A Lenten Story
One on the first courses I took in college was Moral Theology. It was at times a bit over my head but I still remember the Professor telling us about something that happened in his seminary days. Seems that it was Lent and he was walking with a couple of other Seminarians, when someone came by and offered them a banana. His two companions refused the banana rather sternly commenting that they were offering it up. Fr…however, took the banana and ate it in front of them! Being in shock they asked “what are you doing???” Obviously the banana was a treat and it was LENT. Fr. just smiled and said, “I offered up the pleasure.”
We all laughed at the time and later when the students were gathered together for another class, someone presented our favorite teacher with a plaque that had a banana mounted with a halo on top. The gift became known as the “spiritual banana.” Fifty years later, I think everyone that was present still remembers this story.
For myself however, it wasn’t until I began to study St. Thérèse that I began to further appreciate our Professor’s point. Lent isn’t just about giving things up but about focusing on Christ in whatever way draws us closer to him. St. Thérèse wrote concerning her own experience, “Instead of doing me any harm, of making me vain, the gifts which God showered upon me (without my having asked for them) drew me to Him.” Gratefully, she offered the little things to God, sometimes they were sufferings but even more often joys. Her point was to use little things to grow closer to God, and perhaps when we think deeply about it, isn’t that really what Lent is for?
Quote is from Story of A Soul the autobiography of st. therese of Lisieux trans. by John Clarke, O.C.D. Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc. ©1976
Sister Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
Lenten Resolutions and God’s Longing For Us
There is something fascinating about pondering what we might give up for Lent. Could it be that, in this gesture, there is a longing to experience the nearness of God, and that somehow giving up what we really like helps bring this about?
Along this line, one of the favorite songs here at the Monastery is the one entitled: “We Belong to You”, the text of which is that of Victoria Thomson. It would appear that just as we long for God, God longs for us. It could be that attached to this longing for God is a deep need we do not know we have. Furthermore, this need may be very different from what we think it might be. Perhaps, Lent is a good time to ponder the true longing in our hearts, together with our deepest need.
Once God tells us what this need is, we might want to find a psalm or prayer that speaks to this issue. Another approach is to compose our own prayer, and then pray it every day. Truly, God longs to restore, to reveal, to comfort and to be near.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D
Angels and Faith
When my family first moved into the old New England farm house, we found a beautiful needlepoint framed and hung in the dining room. It was a quotation from scripture, that was left by the previous owners: "For He will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. Psalms 91:11-12" Many times as a child I read that quotation and wondered about the meaning. In elementary school we were taught to pray to our guardian angels and to be aware of their special presence and protection. The Sisters of Mercy, even invited us to name our angel, but most of all to claim its love for us and for God whom it served.
Now years later as an adult, I still wonder and rejoice in the thought of the angels entering into our daily lives. Vatican II however didn't seem to emphasize the angels and their statues and images were often removed or just not included in the modern church art work or catechesis. At the same time, while there was a lessening of devotion and emphasis in the Church proper on the one hand, there was an increased devotion to angels and emphasis on them among the public on the other hand. Yet, not all this public awareness is positive. One only has to Google the word angels and this point becomes immediately evident. (For example, we find among other things listed: Baby Angel Tattoos · Angel Wings · Charlie Angels · Fallen Angels and one of my favorite the Los Angeles Angels)
Recently for this issue of our J&J, as part of our Centennial Year remembrance, I was taking pictures of the two beautiful statues of angels that were chosen by our founding Sisters to be placed on the roof of the Chapel of the former Bettendorf Monastery. This activity caused me to wonder once again, about how the personal and precious presence of angels enters into my faith life and calling to contemplative prayer? Following up on this question, I looked up the places in Scripture that mention angels. There are many references to them from Genesis to Revelation. However, the theme that particularly caught my attention and drew me, to pause and reflect was the various passages that refer to their presence in the life of Jesus. For as it is written, the Angels were present from before his birth to after his death and Resurrection. They appear both in times of joy and in times of suffering. Indeed, they are mentioned by all four of the Evangelists. (For example: Matt 1:18-21, Mark 13:32, Luke 1:26-36, John 20:11-13) Also in addition to Ps 91:11, we find in Matt 18:10 and Acts 12:15 reference to personal guardian angels.
Returning to my family story, the framed needlepoint that the previous Protestant owners left that once was so prominently displayed in the dining room has vanished into the dust of history. In Bettendorf however, the statues of the angels are still on the roof of the former chapel and are still appreciated and admired by the people of the City that they overlook. In our family, we continue to pray for the protection of the angels especially remembering the grandson in Afghanistan. Yet, we surf the Internet and become increasingly aware of the many topics and situations that can demand our time and attention. We see both the good and the bad that is being presented to the younger generation in cyberspace. We pray that the deeper reality of the angels and their protection also enters into our/and their ongoing discernment and understanding.
Finally, while most people seem to have an appreciation of the place of angels once a year in the Christmas mystery, Faith acknowledges that they are all the time beside us, for all our days. A simple prayer of gratitude and love seems most appropriate. Perhaps even the small prayer that we were taught as children can once again give expression to what is in our hearts...
Angel of God my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here;
Ever this day be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen
Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
The Heart Knows Best
Most of us look forward to what Spring will bring. It is much like receiving a gift. Bern Williams comments that very likely the day the Lord created hope was probably the same day God created Spring. As we write, the beauty of the blossoms begins to surround us. This includes the beautiful fields near us. What a gift from God.
Early in the morning, delicate colors can be seen in many directions, painted in the sky with all its delicate beauty. We are encouraged to welcome and to believe that the coming day will bring peace and joy, and maybe something new. Much later, when day is done and shadows are beginning to come upon us with their own pictures, the western sky is breathtaking with all its color, delicately inviting us to contemplation.
In prayer we come to realize that we are close to God without trying. We may even come in touch with our own beauty and goodness.
I find myself giving thanks to God, aware that our current Spring will not last long on the outside. However, I know that the effects of my inner life will continue and increase in my heart.
Emily Dickinson’s poem keeps returning to us. It comes back to us every year around this time. Allow me to meditate and share.
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life in aching,
Or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Dear God, grant us tenderness that we may give it to others where needed.
Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Heaven Begins In Us
To our surprise, as we pondered the beauty of Spring, we came to a new insight. Heaven begins in us. We found that if one readily studies the writings of Karl Rahner, one rather quickly comes to a new insight involving the meaning of resurrection. Just as there is the resurrection of Jesus, Fr. Rahner points out that we, too, may have a personal resurrection, an Easter happening within us any time.
This may come as a surprise to many of us as we take on the different aspects of Lent, that of extra prayer, fasting and the like. Rahner speaks of God who is rising within us, and changing us. This is our resurrection, our Easter happening.
Our own personal “resurrection” means that heaven has begun in us. Gradually, as we allow ourselves to enter into resurrection more deeply, we can ask ourselves just how we may have changed as we have come nearer to the Lord and our true self. How have I changed? And, who is my true self?
Through the grace of God and the gift of my innermost resurrection, gradually, I become who I am, embraced by God.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D