Prayer brings our whole religious life into focus; it supports the rhythm of our lives emphasizing now the person, now the community, now the world we serve. Thus, prayer is our continuing response to God's continuing call to mission."
You Are Sent, Constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame
Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21: 10-14, 22-23
When we hear of the dissension in the earliest church, whether or not to admit Gentiles without first imposing on them rituals of the Jews, subject to the Law and circumcision, we can marvel that we are still a church with millions of us scattered around the world. “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no further burden” on Gentile converts. Yes, acclaims the psalmist, “God’s saving power [is] among the nations.” John of Patmos sees a radiant and bejeweled city, but without a temple and without sun or moon. “The glory of God is its light.” At the last supper Jesus continues to teach his friends, but there is such depth to the mystery of God and what God wants for us that he promises that the Spirit will be the teacher “of everything.” Thus we have two sources of revelation: Scripture (the written word) and tradition (all that the Spirit teaches future generations). Because we are not fundamentalists, we can let the Spirit move us to new and more multicultural understandings of God, and our response to God.
In your lifetime, what has the Spirit opened up for the church? What has the Spirit taught you? What is the Spirit teaching you right now: in your relationships, your work, your prayer, your desires, your dreams? When you decide something, are you moving with the Spirit? You can check your decision by noticing whether the fruits of the Spirit are growing: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). You cannot practice a fruit. They are not virtues, but growth: grounded in God, in the light of Christ and the fountain of living water who is the Spirit. What is growing in you now?
Jesus, Lord of every nation and the cosmos, send your Spirit to open us to all cultures, to those whom some hierarchy cast aside, to all sinners. You welcomed sinners, and we hope to continue that mission also.
Monday, May 2, 2016
Acts 16: 11-15; Psalm 149; John 15:26-16:4
Paul arrives in the leading city of Macedonia, Philippi. If there were no synagogue, Jews would gather at a river to pray. When Paul approaches the river on the Sabbath he finds women praying there. A Gentile business woman, Lydia, is called “a worshipper of God,” someone who had ascribed to the chief Jewish tenet of monotheism. “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly”. After she and her household had been baptized, she begged Paul to use her home as a headquarters. The psalm antiphon is “The Lord takes delight in [his] people,” delighting in Lydia and the women of Philippi. Philippi does become for Paul a “woman-church”, and when he writes three letters to them (gathered into one letter, the letter to the Philippians), he is tender and most self-revealing. At the last supper, Jesus yet again promises the Paraclete, the Advocate. “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling.” “Stumbling” in Greek is skandalon, and can also be translated: offended or falling away.
Pray the Lord Jesus to open your heart, to carve out a new depth, so that you may listen to him more eagerly. Savor God’s delight in you. We all know the skandalon of child abuse, but it is not priests alone who abuse children. It is not only sexual abuse, but it could be physical, emotional, mental, and even in some households, religious persecution of the vulnerable child.
Pray for those children and their eventual healing. Pray for the children caught in wars that the USA started. We too abuse children and rupture families.
Heal the stumbling blocks in our church-community, and make all of us, clergy and laity alike, witnesses to and embodiments of your love, your special love of the little ones.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016 Philip and James, apostles
1 Corinthians 15: 1-8; Psalm 19; John 14: 6-14
This passage from Paul to the Corinthians is very important in our understanding of apostleship. First, Paul proclaims the kerygma which we proclaim at every Eucharist, the mystery of faith. He continues: The Risen One “appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than 500 brothers and sisters at one time…to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all…to me…” Do you see the discrepancy? Paul insists in his letters, that to experience that Jesus of Nazareth is alive creates us as apostles, ones sent. It is not being among the “Twelve.” All who experience Jesus as Risen Christ are commissioned to hand on good news. And the good news: In Jesus we find the best ikon of God: “If you have seen me, Philip, you have seen the Father.” Jesus is the sacrament of God, putting flesh on God’s love and faithfulness.
If you want to know God, look at Jesus. You will never finish looking at him because every human being is mystery, God is mystery, you are mystery. You are always coming to believe, to hope, to love him more as you know him more and more intimately. When you doubt God’s steady kindness, when you fear God’s judgment, when you feel guilty, look at Jesus. Did he ever fail in kindness, did he ever judge, did he make anyone feel guilty? Look at him and hear him say to you: “Peace.”
