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Feast of the Visitation – A month of Marian posts

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

What a fitting end to this Marian month, we celebrate the Visitation today, when Mary “set out in haste” to see her cousin Elizabeth. The feast of the Visitation conjures up visions of two cousins, meeting and embracing. Like so many Marian stories, it is so easy to make it into something too sweet and pretty.  This is one of the dangers of over-sentimentalizing something that is so deeply profound. For me, this story is at once, extraordinary, and ordinary.

In 2004, I had the good fortune to visit both Nazareth and Ein Kerem (Elizabeth’s home town). What struck me was the distance between the cities, and the terrain. This was not a simple walk from here to there; this was serious travel and not easy.  Of course, we could ask, what journey of Mary’s was ever easy?

Another thing that strikes me is Mary’s eternal “yes,” her fiat, which means, “let it be done.” There is such immediacy to her responses. When I think of so many other people in the Scriptures, there is some hesitation in many, the word no comes from others. I think of Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah… and that is just the tip of the Scriptural iceberg!

Mary is clear – yes. She says yes to God when told she will bear the Christ child, she then says yes to make this journey to her cousin.

What I am also forced to consider is my own hesitation in life and often my own “no!”  Mary is a model for immediacy, and Elizabeth is too. It is always about God first and then our response. That’s why we can’t make ourselves holy or “get saved.” Jesus has already done this and we simply need to open our heart to the yes, with hesitation or not, we must say yes.  Mary and Elizabeth. They both respond like that. Uncomplicated. Clear. Direct. God-focused, God-centered.

Their cooperation with grace requires courage, humility, inner authority, intuition, deep faith.  Very remarkable, very beautiful.

So on this day, let us remember the speed and clarity that Mary and Elizabeth have in responding to God. And let us all remember that it is about responding, not doing it ourselves.

How do we respond to God? How do we respond to one another?

********************

As you ponder that question, allow me to add this. I am always heartened to remember that the public recitation of the Magnificat was against the law in Guatemala in the 1980s. These words that I leave you with are from author Kathleen Norris‘s book, Amazing Grace:

Mary utters a song so powerful that its meaning still resonates in profound and disturbing ways.  In the twentieth century Mary’s “Magnificat” became a cornerstone of liberation theology, so much so that during the 1980′s the government of Guatemala found its message so subversive that it banned its recitation in public worship. 

The Magnificat reminds us that what we most value, all that gives us status – power, pride, strength and wealth – can be a barrier to receiving what God has in store for us.  If we have it all, or think we can buy it all, there will be no Christmas for us.  If we are full of ourselves, there will be no room for God to enter our hearts at Christmas.  Mary’s prayer of praise, like many of the psalms, calls us to consider our true condition: God is God, and we are the creatures God formed out of earth.  The nations are but nations, and even the power of a mighty army cannot save us.  We all return to dust. And if we hope to rise in God’s new creation, where love and justice will reign triumphant, our responsibility, here and now, is to reject the temptation to employ power and force and oppression against those weaker than ourselves.  We honour the Incarnation best by honouring God’s image in all people, and seeking to make this world into a place of welcome for the Prince of Peace.” (p. 113-114 in “God With Us”).

Monday Musing – Memorial Day edition

Admittedly, I am late to this today. I usually have something ready, but with the holiday weekend and a big writing project going on, I missed my mark. As I thought about what to post, prayed and pondered – nothing came.

Then it hit me, the recently published words of +Bishop Joseph Estabrook, a native son of Albany and auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Military Services would be perfect. Bishop Estabrook did not die in war, but he did die in service to our country and to our God.  Bishop Estabrook was a shepherd to all those we honor on this day.

May Bishop Estabrook rest in the peace of the Lord who he served with such great devotion and love. His memory will ever be a blessing.

A dying bishop ponders life

BY BISHOP JOSEPH ESTABROOK(Editor’s note: The late Bishop Estabrook, who had been ordained a priest for the Albany Diocese in 1969, was a U.S. Navy chaplain and became auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. He died of pancreatic cancer in February after writing the following reflection, which appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Salute, the military archdiocese’s magazine. It has been reprinted with permission.)A little over a year ago, while in the middle of a very active West Coast confirmation schedule, I fell ill and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My prognosis was less than a year.I asked Archbishop [Timothy] Broglio [of the Archdiocese for the Military Services] to keep the matter [in] somewhat a close hold until I could address it sensitively in consideration of my mother’s very fragile health situation, and he graciously agreed.I began treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, receiving chemotherapy every two to three weeks. Thankfully, I was able to stay with my brother, Tim, and his wife, Gisele, who live in Houston.As you may know, pancreatic cancer cannot be cured and is usually a very stealthy and aggressive adversary. In my case, however, except for the unavoidable extreme fatigue, there were very few side effects. This allowed me to continue some pastoral work when… (continue reading at The Evangelist)

Jarring. Unnerving. Uniting. Pentecost

Pentecost. Jarring. Unnerving. Compelling. Disturbing. Provocative. Uniting.That’s Pentecost. Ultimately Pentecost is uniting. Pentecost is when the many voices come into One. I keep trying to think of what to say about that today, but the words are unwieldy, going here and there – the Spirit, blows where It will, I can’t control that.

