, somewhere else in the convent, while I sat in this hot, tiny, beautiful chapel. I looked at Frida on the ceiling and listened to the sisters sing and was struck by what mothers all these childless, unmarried women were. Mother-archetypes, straight out of Jungian psychology.

The sisters’ stories were not quite like mine. The stories I save and share are adventures of some sort: things I’ve done wrong, wrong things that have been done to me, dangerous situations that have ended hilariously (I hope). One sister sat me down and told me a story about the sink in her room. The story was that her drain was slow; that was the whole thing. But she smiled at me, as she explained that she was worried that her slow drain might be indicative of a larger problem that might eventually lead to a problem for someone else (or even worse: everyone else). She smiled and touched my hand lightly with hers and said to me, with an air of self-deprecation, “I can’t imagine ever not having the time to just wait for the sink to drain.”

I had taken books, music, and journals. I had given myself assignments, things to think about. I wanted to solve things. I wanted to solve the issue of humility for myself, the issue of faith. I wanted to think about my own shadows and unknown parts, to reconcile them with my mother-ness, with my love for everything. I wanted to learn how to apply the kindness I try so hard to give to the world to myself, as well (and I wanted to know why this is such a hard thing to do).

The morning of the day we left, as I was sitting in that blue and cream and gold chapel with Frida Kahlo on the ceiling, I thought about all the sweet and kind mother-women around me and scrawled onto a scrap piece of paper, ‘I don’t know if I’m trying to get empty or full.’  Everywhere I looked in the convent, I saw an acceptance of that shadow, a comfort with that unknown. From the dark library full of religious, subversive, feminist, and mystic books, to the snake wound around the feet of the statue of Mary who stood at the entrance of the building where we slept. I kept being reminded of these lines, from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita:

Do any actions you must do,

since action is better than inaction;

even the existence of your body

depends on necessary actions.

The whole world becomes a slave

to its own activity, Arjuna;

if you want to be truly free,

perform all actions as worship (3.8-9)

Click here to continue reading the full article on The Atlantic.