Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mary: The model of contemplation

The month of May is dedicated to Mary. In my community, we pray the rosary together and during this special month, as we contemplate the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary, we offer Mary flowers, candles, incense, and perfume (a Mexican tradition). However, we should be inviting Mary into our lives throughout the year! She is our Mother, and like any mother, she has a lot to teach us.
Mary is the model of contemplation. The object of this contemplation is God. But what exactly is contemplation? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines contemplation as,
... the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery (2724).
Let us turn to a well known passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke and see how Mary gives us the example of contemplation (some sections are bolded for emphasis) :
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”*And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38
Hans Urs von Balthasar uses this passage to point out 3 stages of Mary’s contemplation that we can all imitate:
  1. Mary’s initial reaction of alarm as she wonders what sort of greeting this might be
  2. She asks what practical steps she must take to render the obedience expected of her
  3. In response to the revelation of the Spirit who will overshadow her, she consents to God’s perfect Word which is to take effect in her
When we are in a disposition of receptivity, God can ask some pretty big things of us. These “big things” can give us initial reactions of fear, apprehension, alarm, etc. much like Mary’s initial reaction to Gabriel’s greeting. This is normal and it is good advice to discern where this is coming from (see 1 John 4:1-6). If we are certain that God is behind this dialogue, then we should also take Mary’s lead in asking how to accomplish whatever mission God has entrusted to us! After asking, remember to take time to listen and to continue to be receptive. This is often very difficult for us to do.
Annunciation Full Size flyer.jpg
I have worked with many students who more or less think of God as a magical vending machine in the sky where if they insert “prayers,” they should receive what they asked for instantly! Imagine what the world would be like if we got everything we wanted on a whim. God is generous and He will give us what we need. Remember that God is the object of contemplation, which is an expression of love. This love is a relationship between you and God. There is not much of a relationship if we are just constantly demanding things from God and treating Him like a magical vending machine!
Each of us has a specific calling, or vocation, to fulfill. Mary’s vocation was to become the Mother of God! God did not demand this from her. He asked her through one of his messengers. After she discerned this call and asked “how this can be,” she consented to God’s will. Mary’s “yes” to God allowed God to become Incarnate! This 3rd step, responding/consenting to God’s will, is also difficult for us.....but never impossible!

I encourage you to incorporate contemplative prayer into your life and ask Mary to help you to fulfill the special mission God has for you. She understands completely.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fall in Love, stay in Love, and it will decide everything

Fall in Love
Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907–1991)

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, 
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, 
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

This poem has found its way into my life a few times since entering the convent. Within my first week, a seminarian friend of mine sent me a letter that ended with the last 3 lines of this poem. It was exactly what I needed to read at that moment. During Holy Week I encountered this poem again, except this time I read the entire thing. It was exactly what I needed to read at that moment. 

This rather short and simple poem brings up some serious Truth. If we truly fall in love with God (and we try our best to stay in love), then EVERYTHING is affected. Think about that for a moment! I cannot think of anything that is not affected when God is at the center of our lives. Let me know if you come up with something. 

I am one of those people who has a difficult time waking up in the morning. I do not have the luxury of a snooze button anymore, so the struggle is so real…especially at 5:15 AM! However, my community is peacefully woken up by a recording of prayers that immediately reminds us of why we are making this sacrifice. Love really does get me out of bed in the morning, even when it is most difficult. Maybe you can relate to this. I am sure you can also think of a bajillion other examples in whatever vocation you are in! These seemingly ordinary struggles do mean a lot to God when we do the best we can out of love for God. 

My Superior is having me read a book called, Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar. In this book I recently came across 3 points the author makes about our love for God. These 3 points also reflect God’s love for us:

1. Love desires to have the beloved before its eyes

2. Love desires to dwell at peace in the presence of the beloved 

3. There is in love an eagerness which wants to get to know the beloved 

All 3 of these points that von Balthasar makes made me immediately think of the Eucharist. 
In Mass and in Eucharistic Adoration we are literally before the gaze of Jesus. He desires to gaze upon you, His beloved, with infinite love and mercy. It is up to us to respond to this loving gaze. When you receive Jesus into your heart, He desires to dwell in the tabernacle of your heart. St. Therese has said that this is a little heaven for Him! I believe this is also true when we keep company with Jesus in Adoration. Finally, just as in any relationship, Jesus is eager to get to know you. Yes, He knows your heart and your deepest desires because of His Divine nature, but He wants YOU to come to Him and share yourself with Him. Remember, prayer is simply heart speaking to Heart! 

