Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For "Little Christmas" Celebrating the Incarnation the 25th of Each Month

In the past attention has been given here to our Redemptoristine custom of focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation every 25th of the month. At Midday Prayer the Prioress offers the scripture reading followed by a reflection for the edification of the community, what we call a "ferverino", something designed to fan the flame in our hearts. Afterward we renew our vows together. Here is this month's reflection.

and the Mystery of the Incarnation

by Sister Paula Schmidt, OSsR, Prioress

Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you."
Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and (the) last will be first."
 (Mark 10:28-31) 

The Gospel for today’s Mass, from the Gospel of Mark, follows shortly after the story from yesterday (Mark 10:17-22), in which the wealthy young man asked Jesus how he could become really holy. This guy was doing everything the law required but he wanted to be sure—was there anything more he could do for God? He was sincere, but he wasn’t prepared for Jesus’ answer. Seeing a basically generous heart in him, Jesus was moved to ask for everything.

When the fellow hears the advice of Jesus he just can’t do it. He goes away sad, because ‘he had many possessions’. Or maybe it would be better to say: the many possessions had him. I am sure that Jesus was sad too. St. Mark says that Jesus had looked at the young man and loved him.

Today the scene carries on with Peter saying to Jesus, “We are here, we have given everything”. I wonder if Peter was trying to make Jesus feel better, as if to say, “Look, we are with you. We have given up everything for your sake”.

But then Peter goes on in a way that asks, “What is in it for us now?” Maybe Peter had basically good intentions, gently suggesting that Jesus should also give some motives of encouragement to the next possible recruit that might come along. I suppose that is possible. But as the Synoptic Gospels portray Peter, it is more likely another case where he puts his foot in his mouth. However, the answer Jesus gives is very important for us. We can be grateful to Peter for his question. Jesus’ answer gives us a peek into his heart, into the very heart of God.

Today, as we do every month, we ponder and celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation. I always like to look back on the old custom of keeping the ‘virtue of the month’. In that ancient scheme, the virtue for this month is poverty, the second of the nine virtues given to Celeste [Maria Celeste Crostarosa, our foundress - 1696-1555] in the primitive Rule. Celeste draws her images of this mystery from the writings of St. Paul and St. John. Everything starts in the Trinity, in eternity.

The Incarnation is the movement of God the Word from the riches of the Godhead to the utter poverty of human nature. God goes to an extreme we can never remotely fathom, out of his love and concern for us. Is it fanciful to think that when he describes to Peter and the disciples what we will receive in return for our own total dedication as “a hundred times more” that is exactly the way Jesus sees the worth of what he is doing? We mean something to God, and I believe that in the radical poverty that Jesus asks of us, he want us to rejoice in acknowledging that our brothers and sisters in the human family are as important to us as they are to him; that they are worth all the pain. The community of Jesus is to be our riches.

I guess the question for each of us today is, “Where are my riches?” Are they the things that Jesus truly values? Or does my heart get stuck somehow on my own stuff ? Not material things but opinions, preferences, plans, expectations of others, our ‘druthers’, as Lil Abner would say. Let’s ask our loving Jesus, our brother, lover, and friend, to draw us freely after him, day by day into his mission for his and our world. With all our hearts let us renew our vows trusting in the strength of the Holy Spirit to be the wind under our wings…all the way to the end.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


"The Spirit
of God
rests upon me,
The Spirit
of God
consecrates me,
The Spirit
of God
bids me go forth
to proclaim
his peace,
his joy."                                    Pentecost - Fresco by Giotto

This solemnity is the culmination of the Easter Season of the liturgical year. Every day since Ascension Thursday we have been singing these words before the Invitatory of Morning Prayer:

Come let us adore Christ the Lord,
who promised to send the Holy Spirit
on his people,
alleluia, alleluia.

And Jesus keeps his promises - "Do not be afraid"; "I am with you"; "Come to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest".

