Our Lady of Conquering Love

The following poem yields some simple clues about the real nature of Mary.

Into cobwebbed haunts
And festering darkness
Slips a Lady of Light
In search of her children.

In many respects Mary is not known as she should be, often because popular devotion tends to trap her within the confines of pietistic practices and images that don’t always lead to a real relationship.  Praying the rosary, asking Mary’s intercession, and honoring her in different ways has so much more efficacy and meaning when we know and understand her as she really is.

In speaking to groups of women from different countries and different backgrounds, there is always a weak response to the question:  ”How many of you would say you have a close relationship with our Blessed Mother?”  In response to the follow-up question:  ”How many of you find it hard to relate to Our Lady?” the majority of hands go up.  She lived 2000 years ago, is portrayed as basically silent with a few notable exceptions, and of course was always praying, but in such a way that it seems like a private affair.  Not much for the modern person to connect to.

And yet, this is a shame, a great loss to many of us because Mary is more favored, has a richer personality, more gifts, deeper emotions, greater wisdom, profounder graces, more sensitive, loving virtue, and a more heavenly human beauty than anyone who ever was or ever will be born, aside from Jesus himself.  No one sways the heart of God nor reaches it as quickly as She does.  And no one aside from God Himself loves us as much as she does!

She is ours!  This is who God has given us to be our Mother, the very one He singled out and prepared for Himself.  This is the woman of unshakable faith in the midst of suffering and sorrows we will never even remotely comprehend or appreciate.  This is a woman of invincible faith, hope and courage, who comes up from the desert like an army in battle array and crushes the head of the ancient enemy with her heel.  Her humility, simplicity and modesty are more feared by the powers of darkness than the greatest preaching on earth!  This is the soul so full of grace and light, and adorned with such great fruits that it alone ravishes the heart of God and causes Him to send floods of grace upon the whole world, beginning with the greatest gift of all, the sending of His own Son, Jesus, to be our Savior.

This is not a passive woman, nor a pushy, aggressive one either. This is the valiant woman par excellence, who is as active a mother in the world today as she was when she mothered all those Jesus gave to her care during His hidden life, His public ministry, and in the early Church as it struggled through persecution to establish itself and evangelize the whole world.

How is Mary at work today, aside from her many apparitions?  There are some extraordinary stories which are not as well-known as they should be.

One of the great stories from our recent history comes to us from the Philippines.  The Philippines is a poor country, and the trials and sufferings of its people are immense.  At the same time the people have a vibrant, living faith that freely expresses itself in their culture.

During the 1980s, after having suffered for 20 years under the corrupt, oppressive, authoritarian Marcos regime, their spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, called for a Marian year.  People attended Rosary rallies, processions and special Masses by the millions, imploring Our Blessed Mother’s help.

At end of the year (1986), the people, including Priests and Religious, took to the streets, again by the millions, praying, carrying banners, and demanding that Marcos step down.  Marcos responded by sending tanks into the streets and ordering his soldiers to fire upon the crowds.  The soldiers looked into their gun sights to take aim but saw images of Our Lady everywhere.  They could not, would not fire.  In the end Marcos was airlifted out of the country and democracy was restored.

This was an unheard of thing, a completely bloodless, nonviolent revolution.  Secular media called it the People Power Revolution.  The Spanish of another era would’ve called it the work of La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Conquering Love!  And the Filippinos themselves know where the real victory came from.

Blessed Pope John Paul II took his cue from the events in the Philippines and called for a Marian year for the whole world from June 7 (Pentecost), 1987 to  August 15 (the Assumption), 1988.  Following the close of the world-wide Marian year, the Iron Curtain fell, and shortly thereafter the Soviet bloc disintegrated, all to the utter astonishment of the secular press.

Coincidence?  Don’t believe it!  They say the most common word heard on the battlefield is “mother”.  But this is the Mother we need in the battles we fight today.  We are all her children and she is ready to help any who approach her.

To those who might object to all this attention, remember, Mary is Jesus’ gift to us!  The Church does not ask us to worship Mary.  Jesus does not ask us to worship Mary.  He is simply asking us to love our Mother as He does.  It is a love upon which Jesus bestows boundless blessing.  Love your Mother!  There is none better!

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother, Sr. Anne Marie srannemarie@gmail.com

Finding Intimacy in the Desert

In the depths of our being, we all crave intimacy, connection.  We enter the world connected and remarkably well-equipped, even as babies, to draw others into relationship with us.  The very first moments of a baby’s life have to do with bonding, with cementing fundamental relationships with mother, father, siblings, grandparents, extended family.  It happens in a rather mysterious way, before a baby has developed verbal language or conscious powers of reasoning.  Nonetheless, by his very existence he draws people to himself by something that goes beyond a mere sense of obligation or duty on the part of the adults around him.

Agape, or the unconditional love of God for humankind, is sometimes described as being like the innocent love of an adult for a baby.  This is how God loves us!

From the beginning, this being in relationships is so much a part of us, so deep a need, that, by our nature, we are always seeking real relationships, and suffer deeply when we are deprived of them.  This is very much in keeping with our being made in the image and likeness of God Who lives in a communion of Persons and Who desires to share this happiness of a relational life with us.

