Weekly Word

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


 

THOM X 2: Formula for Encouragement in a Chaotic World

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Preparing to preach on the feast of Thomas Aquinas, I did some background reading, while in the midst of exploring writings of Thomas Merton. Two Thomasses who did  a huge corpus of writing—one, the Summa Theologica and countless other writings and preaching, and the other, a great many articles, books, and major correspondence. One Thomas who dialogued thoughtfully and deeply with the realities of his changing culture, while living and teaching and writing in the midst of growing cities, universities, points of view. The other Thomas, who left the world behind to become a Cistercian, then a hermit, but who never disengaged from the culture and thought calling from outside the walls of Gethsemane.  Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Merton, both scholars and communicators with the world of ideas, deeply absorbed in an obedience that stretched the boundaries of their thought and the conventions of the time, an obedience to the One who could not be known, but called them nevertheless to wrestle language into insight—or insight into language—in changing and confusing times for church and society.

Thomas Aquinas, Dominican Friar, he of giant intellect and systematic thinking, Master at the University of Paris, popular teacher and preacher, was willing to forego the heady joys of conversation and disputation in his university culture, to place his considerable gifts humbly at the service of the student brethren who needed a program of study to ground them in the theology they would need to preach the gospel in a church and in disparate places where understandings and interpretations of the Christian life were pulling at the edges of traditions and systems. But he was no slave to pride nor sought recognition. Grace was at the center of the mystery. The purpose of study had only one end; union with God whose faithful presence and promise always overtook the human tendency to bend or misstate the truth and fail in charity.

Thomas Merton, Brother Louis, with a restless spirit and a deep need to engage with the great thinkers and movements of the post-World War II era, always pushing at the strict rules of the cloister and the mediocrity of the community while knowing in truth it was his home;  a life-choice which pulled him deeper into the Mystery he always experienced as the pull and strain of contradictions he termed his True Self and his False Self,  thirsting for both knowledge and communication, the emptying of himself and the darkness of God’s silence.

Both were deeply aware of the beauty and witness of creation to its creator, the extraordinary brightness of all being, given God’s “sheen” (TA) and people “shining like the sun” (TM), reflections of divine radiance, beauty and joy. For each one, life was a great gift.

I’m not attempting biography here, or spiritual analysis of any merit. It is what both Thomasses speak to me now, today—this difficult time engulfing the whole of the globe, the chaos and confusion, the agony of need, the division and cruelty vastly enlarged and clouded by our instantaneous communication, the widening rifts in humanity—the cry everywhere for love and truth and peace. This is a “too-muchness” before which I quail, with that sense of dimming zeal and ineffective discipleship and wavering hope.

Here’s the lesson for me. They toiled steadily, daily. And by God’s grace, each brother’s work of probing and communicating went way beyond great achievement, if that ever was a concern. Communication found its heart in communion, the contagious enflaming of hearts and minds, a gracious freedom in letting go, as if each heard God say, “Thanks just the same, Tom, but I’ll be running the universe today.”

We know of Aquinas, in the last year of his life, dismissing his work as “all straw” in light of God’s ineffable love. Herbert McCabe OP has written that Thomas dedicated his life to asking the questions “What is God? Who is God?”  McCabe continues, “His great virtue lay in the fact that he let the questions defeat him.”

And one finds in Merton that recurrent theme of self-emptying, death to the False Self in order to be possessed by God; an impossibility if left to himself, through any rational and human way. “The only One who can teach me to find God is God himself.”  One of his most memorable reflections is about the call to the “General Dance:”  “…the Lord plays and diverts himself in the garden of his creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear his call and follow him in his mysterious, cosmic dance…..the more we analyze (life) out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the common dance….Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds, and join the general dance.” (New Seeds of Contemplation 296-297)

Posted in News, Weekly Word

What Are You Hiding?

“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?”

Blog by Sr. Theresa Fox, OP

We often think of the lamp hidden under the bed as a talent that we have never developed. It could be something else. Maybe it is something that we stowed away for a future time and then promptly forgot about. Or maybe it is something that a person is trying to hide and doesn’t want to deal with.

Usually, the something a person has hidden and doesn’t want to deal with is an issue that periodically gnaws at him/her. It could be a fault that the person is trying to ignore or an issue with another person. The truth is it won’t go away if it is ignored. Instead, it will continue to fester in the back of our mind until it is brought into the light. There it can be faced, dealt with, and put to rest.

Pulling that issue out and facing it head-on isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it can be very hard. Yet, dealing with difficult personal issues can ease that gnawing feeling. It may also develop into a talent that a person didn’t think she/he had. It may help the person accept themselves with all their foibles. Or in facing the issue with another person, it may develop into a relationship that has meaning.

All sorts of good may come from pulling out that something hidden under the bed and bringing it to light. Even if we choose not to deal with that issue now. It will probably haunt us later. After all, today’s gospel also says:

“For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light.”

Posted in Weekly Word

Unexpected Gifts

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

The Burren is one of the most desolate looking places in the otherwise lush green landscape of Ireland. Located on the northwest corner of County Clare, the Burren is a limestone (called karst) field, gray and craggy and on the edge of the sea.

