Not too long ago I read an article suggesting that community service is beneficial to mental health and helps to maintain intellectual capacity as we age. As I delved further into the topic, I discovered a webpage from the University of California in San Diego describing the Top Ten Reasons to Volunteer. I was surprised to see how much giving to others had so many benefits not only to the person being assisted, but also to the person who gives. This is another example of how a very Christian value, that of giving of oneself, has proven to be good for our well being.
What is the link between this and Pentecost? As a church, Pentecost is the date when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles. It is also sometimes called the birthday of the church
Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians speaks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When we give to others through community service, we are given opportunities to grow in the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
These fruits are the manifestation of what living in relationship with God can look like. As human beings, we are meant to be in relationship with each other. Relationships of service are instrumental in discovering our true humanity as God created us to be. Allowing the Holy Spirit work through us brings us joy, peace and so many other gifts.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Is there a fruit of the Holy Spirit that you would like to cultivate? Is there a place where you can be of service to others and/or to the community?
Pope Francis also invites us to pray for peace in the Holy Land as he meets with some of their leaders on June 8. Let us pray for peace.
The Bible is full of stories of a merciful God who gives of his love in very unexpected ways. One of my favorites is the story of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John. The woman unexpectedly meets Jesus at the local well and he strikes up a conversation with her. She is living in an ambiguous situation and yet, he does not judge her but is attentive to her and treats her with kindness. Through the encounter she has a deep experience of God’s love and mercy. Her life is changed forever.
How to describe mercy? In the dictionary, mercy is defined as, “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion”. Mercy is an act of love, freely given, with no strings attached, to someone who for all intents and purposes does not merit this gift.
Cardinal Walter Kaspar tells us in his book “Mercy” that the word hesed from the Old Testament means “unmerited loving kindness, friendliness, favor, and also divine grace and mercy…..it means God’s free and gracious turning toward the human person with care. It concerns a concept of relationship, which caracterizes not only a single action, but an ongoing attitude and posture.” He reminds us that love and mercy are closely linked. To be merciful is a way of being with others, a way of showing love.
From the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, we see how an act of mercy can have the power to change lives, to give life to those who are feeling lost and alone.
From the forward of his book entitled “The Church of Mercy“, Pope Francis writes, “Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord.” Having experienced mercy impacts our relationship with God. I know that having been treated with mercy by others has helped me become more merciful.
What does an experience of mercy look like? We can have an intense experience of God’s mercy when we forgive others or experience forgiveness. God’s mercy is manifest when we are present to those who are suffering or when someone else accompanies us in our own struggles and difficulties. It is often those days when we feel very alone that God finds a way to show us his merciful love.
Are there moments or times when you have experienced mercy from someone or from God? What was that like for you? How did it impact your relationship with God?
The word, “knots” reminds me of the time as a Girl Guide when I had to learn various knots to be used to tie cords together or wrap around packages. The knots would need to stay fastened and not loosen when put under stress. In these instances, the knots had a useful purpose.
But sometimes knots can be less useful as in the expression “tie myself up in knots” or “stomach in knots”. Both expressions imply a situation of anxiety, worry, concern. So if you were to undo some of these knots, the result would be a sense of peace and tranquility.
Soon after Pope Francis became elected, several news articles pointed to a particular Marian devotion that he discovered when staying in Southern Germany and which he then brought back to Argentina, his home country. The devotion called, Mary Undoer of Knots, became very popular in that country.
The story of the devotion goes back to the 18th century when a man from a wealthy background found out that his wife wanted to leave him. He consulted his Jesuit pastor at the time and the pastor asked him to bring his marriage ribbon. The priest prayed to Mary to help the couple and their difficulties were resolved. In gratitude, the man had a painting commissioned which was then placed in St. Peter’s church in Augsburg, Germany. Mary is depicted in the painting as patiently undoing the knots, one by one, on a ribbon.
The devotion to Mary speaks of her ability to help us overcome the knots in our lives. Our knots can be a relationship that is problematic, a personal issue that we are unable to resolve or any difficulty that we are struggling with. We bring our knots to Mary and ask her with the help of Jesus to see where our knots come from and how to “undo” them.
Do you have any knots in your life that are bringing you anxiety and that you wish to undo? Have you ever helped someone else undo their knots just by your listening presence? Mary serves as a model “undoer of knots.”