It is equally true that almost from the beginning, the evil one sets out to disrupt and destroy not just particular relationships but all relationships.  He knows that if he succeeds in dividing us from God, we will become divided from others, and divided within ourselves as well.  Once God is removed, everything fragments.  Relationships fall apart.  This was the strategy of the evil one in the Garden of Eden.  This is still his objective in every temptation he sends our way.  When one considers the incredible breakdown of marriages and family relationships, it is obvious he excels at this.  Yet, it is interesting to note that among couples who regularly pray together, the divorce rate is 1%, a striking contrast to the 50% rate found in society at large.  God keeps us together.  The evil one tears us apart.

True relationships are always a threat to the evil one.  They have a power in them that defeats him.   It is no surprise that they are his central target.   He severed himself from his relationship with God and all that is good.  He now seeks to pull everyone else out of that same relationship.  And so, there is always hidden, within any temptation, a challenge to our relationship with God and the way we live it, which invariably affects the relationship we have with ourselves and with others.  What is presented to us is presented in the guise of a good, but the thrust of it always seeks to disturb or break our relationship with God.

Today, a successful strategy used by the evil one is the lure of “alternative” relationships, perhaps with other people, with nature, with technology, or even with himself, (though it is misleading to speak of the possibility of having a real relationship with the devil since he seeks ultimately, not our good but rather our destruction, and has lies and deceptions without number to accomplish it.)  He draws us in countless ways, sometimes through vain curiosities that waste time, through pursuit of base appetites, through legitimate goods such as digital gadgets that end up replacing personal relationships in many people’s lives.  He falsely suggests that the intimacy and inspiration we crave is more effectively met in these ways, than in fidelity to God and our loved ones.

Jesus went into the desert to show us the necessity of immersing ourselves in  our relationship with our Father.  When we are in deep communion with Him we easily recognize temptation and its core object.

It is intriguing to watch what Jesus does as He is tempted by the devil.  He does not debate the truth or lie of Satan’s statements for there is always some truth in temptation.  He knows clearly Satan’s aim.   Jesus hears the suggestion to abuse grace by turning stones into bread, to presume on or test God’s love by throwing Himself down from a height (and every fall from grace is exactly that) and to replace worship of God with the worship of Satan in the interests of exalting Himself as ruler of the kingdoms of the world.  Jesus responds by defending the Father’s  ways and holding fast to Him.  Real love always recognizes a threat to it’s treasure and is not moved by self-interest but rather willing to sacrifice self to preserve that treasure.

Jesus shows us that in the desert, in a poverty where we strip ourselves of excess and superfluous things, we much more easily attend to and are able to enter into this living relationship with God.   This is what our life is truly about.  In the desert, less is more.  In the desert we are actually strengthened, not weakened.  In the desert, God can speak to our hearts, as the prophet says (Hosea:  2:14).  In the desert, we conquer, with Christ, the evil one who is always looking for ways to take us out.

The traditional practices of Lent:  prayer, fasting and alms-giving have this aim.  They are not mere disciplines or exercises of will, (which we often quickly abandon when the 40 days are over.)  They are instruments of healing, meant to strengthen our relationships, especially in areas where we have either been negligent or where the evil one has caused damage.  Prayer helps heal and strengthen our relationship with God.  Fasting heals the brokenness we have within ourselves, addressing especially our tendencies to selfishness.  Giving alms helps to heal the brokenness we have in relationship to others.

Holiness is really nothing more than this: being in right relationship with God, with each other, and with ourselves.  Lent is a time in which particular grace is given to correct our relationships and bring us to the intimacy with God we  are created for.  When we come to this kind of holiness then we will have power and protection against evil, joy even in the midst of suffering, and grace-filled effectiveness in whatever God asks us to do in mission and ministry.  May this Lent bring us, through the Holy Spirit, to become one with Jesus in His love for the Father, His love for us, and His love for all our brothers and sisters.  May Our Lady enflame our desire for this life of love, and especially accompany us and protect us in our efforts.

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother, Sr. Anne Marie

Discernment in the Modern Age

One of the banes of modern life is the plethora of bad books, bad both in the sense of poorly written and bad in the sense of poisonous content.  It’s an observation that can be applied to movies, music, TV, and other forms of human expression as well.  This is not meant to be a moral judgment so much as a reflection on what constitutes healthy food for the soul.  We have great concern for the health of our bodies and our environment.  And we feed them and protect them accordingly.  At the same time, we seem to have much less conscious concern for what goes into our minds, our souls, our spirits.  We simply consume whatever is offered, no longer recognizing the difference between junk food and delicacy, nutrients and toxins.

Entertainment of a rather mindless variety seems to be the common fare these days.  It is big business to translate  the written form into visual form thus making things more sensual, gripping and exciting.  Books are made into movies, and articles are covered with images that engage the senses and the emotions in ways that are particularly potent.  We are attracted to manipulated, computer-generated scenes, enchanted by special effects, and seduced by music that diverts us away from a close examination of content.  We find ourselves being moved in certain directions without the benefit of an engaged intellect.  In fact, our intelligence is often purposely bypassed.