Help us, Jesus, to put flesh on you in this age, in this culture. Let all who meet us look up and see no longer us, but you and the One who sent you. Give us your heart, please.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Acts 17: 15, 22-18:1; Psalm 148; John 16:12-15
Paul speaks “in front of the Aeropagus” in Athens. Today it is a large stone but in the time before Christ, it served as a gathering place for the ruling council. In Paul’s time it was a place for philosophers, an academy. Notice how Paul’s usual speech changes, in order to win the philosophers’ good opinion. When he gets to God’s raising “a man whom God appointed”, Jesus, from the dead, he loses them, and they mock him. Paul has asserted that in God “we live and move and have our being.” Jesus promises that “the Spirit will guide you into all truth.” In truth we live and move and have our being.
Paul tries to communicate with Greek philosophers, using their language. Except for two, Dionysius and Damaris, no one else is convinced. Have you ever experienced trying to share your belief to someone in another culture (even a youth culture) and failed? What constitutes failure? You only got two “converts?” Is failure about numbers? If the Spirit is guiding you into all truth, then you may need to speak as you are, authentically. The point is to try to communicate Jesus. You may have done that in another way. Ask the Spirit to show you when your authenticity made Jesus plain to another or others. (A caveat: better to proclaim Jesus and not the Catholic church at this point in history. Better to join the Body, a community, than to enter an institution).
Jesus, you promised us a word and wisdom when we are dragged before courts. We need the Spirit’s truth and wisdom now as we reach out to let others know your love for them. We need a smile for all whom we meet.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Acts 18: 1-8; Psalm 98; John 16: 16-20
Usually, Paul proclaims, but because he is staying a while in Corinth he has a chance every Sabbath to argue, keep on pressing the point of God’s power in raising Jesus. Finally, when the Jews revile him, he shakes the dust from his clothes and announces: “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” He moves his preaching just next door where a Greek “worshipper of God” lived, and even the president of the synagogue joins the new community. The Alleluia verse quotes Jesus as saying he will not leave us orphans. We may weep because he is leaving, but our pain will turn to joy.
When was that true for you: pain was turned into joy? Suffering was transformed into peace? How did that happen? When did you ever realize your actions were futile and look for another open door? Being fired, being divorced, getting a failing mark in school, a rejection slip for your writing, an ejection notice from a landlord? On a more global scale, today our sisters and brothers to the South celebrate Cinco de Maio, a dream so often disappointing. So many ways to suffer. How many ways to peace? Ask the Spirit to remind you. Rest in that peace.
Even when we fail, you never abandon us, especially for those who live in refugee camps, in war zones, in deserts. Care for your poor and suffering people, Holy Spirit, Comforter.
Friday, May 6, 2016
Acts 18: 9-18; Psalm 47; John 16: 20-23
While Paul makes tents all week with his new companions, Jewish Christians Prisca and Aquila who have been exiled from Rome, he then preaches on the Sabbath. For 18 months Paul lived and worked with them, teaching. When there was a change of procurator, the Jews attacked Paul and brought him to the new authority, Gallio. Gallio assured the Jews that their complaints were trivial, “questions about words and names and your own law”. When Gallio dismissed them the Jews seized the synagogue official “and beat him in front of the tribunal” and still Gallio paid no attention. When Paul left Corinth, Prisca and Aquila went with him. Your pain will turn to joy, Jesus promised at the end of yesterday’s pericope, and you pondered that in your own experience. Today’s gospel begins with the same words, only now Jesus adds the illustration of a woman’s labor pains. “No one will take your joy from you.” Indeed, after the birth a baby, many a new parent has experienced mystery. A teachable moment, to let them know that they have touched God in this experience. And, God labors to bring us to birth.
Have you ever like the Corinthians Jews displaced your frustration and rage on the wrong person? Can you make amends (even if the person is dead, you can apologize because the person is very much alive in God)? Imagine God in labor. How God must suffer to birth the planet which we so flippantly misuse, to bring new races and religions to birth (where did these other religions come from but from God?), to lure each of us closer. And what is God’s joy when a star is born, or a baby, or a new way to worship, or an invention to redistribute the wealth and resources of our planet? Just “be” with God in the laboring and in the birthing, in the pain and in the joy!
