Monday, February 24, 2020

Mar 1 - The First Sunday of Lent & The Feast of St. Katharine Drexel

Reading I: Genesis 2: 7-9
Psalm 51
Reading II: Romans 5:12-19
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

There are many meanings of the word "Lent" in the English language, but the one we are focusing on is "springtime." When I think of spring, I think of growth, renewal, and resurrection.

First, I think of an awakening of the vegetation as it makes a path through the soil, pushes obstacles out of its way, and seeks nourishment for growth. All this enables it to provide food and beauty for our world.

That is what "lent" is about. We take time to examine our relationships with God, our brothers, and sisters. We ask the Lord to help us to discern what needs to happen to allow our spirits to grow. We seek to know the obstacles in our path and how to remove them. We also look to ways of nourishing our souls for greater growth.

What are obstacles in my path? 1) Am I unwilling to forgive? Ask the Lord and/or a spiritual friend for help. 2) Am I spending too much time watching TV or with social media, or something else so that I do not pray enough? What can I give up in order to spend more time with the Lord? 3) Do I enrich the soil by studying the Bible, doing spiritual reading, listening to spiritual songs or sermons, or engaging in faith-sharing circles, etc.? Ask the Lord what he wants of you.

In the spring, we also see renewal. Trees,which seemed to be dead in the winter, begin to bud forth and gift us with their beauty and welcomed shade. It may be that the Lord simply wants me to renew a holy practice which I have let go because of busyness or other reasons.

All this is in preparation for the new life which we will celebrate at the Easter Vigil and Masses with Alleluias and renewal of our Baptismal Vows. Then, we will be able to bring the light of Christ to our world in such need of hope and love.

The Feast of St. Katharine Drexel - March 3

St. Katharine Drexel, was the first canonized Saint to be born a United States citizen. She was a daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia banker, Francis Anthony Drexel. She and her whole family became philanthropists because they believed that their wealth was a gift to be shared with the needy.

As a child, Katharine helped her stepmother, Emma Bouvier, to distribute food, clothing, and rent assistance to needy. especially to the recently emancipated African Americans. Her sisters Elizabeth and Louise also helped. They were aware that these former slaves, although very capable, lacked the education to find good jobs.

From this experience, Katharine recognized the need for a good education to enable people to improve their lives. Later, when she became a Religious Sister and founded her a new Community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she stressed education as a way of improving the lives of the oppressed, especially, but not exclusively, among the Native Americans and African Americans.

Today, St. Katharine Drexel is the patroness of Philanthropists and Racial Justice. The following information is taken from an article by Brook Gregory found in

Five Times St. Katharine Drexel Won Against Racism 

1) When construction began for the convent St. Katharine was building for her new Community in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, people began to make threats. A stick of dynamite was found at the construction site of the Motherhouse. One of her first schools was destroyed by arson. These incidents did not deter St. Katharine from her work.

2) Needless to say, St. Katharine was not popular in the South during the early 1900's. Officials in Macon, Georgia, tried to prevent the Sisters from teaching at one of her schools. They simply did not want white women teaching and interacting with black students and their families. St. Katharine fought the law, won, and the school is still open.

3) Then, St. Katharine purchased a building with the intention of opening a Catholic Institution of Higher Education in New Orleans, Louisiana. When her plans became public knowledge, vandals broke in and smashed all the windows. St. Katharine made little of it and pursued her dream. Today, Xavier, a historically Black Catholic University, is still thriving and providing many professionals for the area and beyond.

4) A prayer response to a threat from the KKK of the Beaumont, Texas Chapter, is striking. On the door of a parish church, connected with one of her schools, a note was nailed which read, "We want an end to services here. Suppress it in one week or flogging with tar and feathers will follow." A few days late, nature responded in the form of a tornado that completely destroyed the Klan headquarters and killed two of its members. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Beaumont were never bothered again.

5) St. Katharine outsmarted racist laws by designing the churches she built in the South in a special way. The people had to be segregated if a service was to be held legally. St. Katharine didn't like the idea that the Black people were roped off and relegated to the back of the church. Since St. Katherine couldn't change the laws, she changed the arrangement of the pews. St. Katharine had two front to back rows of pews in her churches. The law couldn't attack her or the people. The pews were still technically segregated, but the people of color were not forced to sit behind the white people. They were seated side by side.

St. Katharine advanced the legal protection of Native Americans and people of color through persistent letter-writing campaigns. Also, she was a vocal advocate of early civil rights legislation.

St. Katharine died at age 96 in 1955 on the eve of the Civil Rights Movement that she helped to advance long before its existence was even considered. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, their Associates, Partners, Alumni, and friends carry on her Mission today. She left us much needed words of wisdom for today.