This can be very dangerous.  It’s a lot like seeing a glass of cold, refreshing water, after coming in on a hot, dusty day.  The reaction is almost overwhelming, immediate, physiological and emotional.  We would, without thinking, take the water and drink it.   But if someone told us that despite it’s inviting appearance, the water actually had e-coli in it, we would not approach it, much less drink it, no matter how thirsty we were, knowing it would be hazardous to our health.

This is very much like what happens when we indiscriminately read or watch whatever is the latest rage, whether it be fictional stories, movies, TV shows, that mock God, believers, our faith, or current book marketings of pornography (now particularly targeting women’s readership).  So many times people say:  ”it’s not so bad.  It’s just a little sex, or just a little violence, or just a little language.”

It doesn’t matter whether the poison is hidden in small amounts.  A little poison will kill you just as dead over time.  When our emotions, our passions, our senses, apart from our intellects, make our decisions for us, we are capable of drinking to the dregs whatever contaminant is presented to us.  And today, very deadly poisons abound.  Our culture prizes acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness. It has been noted though that the danger comes when people become so open-minded their brains fall out.  Curiosity can be a grave temptation.  Being “well-informed” another hook.  Pope Benedict mentioned that knowledge for it’s own sake only leads to sadness, and sometimes to much worse things.

This is not a new problem.  The young St. Teresa of Avila had an attraction to the romance/adventure novels of her time, until she realized that the illusions, vanity and worldliness they sowed in her were a great obstacle to her life in general and to her relationship with God in particular.  They did not help her live in reality and especially in the reality of her dignity as a woman, a beloved daughter of God with a great destiny, a great part to play in the life of the Church and the world.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits, also had this problem before his conversion.  He is famous for realizing how the books he read affected the movements of his soul, for better or worse.  While recovering from a serious battle injury, he began to recognize that the worldly books he was fond of, and which also fed his vanity, gave him a feeling of excitement which quickly passed and left him feeling discontented and restless.  On the other hand, when he read books on the lives of the saints and their great deeds, he found himself inspired and filled with a desire to follow their example.  These feelings did not change.  From this simple observation St. Ignatius developed his principles for discernment, which are now indispensable teachings for anyone serious about the spiritual life.

We of course need discernment in many areas of our lives.  And because we live in a complicated age, it is good to look for some general direction.  One place to find this is back at the very beginning.  God gave some very simple directions for life in the Garden, and repeated them again after the fall, through Moses.  He told Adam and Eve that they could eat from the Tree of Life and the other trees in the Garden, but not of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Later, He reiterated this directive again to the Israelites in Exodus.  ”Choose life that you may live.”

In all honesty, when our question becomes: “Is what I am about to say or see or do, life-giving to me and those around me” we are able to frame issues in a new light.  This is not the only question we sometimes need to ask.  But it is a very good place to start and finish.   Is this life-giving or is this poison to me, to my relationships, to my own dignity or someone else’s dignity?  It is a question that can be used with many of the choices we should make today with more deliberation than we do.  And it is a question that avoids the dissembling of moral relativism.  Something is either life-giving to all involved, or it is not.  If it brings death of any kind in it’s wake, it is to be avoided.

God’s commandments and the Church’s counsels are not meant to cramp our style or dampen our fun.  They are simply meant to protect us.  God knows what is good, what is healthy for us.  And He also knows what will make us sick.  Technology and the creative powers of mankind in many different fields have the potential to serve life or to bring death, both physical and spiritual death, depending on how they are used.  If we truly want to live and live well, live the abundant life Jesus promises us, then we have to stop starving our own souls and eat more plentifully from the Tree of Life.

Sister Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Meet our General Sister Servant

On July 17, 2013, Sr. Megan Mary Thibodeau was elected as the General Sister Servant of the Sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT).  Sr. Megan Mary Thibodeau is the daughter of Bill and Bonnie Thibodeau.  She and her four sisters grew up in Monroe, Connecticut where she attended St. Jude parish and school.  Sr. Megan graduated from Lauralton Hall (The Academy of Our Lady of Mercy) and attended the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  While attending Franciscan she was a member and a coordinator of Acceptance With Joy household, played intramural sports and served on the Supreme Court of FUSA. 

After graduating in 1995 with a degree in History and Secondary Education, Sr. Megan served as a volunteer teacher at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Belize, Central America.  It was during her time as a volunteer that she came to know the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.  After serving at the high school for two years, she returned to the United States to discern her vocation. 

In March 1998 she entered postulancy with SOLT in the Subiaco valley in Italy.  On December 8, 2000 she professed her first vows and returned to the United States.  During the course of her professed life she has served in our houses of initial formation in Texas, North Dakota, Italy and New Mexico.  In July 2011, Sr. Megan became a member of the General Council and served as Assistant Sister Servant for two years.

Sr. Megan was elected as General Sister Servant at the SOLT Extraordinary Chapter in July 2013.  Serving on the General Council along with her are: Sr. Margaret Mary Loehr (Assistant Sister Servant), Sr. Mary Emmanuel Schmidt (Second Assistant) and Sr. Mary Anne Boonsawang (Third Assistant).

Year of Consecrated Life 2015

Pope Francis announced that the year 2015 will be dedicated to consecrated life, as he met with the Union of Superiors General.
 
