Feast of the Holy Family & Christmas Cards…a prayer

holy family icon by V.Lukan

Image via Wikipedia

Today the Church calendar celebrates the 5th Day of Christmas, also known as the Feast of the Holy Family.  I came across this prayer from Fr. Ed Hayes and thought how appropriate for the Feast of the Holy Family and as we begin to close out 2011 and look to 2012.  May 2012 be year of renewing our connections with family and friends.

From Fr. Ed Hayes’ book Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim.

O you who showered sacred stars
on the tiny town of Bethlehem,
I thank you for guiding artists’ brushes
to create cards of beauty,
bursting with blessings.

I lift up my heart in gratitude
for these beautiful yearly bridges
that bind us together in love,
we who are often too busy
for keeping up with friendship’s needs.

My cards of Christmas past are now precious relics,
and like the bones of saints
they hold great power,
and so I hate to bury them
or see them burn.

Opened Christmas cards
hum to me the hymn of love
and teach me the sacrament of correspondence.

Tie about the finger of my mind, Beloved One,
a reminder that without reminders
friendship fades from the failure
to express words of love and appreciation
to one another.

May these twelve magical days of Christmas
inspire me to celebrate
the un-holidays of the year,
the feasts of no-occasions,
with love notes to friends who are far away.

Sacred season of the twelve days of Christmas,
gift me with the magic power to stop the clock,
so as to keep God alive within the world.
For if God is love, then God may be found
in the mystery of love exchanged.
May I be a holy messenger of that holy mystery.

  • As we close in on 2011, reach out to those who have touched your life. 
  • Call or Write someone special this week and express your care and love.
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An ordinary glimpse on the Feast of Stephen–thoughts on the day…

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” –Albert Schweitzer

  Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen, a deacon in the Church and the First Martyr.  We read about Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 6-7.  The role of the Deacon was that of service and in particular, care of the poor.  In parts of the world it is known as “Boxing Day” a day dedicated to giving assistance to workers who assist you in your daily life.  However, here in the US, today is the a day of sales and returns. What can we learn from our British neighbors and the First Martyr of the Church? 

It has been said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.  During the transition of years, we often evaluate our life. For most people, helping and caring for others is something that we do right here at home, whether it’s spending more time with your family, developing relationships to make our work better, helping people in the community, or putting your desires on hold for the sake of your family and/or your team at work. The key is to find your purpose and help others while pursuing it.

 We are constantly reminded in all of the major religious traditions that our life is a journey from something….to something.  In the religious tradition of the Catholic Christian life is always a journey from individuality to community, from isolation to reconciliation, from sickness to healing. This journey from something….to something is a journey that causes us to look deeper at ourselves and at the community we live, work and have our being within. In the New Year, we tend to look back over the past year to see where we came from and make some projections about where we are going.

When we think about the life of Stephen and celebrate the meaning of this day how do anticipate the needs of others and give back to our communities, not just one day of the year, but every day. 

 -When we look back over the years from where we came, can we project where we are going?

-We all make our living in one way or another how do we see the work that we do as a true service to God and to one another? Do we give back to others while we are doing it?

-When we see where we are going can we say that we are making a life? Are we  showing more compassion and helping others along the way?

May one day we all be able to look out not just on the Feast of St. Stephen, but on each and everyday and see our brothers and sisters in need and be able to respond to that need.

Where is love born: A Christmas Reflection

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.Let your unselfishness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”—Philippians 4:4-5

Where is love born?  If love is true connection between human beings, where is love born?  It seems like every night you turn on the news, there is discouraging news.  It is tough to Rejoice and Celebrate Christmas and a New Year when the news is always bad and we seem distant and not connected to one another. Each year the Church celebrates Advent, a celebration of our past, present and future,a celebration of God in our midst. In these tough times, Advent reminds us to stay awake, be alert, to reach out to others, and to seek out where God is in our midst.  Advent calls us to evaluate the connection we have to those around us and to take a look inside:       

 — Where in me am I most vulnerable, most hungry? Hungry that my life means something.

–Where is my longing and my desire? Have I ever attended to my restless heart?

–Where am I most trapped in my own thought patterns? Where in me am I estranged, even a stranger to myself? Where am I sick on the inside, heart sick?

 Where is love born? If I know that place in me, I will know that place in you. I will be alert to it, I will know it, and I will go there and I will want to go there for you. If I know that place in me first, that place of utter vulnerability, hunger and thirst.  In that moment our hearts will burn within us and we will see God. There is something so holy that this is a God moment. This is where compassion/love is born.

We are called to be Awake to our interior life, to let it be what it is when it happens.