Maybe my words are not needed today. I present you with some music, different settings of the words to Veni Creator Spiritus. (The Veni Creator Spiritus words are at the end of the post, in Latin and in English.)

Traditonal.

Haunting.

Provocative. (this won’t embed – please go to the link below.)
http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xactxx
veni creator by pierreminvielle

Veni Creator Spiritus – English below
Veni, Creator Spiritus
Veni, creator Spiritus
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia,
quae tu creasti pectora.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas
et spiritalis unctio.

Tu septiformis munere,
digitus paternae dexterae
tu rite promissum Patris
sermone ditans guttura.

Accende lumen sensibus,
infunde amorem cordibus,
infirma nostri corporis,
virtute firmans perpeti.

Hostem repellas longius
pacemque dones protinus;
ductore sic te praevio
vitemus omne noxium.

Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio qui a mortuis
Surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula.

Come, Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator, come,
From your bright heav’nly throne,
Come take possession of our souls,
And make them all your own.

You who are called the Paraclete,
Best gift of God above,
The living spring, the living fire,
Sweet unction and true love.

You who are sev’nfold in your grace,
Finger of God’s right hand
His promise teaching little ones
To speak an understand.

O guide our minds with your bless’d light,
With love our hearts inflame;
And with your strength, which ne’er decays
Confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our deadly foe;
True peace unto us bring;
And through all perils lead us safe
Beneath your sacred wing.

All glory to the Father be,
With his coequal Son;
The same to you, great Paraclete,
While endless ages run.

Saturday Song

For Pentecost I selected “Come Lord Jesus,” by David Haas. The video is shaky, but the singing is nice. This psalm is often used at Easter and is appropriate for Pentecost as well. And with Pentecost, our Easter season has ended after 50 days.

In 1991 I heard a Pentecost homily that I have never forgotten. It was my first Pentecost after being away from church for 18 years. At that time I believed that I had a vocational call to life as vowed woman religious. (We see that my vocation has worked out differently!) I was supposed to go on a trip that would bring me to Spain with a group of men and women discerning their vocations. My mother became very ill and I had to cancel the trip, I was kind of devastated… both that she was ill and that I could not go.

The homilist was a visiting priest, I cannot tell you his name, but he said this, emblazoned up on my heart forever -”Easter makes me unafraid to die, Pentecost makes me unafraid to live!”

The Anointing Mass – May 21, 2012

Introduction: The Body Gathers

Like bees to a hive, people begin to move into the church. The day is warm and sunny, which is a mirror to the mood. Today we will celebrate the bi-annual Anointing Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville.

Greeters cheerfully usher in those arriving. Nametags are given out with great love, hands are held tightly, hugs are dispensed with wild abandon. The church moves from empty and quiet, to filling, with the hum of life all about.

Cars continue to pull into the parking lot, driven by volunteers who deliver the precious cargo of our elderly, ill and infirm. Some drive themselves; others come with family and friends. Vans from local nursing homes, arrive, and one by one, the wheelchair lift deposits more of God’s people to gather as one. Not everyone is visibly ill, not everyone is exclusively elderly. We are the Body of Christ, many members, gathering in the name of Jesus.

The Story: The Body Celebrates

Twice a year, in May and in October, the Anointing mass is held on a Monday morning. At the heart and soul of this liturgy is Pastoral Care Associate, Rachel Winters and pastor, Fr. Jerry Gingras, along with a veritable army of volunteers. Add to that the Parish Nurses, under the direction of Betty Parks, who provide care and hospitality. There is always a second presider present; this time is was Fr. Leo Markert, a retired priest of our diocese, who is celebrating his Jubilee this month.

Father Jerry and Father Leo

The pews fill up, with wheelchairs, walkers and canes accompanying many of the guests. Every other pew is marked with a ribbon, indicating a place to be. Every other pew is left vacant, so that no one has to go to the altar for anointing or communion; the priests come to them. If this is not reminiscent of the life of Christ, I do not know what is.

Gazing around, one sees the Body of Christ, so very broken, yet coming together – yes, literally, being re-membered in this church at this moment. This realization never fails to make my eyes well up with tears.

The music begins, the entrance procession follows, the Gospel book held high as we live that Gospel in the here and now. We hear readings about healing and grace, the Gospel reminds us of what Jesus did – and what Jesus continues to do through us.