Is there a spirituality of work? That is the question posed by the author of the book, Spirituality at Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your Life on the Job*, Gregory F.A. Pierce. His question invites us to think of who we are as Christians when work takes up a good part of our day. The 10 disciplines he suggests are:
- surrounding yourself with sacred objects
- living with imperfection
- assuring quality
- giving thanks and congratulations
- building support and community
- dealing with others as you would have them deal with you
- balancing work, family life and community responsibilities
- working to make the system work
- engaging in ongoing personal and professional development
- deciding what is “enough” (my personal favorite)
Towards the end of the book Pierce states: « It is pretty clear to me that God is present in our workplaces. There is too much experience, too much testimony, and too many examples of people experiencing the divine presence in their work to deny or even doubt it. … Yet the workplace is a difficult place in which to « be spiritual. » It is noisy, crowded, complex, competitive, materialistic, tiring, frustrating, dangerous, busy, secular. To find God there, we have to work (there’s that word again) hard at it,…and I have tried to outline this idea of developing a new set of disciplines that might help me and others practice the spirituality of work. »
From the beginning of humanity, we have been challenged to work. It only seems logical that God is to be found in our workplace. I invite you to discover the places in your work where God resides and may be calling you to growth in your spiritual life and your relationship to God.
* Published by Loyola Press, Chicago, 2001.
The week before Easter, needing a few days of quiet time, I participated in a retreat at the Villa St. Martin in Pierrefonds situated on the bank of the Milles Isle river.
The ice on the river was beginning to melt and the retreat centre gave me a perfect view of the water as the ice slowly broke up and freed the water to flow down towards the east and under a bridge. But as the ice broke up, it jammed and some blocks of ice came up onto the side of the lawn causing the water to back up further up the river. I could see the water current under some of the broken ice, fighting to break through. Walking up the river, I noticed the water was high and flooding some of the banks. Time, sun and warmth would need to do its work to slowly free the water.
One morning, I woke up and there had been a dramatic change in the ice-jammed river. Where once there were ice blocks pushing up against each other, there now was a free flowing current in the middle that was slowly widening itself. Chunks of ice that had once been stuck were slowly being drawn into the current.
I realized that my relationship with God is often like the river jammed with ice. Taking the time to get away from the busyness of my life helped me to notice that there were a few ice jams between myself and God and he was trying to break through to reveal them to me. When I took the time to pray and reflect, the blockage slowly began to melt away and free itself and I experienced an AHA moment. I call it a grace, a gift that God gives me. The obstacle that once was there, flowed away, much as an ice chunk flows down the river, drawn in by the current. I felt freer. The energy of love in me could now flow through.
We all know that the river will freeze up again next year just as other obstacles to God come in our lives. But God is faithful and continually coaxes us to draw close to him again. We can only respond as best we can.
Do you ever have any ice jams in your life? What can you do to help free yourself and see God revealing himself to you?
Sunday, April 5th is Solidarity Sunday and this year the theme for Share Lent is “One family, food for all”. The theme addresses the ongoing social problem of global hunger. In this world of high tech and advances in science, we are still faced with the reality that 1 in every 8 people go hungry. That is a total of 1 billion people, people who are mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents. They are all people with the desire to live a life of dignity and hope.
The main reason for this situation is poverty and an uneven distribution of wealth. But the effects of climate change, war, and multinationals that control seed production and access to clean water, complicate the issues, and limit people’s ability to produce their own food as they had always done before.
Pope Francis reminds us in this video and in the following statement that we are called to share with our brothers and sisters on this planet. He said, “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”
My own parents came to Canada looking for opportunities to build a better life for themselves and their family. Canada was generous to share her riches. As Christians and Canadians, we need to continue that spirit of generosity and share our riches with those who are less fortunate. Not everyone can live in Canada, but we can give of ourselves and our wealth and share what we have with countries that are suffering from extreme poverty and who are not able to feed their people.
This Sunday I ask you to be generous and contribute to the Share Lent campaign in your parish. If you are not able to give in your parish, you can either send a check or contribute online directly to Development and Peace specifying that you wish to give to the Share Lent campaign.
It is only in giving that we receive.
A few weeks ago, our provincial government called an election for April 7th, deferring the votes in the National Assembly on several controversial bills. As people of faith, we have been confronted with many issues that challenge our values and convictions.
As citizens in a democracy, we all have a duty to vote. But how can our faith influence the way we vote?
To begin with, we need to take the time to reflect on and name our Christian values. What does our faith teach us about basic human needs, care for the poor and marginalized, respect for the dignity of life from “womb to tomb” and tolerance of each other’s faith? This task is important at all times, but during an election, we need to remember them as values that need to be protected in our society.