Where is love born? It is born in front of your mirror, while focusing on that place in us, it turns us outward to everyone else, so that we remain unselfish. When we are tuned into that place in us, we are more compassionate to those we encounter . When we know that place in us, we make a real connection with our families, friends and even the stranger.  That is where love is born. 

This will be how we reflect the light of the One whose birth we celebrate: Jesus, and for that we rejoice!  Know of our thoughts and prayers for you and your family. Merry Christmas!

Fourth Week of Advent Reflection–How are we a reflection of the light?

This week the Church celebrates the Fourth Week of Advent, and the Feast of Christmas.

The fourth week of Advent is the lighting of the fourth candle in anticipation of the celebration of Christmas. In this week we hear the call for each one of us to accept our role in proclaiming to the darkness another ray of hope, another light along the path of life. This week reminds us to be open, like Mary, to the invitation of God to accept one another as messengers of God. As we work to bring about healing and hope, we not only find ourselves as recipients of God’s messengers, in many cases, we are God’s messenger. This week reminds us of the urging deep within to be open to the new life God has invited us into.

It is amazing that in the midst of the long dark nights of winter, many faith traditions recall a celebration of lights which are reflections of the illuminating light that comes from their faith and dedication/consecration in God. This week we also celebrate with our Jewish brothers and sisters the celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of light commemorating the dedication of the Temple.

Where in our lives do we see the reflection of light that reflects the radiance of God?

How can we share this healing reflection with others?

Third week of Advent Reflection: Listen God is Singing!

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgement against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals!” Zephaniah 3:14-18a

Everyday there are opportunities for those moments when we are just shouting for Joy because of something that has been a wonderful experience- some might say that God is singing. In this third week of Advent it calls us to turn our hearts and minds to find opportunities to “shout for joy” or to “rejoice.” This is a great time of year and there is a lot of time for rejoicing and m any opportunities to “shout for joy.”

It is tough to continue to be thankful and “rejoice” when there are so many things that need to be accomplished each day and there are so many stresses this time of year, both at home and work. However, it is because of the opportunity that we have to experience these things and create connections to our family and friends that we should always be in a place of gratitude for this gift.

This week as that mark that Advent is almost over, but there is still time for us to joyfully await and continue to rejoice in the continuation of God in our midst.

-so what gives you a cause to rejoice?
-how are you bringing joy to others in this season?

-“He will sing joyfully because of you.” This sentence paints a picture. What are the examples in the world about you alight say, “Listen, God is singing?”

A reflection on some articles

I recently read three articles on by Elizabeth Liebert “Practice.”, Sandra Schnieders “Approaches to the Study of Christian Spirituality.” and Philip Sheldrake “Interpretation.” all were in the Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality

First, in responding to Schneiders’, I agree with Schneider’s proposal that the “academic discipline of spirituality is primarily the research discipline whose specific objective is the expansion of our knowledge and understanding of the God-human relationship.” (Schneiders 2005, 16) For my pastoral context, the core of the article is the understanding that the study of Christian Spirituality is not just the study of “Christian faith but the lived experience of Christian faith.” (Schneiders 2005, 17) Here is where I believe the primary implication for the approaches in the study of Christian spirituality is found. In Catholic health care, I find that the stories of individuals and communities versus theories of spirituality help inform and transform various environments as they try to come to grips with their own lived experience of faith and carrying on a ministry of the Church. The two comments from Schneider’s that really resonated with my own desire to study Christian Spirituality and the heart of my questions for the implications in my pastoral context rests in these two statements:

“personal transformation of the researcher (with implications for the world including the church) is integral to this approach. But this transformation is not so much in terms of better practice of Christian faith (though this is not excluded) as in terms of an expansion of one’s humanity, especially through the encounter with the “other,” whether personal, cultural, religious, intellectual, or through active participation in transformative praxis. The researcher is not so much learning what to do or how to do it better or how to help others in the spiritual life. She or he is becoming spiritually richer and deeper person.” (Schneiders 2005, 27)

and

“students who choose to study spirituality are usually personally involved in the search for God. What goes on in the seminar room and the library, in preparing examinations and writing a dissertation, is often profoundly transformative. Faith is stimulated, vocations are renegotiated, self-knowledge is deepened, appreciation of other traditions is broadened, commitment to service is consolidated. The quiet or dramatic interaction between study and personal growth is probably the most important aspect of the self-implicating character of the field of spirituality. As Socrates knew, one cannot wrestle with ultimate truth without becoming a different person.” (Schneiders 2005, 31)

