Sunday, March 28, 2021

April 2021 - Holy Week


The Easter Vigil 

Since there is so much in the celebrations of Easter, the high point of the Church Year, I shall begin by giving an overview of the mother of all vigils: the Easter Vigil, and then focus on the making and renewing of the Baptismal Vows in both the Vigil and Sunday Masses.

The Roman Missal explains that during the Easter Vigil “The Church keeping watch, awaits the Resurrection of Christ and celebrates it in the Sacraments.” The Vigil begins in a darkened Church. The large decorated paschal candle, representing the risen Christ, is lit and is carried into the church while the words “Light of Christ” are proclaimed. Usually, small candles, held by the congregation, are lit from the pascal candle and the light is passed from one worshiper to the next until the whole church is filled with light from the candles. I see this as symbolic of the fact that we are to carry the light of Christ into a dark world.

Several readings from the Hebrew Scriptures summarize the story of salvation beginning with the story of creation, the choosing of the Hebrews to be God’s people, and their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Then the readings speak to God’s constant care until Christ comes. Prayers and canticles follow each reading.

After the readings, the altar candles are lit from the paschal candle, and the church is filled with light and triumphant music. The “Alleluias” are heard in the Church again and the first Easter Eucharist begins. Our risen Lord has come into the darkness to light up the world.

Following the Gospel, the Saints are invoked to pray for those to be baptized and/or receive other Sacraments. Then the baptisms and confirmations take place. Those who were baptized in Christian denominations whose baptisms are accepted as valid by the Catholic Church make a profession of faith in the Catholic Church.

The people in the congregation are sprinkled with holy water as a reminder of their own baptisms.  They renew their vows to renounce Satan and promise to serve God in the holy Catholic Church. For those who were baptized as infants or young children, it is an opportunity to consciously verbalize their commitment to Christ.

Since none of us is perfect, it is a way for all of us to start anew to live and love as Jesus has taught us. The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows and the newly baptized will join the rest of the people receiving Holy Communion.

Easter Sunday

The Easter Sunday Masses are like the ordinary Sunday Masses except for the addition of a sequence, the renewal of Baptismal Vows, and several choices for the Gospel readings.
                         
Sequence
Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful Praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting,
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee He goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!

Amen. Alleluia


Although there are several choices for the Gospel on Easter Sunday, I shall focus on John 20:1-9.  Many believe that aware of how deeply His mother Mary was suffering, Jesus would have appeared to her first. That may well be true. In fact, John concludes his Gospel with the following words: “Now there are many other things that Jesus did. If they were all written down one by one, I suppose that the whole world could not hold the books that would be written.”  (John 21:25).

John, the evangelist, has personally witnessed Mary of Magdala grief-stricken running to tell Peter and himself that the stone had been rolled back from the entrance of the tomb. She fears that His body has been stolen.

In response, Peter and John hasten to the tomb. John, being younger, arrives first but does not enter. When Peter arrives, he goes inside and sees the burial cloths and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head, not with the burial cloths, but rolled up in a separate place. Then John goes in, sees and believes. According to John: until that moment, “they had failed to understand the teachings of scripture that he must rise from the dead.” (Jn 20:9).

During the Easter Season, we shall be reflecting on the many ways the risen Savior makes himself known to the people. What great joy they must have felt after witnessing the cruel Passion of Jesus to know that He was victorious and that they would someday share in His victory over death.


Reflection Question:  How can I consciously bring the Light of Christ into our world?


Comments:

Stephanie Morris, ASBS, Ph.D. Historian, Certified archivist, emerita

To shine a light, you need to turn on a switch or strike a match to light a candle. To bring the Light of Christ anywhere, we must first have Christ’s Light within us.

Any lamp needs fuel. Matthew tells us that the “eye is the lamp of the body” (6:22). During these difficult times, our eyes are almost the only part of our face showing above our face masks! 

Christ’s lamp within us needs fuel. Mother Katharine tells us that prayer and the reception of Holy Communion are the food necessary for a strong spiritual life. If we are open to being fed by the Word of God and to the love He freely offers us, we can fan a little light of God into a fire of His Love radiating from us. This fire will then illuminate our actions.

Do our eyes show that we are listening to those around us who are asking for help or prayers? Do our eyes show the joy and gratitude we feel for the love and mercy God has for us? Few of us are where we would like to be physically or socially or perhaps spiritually.  But we can keep trying to do what God asks of us in a willing manner. Then our lives will shine the Light of Christ to all.

At the Easter Vigil we will sing: “Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts, Shine through the darkness.” May the Light of Christ shine in and through our hearts today and always.


Pat Chiaffa, ASBS

But you, beloved, are not in darkness…for you are children of light and children of the day.”  These words from 1 Thessalonians 5:4 came rushing to mind as a result of three individuals who chose to let their lights shine one ordinary day.

