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Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

Sea of Galilee at Sunrise

Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

An Explosion of Celebrations

Monday, April 8, was a day to remember. It was jam-packed with celebrations. First of all, living in Cleveland, I was treated to the splendor of a solar eclipse. Moon pies and blackout forest cake were served for dessert the night before. People dressed in yellow and black. I played songs like “Moon River” and “You Are My Sunshine” on the piano.

After the eclipse, I watched the Guardians home opener game, in which they eclipsed the Chicago White Sox 4-0.

                  Liturgically, Monday was a fantastic day too. The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord was transferred to this day from March 25, which landed in Holy Week this year, which is centered on the Passion. Strangely, this year on the day we see the moon overshadow the sun, we celebrate the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary. Someone suggested making the celebration of the Incarnation a holy day of obligation. I agree. No incarnation, no resurrection for Jesus and us! The Annunciation also happens to be the patronal feast of us Sisters of Notre Dame. This is appropriate because we have a special devotion to Our Lady. We even adopt Mary or some form of it in our name.

In addition, it was the feastday of St. Julie Billiart, our spiritual mother because she died on April 8. At our noon meal in the Province Center, we had a contest to see which table could complete the words of Marian hymns first. The prizes were plastic eggs filled with candy or coins. We Sisters do have fun! By the way, St. Julie is known as the smiling saint, as in the painting of her here. Notice the medal she wears. It’s of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Solar Eclipse

                  That solar eclipse was spectacular. As one eleven-year-old boy said, “I would give a million dollars to see it again.” Gathered around our Village flagpole, through our special glasses we watched and waited in awe as the moon ever so slowly moved across the sun. Finally, when the orange sliver disappeared and we removed the special glasses, we saw the black orb with white rays shooting forth all around it. Nearby, Venus and Jupiter shone for us.

My photo of the eclipse over Notre Dame Village

                  We were specially privileged in that the cloudy skies predicted for our region dissipated before the eclipse I wonder how many people had prayed for clear blue skies like I did.

                  Witnessing this phenomenon, people had to realize that some divine power orchestrated the cosmos. The grandeur of space displayed this day makes us feel small but also grateful to be alive. A by-product of the event was that so many people were unified in focusing on it—thousands congregated shoulder to shoulder or chair to chair, staring at the sky. It reminded us that divisions are man made. In essence we are one human race. We have the same emotions and can thrill to the same marvels of Earth.

A Relevant Homily

                  Fr. Dan Schlegel’s homily that morning, the second Sunday of Easter, was pertinent. He reminded us that when Jesus died, there was a solar eclipse: darkness over all the earth. He pointed out that more amazing than a solar eclipse was Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus, the Son of God, comes in brilliant light. He, the light of the world, overcomes darkness.

                  Not everyone understood his light at first—like Mary Magdalene, who assumed he was the gardener, and the puzzled apostles, who can’t interpret the empty tomb. St. Paul was blinded by the light of Christ.  It sometimes takes a while to realize who Jesus is. Father concluded, that as we gaze at the eclipse of the sun, “Don’t forget to gaze into the other Son’s light too—because that Son has the power to dazzle you, to inspire you, and to change your life forever.”

                  Coincidentally, the day’s morning prayer included a canticle in which we prayed, “Sun and moon, bless the Lord. Stars of heaven, bless the Lord.”

                  One of my favorite songs is “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” from the movie of the same title. Naturally it is about St. Francis. Here is a version of the song:

• What is your favorite way to celebrate?

• When have you been bowled over by a nature scene?

2024: Year of Prayer before Jubilee Year

Did you know that Pope Francis declared this the Year of Prayer? It is a prelude to next year’s Jubilee Year of Hope. At the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 28, he stressed the importance of rediscovering our need “to cultivate prayer that is not obligatory and functional, but freely chosen, tranquil and prolonged.” He said, “Let us return to adoration and the prayer of the heart.”

         We certainly need prayer nowadays when our country, Church, and the whole world is in turmoil.