The silence is one of the first things you can notice without much coaxing; not too many birds calling or trees rustling from the offshore breezes. Flat as far as the eye can see, there is not much to draw the eyes upward, but downward, well, that is another story.

Obviously one must look down as she walks because of the cracks in the rocks but then…. Looking down also means being surprised. Down between the cracks and the gray stones, something unexpected hits the eye, for growing between the cracks are tiny, beautiful wildflowers of magnificent hues with tender green leaves. They are so small they have to be pointed out to folks or they would just walk over them so as not to trip on the uneven rocks.

The amazement does not stop there. These lovely flowers are harvested, and just down the road and around the bend is a quaint farm place where the flowers are processed and become lovely Irish perfumes. Who would have known? What an unexpected gift from an unlikely looking location.

As the new year of 2020 has begun, what are the unexpected gifts that might come your way? Will they be welcomed or spurned? Will they be fanciful or useful?

God is a God of so many surprises….just keep the eyes of your mind and heart and soul open!

Posted in Weekly Word

Reign Storm

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

With so much wildfire destruction in Australia, it’s difficult to imagine the scope of the damage. Think about the entire East Coast of the USA in flames. We have been asked to pray for rain there. I hope you have been praying too. It feels almost primitive to me, as when the ancient Navajo chief prayed for rain on the dried up grassy plains.  So basic. So practical. So urgent.  It reminded me of a poem I wrote on retreat some years ago that still captures my spirit.  This is what I hope for in Australia:

Reign Storm

I am soaked through
Like the torrents of rain that take over the air
Making everything seem as if it was all made of water.

Drenching, generous,
swimming in mid-air
With the sound of applause from the rain.
An ovation.
An ocean in the sky.
The trees standing with heads bowed
Limbs long and still
Rain running off their fingertips
And roaring on the roof

Our God reigns.

God does indeed reign, even though, in America, we are not attracted to the reign of kings. We fought a war of independence against a king, so we certainly don’t need one now.  More to the point, God reigns as the Word which rains down on us all the time.   Consider this passage from Isaiah 55:10-11:

Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

If we truly believe this scripture, –that the Word of God is as present to us and as drenching on us as rain– then we can ask for help, indeed sometimes plead for help in any situation.  At times, if you are feeling a little desperate, it is not a bad thing. Faith is tied to our feelings, to our desires for good, to our hopes for ourselves and our hopes for the world.  The Word of God goes forth and does not return empty. Listen for it in the rain, in the wind, in the heart of another person. Look at in the puddle in the street. The Word reigns, pervades all things, sustains every creature, every living thing is held in place because the Word of God goes forth. Sometimes other storms take over our attention and we can be overwhelmed by events in our own homes, our country, our world.  God’s Word is a reign storm, it waters the earth, making it fertile, giving seed to those who sow, bread to those who eat.  We believe it, even when we cannot see it.

My prayer today is that God’s reign will be more evident, that I will see it more clearly and that my prayers for the people and country of Australia will be answered soon. May rain come, may God’s reign come.  Amen

Posted in Weekly Word

An Angel Came From Where I am Not Sure

An Angel Came From Where I am Not Sure
December 2017 Anne Lythgoe

This reflection, from 2017, has stayed with me for a long time. I feel that I was led by the Spirit to write it, and my experience was that it was given to me. So I can only give it to you.  I hope you find some insight into Mary’s experience.   Thank you, Anne.

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

An angel came from where I am not sure, sent to this Nazareth town, to seek an answer in the gray mists of night. What far off starlit kingdom sent him here? How did he know to visit me? Was he on his own? He seemed to know his mission, although I was not at all sure of what his message meant. Who told him to come here and disturb me with his words?

“The Lord is with you”, he said in a whisper that pierced me in my soul. God’s favor? Is not every daughter of Judah special in the eyes of the Lord? Do we not all seek to serve?

An angel came — was sent to me, — from where I am not sure, and I cannot tell you what he looked like, so bathed was he in light and so veiled in mystery.

This visit was an enveloping, a cocooning in light and darkness all at once. I felt swaddled in the power of the Lord, in the angel’s coming, and although I was thrilled and fearful, puzzled and curious all at the same time, all was strangely well. He made nothing clear, no plan, so few details, only that I would bear a son in the same way Elizabeth came to be with child. No more a miracle could there be but that which came to Zachariah and my sweet kinswoman! Elizabeth and I would be co-conspirators with God. Emmanuel, “God with us.” An ancient promise kept.

An angel came, from where I am not sure, but nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible with God, of that I am sure.

Then the angel left vanishing like a whisper in the night, just as I was realizing I had been visited. The angel left. Disappeared like footprints in a puddle, leaving barely a trace of evidence behind. He left no assurances that my family would understand or that Joseph would know what to do or even accept such a story. The angel did not tell me his name, so I’m not sure he actually spoke in words to me. But I know what stirred in my soul, a something or someone came to me in this forsaken place where nothing of consequence ever happens.

What did I say yes to?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in News, Weekly Word