"Have a cordial respect for others in heart and mind; 
if there is any prejudice in the mind, we must uproot it, 
or it will tear us down."

Reflection Question: Ask the Lord to help you to know in what area/s he wants you to grow during this Lenten Season.


Pat Chiaffa, ASBS
I was truly enlightened by your blog this week. Your description of the spiritual processes of growth, renewal and resurrection, using the example of how nature removes obstacles in its path as it seeks nourishment for sustenance is so relate-able. We can use this illustration, along with your questions that help us identify some of the obstacles that stand between us and our relationship to God, to offer others an understandable explanation of the importance of Lent in our spiritual development. 

Additionally, the information you shared on Saint Katharine Drexel was really interesting. St. Katharine Drexel’s courage and steadfast faith in the face of so many obstacles encountered in her mission is inspiring. She is a wonderful model of loving God and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ. I particularly enjoyed reading of Mother Katharine’s brilliant creativity in rearranging the pews in her churches to get around the racist law. Those of us fortunate enough to know any of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament get to witness her spirit in the activities, prayers and stories of these dedicated women.

Sadly, racism continues to plague our society and demoralize our youth. An article in The New York Times, by Amy Horman, on January 20, 2020, told of the experiences of 101 black teenagers in Washington, DC over a two-week period. Their stories were tracked by researchers who reported that the teens encountered more than 5600 instances of racial discrimination, averaging more than 5 instances per day for each teen.

The researchers reported that the magnitude of the discrimination faced by black adolescents affects how they feel, noting symptoms of depression, difficulty sleeping, loneliness and anxiety. Violence continues to escalate in our cities claiming precious lives and breaking the hearts of families. Recently in Philadelphia, police officers were fired for posting derogatory racist remarks on social media. St. Katharine’s words, “if there is any prejudice in the mind, we must uproot it, or it will tear us down,” are as true today as when she penned them.

In his book, Life of the Beloved Henri Nouwen writes that we are the ”Beloved” (of God). Not only are we the Beloved, we also “have to become the Beloved.” “Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our “Belovedness” become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do…As long as ‘being the Beloved’ is little more than a beautiful thought…nothing really changes. What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life.”

It is my intention to create time during the Lenten Season for meeting daily with God to let this “Belovedness” take root; to try to “become more fully who I already am.” If I were to fully accept this truth I would live differently – much more in alignment with the teachings of Jesus. I would forgive more and judge less, love more and fear less, give more and take less. It is only in claiming the gift of our own Belovedness that we can give to others the gift of their own Belovedness. That is a gift I would absolutely love to offer to another.

Stephanie Morris, ASBS, Ph.D Historian, Certified Archivist, Emerita
We often have great plans for big improvements. But to get to big changes, it is sometimes best to start with little ones. Mother Katharine noted that there is nothing small in God’s service. We can start to renew ourselves this Lent with small steps; maybe these will grow into big improvements. Can you find 5 minutes a day to sit quietly with God? Maybe read a Psalm, maybe sing/read/listen to a favorite hymn. Is there a line or refrain that jumps out, that asks you to re-read it, to think about it? God may be speaking to you in those words today. As you practice this, you may find yourself comfortably sitting with God for 10 minutes, or longer. Lots of medical experts have recently discovered the healing power of meditation. We have been blessed with this healing power for a long time.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Feb. 23, 2020: The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Ash Wednesday, Preparing for Lent

Reading I: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm: 103
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

Sunday Gospel
One of the stories I remember from my religion classes when I was a child is the following: There was a little boy who had just made his First Communion and was saying the evening rosary with his family. He responded to every 'Hail Mary' loud and clear. However, when the 'Our Father' was prayed, he remained silent. After the rosary was finished, his mother asked him why he didn't respond to the 'Our Father.' Sheepishly, he answered, "I am mad at my brother because of something he did, and I don't want to forgive him, but I still want God to forgive me when I do something bad."  He was referring to the words in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

The little boy had understood the message that Jesus gave in today's Gospel from Matthew: "You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your heavenly perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
No matter what age one is, forgiveness is one of the greatest challenges we experience as Christians.  It is easy to be good to those who love us, but to be good to our enemies requires God's grace and sometimes help to deal with the circumstances and emotions involved.

A requirement for one of my pastoral ministry courses was to observe a group process session at a mental hospital. The patients and students sat silently in a circle with a facilitator. The mother of one of the patients was there also. The young woman began by thanking her mother for coming to the therapy session for her. Then she expressed to her mother that she was hurt because she believed that the mother had always loved and favored her brother rather than her.

