Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reflection on Reading for Sunday, Nehemiah 8:4-10

V. J. E. 

Dear friends,

I would like to share what came to my mind as I read the readings for this upcoming Sunday, January 24th. Specifically, my attention was drawn to the first reading, which is from Nehemiah 8:4-10. Please join me in reading this passage of Holy Scripture before continuing, and I encourage you to see what the Lord inspires you to reflect on. You can even write it down, as I did. Share it. Here is what I could capture with my pen:

The call to be a teacher is a great one, for every life is a lesson to be taught; every life a lesson to be learned. Every person from the moment of conception has a message to teach, a prophetic cry to be heard! But, how often are we deaf to this cry? How often do we clasp our hands over our ears to avoid even hearing it? Our world cries out to us, our brothers and sisters scream out to us, and often times, in very hidden, even silent ways. We must pray to learn to perceive these cries for help and deliverance. And, what must our response be? Love - a love based on the Eternal Word, in His speech and in His action, in His voice and in His flesh. How can we convey this Word? 

Firstly, by learning how to be teachable; to become teachable. We must always see ourselves as students, ready and eager to learn from the "least" of our brothers and sisters. Secondly, we must take what little we know of Truth and make it accessible to all, as it is. Jesus was not a contortionist. He did not seek to slip into different molds in order to fit into what was socially acceptable or what would've been "nice" for His audience. As a great teacher taught me, there is a difference between what is "good" and what is "nice". Jesus was who He was, and He was at peace with that. Still is. Truth isOn the other hand, we cannot forget that Jesus was and is the most sensitive of men, "a man full of sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3b). No man ever knew man's needs as well as Jesus. He did not water down His message; instead, He brought all people to the source of it, the well-spring of life, by meeting them where they were and calling them to greatness. We must pray to imitate Jesus in this way - to learn how to proclaim the Eternal Word in all that we say and do. And, when it is time for us to teach, let us fight any temptation to see ourselves as above the listener. We are only handing on what we have received, and how much of a mess we can make of that! Rather, let us see ourselves as lifting up the other, the one who is indeed on the same plane as us by virtue of his or her human dignity, to contemplate the Face of God. 

It is only by first seeing ourselves in the proper perspective that we can truly begin to do good. It is only by learning how to listen to the voice of the Lord that we can begin to decipher the voices of our brothers and sisters, and it is only by learning from our brothers and sisters that we can begin to hear the voice of God. Jesus, the greatest of teachers, was the greatest of students. Let us remember too that "no disciple is greater than his master" (Matt 10:24a).

St. Philip Neri, blessed teacher and student of Divine Love, pray for us. 

In His Love,

Sr. April Marie

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Humanity Invades the Convent

Liturgically, December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents--remembering all the infant boys two and under who were murdered under King Herod's command.  We remember the first martyrs of the Church, who unknowingly witnessed to the faith in Christ unto death. Children are beautifully pure and innocent--they speak what is on their minds, they seemingly have no concept of who is watching as they express how they are feeling at any time of the day, but they also play with you and warm your soul with smiles and hugs and sheer joy.  In Mexico, this day is remembered for the innocence of children in that playful characteristic.  Similar to our April 1st day tradition, the Mexican culture plays pranks on this day to always remember our call to be childlike.  The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament were founded in Mexico, thereby our sisters here in Cleveland continued the tradition and enjoyed this day at the expense of the pride of one said postulant (all in good fun).

The details aren't as important here about how said prank happened (see below if interested in the whole story), but what is essential to notice is the humanity found within the person of a Religious and one seeking such a state in life.  We are human, and enjoy a good
laugh as much as anyone.  God longs to give us the desire of our hearts--which, at the root, is the same no matter what vocation you may be called to; holiness and happiness.  He wants all of us to be happy; and loving jokes between sisters are just one of the many ways we can live out this holiness and happiness.

Yet humanity knows that not every day can be so innocent and carefree, with the world exists hardships and pain--with a purpose though.  In the midst of these trials, we are drawn to cling more tightly to someone who understands our weakness.  Christ best empathizes with our crosses for He models that when we fall, we get back up and persevere.  We are never alone on this journey but are supported physically at times and at other times spiritually through another's prayers.  These crosses do not define or conquer us, but rather help us to recognize our great need for a Savior and His ceaseless Mercy.

My joy stems from the depth of a heart united to my Lord who took on flesh in order to redeem my sins through a death He didn't deserve.  I can be nothing but grateful for this endless grace of mercy--"Only when I discover [God] loves me in spite of all my infidelities, when I really discover the mercy of God to me, only then shall I discover the true, compassionate face of Jesus:  only then shall I discover that I was a captive, I was the oppressed.  He comes to break the yoke (Jean Vanier)."

My dear brothers and sisters, I beg you during this Jubilee Year of Mercy to CELEBRATE as we approach the end of the Christmas season and begin Ordinary Time.  There is nothing 'ordinary' about everyday waking up with the intention to be charitable to those you encounter.  There is nothing 'ordinary' about boldly standing up against an injustice at your work.  There is nothing 'ordinary' about choosing to give of your time to those in need.  And these 'ordinary' tasks of daily life are how we are called to live as children of God.  May we rejoice like children in the little moments of each day where we encounter the hidden Christ. Hardships may come but I promise you they will also go. Thirst for the more that is found in the manger, in the Monstrance, on the cross.  It is there, my friends, where we are free to climb into the arms of our Savior, as a little child in need, and smile, because we are safe! United on the Altar of Sacrifice, I'll see you in the Eucharist.

Prank Story:
The sisters have come to realize that I know a lot of people all over the world--thanks be to God for beautiful friendships.  When I returned on December 28th from one of our usual afternoon walks to the lake, I was told by our Superior that my sister had taken a message for me and it was urgent, so I was given permission to call them back.  I anxiously received the note with an area code I was unfamiliar with (that is not unusual for me), so I randomly called 'mystery number' back.

To my dissatisfaction, the voicemail was a generic recording, 'you have reached this 7-digit number...'.  I proceeded to explain who I was, I had received this message to call back urgently, and left the best times to reach me in which our schedule would not conflict (again, anyone who knows me can attest to my thorough messages).  I looked up where the area code was from to help me try and figure out who was calling and recognized that I knew someone who lives in the area of the number.

I did worry (I know, what good does it do Marianne to worry), but then I brought the people to prayer.  God saved me from an extra dose of humility by keeping my prayer silent instead of vocalizing it at Vespers.  The phone rang as dinner was beginning and the sister who answered asked if I could have permission to take it immediately, which I was granted. I went into the community room excited to solve the mystery when a women's voice I did not recognize came through on the other end.  My brain began to think of every person I knew or knew that I was entering, but no voice was connecting with a name.  The conversation got awkward as I began apologizing for not knowing whom I was speaking to even though she explained how she has seen my picture on Facebook; I was clueless, wanting to rejoin my community at dinner and hoping to offer more time to figure out who I was talking to--I should have known by now something was up.  I politely inquired if I could call her back later when I hear an echo down the hallway in her response saying, 'no, I'll be busy the rest of the night'. One of our sisters was on her cell phone (from when she lived in one of our other houses in the states), laughing.  They got me so good!  I walk back into dinner where my other sisters in initial formation has been told about the prank and we just all laughed and shared in the joy of each other.  Thanks be to God for the humanity that is found within the convent!
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