Who is this Spirit who comes as promised? The Creed of the Mass tells that the Spirit procedes from the Father and the Son in the great mystery of our faith, the Holy Trinity. The Spirit is the paraclete, our advocate, counsoler, counselor, companion, source of wisdom. The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his won words, the devil too had been cast down like lightening. (from a treatise Against Heresies by St. Irenaeus, Office of Redings for Pentecost)

In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul offers further insight in some of the most moving and consoling words in Scripture:

The spirit helps us in our weakness,
for we do not know how to pray as we ought;
but the Spirit makes intercession for us
with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.
God who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means,
for the Spirit intercedes for the saints
according to the will of God.
Romans 8:25-27

Let us pray:

Father of light, from whom every gift comes,
send your Spirit into our lives
with the power of a mighty wind,
and by the flame of your wisdom
open the horizons of our minds.
Loosen our tongues to sing your praise
 in words beyond the power of speech,
for without your Spirit
we could never raise our voices
 in words of peace
 or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Alternative option for closing prayer of Pentecost Morning Prayer

Friday, May 21, 2010

Memories of Strawberry Picking

The new header above is an sign of the season - strawberry picking season will arrive in a few weeks. My son Matthew, whose art has appeared elsewhere on this blog, was inspired to create a memory piece for a magazine featuring local food producers and restaurants. Beneath the piece (what appears above is a detail) he wrote, "When picking strawberries as a child at The Greig Farm in Red Hook, New York, I was always worried that they would wiegh me on the way out and realize that I ate more that I picked." Matt probably also remembers how after picking strawberries on our hands and knees we would walk over to the pea patch to bend our backs for luscious edible pod sugar peas. I never had it in my heart to cook them. Eating them raw was such a pleasure. Two great fruits of the earth coming into season at the same time.

"Don't talk of love's flaming desire, don't talk of love, show me." - My Fair Lady

Any Redemptorist priest or brother uses the initials CSsR after his name. These stand for Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in its Latin form. But they like to joke that it means "congregation of the same sermons recycled."  I don't think so. We are so blessed to have these fine priests gifting us with their presiding presence at Mass every day and with their inspiring homilies. Today Father Thomas Travers, whose homilies appear elsewhere on this blog, presented us with another gift which I share with you.  
Profession of Love
by Father Thomas Travers, CSsR,
Rector Mt. St. Alphonsus Retreat Center, Esopus, New York

Jesus never has to profess his love for us...although he does profess his love and many times over...but he never has to do it, publicly with words, because his love for us is constant, consistent, faithful, without conditions. There is no need for words or professions. We just know that his love is there for us...and always there. We can sense it. We can feel it.

On the contrary, Peter had to profess his love for Jesus as he did in today's Gospel because Peter's love was not constant or faithful. It was a fickle love, a love that sent mixed messages. Peter said that he loved Jesus so much that he would always be there for Jesus, and then, when chrunch time came, he was the first to run away. "Though all these others abandon you," he said, "I will never abandon you." Oh yeah...tell me another one. (Or, as we used to say as kids: "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies. A man got hit with a bucket of bricks the night before he died.")

Peter's love was a hot and cold love and because of this, Jesus asked him to profess it openly, publicly and once and for all...with all his bravado and loud voice. It wasn't for Jesus' sake that Peter needed to do so nor for the sake of the other disciples. was for Peter's own sake. He needed to hear his profession of love loud and clear and in his own voice.

I had a spiritual director in Puerto Rico and he told me that when I came to him I would tell him part of my story and the purpose was not primarily for him to listen to me and get to know me and my challenges. The purpose was for me to listen to me, to get to know myself and my challenges. He explained that each time you told your story or part of it, you had to put it together and you would see it better. He believed that telling your story to another or to a group (as they do in 12-Step groups) helps us much more than it helps the other person.