         During Lent we were to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I adopted two prayer practices. It takes a long walk through long halls to get from my apartment to the Province Center where our chapel, the main dining room, the library, and my office are located. I decided to pray as I walked. Sure, I greeted people and added steps on my Fitbit along the way. But most of those minutes spent walking were “dead time,” which I could put to use by connecting with Jesus.

My other prayer resolution was to pay attention to the words when I prayed at Mass or prayed the Divine Office. Much of the time trying to have my brain stick to the meaning of the words was akin to the expression trying to nail jello to the wall.

         Now that Lent is over, I intend to carry on these two practices. If you prayed more during Lent, you might keep up whatever you did too.

Prayer for Intentions

Many of our prayers are devoted to asking for something. Last night on Call the Midwife Fred was at death’s door. The oldest Sister spent hours in chapel even without eating praying for him. She persuaded the other Sisters and nurses in the house to join her in prayer. Miraculously Fred survived to appear in more episodes.

         A friend of our community was hospitalized with a mysterious infection. She too was on the brink of death and not expected to recover. We were asked to pray for her, and now she is now out of the hospital and in rehab.

         Of course, God doesn’t always see fit to give us what we think is good. He may say “No,” “Wait a while,” “I have a better idea,” or (as Jimmy Carter said), “You’ve got to be kidding.”

We resort to prayers of petition when we are in dire straits, and they are pleasing to God, for they demonstrate faith in him. But they don’t compare to “prayer of the heart.”

Kinds of Prayer for 2024

The Pope is asking for more time spent in prayer and prayer over and above normal prayer. He means time quietly adoring God, loving him, and thanking him. It reminds me of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne whose dream of working with Native Americans was at last fulfilled‑‑but when she too old to do much and unable to master their language. In Kansas she spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament, so much so that the Potawatomi called her “Woman Who Prays Always.” It’s said that one boy spread kernels of corn on the skirt of her habit as she prayed to test whether she moved. When he returned, the kernels were still in place.

         A more modern example of super prayer: One of our Sisters always seems to have a rosary in her hand as I meet her. She said that she aims to pray four Rosaries (all the mysteries) every day. (Our Holy Rule obliges us to pray just one Rosary.)

         What can you do to reinvigorate your prayer life this year? You might spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth.” 

Our chapel in Chardon this Easter Week

 Rise earlier in the morning to pray quietly.

Think of God as you are vacuuming, jogging, or preparing a meal.

In the evening, don’t just make an examination of conscience, but review the day and pinpoint “Godwinks.” Then thank God for them.

         The end all and be all of prayer is not to have our wishes granted but to develop a close relationship with the God who loves us and showers us with gifts like our world and its marvels, our bodies with its senses, and the hope of living forever because of the gift of the incarnation.

         Speaking of marvels, on April 8 many of us will enjoy a solar eclipse: a glorious phenomenon. Sights in creation like that touch our hearts, even make us gasp, and prompt us to reflect on our imaginative and powerful Creator.

Three Books on Prayer

I’ve written the following three books with the goal of assisting people to pray better. They are available on Amazon and from me (preferably).

Prayer-Moments for Every Day of the Year. This is a collection of one-line prayers that can be repeated over and over as mantras. Sometimes when you are tired, worried, or in pain, you can’t pray any other way. A mantra makes you realize God’s loving presence.

  • Praying on Empty.  Sometimes as we pray we no longer feel God is there, or we fight distractions. This book offers explanations and remedies. It includes suggestions for renewing your prayer life.

  • A Catholic’s Companion to the Psalms. We pray and sing psalms at Mass. They are prayers God gave us in the Bible. This book explains the psalms and different ways we can pray them.

        

This video plays “How Great Thou Art” as an instrumental with lyrics against the sky:

• Have you adopted a different way of praying recently? Is so, what?

• Does a way of praying mentioned in this post appeal to you?

Mary’s Sacrifice: When Nothing Is Too Much

This week a Gospel was about Mary of Bethany anointing the feet of Jesus. I love this outrageous gesture that expressed a wholehearted love. Mary, her sister Martha, and her brother Lazarus were Jesus’s best friends. He enjoyed their company and no doubt saw his visits to their home as a welcome respite.

