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.
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.
First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 Second Reading: 1Peter 3:15-18 Gospel: John 14:15-21
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!
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
First Reading: 1Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Second Reading: Eph 5:8-14
Gospel: John 9:1-41
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
On Ash Wednesday, those of us who are Catholic received ashes and heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Let us take a moment in silence, eyes closed, to imagine our origins as dust… not as flecks of insignificant dust or dirt, but stardust!
There is a beautiful Serbian proverb that says: “Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.”
In the beginning, from a nebula of particles and a great spark of energy, God brought forth the universe through an explosion of light and matter… And so we imagine ourselves, long before we came into human being, whirling and twirling, colliding and generating heat as stardust… when in a brilliant burst of light, the cosmos were impregnated, and God began birthing life in a prolonged and ever-evolving expression of love and meaning.
We remember that at the beginning of Earthly time, our planet endured seas of lava, walls of ice, and rivers of acid. It survived volcanoes and earthquakes and floods. The earth stretched and compressed, creating the deepness of oceans and the majesty of mountains. Finally, when God was ready, the violence ceased, and so began peace for living things.
We are atoms fused from love. We are time and space. Just as we are part of the cosmos, the cosmos is part of us. We are made in our divine creator’s image. We are celestial, heavenly. We are love made self-aware of love.
We stand tall as the giant sequoia, and we are as small as an amoeba. We are as undying as the immortal jellyfish, and we pass in the few hours of a mayfly. We run as fast as the cheetah, we fly as high as the goose, and we swim as deep as the anglerfish.
God created an interconnection of beings. The animals and plants balance each other by breathing and expiring opposing gasses. Our bodies give nutrition for each other. We are a joining of all things. We are conjugation of all life past, present, and that yet to come. Just as God created us, we collaborate with our world to bear the next generation. God is a creative, loving God. Our lives, being made in that image, call us to create and love.
~written by Jarrett Meyer (parishioner at St. Christopher, Indianapolis) for Women’s Day 2014 at Oldenburg Franciscan Center
The greatest joy in life
Is in giving of yourself,
But to give, you must first
Love yourself enough to
Delight in learning,
Striving to be your absolute best,
Passionate with confidence, desire,
If you seek not and learn nothing,
You’ll have nothing to give.
And if you have nothing to give,
You’ll find nothing to love.
And love is everything.
Love, unlike any physical substance known to man,
Can be given endlessly and
Its supply will never diminish, only grow.
That is, if it is truly love.
Love is not
Sick, demented, depraving, selfish, suffocating, stingy, or stifling.
Love is, perhaps
“The process of my leading you gently back to yourself,”2
A simple reflection,
Guiding you back to what is unique and beautiful
And pure about you, an assurance of your
If that is love
Then only by that definition let me love,
And let me do so endlessly and graciously.
Let me seek for myself the beauty, compassion, and mercy of God
So that I might gain a knowledge or insight so extraordinary
That in sharing my love with you, with anyone,
I might gently lead you back to yourself,
Your true you, your vast potential,
Your open heart, your living soul,
Your life as it was meant to be.
And if you love me,
Let you do the same for me.
May my actions never betray you,
Diminishing in any way the stunning expanse of your essence in hopes of
Shaping you into what I might wish for you to be, for me.
I do not want to become such a small person;
I want to experience the vastness of human potential,
Giving freely and fostering greatness
Insomuch as I am able,
Recreating & readjusting my world
For the newness of each day
And finding, in this spontaneity,
A love greater than
Sweeter than the satisfaction of desire;
A love that lives in me
Wherever I go,
Hopefully transforming me
Into one of those beautiful people
Who honor life and
Love abundant and contagiously.
I will always be imperfect,
But if I should strive for anything,
May it be for nothing less.
1 Reflection on the book Living, Loving, & Learning by Leo Buscaglia
2 Quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Wind, Sand, & Stars)
Surely most people are vulnerable for the longing to be happy. I get a glimpse of this and understand the willingness to look all over the place for this treasure. But I so catch myself in my own life too –forgetting that the last place most folks look is right under their feet, in their everyday activities, accidents, and encounters. What possible significance could there be in a trip to the post office? How could something as common as shoveling snow or washing your dishes, walking your dog, or having a tooth filled be a door to greater happiness? I think it can and I think ‘thankfulness’ is the X that marks the spot and one I often cannot see because I am standing right on it. When that’s the case, this kind of happiness requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special companions; just the willingness to imagine I have everything I need and offer the consent to be right where I am, thankfully. So easy, so simple, but can be so hard.
Perhaps the Kingdom of God shares some similar qualities of the X marks the spot, thankfulness, and ‘simplicity’ but also similarly challenging to embrace and appreciate. I think of it this way, when people asked Jesus, really questioned Him about what was God’s realm really like, He told them stories about their own lives. When people asked Him to tell them God’s truth about something, He asked them what they thought. With all kinds of opportunities to tell them how to think, He often told them what to do instead. Wash feet. Love your neighbor. Give your stuff away. Pray for those who are out to get you. Be thankful for what you have. In essence be God’s love where you are and be that to whatever is right in front of you. Stop where your feet are for a moment, look around. What can you be thankful for? What can you do from right there? It’s there happiness will reveal itself, it always has.