I now invite you to reread Fr. Arrupe’s poem again from Jesus’ perspective. He has fallen in love with you, stayed in love with you, and that really has decided everything. What is your response to this Love?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

I asked everyone in our community how they feel about their call to spiritual motherhood.
Here are some of the answers they gave.

Sr. Rosario: "Spiritual motherhood is the responsibility that I have towards others. I am called to love them and care for them because they need someone to love them, and care for them, and to give them a home away from home."

Sr. Jeanette: "I always see myself growing in my spiritual motherhood. With the passing of time, I feel like my heart becomes wider and wider to accept more and more people, so to love them."

Sr. Isabel: "It's hard because you need to be a prayerful person, always close to God, listening to what He tells you and always under the protection of the Holy Spirit.

Sr. Dolores: "It's my responsibility to care for and love them and pray for the children who are entrusted to me."

Sr. Rita: "I'm always concerned about them so that they are never in danger, or exposed to things that can hurt them, or in places where they can fall, because I consider that they are too little to understand when they are in danger."

April: "It excites me. I've always wanted to have a lot of kids. So now I can see that God is answering that desire, in an unexpected way."

Katie: "There are SO...MANY...CHILDREN... I just love them as much as God gives me the grace to. I direct them to God; it's a lot of responsibility but I love it."

Ines: "It's a responsibility to share love and to care for people who don't know how to love.

And how do I feel about my call to spiritual motherhood????

Well, it's quite a humbling call. It definitely requires that I always have immediate recourse to Mary and Jesus. I look at all that both my earthly mom and Momma Mary have had to deal with in guiding me and loving me so that I might become who I am today. I am called to do the same for others. Then I look at the fact that my mom only had four daughters, but Mary has an entire Church full of children until the end of time! I am called to have just as many! It can seem daunting, but I'm excited at the same time.

Today, I'm saying a special prayer for all mothers. Thank you for your vocation. May God bless you all.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Reflections

V. J .E

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit."

For many years, every time this Gospel passage was read during Mass, I always became perturbed at the part where Jesus says that the Father takes away every branch in Him that does not bear fruit. For one thing, how could Jesus have branches in Him that do not bear fruit? I mean...He's Jesus! That just didn't make sense to me. Then, on top of that, every homily that has ever been delivered on the passage contains the same message, namely: The Father is a vindictive God, waiting to strike you down the moment you mess up. If you don't produce fruit, you're going to get cut off.

But have you every noticed that no matter what happens, you will get cut? Obviously, if you don't produce fruit, you get cut. But even if you do produce fruit, you get pruned. So in other words, you still get cut.

This year, I'm so happy because my eyes have been opened to a new interpretation of this passage. As I read this Gospel, I was reminded of a time when I lived at an apartment complex where there were beautiful tall trees. There was one day where I witnessed maintenance men cutting the trees down, all the way to their stumps. I always thought that trees cut down to the stump never grow back. I was amazed therefore, to see that the trees grew back to their original heights, only a few months later. By recalling this memory, in light of this Gospel, I was consoled by the thought that the Father is not a cold tyrant waiting to strike me down but a truly loving parent who knows exactly how to discipline me so that I become great. He doesn't over discipline me, nor does he shy away from disciplining me. There are some times when I need just a bit of pruning here and there, maybe just a dead leaf or two. But there are some times when I need to be cut down all the way to my core. Regardless of how much discipline I get, I always end up growing up even more vibrant then before because I remain in Jesus.

The branch, therefore, that remains in Jesus differs from those branches that do not remain in Him. Such branches naturally wither and become brittle, because they are not being nourished by a Source. But even then, God the Father doesn't just throw these branches away. He collects them, gathers them up in His arms and throws them into a fire... Don't you see?? Even withered branches can become great!! We are all called to a greater dignity because we are made in God's image. So He pursue us and challenges us because He is faithful and will have His way in us. And so He deals with us according to our relationship with Him. If you need a bit of pruning, that's what you'll get. If you need to get cut down completely, that's what you'll get. If you need to be transformed completely from a lifeless, complacent, lukewarm soul into a blazing, zealous, fool for Christ...then that's what you will be drawn into.

God is mercy, and ever pursues you with furious love. Don't abuse His love and mercy for you. Don't take His forgiveness for granted. Strive, rather, to always remain in His love. For those who remain in His love, are satisfied and want for nothing. Why? Because He, himself, says that what ever we ask in His name, He will do. He has no reason to lie.
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