Instead of a planned speech and short meeting, Pope Francis chose to have a three-hour question and answer session with the 120 leaders of the Catholic men’s religious congregations.
During the session, the superiors general and the Pope spoke about how religious congregations enrich diocesan life. He encouraged members to go out to “frontiers,” working first and foremost with people excluded from society.
But he stressed the importance of dialogue with local communities to better adapt the Church’s teachings into their ways of life.
When it came to formation of religious members, the Pope said to avoid hypocrisy and clericalism, to develop “a tender heart.”
During the three-hour session, the Pope took a break with hot sip of mate.
-You share it.
-With another.
-Of course.
-I’d like one.
 
Upon his return, he continues answering their questions, and near the end he announced 2015 would be dedicated to them. He also thanked them for their faith and service.
Please pray for me. I need it.”

Coming Out of Hiding

Making New Year’s resolutions can be a tricky business.  We may think our best interests will be served by addressing our diet and exercising  more regularly.  Our family and friends might prefer that our resolve center instead around curbing our negativity, our moodiness, our critical spirit, or our rash judgments.  We might decide we need to give extra time to charitable projects when our family or community would be happy to see us enjoy more time in their company.  We may even realize we need more prayer in our lives and determine to make space for it when God would prefer we look for Him outside the concept of an exercise to perform.

There is actually one answer to all the needs for change we contemplate at the beginning of a new year:  Jesus Christ and the Trinitarian life He came to bring us.  Many of us know about Jesus.  Fewer of us really feel comfortable saying we know Him.  And out of those of us who know Him, we don’t always relate to Him, or allow Him to relate to us in any kind of way that really affects our lives.  There is a kind of split in us between our faith and the rest of our lives.

Vatican Council II sought particularly to address this difficulty of believers today, the problem of a duplicity that manifests itself in those of us who intellectually assent to the existence of God yet fail to live as though we really believe He exists.  Instead, we live, practically speaking, as atheists.  We do not live as though God is our Father, providing for us in all that is most necessary.  If we did, we would not be filled with anxieties and stress over how to take care of ourselves.

We also profess a belief in Jesus as our Savior, and yet we are constantly trying to save ourselves.  Witness the incredible number of self-help books and social programs that promise fulfillment and ultimate happiness.  The promotional tag line is often the only really successful part of the whole offering which inevitably engenders its own problems.  In the meantime, participation in the life-giving, healing sacraments wanes, and attendance at Mass is no longer seen as essential.

We say we believe the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Guide.  And yet we fight our own fights without seeking His help while the course we try to steer in our lives isn’t on His map.  It’s of our own making and doesn’t lead us to happy or peaceful outcomes.

All of this comes because we fail to realize that our Trinitarian God is a personal God.  He wants to be up “close and personal” with us.  And He wants us to be personal with Him.  The Father is a Person who wants us to relate to Him that way.  Jesus is a Person and He wants us to relate to Him that way.   The Holy Spirit is a Person, Who also wants us to relate to Him that way.

It is worth noting that no two relationships with God are alike.  Just as a group of siblings who have the same mother and father have unique relationships with them, so too is our relationship with God unique to each of us.  Trying to be someone else, even a saint, will drive us away from an authentic communion with God.  If He had wanted hundreds of St. Francis of Assisi’s or St. Therese of Lisieux’s, God would have created them.  But marvel of marvels, He’s created each of us to be our own exceptional expression of His love.

This means, in order to find ourselves, we have to stop hiding from God, and in a way, from ourselves too.  We often hide from Him without even being aware of it.  Sometimes we hide out in our illusions.  Sometimes we hide behind our wounds, our excuses, our busyness, our technology, science, our own pride or distrust of God.  We often hide behind our self-sufficiency until God either takes it away, or shows us the limits of our own power.  Sometimes we hide behind our sins either out of shame or because we don’t want to give them up.

Hiding from the Lord is as old as Adam and Eve.  We become afraid of what He might say to us, what He might ask of us.  We become infected with doubts about Him.  And so we hide.  But as soon as we hide, He comes looking for us.  We are like children in the game of Hide and Seek.  The adult always knows where the child is.  But the child still needs to be found.  And in the spiritual life, even though we choose many things to hide behind, deep down, we all want to be found.  We all want to know we are beloved and sought after because this tells us something essential about ourselves.  And this is precisely what God wants for us.  He wants us to come out of hiding so He can not only reveal Himself to us, but so that He can reveal us to ourselves as well.  It is only in friendship with Him, in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, as confident children of Our Father, and in trusting openness to the Holy Spirit that this happens.  These are exciting revelations because infinite Love is behind all of them.

Perhaps we can glean help for the New Year from some of the recent writings and homilies of  Pope Francis.  But we will have to come out of hiding.  The whole of us.  No holding anything back, because every area of our life must be touched by God’s transforming presence.   A good resolution then would be one that seeks to “encounter the Lord and most of all, allows us to be encountered by Him.”  Then we must keep our eyes open for the many different ways He encounters us, finds us, in our life experiences, in our prayer, in creation, in the words of another spoken to us, in the Scriptures and Sacraments and Mass and in thoughts that come to us within, from the light of our Baptism.

