Knowledge Is Power

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

I graduated from high school in 1967, and during those years the Dominican Sisters engaged us in so many ways to enlighten, inspire and motivate us to see what was going on with the war protests, the civil rights movement and the world of the missions. The high school was a charter member of the Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade and, as a result of my membership in it, I learned all about the Micronesian, Polynesian and Melanesian island groups and began my deep desire to visit some of the African countries. We sponsored bake sales and made caramel apples for sale to earn money to “buy” Pagan Babies (and we got to name them, too). We had the experience every two years of the CSMC Conference for high school students from around the country and held at the University of Notre Dame. 10, 000 students and mentors gathered to hear speakers from around the world, missionaries with years of experience, e.g., Maryknoll Sister Maria del Ray, author and world traveler to so many mission lands; Monsignor Ssebayigga from Uganda who told us of the Mountains of the Moon( and who just passed in 2006); John Cardinal Wright who sang about the “little boxes on the hillside that all looked just the same”, but he compared them to the hovels of Appalachia not just the sameness of suburbia; and so many other inspiring missionaries. They lit the fire in so many of us to get to the work of home missionaries or international missionaries. We would save the world for God because all of those people were heathens and needed our help! Boomers—-this was our truth then, and you know it!

Somewhere along the line, I read Michener’s book Hawaii, and, as crazy as it sounds, that is where I had my AHA moment about the colonial mentality of our church and white society. My attitude was never the same and I wanted to learn more about not only how the church repressed the native spiritualties, but also what the people in those different places really believed in and why. There is such a thing as African theology and spirituality and, like our Native Americans, their connectedness to the earth is immense and intense.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing, for true! My intellect and my spirit now know how much damage has been done to the minds of citizens of all countries. White is not the best; it is one among many. White is not the safest; it is just as fragile. White is not the strongest; it has its weaknesses. White is not the smartest, but it does have access to better education most of the time. White is not always right…..

A few days ago, there was the remembrance of Juneteenth, the day when the slaves on Galveston Island finally found out that Lincoln had freed them—two years before. Why did it take so long for them to hear something that was “old news” to Blacks in other states and unimportant to their white masters? Poor communication lines from outside the state have been blamed, but the White masters on the island knew and didn’t want to lose their workers before crops could be harvested and barns could be built, so they waited a little while. No harm done, and it kept the economy alive.

There is so much to unlearn about the growth and development of our country. History is still being written, still being discovered. It must not make us feel bad or depressed. It must make us want to really be the best at cherishing the lives of all those God has created. It must make us realize the mistakes that were made, why they were made and make sure they are not still being made or ever made again. It is hard work, but what we learn will guide us, and our prayers will inspire us.

Posted in Weekly Word

The Tyranny of Perfection

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, shown in her pottery studio

The gospel reading for this past Tuesday (Mt 5:43-48) can be pretty challenging. You may recall the text.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
   You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It’s that word: perfect that gets me. I understand the call to love my enemies, be patient with those who irritate me, pray for those who cause evil in the world like traffickers, drug lords, and coyotes. Really mean and ugly people I can pray for. I just wish Jesus did not say to me, ”Be perfect.”  Yes, some translations say “be compassionate” or be “perfected.”   But the damage is done so to speak. You cannot really unhear something once it reaches your ears.

Perfection is a problem because we are not that… rather I am not that – not perfect. And there is a kind of tyranny in the word because what constitutes perfection is different in different cultures, times and traditions. Come to think of it, in different families, we understand perfection differently.

Think of Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnastics champion, she always strives for better, not for perfect, a much more humane way of life. Her goals are not perfect 10s. Her goal is to always strive for excellence – to go further, to reach higher elements of complexity in her field. And be a human being in the meantime.

What Jesus is really inviting us to, it seems to me, is a challenge to be all that God hopes for in us. To reach for rightness in our relationships – with other people and with God. And I would add right relationship with creation.

As Sarah, my mentor in pottery is always saying, pay attention to the details that improve your work, that equate to throwing clay with excellence. The turn of a rim, the treatment of the foot, the graceful line of a spout.  We know excellence when we see it sometimes. I hope that I can avoid the tyranny of a perfection I cannot achieve and live in the grace of God’s invitation to right relationship.

Dear God, save me from the tyranny of perfection and guide me toward loving others without reserve. Amen.

Posted in Weekly Word

Prayer Is No Walk in the Park

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

The crisis levels are waning. The days of rapid spread of the virus, hospitalizations and death, in most countries, are much lower; the violence of last summer has brought us to days of trying to sort it all out. But now is the time of desperation. I know that sounds dramatic, but consider…. People are desperate for jobs; for money to pay rent, utilities, insurance; for day care; for gasoline; for fearing that they will end up arguing with someone about mask/no mask or vaccinated/not vaccinated; for a feeling that they can make ends meet no matter how they do it…. Do I need to go on?

People think it is just too “pie in the sky” to keep saying, “Thank God I have my faith”. But consider this, how many times have you spoken in sadness, in grief, in joy, in anger? How many times have you screamed to the heavens to make it all end? How many times have you asked God “WHY”? How many more entries will there be in your journals where you ask God to give some answers? Those are deep and powerful prayers, more from the heart than maybe ever before, but they capture the human spirit trying to connect with its creator and make some sense of it all.