The mother's eyes filled up as she explained that the father had never accepted the son and that she had tried to make up to the son for the father's rejection. The mother assured her daughter that she was very much loved also. At the end of the session they were crying in each other's arms. The lesson for all of us was to realize that we seldom know the motives of those who hurt us. It makes a big difference when we understand them.

Many Saints have followed the example of Jesus by praying for and forgiving those who tortured and martyred them. It is only by God's Grace that we can love our enemies as He does.

Ash Wednesday

Lent is a very special time during which we prepare to be baptized or to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. It begins this Wednesday with the marking of our foreheads with ashes. This sign of repentance has its origins in the Hebrew Traditions.

The word "lent" is a shortened form of an old English word "Lenten," which means springtime. Spring reminds us of growth and new life. Flowers bloom and trees, which appeared to be dead, put forth buds and leaves.

During Lent, we attempt to die to our selfishness and sinfulness and grow in our relationship with the Lord and generosity toward others. We hope to be morally stronger people when we pledge to renounce Satan and all evil at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday.

It used to be that the emphasis was put on giving something up for Lent, usually some favorite food, etc. While that still is an option, today we are encouraged to do something positive. Is there someone from whom you are estranged? Make an effort to reconcile. If it doesn't work out, at least God knows that you tried.  Is there someone who is lonely, make contact as best you can. Is there someone hungry? Provide food in some way. Jesus said, "Whatever you did for the least of my brethren you did for me."

Stephanie Morris, ASBS, Ph.D Historian, Certified Archivist, Emerita
Traditionally, people make “New Year’s Resolutions” in January to improve their lifestyle in some way. Ash Wednesday is a chance to “re-boot” resolutions to improve our spiritual lifestyle. St. Katharine reassures us that God does not ask for a “finished work;” He does ask for our “continued effort and is pleased with our desire to please Him.” How can we please God? Think of the Beatitudes. How can you be a Peacemaker in your family or in your community? Small steps can be a good start.

Pat Chiaffa, ASBS
This week’s reading from the Book of Leviticus speaks to my heart. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy…You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.’ “
One of the featured articles in this week’s edition of my local community paper read, “Father of slain football player pleads for peace.” The man’s 19 year old son was a passenger in a car when a stray bullet went through the window of the car and hit him in the head. At least a dozen bullets were fired and the boy who was killed was not the intended target. The young man played football for his high school, had many friends and would have graduated this June. The father addressed the 1400 students and pleaded for the violence to stop. The young man’s mother reported that she was just too angry in the moment to talk, though after her husband’s appeal to the student body, she did comment, “My son is not here anymore and these things have to stop.” As a mother of two sons, I know that the depth of her pain is unmeasurable. Sadly, this is a regular occurrence on the streets of our cities. The boy’s football coach stated that he is not sure what the answer is, but feels that the answer has to start in the schools.  I believe the answer is in Leviticus – our communities need to return to holiness. God needs to be returned to the schools, made more visible in our communities and be reestablished in our hearts. 
You referenced the challenge of forgiveness in your post. My heart aches for the parents who lose a child through violence, and I would probably struggle with forgiving such a senseless act. Ultimately I know that forgiveness is the only life affirming, God honoring response, but I would only be able to arrive at that decision through the grace of God. I am deeply touched at the ability of grieving parents who rise above the tragedy and initiate programs that address the deep rooted needs of the individuals who pull the triggers.
The Presence of God is strongly felt when people come together in their brokenness, consoling one another and uniting in hope to make their neighborhood a better place.  Communal prayer is often a part of these gatherings and the support and consolation of the community nurtures the healing process. Imagine how transformative the vigil would be if the spiritual leader preached the message of Leviticus? Something like, OK friends, let us use this tragic event to commit to holiness, to forgive one another of any and all perceived wrongs, and to love one another as unconditionally as the Lord loves us. Let us together engage in the battle against the powers of darkness that engulf our youth by reminding them and reinforcing every day that they are children of God, created in His image and likeness.
Our kids need to hear this message from every adult in their life because they are being crushed by the world that only values the smart, the healthy and the beautiful. In the depth of my heart, I believe that many of these young people committing such cruel crimes are hurting inside because they feel as though they don’t fit in or can’t measure up to standards that are superficial to begin with. They need to know they are loved, valued, they matter, and that they are the beloved of God. This is the foundation upon which the solutions to violence need to be based. Our moaning, groaning, suffering communities will heal when we invite God back into our daily lives…when we choose holiness. 

As the holy season of Lent begins, perhaps we can pray for our hurting communities, and if possible maybe can listen to the young people in our life and remind them that they are loved by us and by God. That encouragement may open up a much needed conversation of how God is present in their lives.