And so today, Jesus gives Peter a chance to tell part of his story, his story of love. He wants Peter to see that true love is not a one time affair, it is not a loud protestation of  "I'll never leave you," made after a little wine at a dinner table. He wants Peter to learn that true love is spoken out time and time again. True love is a consistent message from the deep part of a life.

And Jesus wants Peter to learn, too, that love is shown in deeds. And that is why he gives him the mission of feeding the community, the mission of tending to its needs, the mission of caring for its welfare. He is telling Peter that love is shown in deed and not just words.

And I think that Jesus could easily get tired of all our words, too. And I am reminded of the lyrics of the song from My Fair Lady: "Words! Words! Words! I'm so sick of words! I get words all day thourgh; first from him and now from you! Is that all people can do?.. Don;'t talk of love lasting thru time. Show me! Make no undying vow. Show me now!"

Jesus asks us today, as he did Peter, if we love him. He wants us to profess that love not so much so that he will hear it...but rather so taht we will hear it loud and clear in the depths of our heart and so that in hearing our profession of love clearly, this same love will move us to tend, feed and care for the rest of the communiyt, especially those in the greatest need of our love. AMEN!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Feminine Aspects of God in Redemptoristine Spirituality

                             by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR                                   


Presented to Redemptoristine Associates May 16, 2010 in honor of Mother’s Day.

We all had mothers. In our mother’s smile the sun rose and set. Depending on our relationship with our mother, or father, our experience of God may differ. Some mothers were warm and cuddly, while others were tough cookies; some were ultra-controlling while others couldn’t be bothered; most desired to be loving, nurturing and supportive.

In remembering these positive aspects of our human mothers we intuit the tender, loving, sustaining characteristics of our Mothering God. Whatever our notion of God is - God is beyond that. St Anselm said, “God is an idea greater than that which no other idea can be thought.’ The mystery of God may be glimpsed when we take the time to ‘Be still,’ as it says in the psalm, ‘and know that I am God.’ (Ps. 46:10)

Through the contemplative eye our vision of God broadens and deepens, opening new horizons to our relationship with God. Think of how the horizon is ever just beyond our reach, always opening up more and more before us. Just so, as we journey on through life, we will never fully comprehend God while here on earth, so we do the best we can by likening God to the familiar. And what can be more familiar than our mother?

Our Foundress, Ven. Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa, wasn’t the first person to conceive God as Mother; the Bible is full of feminine references. In Deuteronomy (32:11-12) God supports the people of Israel like a mother eagle who holds up her little ones in flight, teaching them to fly. The Prophet Isaiah (46:3-4) proclaims that God has birthed Israel and will carry and save them even until they are gray with old age. The prophet Hosea (13:8) describes the ferocity of God like a mother bear defending her cubs. On the other hand, the Psalmist envisioned a child resting in its Mother/God’s arms. (Ps 131) In the book of Solomon there are beautiful canticles sung in praise of Wisdom,’ (Wis 7:23-30. 8)

Jesus, himself, gives a mother-like lament and says, ‘How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!’ (Lk 13:34) And in the parable of the lost coin Jesus demonstrates God’s motherly longing as she diligently searches for, and rejoices when she finds, what was most precious to her. (Lk 15:8)

But why should we be interested in the concept of God like a Mother or as a being with feminine qualities? Our Church is based on a patriarchal pyramid with the Pope on top followed by Cardinals, bishops, priests and then the laity. The top of the pyramid are all men made in the image and likeness of God, the Father. Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, csj, who holds a doctorate in theology, once described women’s place in the church by saying, ‘…a pebble, a peach, a poodle, and a person. In Church hierarchy, women fall somewhere in between a poodle and a person.’ I agree that often in the church, and in society, women are second class citizens. Think of how women employees are presently suing Wal-Mart for equal pay for equal work. Those women know their worth. We, also, need to be aware of our worth and preciousness for we too are beings created in the image and likeness of God. (Gen 1:26-27)

Methodist minister Bonni Belle-Prickard suggests that when envisioning God as feminine we are affirming the divine image in ourselves. ‘Indeed, God in the person of Jesus Christ gives us many glimpses of the feminine image of God. Jesus welcomes children; speaks to women shunned by the men; washes feet with a towel and basin; serves breakfast after his resurrection; and even weeps. If there was any doubt before that God affirms all these parts of the divine image in us, certainly the Person of Jesus shows us graphically that the feminine is "very good"!’

