Weekly Word

Be inspired and encouraged with a weekly reflection on God’s Word and every day life.


 

Gossip lives a long time after we say it

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

On July 22, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Mary Magdalen, a close personal companion and follower of Jesus, and one of the women present at the crucifixion. She is the only person of whom it is reported in all four Gospels, as having been a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  On that Easter morning, Jesus told Mary to go and tell the apostles that he had risen and thus, she is considered the Apostle to the Apostles. “Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.” (John 20:18) Among Dominicans, she is treasured as the first to preach the Good News of the Risen Jesus.

But most people don’t think of her that way. Mary Magdalene is frequently identified as a prostitute in popular culture, a sinner who was cured of seven demons. Or, it is speculated, that she was possibly the wife of Jesus, if you believe Dan Brown, the author of the provocative novel, The Da Vinci Code.  The book made Mary Magdalene a celebrity a few years ago and made Dan Brown a gazillionaire. I wonder what she thinks of that.

Was it true? Does she deserve the prostitute reputation?  All those depictions of her in paintings as a harlot, an adulterous woman, a sinner — with a mournful pose, bare shoulders, and repentant gaze — is it true? The answer is no. The truth is that Pope St. Gregory the Great, in 591 AD, wrote a homily in which he connected Mary Magdalen’s seven demons as the seven deadly sins, a construct in Gregory’s mind, a useful literary tool to make a point at the time. [In case you don’t know, the seven deadly sins are: wrath (or anger) greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.] Of course, the worse possible sin is lust, the big “S” which stands for sex. Pope Gregory’s words stuck, the damage was done, and it would seem that her reputation would be sealed forever.

For 1400 years she has had a bad reputation. The Gospel reading for Mary Magdalene’s feast on July 22 used to be the story of the repentant sinful woman and her “tagline” was Mary Magdalene, “Penitent”.  Recently, things got a little better. In 1969, the readings for her feast day were changed to the story of her encounter with the Risen Jesus and her commission to “go and tell the disciples”. (John 20:1-2, 11-18). Much better don’t you think?

So what might we learn from Mary Magdalene?

One lesson is that other people are in control of your reputation and by the same token, you are in control of other people’s reputation. So doesn’t it make sense to give someone the benefit of the doubt when you hear gossip or rumors?  Protect the reputation of other people as you want your own reputation to be protected. What we say about other people lives a long time after we say it.

The particular feature and attraction of gossip is the sense of belonging that comes from being knowledgeable about some only a few people share. And belonging is one of the most powerful attractors in the human heart. We all wanted to sit at the cool kids table in school, get picked first for the team, or win the 4H prize.

You might say that Mary Magdalene suffered from a kind of identity theft. What we know of her reputation has been distorted for more than 1400 years.  That’s a long time to wait until you can straighten things out. You and I don’t have that much time, so be careful. When you hear a rumor or sniff some gossip, it may feel cool to be in the in-crowd, to have that secret guilty pleasure in being part of those “who know.”  But think again.   How would you feel about being on the other side of that?

What would you say to Mary Magdalene?

 

Reprised and revised from a 2015 blog

Posted in Weekly Word

So. The Totally. Absolutely. Awesome. Mutating. Word.

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Lately I’ve been tracking words that seem to come into vogue for a time and pop up in  opinion pieces, commentary, interviews—do you remember “kerfuffle” a couple years back, appropriated by a number of writers and then faded; or “bloviating” as a descriptive of overblown harangues by a public speaker? The one I keep hearing today in TV commentary  is “inflection point”  which really is not about an incident or a new realization.  but has slipped its definition:  a point in an arched curve where the upward arc meets the downward arc. Somebody publicly used it as a description of an important moment and (surprise! )all of a sudden, political commentators are repeating it as it veers into  evolution, saying it authoritatively,  if not accurately. Words and phrases evolve. And then there are the colloquial habits of speech which catch on and don’t go away, like the affirmation, meaning “yes” or the  Yessiest Yes I can muster, “ABSOLUTELY.”

In common speech, there’s the use of LIKE preceding practically any statement, but often in “And it was, like, AWESOME,” or was “like, TOTALLY, wow…, or du-uhh.” Every so often a writer will Do. The. Thing. With. Periods.   And from some generation after mine, the curious practice of starting any explanation with “SO…”

I’m sure you have heard that “Neat “ and “Cool” are now “Sick” or “Dope,” but have  yet to reach  the superlative pinnacle  of AWESOME.

