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It’s one of those weeks. My brain has not got a single, complete, coherent thought in it. I am beset on all sides by questions spiritual and temporal, moments of joy and phases of confusion. There is nothing for it but to let it all out. Excuse, in advance, my rambling.

  • I just got back from a trip to St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN, my alma mater and home to the Sisters of Providence, of which I am an Associate. The visit, for a board meeting, was equal parts mentally invigorating and exhausting, but overall, filled with joy. I got to see many of the faces I love, my friends Maria, Sheila and Martha, Jen, Monica, Diann, Li-Chih and Kathleen — among others — as well as many of my most beloved Sisters of Providence. How I wish I scoot Missouri out of the way, like one of those puzzles where you rearrange the squares to form an image, so as to make Indiana closer to Kansas. (Sorry, SueBE! I did think of you with great fondness while whizzing past your hometown on the interstate.)
  • The Synod on the Family has ended in something of a jumble. Some bishops have shown base disrespect for the Pope by dissenting, before crucial subjects could even be discussed, what they perceive as the “hidden agenda” of the synod: namely, to allow divorced, remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, and to accept into the fold those who support homosexual marriage. All poor Pope Francis has to say is, “let us have understanding and be accepting,” and all the scared chickens start shouting that the sky is falling. They’ve issued a petition, which (to date) 182 bishops and 600,000 people have signed, begging the Pope not to alter, in the least, Church teachings or doctrine on these matters. That’s right. Let’s just slam the door in the faces of people, deny them the forgiveness Christ extends with open arms, and put a boot on their necks so they don’t forget they are sinners. Also, let’s deny that times change as human understanding changes. (Maybe the earth is the center of the universe!) I wonder if special technology will be developed so that I can be identified at the church door as a liberal and thereby banned from the pews.
  • Her name is Salome. She recently turned five, and she lives in Colombia. In her photo, she stands, arms akimbo, head tilted, a wry smile on her face. I loved her at first sight. (Although, yes, as my husband guessed at the time, I was looking for a child from Costa Rica so I would have another excuse to visit my friend Tina, who lives there, growing chocolate and making the world a better place.) I am sponsoring Salome through the group Unbound ( She has a “complicated” family life, and a home that makes mine look like the Taj Mahal. And I am doing the absolute least a compassionate human being could do to improve her life. There is so much need out there, at times I feel at a loss. And then I remember that even a single, small gesture of kindness can kindle a flame that might, in turn, spark another, and another, into life. It is hard to hope for a conflagration, and yet, at times, hope is all we have.

And so, with happiness and heartache, sadness and celebration, we come to the end of my news. So many things bubbling away on the stove! Who knows what will be added to the pot next week? We can only face it with prayer. (And maybe some lunch. Who’s hungry?)

NB: I did not write this post. My friend Joan Frisz did. But it is so luminous, so lovely and so very timely that I was impelled to give up my weekly post in hopes that you will read this instead. It is a wonderful Lenten reflection, and I am proud to pass it on to you.

Well, it’s Lent again!

What began as a reflection for Ash Wednesday has morphed into this, so you’re going to get an amalgamation of things for this first Sunday of Lent.

Let’s start with the basics: I don’t like Lent. Never have. Being a competitor, I just haven’t felt I was very good at it. It’s not the giving up or giving more that seems to be the challenge. I can surely must up the self-discipline for that, at least for 40 days – and all the Sundays that don’t even count. I think the challenge for he has always been the expectation (have I mentioned that I’m competitive?). Perhaps it’s that I don’t like change. That is what this is all about, isn’t it? Changing our ways to make room for change in our hearts?

As I begin this reflection, I draw on the Litany of Non-Violence from the Sisters of Providence (I will draw on this throughout the reflection):

Provident God, aware of our own brokenness, we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where we are in need of conversion in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Today we have the opportunity to say yes to the journey of Lent. These 40 days recall Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert that prepared him for his public ministry. It prepares us to celebrate the mystery of the Cross, where the end of mortal life becomes the beginning of eternal life. It is a time to encounter God, to encounter Christ in others, and to respond with justice and compassion. it is a call to conversion, both personal and societal.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain. Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Archbishop Oscar Romero has been in the news recently as he has been named a martyr for the faith, paving the way to his beatification. I would guess that that wouldn’t be as important to him as justice for the poor. the story of his conversion is well- known. A conservative priest and bishop, he was suspicious of the reforms of Vatican II and troubled by Liberation Theology emerging in the Latin American Catholic Church. He believed in the basic goodness of those who were in power in el Salvador and did not see the need for an end to the social, political, and economic status quo. However, he was deeply moved by the suffering of the poor, those whose experiences were different from his own, the killing of priests and others at the hands of the death squads, and he became an outspoken critic of those in power, calling for an end to the repression. Even as he was being converted, he called for the conversion of the powerful who had turned against him. For his efforts he was assassinated as he celebrated the Eucharist.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege. Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply so others may have their just share of Earth’ s resources.