There are people all around us who say that they cannot pray, they cannot find the words any more; so we have to pray for them. If we have no other remedies for them, our prayers can find a way. Pope Francis, in his first in-person audience since the pandemic, spoke about prayer and said “it is no walk in the park. Yes, one can pray like a parrot,….but that is not prayer.”

Look to your heart and pray with it. Yell at God; cry with God; scream out your frustrations to God. God knows it all and holds it close. Our prayers are very real and God knows what is in our hearts before we even speak! What a blessing!

Posted in Weekly Word

The Mystery of “In”

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

In all the richness of these after-Easter scriptures—the bold witness of Paul, the growth of new Christian communities, the poignancy of Paul’s departure and his words of encouragement to those he is leaving; and in the wonderful circuitous word-play that the Gospel of John presents to us in the last discourses of Jesus (chapters 14-17) heard again and new throughout this late Easter Season, there appears a tiny part of speech, a little word which occurs repeatedly in the farewell prayers of Jesus and in the letters of Paul—It is the word IN.

  • The gospel IN which you stand.
  • Do you not believe that I am IN the Father and the Father is in me? The Father who dwells IN me?
  • Remain in me.
  • And whatever you ask IN my Name
  • Consecrate them IN the truth
  • That they may be one as you Father are IN me and I IN you and they also will be IN us

In.  A functional word, a preposition indicating inclusion or location or position.

  1. So much more. During this Paschal time, and certainly for Christian faith and tradition, a word conveying the mystery of unity: God’s Being and Ours. A transformative sharing of divine love.   A deep, deep word that holds God and humanity together, and is and will be the first and final and only Reality—as we put it:  When God is all in all.

We believe IN God: not “we believe that there is a God.” We believe in Jesus Christ, in the holy Spirit” not as objects, not about their existence–that is , “we live and move and have our being” in a profound mystery of connectedness, of precious closeness—“Closer to us than we are to ourselves”  we say. Or as Julian of Norwich so delightfully puts it, “Betwixt us and God there is no between.”

A closer-ness than even the phrase “being with” God can conveya condition of utter entanglement where we are, by which we are, lost and found in God.

IN—a word saints and mystics (remember Catherine: “I shall say Ahahhhhhh “) have to fall back on, a word that defies the precision of theologians (remember Thomas Aquinas speaking of his monumental work—“it’s all straw”?)  because no language can adequately express the Christian experience of the mystery and its transformative power.  Perhaps Julian of Norwich comes closest: “betwixt us and God there is no between.”

Jesus in the Father, the Father in Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  And we believers, here today,  stand in the Gospel,  in Christ, in the Spirit, and in the heart of the world—in suffering and death and resurrection,  in the body and the blood,  in communion.

Celebrating Eucharist, we put out our hands and say Amen.  Think of it this way: “I’m IN.”

Posted in Weekly Word

Catching Center

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Every week on Fridays at 10:00am, my Study From Afar Program mentor and clay instructor, Sarah Wells Rolland, is on Facebook demonstrating a throwing technique by making a teapot, a pitcher or other clay forms.  It’s a wonderful 30 minutes and I try to catch it live. Otherwise, I watch the saved version.

She has the most wonderful way with clay, great command of the clay and can make it do just about anything. I love watching her throw and talk about technique, the little tips, and small details that capture what it means to “throw with excellence,” in her words. (Here is a link to an 8-minute YouTube video of Sarah making a pot) It’s part of a Vessels of Hope series, but that’s a topic for another blog.

Potter Sarah Wells Roland

There is a particular aspect of throwing clay on the wheel that is brand new to me and it has a great practical connection with spiritual life. Sarah talks about catching center. This means that in the process of centering clay on the wheel, and lifting the clay into a tall cylinder, you continually make sure that the clay remains centered. There is no wobble or swim, the walls are even in their thickness, there are no thin spots or bulges. In shaping the clay and stretching it to its limits, a well-thrown pot remains centered. Sarah can catch the center at the top of the pot or in the middle or anywhere it needs to return to its invisible axis. She coaxes the clay into its natural place of rest while it spins.

So too in the spiritual life, I sometimes need to sharpen the skill of catching center, of being able to return to my own invisible axis, on which my world turns, the interior space where I can sense God’s presence within. A still space amidst the turning world around me. Being centered is a contemplative practice, an awareness of who I am and who I am before God. It might happen purposefully in a time set aside for prayer or reflection. It might happen as I finish making my bed, when I sit down to gather my energy and focus for the day.

Catching center might occur when I look out the office window and watch the trees blow in the wind. It’s a private moment, all it takes is breathing and listening.  And being aware that being centered is an active and engaged way to become internally quiet. Catching center is when my day is over and I come to rest, I return to the quiet with gratitude.

 

Dear God,

Help me to hear your invitation to catch center, to not miss the moments of the day that invite stillness even as my world spins around me.    Amen.

Posted in Weekly Word