                  We first meet Mary at her home, curled up at the feet of Jesus, drinking in his every word. She assumed the position of a disciple, and Jesus praises her for her rapt attention to him. (Her sister though who is too busy and worried about the meal does not win his approval.)

                  Next the unthinkable happens. Lazarus dies and is imprisoned in his tomb four long days before Jesus responds to his sisters’ plea for help. When Jesus arrives outside the village, Martha goes out to meet him, but Mary stays at home. I can’t help but think she is miffed at him for not coming right away and hurt. In fact, when he asks for her, and she finally leaves the house and goes to him, she rebukes Jesus. You know how this ends. Jesus astounds everyone by calling Lazarus back from the dead.

                  With this miracle, Mary’s love for Jesus is magnified. No wonder she sacrifices her precious, expensive ointment to honor him. It was worth a year’s wages. But she “wastes” it by pouring it over his feet so it ran onto the floor. Sure, she could have used the perfume to anoint her own body. Or as Judas pointed out, she could have sold it. But Mary preferred to perform an extravagant act of love. As of that weren’t enough, she used her long hair as a towel to wipe Jesus’s feet.

                  The perfume’s fragrance filled the house, delighting everyone there. Mary’s story has come down to us, prompting us to love Jesus as she did. Our love will have an impact on others whether we realize it or not.

                  This reminds me of St. Cardinal John Henry Newman’s prayer:

Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that my life may only be a radiance of yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with
may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine;
it will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise you the way you love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example,
by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you.

                  Six days after Mary’s bold, unabashed demonstration, Jesus performs his own astonishing act of love and washed and dried the apostles’ dusty feet—the customary job of a slave.

                  The very next day, Jesus pours out his precious blood in the greatest act of love ever. . . for us. Certainly Mary of Bethany was one of the weeping women who followed him to Calvary and stood faithfully near his cross.

This Holy Week

Now we are in the holiest week of the year. Hopefully we have demonstrated love for Jesus during Lent not by perfume, but by extra prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. During the Triduum, we will trace the steps of Jesus as he endures his passion and death and try to realize the depth of love he showed. The week will culminate not in a resuscitation like Lazarus experienced, but a resurrection with a new and glorious life. The love of Jesus for us is such that he took on flesh and blood like us and gave his life so that we could be with him forever.

                  This fact is so astounding that we will spend 50 whole days celebrating it during the Easter Season. And forever in heaven if we live right.

My “Perfume”

When I was applying to the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Mother Superior interviewed me. She asked, “Why do you want to be a Sister?” My answer then was because God had done so much for me, I wanted to give him the most I could…myself.  I know how Mary of Bethany felt.

                  Yes, when it comes to doing something for God, nothing is ever too much. . . . Also, nothing is ever enough!

                  No matter who you are and what you do, you can always offer your life to God as a sacrifice to show your love. You can do this every day by the Morning Offering Prayer and every time you participate in the Eucharist. Imagine yourself on the paten. Remember, God says, “You are precious in my eyes.” (Isaiah 43:4)

                  May you have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter Season—all fifty days!

Here is a sweet new Easter hymn sung by children all in white:

• What is your favorite day of the Easter Triduum?

• What customs do you practice during these days?

St. Joseph, Second Greatest Saint, a Foster Father

In a humorous video on Facebook, a man lamented that St. Patrick’s feast was celebrated in grand style, while the Solemnity of St. Joseph two days later was observed quietly. This subdued celebration reflects the personality of the foster father of Jesus. The Gospels report not one word that he spoke. (By the way, the greatest saint is not St. Patrick, but Joseph’s wife, Mary.)

                  Joseph was the right partner for the most powerful woman on earth. Theirs was a match made in heaven. This humble carpenter (or construction worker) in the hick town of Nazareth had the reputation of being just and upright. God chose him, then, for a special honor and privilege. Joseph was entrusted with rearing the Son of God and being a companion to holy Mary. He was responsible for supporting and protecting them. Joseph taught Jesus the Jewish faith, his trade, and how to be a man.

I like the painting above because the artist depicts Joseph as a handsome, virile guy. Other paintings make him an old man, presumably to protect Mary’s virginity. The lily Joseph holds and his white heart in this modern painting by Giovanni Gasbarro symbolize his purity.