Wednesdays are shopping days for mom and me. We adhere to a set pattern. I gather her up and we leisurely walk down the long hallway to the exit where I park the car. Once mom and her walker are in the car, we head to Walmart, the Dollar Store, the supermarket and occasionally, the State Store to pick up a bottle of Manischewitz Concord Grape wine. She maintains that it warms her “insides.” One blustery cold Wednesday our routine chores were elevated to glimpse Compassionate Presence. The event that set my heart ablaze was not announced or noticed by anyone other than myself but it was one of the strongest sensations of being in the Light that I experienced, at the supermarket, of all places.

All the handicap parking spaces were taken, so I decided to drop mom off at the entrance of the store. The area was exceptionally congested and noisy due to active construction work.  I pulled up, got out of the car, went over to the passenger side to get mom and walker out.  A young man, who was gathering up shopping carts, paused and asked if I would like him to get a handicap cart for my mother.  Then, from seemingly nowhere, a woman was standing next to us. She told me she would take care of my mother while I parked the car. I was still trying to figure out where those two people came from when I went inside the store and found my mother comfortably sitting on a chair off to the side with a team of three people surrounding her. The third person was a young male store associate who had fetched the chair for mom. They attended to her as if she were a celebrity.  I thanked them repeatedly, and they were genuinely appreciative of my thanks.

The young men who tended to the needs of my mother each had speech and physical impairments. Rather than limit their abilities, these “handy-capable” individuals had innate insights which moved them to be of service to a stranger. There was such simplicity in their actions and in their caring!  I sensed the movement of the Holy Spirit as I held back tears of gratitude. Their response held the intrinsic energy of “We’re here for one another.”  I felt very much a member of the Body of Christ for a few brief moments huddled in this little circle in the bakery department of Giant Market. The woman, who was the supervisor of the boys, had stepped outside for her break which she willingly sacrificed to watch out for my mother.  Mom benefitted from the attention and pampering, but the lesson was exclusively mine. 

Mom’s helpers were shining lamps radiating light to all around them.  I felt embraced by warmth in their presence because Presence (The Lord) was shining through them. The big question for me was, “Would I have even noticed the elderly woman, the pressured caregiver, the tired mother?” Regrettably, the truthful answer was probably “No.”   My flame was extinguished, mostly due to my recurrent bouts of negative thinking regarding all the ongoing restrictions surrounding Covid. Would the prolonged darkness of pain, separation and self-suffocation of masks ever end? Not if I keep fanning the flames of misery.  

God’s Divine Mercy cradled me that day and restored me to renewal. God’s Light is contained in His Word (Holy Scripture). I recognized I was spending so much time reading and listening to all the fear-fueling news that my prayer time with God had slipped to daily snippets. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Light begets light. I chose to reignite my flame that day. That ordinary shopping day was a grace-filled gift for me. Thus, I encourage any reader who may be experiencing distress over conditions “out-there,” to spend adequate time going “within” to commune with Jesus who is “Light from Light.”

 “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.


Let us pray for an end to the Pandemic, racism, injustice, and suffering in our world!  

Let us bring peace and justice and joy to all!

May you and your loved ones

have a blessed Triduum

and Easter Season!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

March 2021 - The Third Sunday of Lent

Reading IExodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95
Reading IIRomans 5: 1-2, 5-8
Gospel: John 4: 5-42

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 that I have let go of 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 the 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 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 EpicPew.com.

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 1900s. 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.

Comments:

Stephanie Morris, ASBS, Ph.D. Historian, certified archivist emerita
“Lento” is an Italian word that signifies a direction in music – to go in a slow manner. Spiritually, we can see Lent as a time to go slowly, to slow down our usually hectic lives, and re-connect with God. If you have ever planted a garden or even grew some flowers from seeds, you know that you have to wait for the seeds to germinate. Growth may be slow but the end results are often beautiful and/or delicious. So, it is with our spiritual life. The seed might be a few quiet minutes with the Lord at the start of our day. This could grow into a calm demeanor during the day and greater trust in God. Mother Katharine said that “Growth must be gradual to be enduring.” We can try this spring to slowly come into a closer relationship with God.

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 relatable.  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 the churches she financed in order to get around the racist law that Black people had to sit behind the white people in the church.  She arranged for two rows side by side. In that way the groups were separate but at least side by side. Those of us fortunate enough to know any 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, 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.  

On February 12,2021, the Sisters celebrated the 130th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B




Reading I - Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Psalm - 47

Reading II - 1 Cor 9:16 -19, 22-23

Gospel - Mark 1:29-39

As I reflect on the readings for today's liturgy, I am struck by the fact that in this "ordinary time" of the Church Year, we are experiencing an extraordinarily difficult time. However, the readings include both. 

In the first reading from the Book of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), we meet Job, a good man, who is being challenged to decide whether to continue to be a faithful worshiper of God. He is wrestling with the age-old questions: 1) Why does God allow suffering? 2) Why do some suffer so much more than others? 3) If God is so good (Ps. 147), why does he allow evil?

Some of the sentiments expressed by Job are heard by people today during the current Pandemic: "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?"  "...I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me."

Jesus never answers the questions. In his humanity, he accepts suffering himself and reaches out in love to those suffering around him.  From our own observation, we know that suffering can make us "bitter or better." We observe some who become mean and destructive. On the other hand, we see others who help others in need of goods or comfort. We even see heroic deeds when a person risks his or her own comfort or even life for others.