From these two statements, my reflection turns to the role of leadership in Catholic healthcare. The leader in Catholic healthcare studies the traditions and practices of the sponsoring religious community. It is hoped that through the formation process, the person will become a spiritually richer and deeper person. To be a health care leader takes one set of gifts and talents, but to be a health care leader that is also leading a ministry of the Church calls for another set of traits that causes the individual to go deeper. This is not merely running a usual business, although business elements apply, but to allow the story of the founding community and of Christ help give meaning and a lens to view the work they lead is a whole different reality. Not all leaders in Catholic healthcare come to leadership formation in search of having a deeper relationship with God or find with the ultimate truth. Those who hand themselves over to the process have seen a transformation in the way in which they do the work. The disconnect with this is when leaders continue to bifurcate their work lives from their faith lives or see the spiritual life as a “bonus” to the temporal work. Through the work of leadership formation programs it is hoped that the leader will struggle with the ultimate truth (although not explicitly stated), and subsequently, in light of the healthcare ministry, not only become a different person, but also find ways to transform and lead the ministry. This similar thought speaks to Philip Sheldrake’s chapter on interpretation especially when I apply the models of leadership formation with a hope for practical outcomes in the ministry.

When the Catholic healthcare leader or any disciple focuses their formation experience purely on knowing the story and not finding new ways to retell or express the story, it remains a purely lifeless story. The purpose of formation is not only the personal transformation, but also the communal transformation of the community at this particular time and this particular place. I find it important that part of the formation process reflects on the past in a way to give new life to the present and future. Sheldrake reminds us of the purpose of “traditio” when he states:

“The past is what has happened rather than something that enables our present to come into being or that invites us to reflect on the future and on what we aspire to. Yet, tradition (Latin, traditio) is not merely to hand on a historical story, but also to hand it over, so that it may be freely and creatively re-expressed by each generation as part of its own self-identification.” (Sheldrake 2005, 460)

I believe this represents the challenge for the Catholic health ministry. So often, leaders find consolation in the stories of the “sisters who have gone before us,” that they fail to recognize that it is the same ministry that they are now called to lead. Thus, it has been handed over to us and we must find ways to re-express the ministry. The identity of the institutional ministries cannot be expressed in the same way today as they were 20, 30 or even 40 or 50 years ago. They must be re-expressed in a new way. In understanding how we can help re-express the identity of the ministry we must have a sense of the history, but find ways to respond to our current times in a framework that honors the identity of the past. Much of this struggle can be seen in the way the ministry handles questions and decisions. Some leaders want to start with the question “what would the sisters do?” My general response is “I don’t know.” I identify with Sheldrake’s questions regarding the contextual nature of spirituality. Often, I will use a historical story to help set the context and give us a sense of way in which the sisters might have responded to it, but even that story leaves us with additional questions that are particular to our time and place. Sheldrake’s reminder of Paul Ricoeur’s reflection on the role of “distanciation” on a text is helpful in that in this context it “enables the text to transcend the limitation of its origins in order to function potentially in any context.” (Sheldrake 2005, 468) This then leads to a chance for the community to reflect on what is the next step in the decision process, which begins the conversation with Liebert’s article.

Liebert explores theological reflection or as she calls it “the dynamic nature of pastoral theology.” Here she sees pastoral theology as,

“the task of prayerfully holding in tension the particular event or case in all its concreteness (that is, the individual’s experience; the minister’s experience; the community’s experience; the sociological, cultural, psychological, economic, and other dynamic realities) with the tradition in all its richness and plurality (that is, the texts of the Christian community, particularly the Scriptures and the foundational documents of the given faith community; the history of the praxis of the community; the sensus fidelium) until we can hear the word of God that is true to each simultaneously.” (Liebert 2005, 497-498)

Here is where I see a great intersection for the implications for pastoral ministry. Catholic healthcare looks for the practical reality of a given activity, whether it is grand rounds, education on catholic social teaching or during budget season. This helps to create fullness in the conversation and leads to a discernment process that can sustain and transform a ministry. So often I hear phrases from leaders who say “no margin, no mission,” this is usually an executive leader saying to me what good is it to take care of all of your “poor and marginalized” issues if in fact we can’t keep our doors open. Here is where I use the element of stories to talk about how the sisters before us not only kept their doors opened but primarily served the poor and marginalized and found creative ways to respond. In the end, the study of spirituality for my particular community continues to be a study of the lived experience of Christian faith. This is very helpful, when trying to help individuals understand one particular faith community, but what about when the faith communities differ.

One question that I am left with, however, is how does one have a dialogue about two different interpretations of the Christian faith? For instance, the Prosperity Gospel of some traditions and a ministry with a particular concern for those who are poor and marginalized. This is played out everyday in our ministry by those who would use language like “no margin, no mission.” My concern is how to have a dialogue between the two while guarding against a sort of relativism in the ministry.