                  For canonization, a person must have exhibited heroic virtue. In this, Joseph excelled. He had obedience, courage, and ultimate trust in God. His unique vocation was challenging, but he fulfilled it admirably, as the Gospel shows.

His Marriage

While looking forward to wedding Mary, Joseph was shocked to learn that this sweet young girl was pregnant, and he wasn’t the father. Imagine the turmoil in his mind and his anguish: What man in Nazareth won her affection? Was she raped? What do I do now? To protect Mary from being stoned to death (the penalty for his supposedly unfaithful bride), Joseph decided to settle the matter privately by breaking off their engagement. Divine intervention prevented this. In a dream God told Joseph to marry his intended after all. God revealed that the child was the savior, conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit. Luckily, Joseph believed his astounding dream.

                  Soon after that, Joseph’s beloved wife left for three months to care for a relative. That is a long time to be separated from a loved one.

The Census

When Mary was nine months pregnant, Joseph had to take her to Bethlehem in obedience to the government call for a census—a journey of at least ninety miles on foot. He was responsible for her care. To his chagrin, in town he could locate no lodging except for a crude animal shelter. There Jesus was born.

The Escape

In a dream Joseph learned that Herod was determined to kill Mary’s baby as a rival to his throne. Immediately Joseph heeded the warning, and the little family traveled to Egypt. There as a refugee, Joseph found work and made a home among strangers in a foreign land.

The Presentation

When the couple took Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord, Simeon prophesied a dire future for Joseph’s wife and her child. That must have saddened and shaken Joseph.

Loss of Jesus

Jesus was missing in Jerusalem for three long days. As any parent would be, Joseph was distraught, anxious, and probably tortured with guilt. Many times in his life he didn’t understand what was happening or why, but he was faithful.

Joseph’s Patronage

In addition to carrying out a key role in salvation history, Joseph has other tasks. It’s assumed that he died before Jesus left home. In that case Mary and Jesus were at his deathbed. This gave rise to the practice of praying to Joseph for a happy death. In 1870, the foster father of Jesus was named the patron of the Universal Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus. And naturally St. Joseph is the patron of workers and has a feast by that name on May 1.

Aptly, in Italy St. Joseph’s feast on March 19 is also Father’s Day.

St. Joseph Traditions

• On St. Joseph’s feast, March 19, some people set up a St. Joseph Table. This is covered with bread and other food that is distributed to the poor.

• People trying to sell their house may pray to St. Joseph and bury a statue of him in the lawn. (Some say upside down.) When they have success, they give the statue a place of honor in their new home.

• When a favor is wanted, some people turn St. Joseph’s statue to face the wall until it’s granted.

• Prayers to St. Joseph are the Litany of St. Joseph, novenas to him, a seven Sundays devotion, a consecration, a thirty-day prayer, and a St. Joseph Rosary.

• It’s possible to make a pilgrimage to St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal. This structure, the largest church in Canada, was begun by St. André Bassett, who had a great devotion to St. Joseph. He struggled in school and at jobs, but he had the gift of healing! St. André is one of my favorite saints. A relative of one of our Sisters was cured by him. He began raising funds for a building in honor of St. Joseph by cutting students’ hair for a nickel! You can find out more about him and the Oratory on Wikipedia.

• The following prayer is to be prayed nine days. Allegedly it dates from the year 50 and has never been known to fail:

O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen.

• Something our pope does . . .

I remember a bishop telling the story of his mother setting out the Nativity scene each Christmas. Every year there wouldn’t be enough room for all the figures. So she would put the St. Joseph statue back in the box and say, “Joseph will understand.” That says a lot about this unassuming saint.

Thank goodness St. Joseph is now mentioned in the canon of the Mass. It only took two thousand years! Pope John XXIII inserted the name of St. Joseph into the first Eucharistic Prayer in 1962. Then in 2013, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had it inserted into Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.

Here is a gem of a song called “The Carol of Joseph.” It captures Joseph’s feelings and his wife’s in a moving, striking way.

• What role does St. Joseph play in your spiritual life?

