Expanded Understanding

It was a simple invitation to an event called “Sharing Ramadan” at the Dar Ul Salam Masjid Mosque near St. Louis, and something urged me to accept.  As a result, three of us Ursulines had a wonderful opportunity to share an evening of welcome, encounter and learning.  Ramadan, the month-long fast observed by Muslims around the world (in celebration of the gift of the Koran to Muhammad), is scheduled according to the lunar Islamic calendar, so this year’s fast will end tomorrow.  The fast is from dawn to sunset, and for people in this part of the world, that means close to 16 hours of no food, no water.

We were given a tour of the mosque, school and other facilities.  We heard the call to prayer–Listen here-and the beautiful chant that proclaims: “God is great. . . I bear witness that there is no God except the one God.” Encouraged to ask questions about the practices and beliefs of Islam, we learned much while always receiving respect for our own religious beliefs.  As the meal together to break the day’s fast would not happen until well after 8:00 p.m., we were treated to having our names written in Islamic calligraphy, receiving a henna tattoo, or learning more about  Muslim dress. At every moment, there were friendly conversations with brothers and sisters, so different and yet so much the same.

I was impressed by the effort made by our Muslim community for this lovely evening, and the crowd that attended clearly showed a desire to build inter-religious harmony.  Yes, truly our God is great, and we are all one!

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Seeing More Clearly

In November of last year, I was very pleased to participate in the national convention of the Catholic Volunteer Network.  People both young and old arrived in St. Louis, enthused and committed to the value of volunteer opportunities.  There were great speakers like Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, author of Tattoos on the Heart (if you haven’t read this, it’s a must!) and Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine (another wonderful publication). I came away energized and newly grounded in why we offer service projects.

Fast forward to my recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, to prepare for our 2018 Ursuline Summer Service week there in July.  I had plenty of “busy work” to do: check out the rooms at the university where the volunteers and I will be housed, work out schedule details for the week, be sure I know how to travel from point A to point B in the city. But as soon as I returned to our service site, Haven for Hope, a place of comprehensive services and new beginnings for persons experiencing homelessness, I was immersed in why I love doing this and heard echos of the speakers from November:

  • Are we willing to go deeper? Are we willing to see ourselves in kinship with those on the margins?
  • Volunteering is aimed at our blindness.  The man in the Gospel who encountered Jesus said, “Now I am able to see.”
  • “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you do for me.” —Jesus reminds us: IT IS ME!
  • We don’t go to the margins to make a difference; we go to the margins so the folks there will make us different. It’s not “what am I going to do” but “what’s going to happen here.”

On Friday at Haven for Hope, I met some of the people we came to know there last  year.  It was a lovely reunion, and I was delighted to tell them I’ll be back in July.  In the meantime, I pray that we may all have eyes opened to see more clearly our kinship with one another, and do all we can to strengthen this.

Searching for Truth

In this week between Ascension and Pentecost, the promise of Jesus that “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things” rings clear.  There’s a whole lot I need to be taught these days—-like what to believe about North Korea, Israel, the US/ Mexican border and China, as well as what can be done about hunger, disease and terrorism.  I’d love to have a window into the truth of how to really live together in peace, starting with my own city, and extending into our country, church and world.

The Holy Spirit will teach you . . . . I believe this. But we must work hard at helping one another arrive at truth.  If the truth will make us free, which Jesus also said, then we need to get better at searching together for it.  Why does so much  communication have the effect of shutting people down instead of opening a path to shared wisdom?

As we celebrate the Holy Spirit among us, the Wisdom and Truth of God, we might take up this prayer from World Communications Day. Praying and living what it says could lead us to find what we all desire.

Discernment: A Relationship

I’ve been to 3 different universities in the past 2 months, part of teams directing Busy Person Retreats for students. We had great turnouts of young adults who chose to commit to prayer and meeting one of us for spiritual direction each day. I’m in awe at their openness and earnestness.  There’s a real desire to grow spiritually and recognize better the place of Jesus and faith in everyday reality. They are reflective and articulate well their lived experience, but they seek guidance (as we all do, at times) in knowing how to discern God’s call and how God is leading them. Which brings me to the title of this blog.

Sometimes people refer to discernment simply as steps to take in order to make wise decisions. It can be that, but it’s so much more.  At its heart, I believe discernment is not a process, but a relationship.  It’s not an object to be obtained (knowing if one should take a certain job or not) or an action to be accomplished.  Instead, it’s a way of being, with heart attuned to the Spirit of God who dwells within and without.  It’s continuously listening to and trusting God, who helps us ponder and sift (“discerner” is a French word meaning “to sift”) what’s going on in our lives, and then move ahead with insight and confidence. We are called to be people of discernment, like Jesus, like Angela Merici.

Pope Francis said in his most recent encyclical: “Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times . . . we need it at all times, to help us recognize God’s timetable. . . . It involves striving for all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day’s responsibilities and commitments.  Only if we are prepared to listen do we have the freedom to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual habits and ways of seeing things . . . and become truly open to accepting a call that can shatter our security, but lead us to a better life.”

 

Recognize Resurrection

I heard a great homily recently. The question was asked: why do we tend to remember our “Good Friday” experiences more than the Easter ones? People can usually report the wounds and hurts they’ve been dealt in life.  It’s easy to recall every detail of insults or failures or even simple disappointments.  But what about all the Easter moments?

There’s the friend who speaks just the right words of support. And the sun made visible  after days and days of rain! Easter moments are those when our hearts suddenly feel lighter and we know this comes from God within us. They’re the everyday miracles that occur unexpected and in ways we had never imagined.  The awe-inspiring beauty of nature, encounters with people who are deep-down good, and confidence that life can break forth from the tomb of pain and death—-these are flashes of Easter joy that are real.  May we recognize them!