In the Bible many feminine names are given to God: Ruah, El Shaddia, Shekinah. In Genesis, ‘In the beginning’ Ruah, a feminine noun used to name God’s spirit, breathes over the darkness and waters and brings forth abundant life. In Hebrew the same root word for Ruah, spirit/breath, is the word ‘rechem’ meaning ‘womb-love.’ It is easy to imagine the darkness and waters of the womb when you think of a child not long conceived floating in its mother’s womb. In Isaiah (49:15) God as mother states, ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child of her womb? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’ Those words speak the constant life-sustaining strength, womb-love of a mother. Aren’t those the hallmark virtues of a mother?

The womb is where all life begins but once born the breast is the seat of nourishment. As we just heard, ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast…’ A potent image. In Hebrew the root word for breast is ‘shadu.’ That is the foundation for another name for God, ‘El Shaddai;’ one who nourishes, supplies and satisfies. But in scripture El Shaddai has always been translated into ‘Almighty.’ How did they go from nourishing breast to Almighty? Let’s look at the name of El Shaddai: El points to the power and greatness of God’s self. Shaddai means one who abundantly blesses with all manner of blessings.

The root word shadu predates Hebrew scripture and was attached to ancient civilizations whose gods dwelled on the mountain tops which are often the source of life flowing waters. Given the depiction of ancient figurines with their large breasts, it isn’t hard to imagine the mountain gods overflowing with blessed abundance towards the people in the valley. So it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how the "breast" image was changed to mean "mountain," which eventually evolved into “Almighty”- something great and powerful. Isaiah embraces the breast image and its power to satisfy and bids Israel to ‘Now drink your fill from her comforting breast, enjoy her plentiful milk…like a stream in full flood…I will comfort you as a mother nurses her child.’ (Is 66: 11, 13)

The last manifestation of God in feminine form comes in the name Shekinah. Shekinah is the God-who-dwells-within, the glory of God, the visible spirit of God who went before the people in Exodus as a pillar of cloud by day, to lead the people along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, and is the glory of the Lord that filled the meeting tent. (Ex 13:21-22, Ex 40: 34).

Now we will look at how the foundress of the Redemptoristines, Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa, experienced God as Mother. But first a little background on Celeste, herself. Celeste was baptized in 1696 Naples. She was named Giulia by her parents Guiseppi and Battista Crostarosa, an affable, middle class Neapolitan couple. He was a civil and canon lawyer, and she was the proud mother of 12 children. Giulia was tenth in line but seemed to be the darling of the clan. They were a normal, pious family.

What was Celeste’s relationship to her mother? We know very little as she is mentioned only a few times in Celeste’s Autobiography.

Celeste calls her young self ‘sensitive, lively, vivacious and of good intellect.’ Like any typical eighteenth century mother in Naples, Battista taught her daughter her prayers, told her stories from the Bible, about the saints and the sacraments. Girls were not formally educated, but young Giulia, having many older brothers, learned to read. Perhaps it was her sensitivity, her perceptive nature that Celeste mentions of her young self that made it possible for her to experience an unusual sense of intimacy with Jesus at the tender age of five. She writes, ‘From time to time He called her…to love him…simply by an interior word, without her knowing exactly what was happening.’