As Pope Francis so beautifully says:  “God does not hide Himself from those who seek Him with a sincere heart even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.”  Why?  Because  “His delight is to be among the sons of men” as the Christmas season has just gloriously proven to us once again.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
December 30, 2013

Come, Lord Jesus!

At this time when Mary and Joseph are following an inner vision, the three Kings are following an extraordinary star, and angels are appearing to shepherds near Bethlehem, we take time to see with the eyes of our souls the great Gift that comes to us in the Person of Jesus, our Savior.

We may think this is old news:  that Jesus comes to save us.  But it seems that in the world today, the same world that lay in darkness at the Advent of Christ’s birth, we have even less appreciation of our need to be saved.  And this primarily because we do not see things as they really are.

Man has tried over the ages to save himself.  And though often well-intentioned, he continues today in this fruitless endeavor.  It is easy for us to see this in great realities, examples from history that show us the simple truth:  that “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.”

There are striking examples in recent history.  Prohibition came about because of the recognition of the great evils that come from the abuse of alcohol.  It was a human campaign against the destructive forces of alcohol.  It was motivated by a noble concern for the dignity of person.  And yet, it also spawned great evils, not the least of which was the entrance of organized crime into the procurement of liquor, probably resulting in more graft, corruption and death, than ever before.

“Women’s Liberation” is another obvious example.  It was a necessary challenge to the injustice present, and still present in the world in relationship to women.  And yet, at the same time, without Christ at it’s center, it too has spawned the great evils of abortion, promiscuity, rising rates of unmarried pregnancies, venereal disease and sexual abuse, to name only a few.   Ironically, perhaps the greatest evil to come from godless feminism, is the depersonalization of woman into an object, a commodity.

Today we also see man trying to break the ordered boundaries of creation and the barriers of physical health. And we see him as well trying to conquer death.  We are well aware of the ways in which this kind of activity opens doors to unprecedented kinds of evil, threatening the very existence of mankind.  Yet these victories over the flesh and death, are victories Christ has already won for us.  And they can only be had in Him.

The last century witnessed the rise and fall of more social, political and cultural ideologies than almost any other era in time.  Though some of these visions of man contain noble goals, the 20th century, overall, was marked by what one author called “mega death.”  Millions upon millions killed in war, genocides, persecutions, ethnic cleansing, etc.

We know there is no philosophy or ideology that can make sense of the world, nor explain man’s innate desire to know goodness and exist forever, unless it sees everything as coming from God and going back to Him.   Even when our natures, oriented as they are to goodness, try to move to fulfillment, there is no hope outside of Christ.  Our world has too often been a tragic witness to this.

At a personal level we often also live our lives in this way.  We do not see things as they really are.  We do not see ourselves or others as they really are, because we do not live in Christ the way we should. And therefore we do not even really seek the saving power of Christ in our lives. Instead we try to save ourselves and others, in so many ways.

We use our words to try and save ourselves, instead of going to the Word to be saved by it.

We try to save ourselves and others by our work, our apostolates.  But we often forget that the work belongs to God, and will only be made fruitful in Him.

We use relationships to try and save ourselves from one difficulty or another, instead of striving to live in communion with the Triune God who gives us every real relationship.

We form human alliances that pit us against others, in order to save ourselves (and who can count the number of evils this  breeds), instead of living the Covenant God has given to us.

We seek to save ourselves by standing in judgment over others rather than loving them and escaping our own judgment by living God’s charity which He promises covers a multitude of sins.

We try to save ourselves from our addictions and only end up replacing one with another.  We do the same with our weaknesses.  We spiritualize them in an attempt to still our consciences rather than  seeking and depending upon God’s merciful grace.    Our real self, which we hide from ourselves, nevertheless dogs us into our life of prayer and charity toward our neighbor, especially those we live with.  So we try to heal our brokenness with all sorts of self-help programs instead of letting God help us.

Our blindness runs very deep.  We are not even aware of the many ways we stay outside of the whole salvation Jesus comes to bring us.  He not only wants to free us from sin, but from worry, from resentment, from wounds and hurts that keep us bound to the past, from loneliness, from narrowness, from boredom, from indifference, from blindness, from selfishness, from our suspicions, our doubts, our negativity and fears, from self-sufficiency, from everything that leads us to spiritual starvation.  He comes to give us life, and the more abundant life!

Jesus knows how hard it is for us to truly acknowledge our need to be saved.  He knows how our pride blinds us.  He knows how difficult it is for us to approach Him unguardedly.  So He comes to us as a tiny baby, and as babies are able to do, draws us to Himself and commands our attention and affection by His beauty and littleness.  There is no other human being we take as easily to ourselves as a little baby.  There is no other that disarms us and wins our heart and our affections so quickly.   There is no other creature that draws the good from within us, all that is human, the way a baby does, and most importantly, the way the Baby Jesus does.

May each of us this Christmas be given, and receive in all humility, the eyes of the Shepherds, the determination of the Wise Men to follow the vision of the Star, and the heart and soul of Mary and Joseph who so eagerly saw and so completely received the magnificent love come to us Incarnate in Christ Jesus our little Lord and mighty Savior.