One of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving, gives us a deepened awareness of how blessed we are. We let go of some of our abundance so that others might prosper, too. The challenge is to examine our want for money, power, comfort, and privilege. By my race and nationality, I was born with a certain amount of privilege. By my gender I may have lost some of it, but overall, it has probably been regained with education and opportunity, job stability, family and community support. I know this is not true for all white, American women. Women the world over, including in our own backyard, suffer from religious and cultural norms that exclude them, or reduce them to less than fully human. As racial tensions ebb and flow in our own country, we realize that these are not isolated incidents with certain individuals, but they point to larger systemic ills in our communities and in society as a whole. Upon the death of a homeless man in our community just this week, the Assistant to the Mayor, lamenting the lack of funding that could have provided adequate housing to him, wrote to the St. John Center staff, “We seem to be a country comfortable with paying for punishment but not so willing to fund cures for societal ills.” As a covenant people, our baptismal call is to bear witness to the truth revealed through Christ, to be love and peace in our troubled world.

 Deliver us from the silence that gives
consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage, to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

I was struck by the language of the opening prayer prescribed for Ash Wednesday. It reads, in part, “Grant…that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint….” “Battle.” “Armed.” “Weapons.” Really? As one who believes that words do matter, I’m not sure this is the best way to engender a spirit of peace, especially in our troubled times. Someone has said, “Truth is what you get when truth is what you speak.” (Melissa Etheridge) The same could be said about love and peace. Peace is what you get when peace is what you speak.

Every day we are bombarded with stories and images of war and violence. Guns, bombs, drones, swords, and torture. All these – instruments of war – used to exert power and control. We pray for an end to violence. It begins with the setting down of these instruments so that our hands are empty to take up instruments of peace. While empty hands can cause much harm, they can also embrace, created, nurture, heal, liberate, share, and empower. Lent invites us to give up so that we have the capacity to embrace something new.

Deliver us from the violence of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength, to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

And here, we are invited to consider the third pillar of Lent, fasting. Fasting challenges us to give up in other ways, realizing that we take in more than enough to sustain us. This can be, but is not necessarily limited to food. There are many things from which we can fast – irreverence, exploitation, and control, for example. Sr. Sue Scharfenberger gave us some options several years ago that bear repeating: We can choose to fast from having the last word, or fast from holding on to a past hurt or memory. We can fast from always being right so that we can hear and hold sacred the truth of another.

Fasting – how, when, where, and from what – involves choices. When we face temptation, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, we also face choices. While we cannot avoid them altogether, we can choose to walk away from them. In that choice, we decide who we want to be and how we want to live. Jesus embraced fully the human reality of struggling to be faithful. He faced temptations and he made a choice – to go to Galilee and proclaim the gospel of God. “No doubt about it,” Joan Chittister writes, “Fasting surely has something to do with peacemaking. It puts us in touch with the Creator. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It puts us in touch with the prophet Jesus who, fasting in the desert, gave up power, wealth, comfort, and self-centeredness, and teaches us to do the same. It puts us in touch with the rest of the creation whose needs now cry out in our own.”

The Litany of Nov-Violence concludes:

God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, actions and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.

The journey of Lent, indeed “our discipleship journey, is a constant call to move back onto the path that Jesus marked for us – a path that calls us to be instruments of God’s peace,” (Dave Robinson)

to sow love where there is hatred pardon where there is injury
faith where there is doubt
hope where there is despair
light where there is darkness
joy where there is sadness. (Prayer of St. Francis)

The pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria, states that “being a pastor in this crisis is not as much about preaching as it is being with the people in their difficult time…. we are called to live in hope. We trust God and we do our job – praying, taking care of each other, reading the bible and being an instrument of love and peace in this community. This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.” (Rev. Ibrahim Nsier)

Yep, Lent is here again! Amidst the challenges and expectations, let us walk this journey together, seeking peace within our own hearts that we might bring peace to our homes, to our city, to our country, and to our world. Amen!

— Joan C. Frisz

After reading about SueBe’s latest endeavor, I was emboldened to talk about my own. Not that I’m ashamed of it. I’m thrilled, actually. I’ve been accepted into the Providence Associate program with the Sisters of Providence. With vocations at an unsettling low, the Sisters have instituted a program whereby ordinary folk like me engage in intense study and contemplation in order to become associates of the order. This means that one day, if my studies go well, I will be a part of spreading the mission and charism of the S.P.s.

I can’t wait to begin the journey; my companion in this endeavor will be my dear friend and mentor Sr. Rosemary Nudd, English professor extraordinaire from my college days. She will guide me along the way, provoking me to get and give the most that I can.

So why am I not shouting my news from the rooftops? To certain people, I am. My mother, for instance, understands my calling and shares my joy. Others don’t quite get it. “Will you have to wear the costume?” one well-meaning friend asked. (Just for the record, the Sisters of Providence haven’t worn a “costume” in many, many years. They dress just like you and me.) “Does this mean you’re leaving your husband?” someone else inquired. No, it doesn’t. I won’t take vows. I won’t be obligated financially to the order. I’ve simply expressed my desire to have an ongoing, formal relationship with them, to help them with their work in the world.

Unfortunately, what nuns are and what they do is still largely misunderstood in this world, so of course, my calling is something of a mystery to some. But it is my calling, after all. No one has to understand it but me. And I couldn’t be happier.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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