From then on, Giulia was greatly blessed with many hours, days and months of loving, bright intimacy with her Lord, except for the few occasions of darkness when she slipped into ‘worldly affairs’ such as when she learned from the servants popular songs. When Giulia was eleven she wanted to make her confession and her mother accompanied her. The child came home consoled but changed; quieter, more pious, doing acts of mortification, shunning worldly conversation. Her brothers and sisters began to tease her wondering where their little sister’s gay old self had gone. Her mother, seeing such a change, caused Battista some concern because she thought her daughter was becoming a bit too scrupulous. Nevertheless, Battista supporter her daughter and gave Giulia a quiet hide-a-way in the attic where she might pray to her heart’s content. Because Giulia could not put into words her deepening mystical experiences to her mother, Battista, trying to protect her child, opposed Giulia going to confession (spiritual direction) again. Giulia obeyed and was consoled by her first interior vision of Jesus.

Again, when Giulia was fourteen, her mother wisely forbade her daughter to go to spiritual direction from a young inexperience priest. Though she did not go in person, Giulia wrote to this young man secretly and lapsed into a time of dense spiritual darkness until she followed her mother’s advice and found a new, wiser, older confessor.

When Giulia was around twenty, she was so consumed and melted by ‘pure love’ that she could not eat, stand or speak. This caused her mother great anxiety and so Battista cared tenderly for her ill daughter with remedies. It turned out her illness; her melting by pure love was caused by the Lord commanding Giulia to embrace the religious state. At the same time, coincidently, Battista was planning to make a pious visit to a new monastery. Giulia begged to accompany her mother and her sister, gladly taking any food and remedy and she got herself ready for the trip. When they arrived at the monastery Giulia and her sister declared to their mother, and the holy prioress, that they most ardently wished to stay and embrace the holy life. You can imagine the heated discussion between the mother and her two strong-willed daughters. Finally, Battista consented on the condition of obtaining the father’s permission, which she received.

After that we hear nothing more of Battista Crostarosa from Celeste’s Autobiography. Ah, a parent’s love – love the child, fight for the child, and fight with the child, then let the child go to their own destiny. Such was the relationship of Mama Crostarosa with Giulia.

During Celeste’s religious life the themes of ‘Mother’ and ‘womb’ appear a number of times in her writings and reflections. I gave you some information about God like a Mother in the scriptures. Celeste, on the other hand, probably never heard any of those things. In her Autobiography she writes her insights into the Divine nature of God were, “…received from the Word of the God of Love, …[who] made [her] understand the doctrines of the Holy Scripture contained in the Holy Gospels with most admirable lucidity.”

Being a Neapolitan and a person of great feeling, Celeste had given her whole heart and mind, spirit and body to the Lord and her writings reflect that in their affective style. She writes, ‘Oh blessed companionship of the faithful soul! Ah! He is my Father and my Mother; he alone is my Being and my Life.’ Maria Celeste rejected the popular Jansenistic notions of her time that claimed redemption is for the few and mysticism for the elite. She believed God’s gift of salvation and contemplation were accessible not only to her soul but to all souls. And what could be more accessible than an image of God as reflected by a mother’s love?

One of the first references Celeste makes to Jesus as Mother was when she writes about the time as a Novice when she received a revelation from the Lord concerning a new way of life for the community. She says, ‘Thus conceived in the Womb of Divine Charity, incapable of any good, I was upon the bosom of the Word of God made Man. He it was Who nourished me… and thus fed by this Divine Spirit of Love, I was to write the Rules under His inspiration.’

I have a vivid recollection of a conversation when I was a novice and studying with Sr. Peg about Celeste and her inspiration that she, and we, are called to have a symbiotic relationship with God; that we are so close to God that our faith and trust should be like that of a child in the womb of God. Celeste herself writes, ‘Every person journeying on earth is like a baby not long conceived, still in its mother's womb.’ In our western world where self-reliance is paramount this notion of total dependence on God is quite foreign.