Words are rarely precise and accurate –much of our language arises from metaphor that solidified into definition, and the misconception that they correspond with reality. You have to hold them lightly as you assume they’ll communicate something close to what culture agrees on, a common understanding. Poets delight in using words in new ways, forging fresh and startling images, new meanings, and oh, the poor mystics who were always getting shushed by Precision-Protective  Censors because they were reaching into experiences of the Holy using uncommon or too-common (read sexual) language to describe the indescribable.  Even Catherine of Siena, who plumbed the depths of trinity and humanity in her Dialogue, has a passage in which she confesses, “What shall I say? I shall stutter  A-a, because there is nothing else I know how to say.” (Dialogue 111)

Words, like viruses, mutate. Used for effect, or fun, or just mistakenly, they may catch on, and perform on a larger stage. Families have key words and phrases that are special to them, carrying memories. So do various organizations and societies, with sayings and signs and meanings only they can communicate.

We Dominicans have our precious words and traditions, our mottoes, our pillars, our hymns. In their sharing and repetition they form us as a Family and will in ways surprising and unforeseen carry us to new understandings of ourselves and our mission.  Praise, bless, preach.  Be Peace. Build peace. Preach Peace. Share the fruits of contemplation.

Think of how the word Preaching has widened and deepened for us as Dominican women have claimed the charism. “The Holy Preaching,” the “Pulpit of our lives.” “ Being formed by the Word of God” which challenges and converts us individually and collectively; the Living Word ever new as it permeates us and all creation and is carried and interpreted by us, each with our own imprint and pronunciation.

We come now to the Word Made Flesh, about as far as language can be taken, and its ever-bountiful corollaries that so audaciously name us “The Body of Christ,” and “Words of God.”   By the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, by the anointing of the Spirit, by participating in the Paschal Mystery, by being fed at the Holy Banquet of Eucharist, we humans are Christened, “ Christed.” We are sacraments and metaphors for the closest bond, the deepest union God can grant us; of Creator and Creation, Lover and Beloved, Speaker and Spoken.  We are an evolving language by which our world moves into a fulfillment we cannot express, a meaning we will ever be reaching for.

Posted in Weekly Word

MARK 6:1-6, 14TH SUNDAY IN OT

Reflection by Sr. Theresa Fox, OP

The people of Jesus’ hometown didn’t believe that Jesus was anyone special. After all they had held him as a baby. They watched him grow up. They had seen him skin his knees and cry when he was hurt. They observed his clumsy attempts to imitate Joseph in his carpenter shop. He was one of them. They were all from the same village – what others called the hick town of Nazareth. They didn’t think of themselves as special. How could Jesus be special?

So they took offense at him. As a result he wasn’t able to perform miracles. The mighty deeds he did in other places did not happen in his hometown. Jesus, himself, was amazed that they didn’t believe in him.

There’s an ancient story about a group of monks. The monastery was not doing well. The buildings were in disrepair. There were few monks left. Each monk worried about what would happen to him. They were so concerned about their own future that there was a lot of friction in the group.

One monk concerned about what was going on in the monastery went to see the spiritual master. The monk told the spiritual master, we are in serious trouble. Our buildings are in disrepair. We are growing old. We are disgruntled. Few monks are joining us. What are we to do? The master told the monk, “One among you is God’s special messenger”, and sent him home.

The monk went back to the monastery and looked around. “One among us is God’s special messenger.” Who? Which one of us is God’s special messenger? He wondered. Is the abbot God’s special messenger? Is it the cook? What about the gardener? No one looked any different. But one of them was God’s special messenger. The spiritual master always told the truth.

The monk began thinking about this wonderful news and he told the others what the spiritual master said. “One among you is God’s special messenger.”

Each monk thought to himself, I need to be careful not to offend God’s special messenger. Now I don’t always want to do what the Abbot says. But what if the Abbot is God’s special messenger. So he tried to be more willing to obey the abbot – just in case that the Abbot was God’s special messenger. Then he looked around and saw the cook. He didn’t always like how the cook prepared the meals and would complain. But what if the cook is God’s special messenger? He started to find ways to compliment the cook.

The monks began to look at each other expectantly. Maybe this one is God’s special messenger. I need to treat that one well – just in case he is God’s special messenger. A reverence grew among them. They began to treat each monk well – just in case that monk was God’s special messenger. People began to come to the monastery because of the spirit they saw among the monks. They helped repair the monastery buildings. Others saw what was happening and wanted to be a part of the group. The monastery grew and flourished. Each day each monk would begin the day by remembering the words of the Master. One among you is God’s special messenger.

Jesus was the one among the people of Nazareth who was God’s special messenger. At the same time each person is God’s special messenger. What about us? Do you, do I, treat each person I meet at God’s special messenger? What would the world be like if we did?

Posted in Weekly Word

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