Come Lord Jesus.   Come to save us!  Do not delay!

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT

Christmas Reflections

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the whole world is in movement.  Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, reminding us that the world today is also traveling toward its definitive encounter with God.  The journey of the Holy Family toward the moment in which God enters the world from the womb of Mary, in the Person of Jesus Christ, for all human eyes to see, reminds us that we too are moving on our own journey through this life, in company with millions of others, to our own definitive encounter with God.

Mary and Joseph found no comfort, no welcome, no shelter, no understanding from the world on this journey.  They followed and were supported by heavenly inspirations and light, the presence of angels, and their own profound faith in God’s never-changing goodness and His ever-present Providence.   This was their strength and consolation.

We also should not expect too much help from the world on this journey.  The world has no space for God.  No time.  No real interest.  It offers only distraction and a kind of movement which keeps the human heart in confusion, apprehension and vague unhappiness.  The world is full of activity which often has no ultimate meaning.  This activity spends the precious moments allotted to us to find our way home to Our Heavenly Father.

God enters our world in the fullness of time because He can no longer wait to be with us in Person.  But Christmas also comes because mankind, in the persons of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, seek God as well; because the intense, hidden longing of their souls has not been misinterpreted to them by the false prophets of the world.  Their interior has not been cluttered with distraction.  It is unfettered by illusion.  God is their inner life and moves them in a mutual, eager longing, in silence, in poverty, in simplicity, in penetrating light and redeeming love.

Mary and Joseph “walk the way of perfection” to Bethlehem because they know God and are the friends of God.  They call us to follow this way with them, a way which holds difficulty, discomfort, the contempt of the world, but which brings us to be the friends of God, as the psalmist says:  “He who walks the way of perfection shall be my friend.”  -Ps 101   Jesus silently stirs our hearts and beckons us to the embrace of true friendship with Himself, promising to make known to us all that He has heard from the Father. –Jn 15:15  This happens in God’s way, in His time and by His choosing.  And it brings us the most precious gift of all, God Himself as a tiny baby depending on us to love Him, to care for Him and nurture His life in ourselves and in others.

In Bethlehem, two longings meet:  the longing of God and the longing of man.  Two longings answer each other and fulfill each other.  May our poor and lowly souls this Christmas be still as the stable in Bethlehem at midnight, ever ready to receive our Lord in humble awe, in mutual longing.  May we be the ones to be wrapped tightly with the gifts of Christmas peace, light, love and joy.  And may that Divine love which becomes incarnate in Bethlehem, radiate outward to all mankind through our oneness with the Holy Family in this sublime mystery.  May this Christmas find us and those we love and hold dear, numbered in the heavenly census, as citizens traveling joyfully forward to our celestial Fatherland.

United with all of you in the joy and light of the greatest gift of the Most Holy Trinity this Christmas:  our Savior and Beloved.

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT

Christmas Reflections

At this time when Mary and Joseph are following an inner vision, the three Kings are following an extraordinary star, and angels are appearing to shepherds near Bethlehem, we take time to see with the eyes of our souls the great Gift that comes to us in the Person of Jesus, our Savior.

We may think this is old news:  that Jesus comes to save us.  But it seems that in the world today, the same world that lay in darkness at the Advent of Christ’s birth, we have even less appreciation of our need to be saved.  And this primarily because we do not see things as they really are.

Man has tried over the ages to save himself.  And though often well-intentioned, he continues today in this fruitless endeavor.  It is easy for us to see this in great realities, examples from history that show us the simple truth:  that “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.”

There are striking examples in recent history.  Prohibition came about because of the recognition of the great evils that come from the abuse of alcohol.  It was a human campaign against the destructive forces of alcohol.  It was motivated by a noble concern for the dignity of person.  And yet, it also spawned great evils, not the least of which was the entrance of organized crime into the procurement of liquor, probably resulting in more graft, corruption and death, than ever before.

“Women’s Liberation” is another obvious example.  It was a necessary challenge to the injustice present, and still present in the world in relationship to women.  And yet, at the same time, without Christ at it’s center, it too has spawned the great evils of abortion, promiscuity, rising rates of unmarried pregnancies, venereal disease and sexual abuse, to name only a few.   Ironically, perhaps the greatest evil to come from godless feminism, is the depersonalization of woman into an object, a commodity.

Today we also see man trying to break the ordered boundaries of creation and the barriers of physical health. And we see him as well trying to conquer death.  We are well aware of the ways in which this kind of activity opens doors to unprecedented kinds of evil, threatening the very existence of mankind.  Yet these victories over the flesh and death, are victories Christ has already won for us.  And they can only be had in Him.

The last century witnessed the rise and fall of more social, political and cultural ideologies than almost any other era in time.  Though some of these visions of man contain noble goals, the 20th century, overall, was marked by what one author called “mega death.”  Millions upon millions killed in war, genocides, persecutions, ethnic cleansing, etc.

We know there is no philosophy or ideology that can make sense of the world, nor explain man’s innate desire to know goodness and exist forever, unless it sees everything as coming from God and going back to Him.   Even when our natures, oriented as they are to goodness, try to move to fulfillment, there is no hope outside of Christ.  Our world has too often been a tragic witness to this.