The next task is to gather information about the candidates and their stand on these issues. Where is our information coming from? Are the sources reliable or coming from places that will only give part of the picture? Who am I listening to? Whom am I dialoguing with about the issues?
The third task is to look at the candidates themselves. Are they people of character and integrity? Do they express the qualities of compassion, fairness, honesty, ethics and tolerance for others? Do they share our Christian values? When confronted with the difficult issues that we face in our society such as care of the poor, respect for the sick and dying and tolerance of people of faith, where do they stand?
Once all of this information is gathered, we come to the most important part of our spiritual task, that is to bring these elements to prayer. What is God saying to me as I go through this process of gathering information? Making a choice is not always clear cut. Some candidates may be people of integrity, but they differ in our values.
Speaking with God in prayer about our electoral choice will help us to choose for the greater good. Dialoguing with God and requesting his support and insight can help us to look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture is God’s perspective.
We cannot forget to pray for the candidate we choose, other voters, as well as the candidates that we have decided not to vote for. Each citizen is called to make a decision of integrity and God’s wisdom is for all.
“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn”.
Waiting for spring requires patience, but we can imagine what will happen as the weather warms up. Our memory is full of the visions of the snow slowly melting and then more quickly to expose the ground to the warmth of the sun. The grass begins to turn green, the trees start forming buds that turn into leaves and some of the earlier spring flowers such as crocuses and tulips force their way through the earth to add color to our gardens. Everything speaks of growing and potentiality.
It is hard work. The plants allow the warmth of the sun to envelope them, but they must take advantage of the right conditions to grow. Bulbs, that initially look dead, extract nutrients and moisture from the soil in order to turn into the beautiful flowers that they become.
We can take advantage of spring to discover the potentiality of our own lives. The blogger Vinita Wright speaks about the Tasks of Spring in her blog. Tasks may be a hard word to hear, but nevertheless,we are called to take initiatives that can help direct us to a life of value and faith.
The spring is a time to take stock of things and decide where we want to put our energies so as to follow our true calling. Prayer can help us as it gives us an opportunity to step back, exchange with God about what is happening in our life and listen to what he says to us. God desires to give us life.
In Lamentations 3:22-23, we read, “The steadfast love of God never ceases; mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
May the God of Faithfulness help you to discover a new spring this year.
On March 19 we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus and husband of Mary. He is most often called Saint Joseph the worker and is the patron saint of carpenters. But, I think he should also becalled the patron saint of fathers. He was the father that Jesus knew and brought him up as his true son.
It was not always easy for Joseph. If we read the story from the Gospels, Joseph believed an angel that the baby that Mary was carrying was the Son of God. He then had to freely accept to protect this child and his mother on their way to Bethlehem and then later flee with them away to Egypt. He is a model of faith in the God who had a plan that was bigger than he could comprehend.
But from my perspective, one of his biggest roles in the history of redemption is his role of father, a father who cared about his son, taught him values and gave him a trade. His constancy, perseverance and love for his family took precedence in his life. He is a witness to a faithfulness to God, to his family and to his community.
At Saint Joseph’ s Oratory in Montreal, the most predominate image of Joseph is him holding the Child Jesus in his arms. We see a Joseph who loves this child as his own, tenderly and affectionately. This kind of role model is important for fathers today. The ability to show affection, tenderness and selflessness towards one’s children is a sign of strength for a father. Children need their fathers to grow into healthy adults as much as they need their mothers. That role should not be undermined nor diminished. He, with Mary, taught Jesus about love, faith and mercy for others.
We remember and honor Joseph as the father he was to Jesus, a father that gave much of himself to bring up a man of character and tenderness.
The other day I read the following twitter feed from Pope Francis “The Lord is knocking at the door of our hearts. Have we put a sign on the door saying: “Do not disturb”? This statement got me to thinking, do I really allow Jesus to enter my heart when I take the time to pray? Or do I make the motions, but keep parts of who I am to myself?
One of the hardest concepts for me to accept is that God desires all of who I am, my weaknesses and my strengths. When we do not take the time to pray or reflect on God in our lives, we are telling him, “Do not disturb’ I will be fine on my own, I do not need you or I do not have time to be with you.”
The image of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts is inspired by the scripture passage from Matthew7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
The season of Lent begins on March 5. This could be an opportune time to take away the “do not disturb” sign from our hearts, open the doors and let God in. Allowing God to enter our lives invites us to a new way of living and seeing where we and God can walk together.
Do you have any of your own ideas for the season of Lent? You can share them with the other readers.
Easter comes at the end of Lent, what a better way to be renewed and refreshed!