Two over-arching themes in all of Celeste’s writing are what she calls ‘humiliations’ and ‘abnegation.’ In modern terms I would translate humiliations to mean humbleness and abnegation as a self empting of anything that would stand in the way of being a beloved of God. St. Paul says in his Letter to the Philippians that Jesus did just that, ‘Though in the form of God, Jesus did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, human like one of us…(and) humbled himself, obeying to the death, death on a cross. For this reason God lifted him high and gave him the name above all names.’ (Phil 2:6-9)

Celeste stresses complete dependence on Mother-God when she writes what the Lord said to her, ‘I want you always to keep before your eyes your own weakness and your own misery, and to experience occasionally how much you need me, so that you may learn to distrust yourself and to take refuge in the protection of my divine Providence…. Live then as a babe in my womb.’

We see, then, Celeste’s reason for wanting abnegation and humiliations: it is so that we in our creature-hood may rely on the protection and the divine Providence of our Mother-God. To not always trust in our own self-sufficiency but to live in a symbiotic relationship with God.

Another job of a mother is to instruct her children. Celeste’s earnest prayer to her Mother-God is, ‘…teach me how I should comport myself in your presence, with the candor of a child with its mother.’

Celeste often talks about the ‘fixed gaze.’ I am sure you have seen how an infant has eyes for its mother alone; whatever else is going on doesn’t matter; only the bond between mother and child is what is all important and life-giving.

So God instructs Celeste saying, ‘This is how I want you now: like a babe in your mother's womb! Remain thus in repose in every situation: in labors, in doubts, in fears, in temptations, and in humiliations, attach yourself to the womb of your dear Mother. While you cling to it, no evil can reach you: SORROW DOES NOT ENTER WITHIN THIS PLACENTA OF JOY.’

What amazing imagery this Placenta of Joy! How earthy! How life sustaining our symbiotic relationship to God is meant to be. How opposite to the meaning of the name Shekinah: ‘God’s glory-dwelling-within,’ or St. Paul’s statement, ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?’ (1 Cor. 6:19) I sometimes think of God as out there somewhere, while all the while Celeste tells us we are to be like a fetus attached to the placenta of God. As you know, the placenta is rich in blood vessels and transfers oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the fetus. Celeste’s writings tell us that God wants us to cling to this placenta of joy throughout our entire lives in everything we do so we may be free of evil or sorrow. This is a great challenge requiring great faith.

Along with abnegation and humiliations, there are two more themes which are dear to Celeste’s heart; both are hallmark of the Redemptoristine and Redemptorist charism even to this day: the Eucharist and the cross. They go arm and arm, as it were: imagine the juxtaposition of a babe resting in its mother’s arms, tenderly held to the breast being nourished, and Jesus ‘resting’ on the embrace of the cross, his open side flowing with it’s life-giving stream. Celeste says both of these ‘embraces are sweet.’

Most of Celeste’s mystical experiences happened during the Eucharist. Sometimes these raptures would last for hours at a time. There she found ‘Paradise of souls on earth’ by union with Christ in the Eucharist. Here, Celeste tells us we will ‘enjoy a lifetime of untroubled peace.’ The Mothering God says to Celeste, and us, ‘Daughter, by the union achieved with the divine Word in the sacrament of the Eucharist your will should be so transformed into that of my Son that you ought not exercise any act except that which is one with the will of your God. By ceasing to be led by your own will in everything and by following whatever I should arrange for you, both adverse and favorable, you will enjoy an anticipated Paradise. You will not be disturbed by sufferings and crosses. And there, the embraces of your Mother will be very sweet.’

And how merciful God is towards those who remain united in love to God’s maternal care amidst life’s crosses! For Celeste, the Eucharist and the cross are entwined; in both she finds rest, sweetness and peace, and invites us to do the same.

The lesson we learn from scripture and Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa is that by our self-emptying and humble attitude we cling like with child-like trust to this Placenta of Joy, and nourished and strengthened by the Eucharist we are able to bear whatever crosses we are asked to embrace for God tenderly loves us with womb- love.

We are created in the image of God. Do we see in ourselves any of these qualities? In being Christian women we are invited to affirm in ourselves these feminine qualities of the divine image so that in our lives we might be ‘melted by pure love’ in our own symbiotic relationship with our Mother-like God, with one another, the church and the world, and know that it is ‘very good!’