• Have you ever been to St. Joseph’s Oratory?

In Praise of Life

As I grow older, I’m valuing the gift of life more and more. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This echoes Psalm 90: “Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong….Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

The Hubble telescope that NASA gave us an awesome view of the galaxy Andromeda, the one closest to us. It makes you dizzy. Each dot is a star, many bigger than our sun. And there are billions of them. Beyond Andromeda there are zillions of other galaxies. And here we are on tiny planet Earth, just a blue and green speck in the gigantic universe. But so far Earth is the only orb that holds life. It’s a miracle!

Reflect with me a few minutes about what your life means. From all eternity God planned to create you. Then at a certain time and place he loved you into being. A certain woman and a certain man met, came together and gave you a set of genes unlike any other person’s. You are unique. And you are marvelous. Your eyes blink about 28,00 times a day to keep them lubricated and clean. Right now your stomach is digesting a meal. Put your hand over your heart. It beats more than 100,000 times a day, sending oxygen to cells to keep you alive. And all these things go on without your thinking about them.  

Because you have life, you can thrill to music—all kinds, run with wind blowing through your hair, play basketball, dance, swim, eat pizza, play the guitar, and read others’ thoughts in books or on iPads. Because you have life, you can know the satisfaction of mastering algebra and Spanish (well maybe) and learning how to cook and to build a house. You can create things: a new recipe, a song, a computer program, or art. You can imagine, remember, solve problems, and make decisions.

Because you are alive, the whole world is your playground. You are free to explore it and gaze at wonders like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and star-studded night skies. You can be astonished by exquisite flowers and enjoy animals like your pet.

You also have spiritual life and the divine life we call grace. This makes you godlike. You are God’s child with a destiny of living forever.

Do you know what life’s greatest blessing is? Love—the whole spectrum of it. You can know the love of God and the love of parents, spouse, children, family, and friends. You can also experience the intoxicating joy of loving others.

Incredibly God gave us tremendous power over these wonderful lives of ours. We can live them fully. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” This means using all of our talents and all of our days to the utmost. We can re-gift our lives by presenting them to God. As Saint Mother Teresa urged, “Make your lives something beautiful for God.”

On the other hand, we also have power to waste our lives, ruin them, even destroy them. Doing this is like laughing in our Creator’s face.

Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He passed his baton to his followers, us. You are called to carry on the mission of Jesus, to bring others life, abundant life. You are called to see that people’s lives are not snuffed out before they leave the womb, that refugees have a safe place to live, that the homeless find food and shelter, that the imprisoned are humanely treated, that the elderly are respected and cared for, and that all people, no matter what their race, religion, or sex, are treated equally.

What does live spell backwards? Evil. When we do not promote life, our own and others’ lives, we promote evil. If we are not life bringers, we are death dealers. We spoil God’s creation that he made good. Promoting life is a form of loving. Isn’t that Jesus’s commandment? “Love one another as I have loved you.” Protecting and nurturing life, loving, is being holy, being like God, because God is love.

Here are three suggestions for living fully: 

•  Learn something new. Tap a hidden talent: take up crocheting, learn how to play the tuba, teach yourself Chinese.

•  Foster life in others in some way. Help in a soup kitchen, participate in a protest march, or just smile at someone.

•  Plug into the source of all life, God, through prayer. Increase your prayer time by at least five minutes a day. Let God speak to you through his word in Scripture, pray a set prayer like a decade of the rosary, or just rest in God’s presence.

Your life is in your hands. So what will you do with your one wild and precious life? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the counselor dwelling within you, will help you make the right decisions.

Here is a modern song extolling life:

• What do you value most about your life?

• How have you enriched the lives of other people?

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Meet Sr. Kathleen

Jesus depends on us to spread the Good News of God’s love, offering the world hope and joy. Mary Kathleen, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio, responds through writing, speaking, giving retreats, and teaching. Her motto, adopted from Eddie Doherty’s gravesite, is “All my words for the Word.”

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A warm welcome to Catholic Faith Corner! May my reflections help you know and live the Catholic faith, inspire you, and touch your heart. I hope you subscribe here and occasionally comment on my posts.

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