At a personal level we often also live our lives in this way.  We do not see things as they really are.  We do not see ourselves or others as they really are, because we do not live in Christ the way we should. And therefore we do not even really seek the saving power of Christ in our lives. Instead we try to save ourselves and others, in so many ways.

We use our words to try and save ourselves, instead of going to the Word to be saved by it.

We try to save ourselves and others by our work, our apostolates.  But we often forget that the work belongs to God, and will only be made fruitful in Him.

We use relationships to try and save ourselves from one difficulty or another, instead of striving to live in communion with the Triune God who gives us every real relationship.

We form human alliances that pit us against others, in order to save ourselves (and who can count the number of evils this  breeds), instead of living the Covenant God has given to us.

We seek to save ourselves by standing in judgment over others rather than loving them and escaping our own judgment by living God’s charity which He promises covers a multitude of sins.

We try to save ourselves from our addictions and only end up replacing one with another.  We do the same with our weaknesses.  We spiritualize them in an attempt to still our consciences rather than  seeking and depending upon God’s merciful grace.    Our real self, which we hide from ourselves, nevertheless dogs us into our life of prayer and charity toward our neighbor, especially those we live with.  So we try to heal our brokenness with all sorts of self-help programs instead of letting God help us.

Our blindness runs very deep.  We are not even aware of the many ways we stay outside of the whole salvation Jesus comes to bring us.  He not only wants to free us from sin, but from worry, from resentment, from wounds and hurts that keep us bound to the past, from loneliness, from narrowness, from boredom, from indifference, from blindness, from selfishness, from our suspicions, our doubts, our negativity and fears, from self-sufficiency, from everything that leads us to spiritual starvation.  He comes to give us life, and the more abundant life!

Jesus knows how hard it is for us to truly acknowledge our need to be saved.  He knows how our pride blinds us.  He knows how difficult it is for us to approach Him unguardedly.  So He comes to us as a tiny baby, and as babies are able to do, draws us to Himself and commands our attention and affection by His beauty and littleness.  There is no other human being we take as easily to ourselves as a little baby.  There is no other that disarms us and wins our heart and our affections so quickly.   There is no other creature that draws the good from within us, all that is human, the way a baby does, and most importantly, the way the Baby Jesus does.

May each of us this Christmas be given, and receive in all humility, the eyes of the Shepherds, the determination of the Wise Men to follow the vision of the Star, and the heart and soul of Mary and Joseph who so eagerly saw and so completely received the magnificent love come to us Incarnate in Christ Jesus our little Lord and mighty Savior.

Come Lord Jesus.   Come to save us!  Do not delay!

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT

Christmas Reflections

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the whole world is in movement.  Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, reminding us that the world today is also traveling toward its definitive encounter with God.  The journey of the Holy Family toward the moment in which God enters the world from the womb of Mary, in the Person of Jesus Christ, for all human eyes to see, reminds us that we too are moving on our own journey through this life, in company with millions of others, to our own definitive encounter with God.

Mary and Joseph found no comfort, no welcome, no shelter, no understanding from the world on this journey.  They followed and were supported by heavenly inspirations and light, the presence of angels, and their own profound faith in God’s never-changing goodness and His ever-present Providence.   This was their strength and consolation.

We also should not expect too much help from the world on this journey.  The world has no space for God.  No time.  No real interest.  It offers only distraction and a kind of movement which keeps the human heart in confusion, apprehension and vague unhappiness.  The world is full of activity which often has no ultimate meaning.  This activity spends the precious moments allotted to us to find our way home to Our Heavenly Father.

God enters our world in the fullness of time because He can no longer wait to be with us in Person.  But Christmas also comes because mankind, in the persons of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, seek God as well; because the intense, hidden longing of their souls has not been misinterpreted to them by the false prophets of the world.  Their interior has not been cluttered with distraction.  It is unfettered by illusion.  God is their inner life and moves them in a mutual, eager longing, in silence, in poverty, in simplicity, in penetrating light and redeeming love.

Mary and Joseph “walk the way of perfection” to Bethlehem because they know God and are the friends of God.  They call us to follow this way with them, a way which holds difficulty, discomfort, the contempt of the world, but which brings us to be the friends of God, as the psalmist says:  “He who walks the way of perfection shall be my friend.”  -Ps 101   Jesus silently stirs our hearts and beckons us to the embrace of true friendship with Himself, promising to make known to us all that He has heard from the Father. –Jn 15:15  This happens in God’s way, in His time and by His choosing.  And it brings us the most precious gift of all, God Himself as a tiny baby depending on us to love Him, to care for Him and nurture His life in ourselves and in others.

In Bethlehem, two longings meet:  the longing of God and the longing of man.  Two longings answer each other and fulfill each other.  May our poor and lowly souls this Christmas be still as the stable in Bethlehem at midnight, ever ready to receive our Lord in humble awe, in mutual longing.  May we be the ones to be wrapped tightly with the gifts of Christmas peace, light, love and joy.  And may that Divine love which becomes incarnate in Bethlehem, radiate outward to all mankind through our oneness with the Holy Family in this sublime mystery.  May this Christmas find us and those we love and hold dear, numbered in the heavenly census, as citizens traveling joyfully forward to our celestial Fatherland.