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Feast of Mother Love

By Matilda Nimke - Pastel on Paper - After Original by Mary Cassatt

In another lifetime, I collected prints depicting mothers and children, particularly nursing mothers. For many years this assortment added warmth and meaning to the livingroom of our home. Then my mother, originally trained in fashion design and later a painter for her own pleasure, presented me with this copy of a Mary Cassatt pastel. It was a birthday gift intended for my collection of 'mothers'. It is a treasure. My mother is well but is no longer able to take pleasure in her art. The necessary planning and attentiveness to task is no longer within her range. I used to tell her, "Clean less and paint more." The walls of my parents' home display many of her works. My mother is with me still in life and also in her art.

My collection of 'mothers' served to remind me of the intensity of motherlove. The images idealized those moments of pure joy, of a mother's oneness with her child, of the act of intimate nurturing and of the miracle of life. At times there was a stark contrast between those warm images and the reality of raising three sons as a single parent. As I receive cards from my sons and grandsons honoring me on this holiday, I am brought back to those moments of high contrast; those moments of anger and frustration, of words that would have been better left unsaid. I want to ask forgiveness for those moments. I want to say, "I am sorry for the times I let you down or hurt you. I am sure those times have left a mark."

My only consolation is that just as mothers have the ability to forget the pain of childbirth, children seem to have the ability to put aside so many parental failures, to make allowances for lapses in loving and patience and understanding. And in adulthood seem to gain an appreciation for the big picture and find it in their hearts to forgive the human frailty of their parents. For this I am so very grateful.

May your day be blessed as you rejoice  

in the gift of motherhood,

privilege and responsibility without equal.

Let us be thankful too

for all who have mothered us.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

From the Other Side of the Ramp

The Big Wide World of Vocations

Not sure if this is exactly what my new hip looks like but it must be pretty darn close. Isn't it amazing? I am even glued together with something called dermabond. This end of the ramp includes lots of physical theraphy stops and helpful meds. But I am on my way and ever so grateful - grateful to God, to my supportive community and to the professionals who made it all possible.

And that is where the notion of "the big wide world of vocations" comes from. Whenever I have the opportunity to do some public speaking on the topic of vocations I do not limit my talk to the notion of religious vocations. In Catholic circles at least, the word "vocations" tends to bring a narrow view to mind - sisters, nuns, priests and brothers. But the question of vocation is  much broader and is directed to each person. It calls for an over-arching attitude that directs us to seek the will of God for our life as indicated by God's gifts and the direction we receive from God as to their use - if only we open ourselves to that direction. These factors are often lacking from the equation most people use when determiningly their choice. More common factors are: what will pay me the most; what will offer the most prestige; what will satisfy my ego; what will make for a secure future? Many do take into account their interests and their skills but those earlier items carry a lot of weight. I like to encourage parents and young people from the very beginning to consider the question of life direction, career choice, etc. under the broad rubric of vocation, that is God's desire and will and specific call to the individual.

I was reminded of the truly broad scope of the vocation issue in every life when I observed and benfited from the skilled and compassionate care of registered nurses and their support staff while I was hospitalized. Truly, nursing is a vocational call. And it isn't always the easiest choice, the best paying profession offering the best work hours and conditions, or the one most respected. But men and women in the profession have told me of their call, their felt desire to relieve suffering, their certainty that they had something special to offer those in pain and in need of healing. Many would never say it was a call from God or that their choice was an expression of their desire to follow God's will. But they will all say they listened to that small vice within calling them in a certain direction. How grateful I am that they listened to that voice.

This is an inner attentiveness which we have to encourage and cultivate in our children. They need to know that their life's work, their vocational choice, matters tremendously. It matters not only to them but to the society in which they live. The right choice, the informed choice increases their chance for happiness and satisfaction and their abiltiy to make a difference in our world.