The time for anointing is upon us. With Father Jerry on one side and Father Leo on the other, they make their way through the pews. First the forehead is anointed, then the hands. Their tender touch upon each person’s head, then hands, head, then hands is a glimpse of Christ the Lord. Touching, sealing with oil, blessing, praying, healing, loving.

It is my turn; I tremble, I almost always do. Honestly, I can’t recall the words intoned, but the feeling of his thumb on my forehead, the moisture of the oil, made me feel faint. Then my hands, one palm, then the other palm, crosses marked into them with oil, by hands that bring healing and grace.

My professional observation is suspended. I am ill, I am broken. My legs work, my arms function, my hands are free from any arthritic twist. I can walk, I don’t appear to need any help, but believe me, I know how broken I am. And that brokenness is only healed in the One Body that is Christ. This anointing draws me closer and closer, on this Christian journey through life.

It takes a long time to anoint everyone, as the priests move from pew to pew, with their oil, with their healing hands and hearts. I am reminded of the almost constant complaint from so many Catholics that mass is “too long.” Does the touch of Jesus have time constraints? There is no such thing as “drive-thru” healing here; it takes as long as it takes. I recall a maxim about how turning up the oven will not result in a more rapidly baked cake, simply a ruined cake.

Communion takes a long time too. Deliciously long, which I get to observe through the lens of my camera, and the lens of my heart as well. Once again, each priest, deliberately and prayerfully makes their way from person to person, from pew to pew. “The Body of Christ,” followed by “amen.” Not far behind are parishioners Denis and Sharon Durnan, each trailing a priest, chalice in hand, “Blood of Christ,” and then, “amen.” Feed my sheep, that is what Jesus asked of us. That is what we do.

Conclusion: The Body is Dismissed

Mass concludes, we are dismissed. The dismissal intones us to go out into the world, a timely message always, but perhaps more so as we approach Pentecost. A chain of wheelchairs, walkers, and others winds its way across the parking lot to the Parish Hall. Now we will have a banquet of another sort.

The parish nurses have a feast for us. Salads, sandwiches, fruit, deserts. We sit at tables of eight, laughing, talking and eating. Father Jerry makes his way to each table, greeting and joking with people; his smile ever present and his healing touch remains apparent. The din of conversation and laughter is loud, like the music of heaven here on earth. We are shown a glimpse of the Kingdom.

The Faith Formation staff comes out toward the end of the meal, bearing large trays of ice cream. “Chocolate or vanilla?” Whatever one wishes, one receives. It is a “small s” sacrament in this place.

Eventually people begin to take their leave. We are all touched and transformed by what has happened here, just as we have been before, and God willing, will be again. We are the Body of Christ, broken and restored, dying and rising, over and over again.

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The May Magnificat – A month of Marian posts

The Marian window at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Glenville, NY. (photo by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn)

Today I happened upon this poem by the late Gerald Manley Hopkins, entitled  The May Magnificat.

THE MAY MAGNIFICAT

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season-

Candlemas, Lady Day:
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honor?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?
Growth in every thing-

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
Nature’s motherhood.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine. New York: Marist Press, 1946.

Book Giveway Winner!

Thanks to all who read and posted comments on our Messy Quest book series. We have chosen a winner and that winner is…

Claire Bangasser of San Juan, PR and Grilly, France!

(Claire is a faithful long-distance friend of the blog!)

Names waiting to be chosen!

Congratulations to Claire. I will be in touch about how to get the book into your hands. Thank you all! And thank you Stephen Martin and Sorin Books for stopping by on the big blog tour! Please bookmark Stephen’s Messy Quest blog and stay on the messy adventure with him and continue to keep an eye on Ave Maria Press/Sorin Books for many great resources and reads!

The Messy Quest for Meaning book review

Today we are hosting a blog tour for the new book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, by Stephen Martin. Here is my review of this book.

The vocations mess… We hear so much about vocations… There is a lack of vocations, so we pray for vocations, then maybe there will be more vocations, and so on. Those phrases are centered on the vocation to the ordained, or vowed life, which are essential to the life of the Church. However, there are many other vocations. Are we praying for these also? You know, our own vocations?

It is this notion that Stephen Martin tackles in his book, The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, (Sorin Books, 179p. $14.95). We are all called to a particular path in life, and for many of us that path is meant to help us to discover and reveal gifts, sharing them with the world. It is in this way that we live to the fullest and generously so.

Using a framework that is built around Christian monastic practices, Martin invites us along a different path, a frequently messy one at that. Wanting to help us find our way, the author guides us by revealing so much of his own challenging and – well… messy quest. In fact, instead of cleaning up our acts, we are asked to integrate the messy bits that are part of who we are. In this way we do find order amidst the seeming chaos.