What must we do to be prepared to be "better" in the ordinary and extraordinary times? In the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), Jesus tells us: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." In today's Gospel, we see Jesus leaving the synagogue after teaching and ordering an evil spirit out of a man. The congregation is astounded with his teaching and his power over the evil spirit.

After observing the Sabbath services, Jesus and his disciples go to visit the home of Simon Peter whose mother-in-law is sick. Jesus heals her, and she provides them with a meal. In the evening, many people needing healing or freedom from evil spirits gather in front of Peter's home and are cured of their ailments.

The next morning Jesus rises early and goes to a private place to pray. His disciples search for him and tell him that everyone is looking for him. Of course, they want him to remain with them. However, Jesus tells his followers that they need to go to the other villages in Galilee, also. Jesus thus signals that he is sent for all peoples.

Jesus has thus shown us the Way! 

I. He participates in Holy Day Services which for him, as a Jewish man, was to attend the Sabbath Services in the Synagogue. For modern Jewish people, they can also attend Sabbath Services. For Christians, it may be to participate in Sunday Mass or Prayer Services in their Church Homes.

II. Then he participates in fellowship with others. He reaches out to those in need of healing, understanding, acceptance, food, e.g. 

                  A.  Healing the blind man and others

                  B. Understanding the Samaritan woman at the well

                  C. Accepting Simon Peter, in spite of his weaknesses

                  D. Feeding the multitude who had been listening to his preaching

                  E. Sacrificing self for others

III. In spite of his busyness, Jesus prioritizes time for personal prayer. Before dawn, he goes to a private place to commune with his Heavenly Father.

IV. He corrects his followers who want him to stay with them. He says that he must go to other villages also to preach to them. 

V.  In our Second Reading from St. Paul, we are reminded that Jesus extends his salvation to the Gentiles ( non- Jews) also.

Jesus shows us how to be our best selves by his example. As Emmanuel, he walks beside us to help us on our way.  Let us remember that we are not alone whether in extraordinary or ordinary times.


Comments

Stephanie Morris, Ph.D. , ASBS, Historian, Certified Archivist, emerita

"Ordinary" sounds so, well, ordinary and dull. "Ordinary" can be defined as uninteresting or commonplace. We know that the Church refers to "Ordinary time" because it is counting the weeks between special holy days.

Sometimes we may wish that we were not "ordinary" folks but wealthy celebrities or business people. Kate Drexel was one of those - the daughter of a millionaire banker. She had great and wonderful things about her in her father's houses and enjoyed the benefits of wealth. But Kate was called to something else.  By accepting her call to religious life, Kate rejected the facade of wealth for a simpler life. Mother Katharine liked "ordinary."  She said it was part of the path to perfection: "Perfection consists in the performance of ordinary duties well." Being content with where she was and what she had to do, Mother Katharine could focus on what God wanted her to be and to do. As the Little Flower, Mother Katharine saw the benefit of ordinary, little things done well.


Pat Chiaffa, ASBS

 


 As a thank you for a donation made, a charity that I support sent me a pair of socks. They are navy blue with white doves and on the bottom is the saying, “Pray, don’t worry.” I am seriously considering recrafting them into gloves so that the reminder to pray is more visible. As last year’s circumstances carry into this new year, prayer is the number one tool I need to remember that God really has got this in His control. As I write this post, I am one week into a new Bible Study series entitled, “The Armor of God.” We use a workbook, and each day there are Scripture readings and questions on which we are to journal. The focus of this study is Ephesians 6: 10 – 19 which begins with “Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil, and ends with, pray…”

The value of this study for me at only day three, is that I recognize that the on-going unsettledness I feel runs much deeper than the visible disruptions I continue to see in lives and businesses in my community, nation, and the world. I realize that the inner disorder I am experiencing is truly spiritual warfare and the armor I need is continual prayer. As St. Paul writes, “With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit…” Being in communion with God will enable me to live in this world without becoming a victim to anger, preoccupation, obsession, and addiction.

In your blog, Sr. Annette, you noted several behaviors of Jesus that model ways of One who lives in the way of the Lord. Prayer appears to have been a daily practice for Jesus. He prayed during his activities of healing, prayed with others, taught his disciples how to pray and he also created space for solitary prayer. Scripture gives us several glimpses into Jesus’ going off to a quiet place to be alone with God.  Jesus always credited His Father was the One who brought forth the fruit in his ministry. In the solitude of prayer, Jesus enters into intimacy with his Father. “In solitary prayer, Jesus comes to understand his identity and mission. In prayer, he experiences God’s will and direction, and affirms that it is God who sends him, who gives him the words to say and the deeds to fulfill.” These words of Henri Nouwen, for me, validate the need to discipline myself to spend quiet time with God on a regular basis so I can make the journey from mind to heart, “from unceasing thinking to unceasing prayer.

As we prepare for the Season of Lent, let us commit to discovering God in the center of our being by taking time to sit in solitude and silence. There, in the place of the heart, we can learn the power of interior prayer and hear the voice of the One who calls us “my beloved.”