Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anonymous Woman at the Cross

There were several places she could have gone that day.  It seemed there was always a list of things to do and pending projects clamoring for her attention.  There were the remaining details to complete in preparing the final Passover Seder.  There was mending to be done and dresses to be made for upcoming social events.  Always so much needing to be accomplished, whether it was wiping the dust from the furniture—dust that seemed to reappear almost as soon as it was removed—or bills to be paid, meals to be planned, or entries to be written in the journal she wrote and kept hidden under the mat on which she slept.

Yet with all the cacophony of unfinished chores playing in her mind she somehow knew there was one place she HAD to be.  Although she seemed always busy and anxious about many things, for some mysterious reason it became clear to her that on this day and in these hours before the onset of the Sabbath during the Passover season, there was still but one thing necessary and one place where she was needed.  She didn’t know exactly what she would do or if anything she tried to do would be of any real use.  She just knew she HAD to be there.  From whatever time she had spent with the Master, in coming to know Him and His mother she was beginning to realize that there was something of value just in simply being PRESENT—being FULLY PRESENT—of being with people and loving them with your presence, even if there were few words you could say or only little things you might do.

She had received word early that morning that JESUS, Whom she had come to know and love as her LORD, had been arrested and was being tried and would likely be crucified.  There was not really anything she could do about it, but still she HAD to be there.  Perhaps somehow she could lend her love and support to Him and to His mother whom she loved so much.  She would try to find them and share that journey to Calvary with them.  She had heard that most of the men who were His closest followers had run away.  She knew she HAD to be there.

Everyone who knew this anonymous woman—let’s call her “Johanna”—knew that she was always carrying bags of things “just in case someone might need them”.  Today was no exception.  Johanna wondered what she could bring that might provide some comfort or assistance to JESUS in His suffering or to His mother and any others walking along the dusty road and standing in the hot noonday Jerusalem sun.  She hastily gathered up a small jug of water, a small jug of old wine, some cloths, and a sponge—she couldn’t explain what good a sponge would do, but it was next to the cloths and for some unknown reason it caught her eye and she sensed it should be included—and hurried to catch up and find JESUS and His mother.  She arrived just in time to watch her Savior being nailed to the cross.  Like His Mother Mary and the other women and the apostle John, Johanna stood strong and silent.  There were few words she could offer, even though Johanna was usually a woman of many words.  But she provided some sips of water and some cool cloths to give some refreshment to her companion witnesses.  In His last dying moments on the cross when JESUS cried out “I thirst”, it was Johanna’s sponge and common wine that was placed on some hyssop to give Him that one moment of comfort before He uttered His final words, “It is finished” and gave up His spirit.

Although no one may ever know this anonymous woman at the cross or anything she said or did, she cooperated in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering and her presence and simple acts of kindness, though they seem insignificant from an earthly perspective, were part of her God-given role and have eternal significance.

This account of the anonymous woman at the cross is my attempt to utilize something I have absorbed from Jesuit retreats about Ignatian contemplation and finding the Presence of God in all things.  Her character—although I can’t sew dresses, I usually ignore dust on furniture and I am neither a cook nor a hostess or even Jewish, but I do like to write, I am usually a person of many—some have even suggested “too many”—words, and I do tend to carry items “just in case someone might need them”—is a projection of myself into a scene from the Gospel.  I was inspired to write this following a night I spent at my parents’ house when Dad was sick and we weren’t sure if we would have to call 911 and it is even more meaningful when I recall the 45 minute to one hour daily visits with Dad in the surgical ICU during his last week of life.  It is my way of perceiving an expression of the connection between the Gospel—particularly the cross—and my life and the lives of others who are involved, whether in a big way or in little ways, in caregiving, whether is a mother caring for her children, a daughter sharing in the care of elderly parents, or in any other way.

There is a great value in prayer vigils of Eucharistic adoration, I am sure.  I confess that I have spent very little time in the practice of Eucharistic adoration, even though I participate and have sometimes even been involved in the planning of and preparation for the annual Eucharistic Adoration service at our Secular Franciscan fraternity meeting—usually our August meeting, since in August we celebrate the feast of our beloved St. Clare of Assisi, who is well known for her devotion to the Eucharist.

Although nothing can fully compare with the Real Presence of JESUS in the Eucharist, I believe that there are many other forms of Eucharistic prayer vigils that are part of the human caregiving experience, even though we are not literally present before the Blessed Sacrament and we might not even be able to pray consciously or deliberately.  Sometimes these are the prayer vigils to which God calls us, the vigils for which we somehow know in our hearts that we somehow just HAVE to be there before any other priority, and for which we CHOOSE to be there and would not choose to be anywhere else; even if all we can provide is our loving presence and simple acts of kindness that would seem insignificant from an earthly perspective but which we somehow know in our hearts belong to the eternal.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived and spoke about ministering to JESUS in “the poorest of the poor”.  The LORD she worshipped in His Real Eucharistic Presence she experienced in her ministry to the many poor and vulnerable people throughout much of her lifetime.  They were the poor CHRIST to her and she was the healing, loving CHRIST to them. In her writing and her speeches Mother Teresa pointed out that often “the poor” to whom we are called to minister and in whom we must see JESUS may be found in “the person in front of us”, especially within our own families.