Beginning with a startlingly frank and humble description of his own challenges, Martin reminds us of a jarring truth, yet one that we must face. This truth is something that St. Paul himself wrote of, and that is that our weakness leads us to our strength. It is the one truth that must be gazed at directly and embraced if we are to find out how to be who we truly are.

The discernment process that Martin describes is based on some things that he learned in the company of Trappist monks. It is from here that readers will encounter the five practices that are meant to bring us towards our transformation into the lives that we are called to lead.

Now if this sounds like another feel-good-self-help book, it is anything but. Not only is the author a skilled writer, he culls from a wide variety of sources to encourage us on the journey. Make no mistake, this book is written by a man who is Catholic and we hear a lot about his faith, as well as about other Catholics. With a terrifically catholic approach, , we are given insight from people as diverse as Dorothy Day and James Martin, SJ, to Parker Palmer, Peter Drucker, Ernest Hemingway, and David Brooks, along with other names, both familiar and not-so-familiar.

Aside from being well sourced and grounded, you will also find a book that is at once accessible, funny, charming and humble. That alone is reason enough to buy this book, even if you don’t think you want to look at this kind of volume… Do yourself a favor and read this book. You may just find a pleasant and inviting surprise – one that may actually offer some good insights about how we find the work that we are called to do.

(Remember – leave a comment, no matter how brief, and you may win a copy of this book!)

Messy Quest Monday Guest Post – Author Stephen Martin on interruptions

Today we are hosting a blog tour for the new book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, by Stephen Martin. Stephen offers us a guest post about a topic that is near and dear to my own heart. Read on, he speaks with wisdom!

Why Interruptions Are Good for Your Soul

By Stephen Martin

The average person needs 17 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an e-mail, according to a magazine tidbit my wife found. What was I doing when she said this? I don’t remember. Indeed, the idea for this post first came to me a month ago – and it’s taken that long to write the first sentence.

With a busy job, two young kids and too much stuff going on in general, I’m obsessed with managing time and eliminating distractions. But I never succeed. Continue reading

Meet the author of The Messy Quest!

  1. 1.     In what way was your own quest “messy”?

    In my 20s, my quest was messy largely because of an anxiety disorder that created a lot of challenges and sapped most of the joy out of life. Once I began to learn from the disorder itself, instead of trying to fight it, my sense of meaning grew immeasurably. Throughout my 30s (which are rapidly coming to a close!), what’s been messy is the unending juggle of work, family and writing pursuits. All of that poses continual challenges to prayerfulness and mindfulness. But that’s been a much easier mess to embrace than the anxiety of a decade ago!

2. Is there any way to avoid the “messy” or is it a requirement?

Everybody’s life is messy in one way or another and usually in many ways. There’s no getting around that, and it wouldn’t be good to avoid it even if we could. The only way to find real meaning and purpose is to try on different hats until we find something that works. That involves a process of trial and much error that can take a long time. We’re going to make mistakes and go sideways and backward. But if we reflect seriously on what we’ve learned from those experiences, we’ll make progress.
3. Do you ever wish you could re-do any moments in your life, “messy” and otherwise?

There are some things I’d take back if I could, particularly the way a really important relationship with one of my college professors ended. I write about those regrets in the book. Of course, those things can’t be redone, so there’s not much point in dwelling on them. What we can do is try to learn from our mistakes and do better. It’s probably also true that if you haven’t had some significant regrets and disappointments you’re not living fully enough or giving yourself enough chances to learn.

4. Of your five transforming practices for finding vocation, which one do you consider more difficult? And is there one that you consider most important?

Overall, none of the five practices is more important or more difficult than the others. They’re all essential for finding or moving deeper into a calling. That being said, individuals will struggle with different ones depending on their personalities, experiences and mindset. For me, focus comes pretty easily. But because I’m fairly introverted and independent, I’ve probably had to work harder than most people at truly listening to and learning from the community around me.

5.  What do you have to say to people who have not read the book yet, and believe that their vocation and any practical reality of getting there, are irreconcilable?

One of the most frustrating and simultaneously beautiful things about life is that most of us underestimate what we’re capable of doing. It really is very possible to close the gap between a calling and the practical reality of getting there. But if all we do is sit still and think about the enormous improbability of fulfilling a distant dream, we’ll never take even the first step toward it. Nor will we find out what that calling looks like in reality. It’s a little like standing at the edge of the woods and trying to imagine, through a bunch of mental exercises, what’s in the middle of them. It can’t be done. What’s more helpful is actually walking into the woods. So that’s the key thing to remember: most of us move toward calling incrementally, one step at a time, sometimes over many years. We need to take one step and then the next one and be open to what we encounter along the way.

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