Jennifer Profitt is a visiting retreat leader at Oldenburg Franciscan Center. She will facilitate Fear and Moving Forward on Saturday, January 25th. 9:30 – 2:30. $45 includes program & lunch. CEUs are available for counselors for an additional $20. Visit our website to register online, or call 812-833-6437, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When it comes to recognizing how our faith affects our daily lives (our choices and our behaviors), S. Joan Chittister makes a wonderfully powerful and concise observation in her book, In Search of Belief:
“Until I discover the God in which I believe, I will never understand another thing about my own life. If my God is harsh judge, I will live in unquenchable guilt. If my God is Holy Nothingness, I will live a life of cosmic loneliness. If my God is taunt and bully, I will live my life impaled on the pin of a grinning giant. If my God is life and hope, I will live my life in fullness overflowing forever.”
I have been thinking about this particular statement lately, and about the indicators around me that can help me see what kind of God I’m allowing to manifest in my life. Since the information we ingest on a daily basis has such a huge impact on the way we understand and interact with the world around us (including our God!), I wonder if we can assess it as a spiritual checkpoint, or mirror?
What do our patterns of media consumption say about our relationship with God? Who is the God we seek to animate in our lives via the media we choose to feed our minds? Is it a God of life and hope, leading us to fullness in our own lives?
After all, the age-old adage goes, we are what we eat… and as it would seem, we consume more media/ideas than food! (Interesting statistics here.)
These questions remind me a lot of the Cherokee Legend of the two wolves where a grandfather teaches his grandson how to know whether “good or evil” will win over the struggles of one’s inner life. In the end, the spirit that wins is the one that we feed… If we apply that same analogy to the case of media consumption, we know that what we seek will begin seeking to connect with us in return thanks to evolving marketing tools. What a striking and specific example to be mindful of what we attract!
On a broad scale, TV and radio adjust content to majority ratings – so you may not personally see more of what you like if you aren’t in the majority, but what is playing is always indicative and ever adjusting to social trends and desires.
The Internet, on the other hand, works via its intelligent search and social media engines to give us each more of what we individually want (and less of what we ignore) – without us ever having to think about it. That being the case, we can easily find ourselves in a “small world” of our own design where our exposures are more or less limited by our likes, subscriptions, and “follows.” How important to recognize the world we are creating for ourselves – and that we are significantly empowered to influence and improve the quality of our environment.
So… if we take time to assess our online interactions and news, what can we learn about our relationship with God? What do our followings, interactions, and activities reveal to us about our beliefs? Are they harsh and critical? Taunt and bully? Filled with life and hope? Does the reality of the picture they paint jive with the God of our hearts? If not, what new “seeking” (liking/following/ subscribing) or pruning might we do to change the flow of information and create an opening for a more expansive God to shine through for us?
I think when we are indoctrinated in a certain way of seeing the world that it can be hard to believe that any other way exists – but when we really pause and seek change, new things emerge. One of my friends who I love following posted a beautiful quote on Facebook today… “Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.” I think that’s a great thought to feed upon.
In 2014, let’s be mindful of the world of information that we submerse ourselves in and seek to consciously shape our surroundings in the image of our most loving creator God. If we pay attention to the clues of our informational surroundings and adjust what we “ingest” (and generate!) to help us stay connected with the God we believe in, I wonder what new things will emerge!
If we believe, like S. Joan, in a God of life and hope, hopefully the environments we submerse ourselves in (including media) will reflect and support us in that!
There is something about Christmas lights that is like no other lights throughout the year. Just think of the houses that do not have their Christmas lights removed. You can see them gleaming in March, but it is different. The lights of Christmas, whether white or red or multicolored touch something in us. Usually it is at the beginning of the season. We see a tree decorated, and admire it, but when the lights come on, there is a gasp coming from the entire group watching. Wondrous! Then we get used to it and by December 27 the Wow factor subsides.
Christmas lights should remind us of the bright bevy of angels the shepherds saw. Or perhaps the star that for 2+ years the Magi followed.
At present I am living in our infirmary recuperating from surgery. Across the hall from my room Sr. Kathleen enjoys the longtime friendship of a very creative person. Her wall has butterflies, ivy and at this season of the year Christmas Lights. The lights form a tree of sorts and a frame for the large clock. Those lights are turned on from the time Kathy wakes until she falls asleep. Wonderful!
Lying in my bed at night, I see the reflection of those lights in my window. A poinsettia plant from the Adopt-a-Sis girls I meet and a small tree on my window sill seem to come more alive in the reflection.
I got to thinking. A gift to someone else has also become a gift to me.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” That being so, maybe I need to see how the light given me by Jesus, can reflect in the lives of others.
Merry Christmas and may the light you are shine brightly all year long.