Whenever possible, it is good to respond to Our LORD’s invitation to spend time adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament, hidden under the Eucharistic species in the monstrance or in the tabernacle.  But let us also be quick to respond to those many other hidden prayer vigils to which God calls us to be fully present to Him in His hidden Presence in “distressing disguise” in our families and friends—the sick child, the aging parent, the sick and potentially dying elderly parent, aunt, uncle, or neighbor, and the opportunity to see JESUS in them and represent the love of JESUS to them.


© Copyright 2014 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, OSF).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

To Be Truly Pastoral - Two Reflections

1.  When Our LORD JESUS walked the earth, many sinners were drawn to His love, compassion, mercy and holiness.  He did not need to lecture them about their sinful lives.  He looked at them, they looked at Him, and they realized that He knew them, even their sins, and He loved them and that love and mercy they found in Him was utterly transforming and they turned from their sins and followed Him.  He never compromised Truth, but many so-called "religious" people were shocked that He related to people who had been trapped in sinful lives and that He was not all caught up in issues of rules, regulation and ritual as His primary focus, and these "religious" leaders failed to realize that the LORD had come to set us all free from sin and that they, too, were sinners in need of mercy--they just had different, less obvious sins. (I used to be sad that there was more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than the 99 righteous until I realized that even if we are trying our best to be perfect, we are not and we all have some area of sinfulness and need conversion.)

 I believe that Pope Francis is trying to put the focus back on JESUS and the Gospel.  It does not mean that he is compromising any of the Church's moral teaching.  I think that Pope Francis is trying to put the "horse" (the message of the Gospel, the life, love, mercy of JESUS, Gospel simplicity and care for the poor as exemplified by our father St. Francis of Assisi) back in front of the "cart" (the rest of Catholic teaching in faith, morals and social teaching) so that people will see JESUS and the Gospel first and THEN have the rest of authentic Church teaching from Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium follow and flow.  If people see ONLY what the Church is against--even though this is part of who we are and will always be--then they will fail to see JESUS.  If they can truly find JESUS in the Church and in us Christians and see the Gospel lived out in our lives and words, then it will be easier for them to accept the balance of Catholic teaching.

2.  At the end of the world Our LORD JESUS will come as our judge.  In His first coming He came as our Savior and our Good Shepherd.  He gave the "keys of the kingdom" to St. Peter, which represents authority, and He gave the Church teaching authority and legal authority.  At the same time, as our Good Shepherd He re-commissioned Peter with the words, "Feed My lambs.  Tend My sheep" (or similar words).  So the Pope and the Magisterium have authority to upholding infallible Truth while at the same time they are called to be shepherds, lovingly caring for the sheep and seeking out the lost sheep to bring them home and care for their wounds.  These may include divorced and remarried Catholics, women who are post-abortive, and homosexual persons. Many "lost sheep" do not realize they are lost.  Many "lost sheep" are still running, still in denial, still defiant, and still determined to run toward the next ravine. The heart of the Good Shepherd knows and the eyes of the Good Shepherd see that they are lost, that they are "like sheep without a shepherd". 

Those whom the LORD appointed as our "shepherds"--first of all, our Pope, then the cardinals, bishops, then the clergy--and finally, consecrated religious and ourselves as laity, must never cease to hold up the standard of what is right, we must never "enable" sin, and we must always encourage people to live by that standard.  At the same time we need to go after those "lost sheep", those who, for whatever reason, have failed to live up to that standard, to that ideal, acknowledging that we, too, could fail if not for the grace of God. 

In one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament--I believe it is in the book of the prophet Isaiah, as quoted in the contemporary liturgical song LIKE A SHEPHERD by the St. Louis Jesuits--the LORD says, "the lost I will rescue and heal their wounds, and pasture them, giving them rest."  Some of the lost sheep are easily found and acknowledge they are lost, and they long to be found.  Others are stubborn and defiant, and their defiance covers up but does not heal their wounds.  While never denying the standard it is essential that our shepherds go after and minister to all kinds of "lost sheep" and not leave them to their own destruction. 

The great challenge is how best to be "pastoral" and reach out to these "lost sheep" rather than condemning them or casting them out while still holding up the standard.  I think that this is what Pope Francis is trying to do and, whether or not you agree with his decision about the St. Patrick's Day Parade, what Cardinal Dolan is trying to do.  They are so many "lost" souls, so many who have experienced alienation.  Although we do not condone or enable sin, we as the Church, and especially our Church leaders, need to continue the work of JESUS, our Good Shepherd, in His work of healing, reconciliation and restoration. 

My retired pastor, Father Gallo, is fond of the saying, "The Church is not a haven for saints but a hospital for sinners."  Part of the Church's mission and the work of evangelization and re-evangelization in which we all share a part is "rescue mission". 

JESUS, Good Shepherd of souls, give all of us, especially those you have appointed as our shepherds, a share of Your own Shepherd's heart, to seek, gather, bring back, heal, restore and reconcile the myriad of wounded lost sheep.  As you communicated in your messages to St. Faustina, help us to show them Your Divine Mercy so that they will not have to be subjected to Your final justice. Amen.