United with all of you in the joy and light of the greatest gift of the Most Holy Trinity this Christmas:  our Savior and Beloved.

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT

Women and the Priesthood

There is a question that still seems to be unsettled in the minds of many ordinary Catholics.  It is a question that comes up when people positively assess our new Holy Father but think he still does not go far enough.  The question:  Why can’t women be Priests?

Many of the responses given to this question seem, in the end, to fall back solely upon authority.  Pope Paul VI said that respect for the modern mind requires more than this.

In order to shed light on the questions of the present, Blessed John Paul II often led us back to the beginnings, to reflect on God’s creation of man and woman before the fall.  It is incontestable that both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God.  Both are equal in dignity because of this.  But this does not make them the same in every other respect.  They are two different expressions of the human person, created to live in unity with one another, via a complementarity that assists them to reflect in some respect, the inner life of the Persons of the Trinity.

Further, Blessed Pope John Paul the Great said, in one of his  many engaging teachings on man and woman, that the closer a person comes to God the more they become either mother or father.  This is because God is Father.  And both human motherhood and human fatherhood are reflections of God’s Fatherhood which is divine.

So women are meant to be mothers and men fathers.  But there is a deep understanding required here.  All men and all women are meant to be mothers and fathers, regardless of whether they are married, single, religious or ordained.

This means that a woman is not a mother simply because she has born a child or has a body capable of bearing children.  She is called to be a mother because in her spirit she is maternal, and the physical realities of her body simply correspond to the deeper spiritual principle of her being.  Likewise, men are not called to be fathers simply because they have bodies capable of begetting children. They are called to be fathers because in their spirits they are paternal.  Their bodies too simply manifest the deeper spiritual principles of their being.

We know that the Church is a family, God’s family.  Mothers and fathers are the essential elements for any family regardless of what the world says in its attempts to redefine family.  Unless the paternal meets the maternal, life cannot be conceived, born, nor can it be nurtured to maturity.  This is true in both the natural order and in the spiritual order as well.

In the Church, this distinction is sometimes referred to as the Petrine and Marian dimensions.  St. Peter, the Pope, Bishops, Priests are called to be spiritual fathers to the whole people of God, and therefore need to be men.  But mothers are also essential to this order and Mary, religious and all women, fill this role.  In fact, the Church herself is called mother.  It is why the Church has been stressing the importance of women so much, speaking about the feminine genius and the need for a greater presence of women and their gifts in the Church and in the world.  It is the dimension that has not been understood or appreciated as well as it needs to be.

Paul Evdokimov, a famous Russian Orthodox theologian who was an official observer at Vatican II, said that without woman God cannot be born into the world.  In the Incarnation, Jesus takes His flesh from the body of a woman.  God establishes His link with humanity through maternity.  This is a divine order that has not changed.  JPII pointed out that because of the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus links Himself with every human being who comes into the world.  And in the order intended by God, that is through the body of a woman.

We know that the Priest brings Jesus to us in the Eucharist and in the sacraments.  Yet if God calls us even before we are born (see Jeremiah) then there would be no Priests without women who give birth to them in the first place, and nurture the life of God within them.

The life of grace received from Priests in the sacraments also often needs this maternal care. A close friend confessed that before her conversion she was caught in an adulterous relationship she could not break.  She knew it was wrong and took it to Confession a number of times.  But within a week she was always back in the relationship.  She finally got a Priest in Confession who told her she needed to find someone to walk her through it, someone she could call and talk to everytime she was tempted to go back.  She befriended a religious woman, opened up to her, and after some time, was able to completely break things off.  What was going on?  She received grace in the sacrament but it was like a seed that needed nurturing and strengthening in her soul.  Once it was rooted and grew, through contact with her friend, she became strong enough to withstand the temptations. That is the maternal charism in action.  Hidden perhaps, but essential to both our natural and spiritual lives.

On one occasion I was challenged by a group of seventh grade girls on this issue of women in the priesthood.  When the reality of the Church as the family of God was explained, and when the need for mothers and fathers was spoken about, there was no further argument.  Too many of them came from single-parent families where they would’ve given anything to have had a mother and a father.  They didn’t want their mother to be their father or their father to be their mother even though a mother can do many things a father can, and vica versa.  They wanted a family with both.  And they knew experientially and sadly that without both, something fundamental in their lives was missing.

In a beautiful passage, Blessed John Paul II says, “Mary was not called to the ministerial priesthood, but the mission she received had no less value than a pastoral ministry. Indeed it was quite superior. She received a maternal mission at the highest level, to be the mother of Jesus Christ and thus Theotokos the mother of God.  This mission would broaden into motherhood for all men and women in the order of grace, and the same can be said of the mission of motherhood that women accept in the Church.  They are placed by Christ in the wondrous light of Mary which shines at the summits of the Church and creation.”

We must have ultimate respect for the dignity of the ministerial Priesthood.  But if women truly understood the magnificence and greatness of their own calling, and the urgent need which the world has for their gifts, they would not be interested in trading it for a false equality.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

srannemarie@gmail.com

10/7/2013