We join you in joy, God of inestimable abundance! What joy when a sinner repents, Jesus tells us. What joy when the greatest and the smallest worship you, Creating God.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Acts 18: 23-28; Psalm 47; John 16: 23-28
Paul and his companions leave Corinth and the scene quickly changes to Ephesus. We meet the Jew Apollos, “an eloquent and educated man” especially in scripture study. “He spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” Not only Aquila but his wife, Prisca, taught Apollos further “the Way of God.” Apollos wanted to cross from Ephesus (Turkey) to Achaia (Greece) and he set off well recommended. In Greece he “powerfully refuted the Jews in public.” Where does Apollos get the grace and the courage? Jesus promised it: “Because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God, the Father loves you…I am going to the Father.” If the Father loves us, we have all the grace we need---and more!
When someone refutes you, quoting Paul in 1 Cor 14, that women are not allowed to teach, point out this passage where Prisca takes a man well versed in Scripture and teaches him further. When was the last time you spoke with burning enthusiasm? What was the topic? An aspect of social justice? A belief about Jesus? Joy in our new Pope? What might be blocking your enthusiasm? Ask the Spirit to set you free so you might burn with love of truth.
Free your church, Holy Spirit, that we may burn with enthusiasm for living, teaching and preaching the gospel. We forget how well versed we are already in scripture. En-courage us!
Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47; Hebrews 9: 24-28; 10:19-23; Luke 24: 46-53
We will be clothed with power from on high is Jesus’ parting blessing. Power in Greek is dynamis. It also means energy, and is another name for the Holy Spirit in the writings of Luke and Paul. Today in Luke’s two books, Jesus gives us two missions. First, in Acts we are to wait until we are infused with the power and energy of the Spirit, “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” In the gospel, our second mission is to understand the scriptures, and in a strangely passive voice, repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed. In both of Luke’s accounts, we are to be Christ’s witnesses. With Hebrews connecting the two Lucan stories, we know that we are to witness not only to his earthly life but also to his risen life with God. The risen Christ appears before God on our behalf. He is our faithful and compassionate high priest. We can approach God with utter trust because “…a new and living way, he opened for us...through his flesh.”
Jesus lives! Ask to let that truth penetrate your daily living even more thoroughly. He lives on our behalf. Contemplate him, alive. We can approach God with utter trust. Pray for yourself, that you may trust Jesus and not your “virtue,” and pray for the gift of trust for all those who live in fear of not being good enough.
What joy you must experience, Jesus, in coming face to face and forever with God, all on our behalf. Thank you for plunging us into your Spirit and filling us with the energy who is Spirit!
Monday, May 9, 2016 Feast of Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, SSND
Acts 15: 1-6; Psalm122; John 15:1-8
Mother Theresa is the foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She offered gifts, and continues to offer them through her Sisters and our Associates, to the world-wide church. We have been reading from Acts of the growing controversy as to whether Gentiles could be admitted to the new community without first becoming Jews. “The Apostles and presbyters met together to see about this matter.” Our founding was at times just as problematic, and so meeting together to thrash out differences leads to a principle of SSND life: dialogue. Our charism is unity. We might carry the word School in our name, but we are called together to be signs of unity, to work for reconciliation, for inclusion of all, to respond to the needs of each age, each nation in a reflective, dialogic, and prayerful way. At the last supper Jesus reminds us that we may be scattered, we may face persecution, but he prays for our peace and courage. Like every religious congregation, like many Christian families, Christ Jesus is the center and source of SSND and all Christian life.
Please pray for all School Sisters of Notre Dame, today, missioned around the world in 38 countries. Pray that our ministries bear fruit, that all whom we serve feel included, one with us and with Christ. Thank you. And we will pray for blessing on you, those you love and those whom you serve.
Attract all peoples of the earth to be one with you, Jesus, one in the Spirit, so that we all may bear fruit. Make us instruments of peace, justice, unity and love and mercy in our world.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Acts 20: 17-27; Psalm 68; John 17:1-11
Paul is heading for Jerusalem, eager to be there for Pentecost. He calls the elders of Ephesus together and bids farewell, telling him that he is “captive to the Spirit.” Psalm 68 reveals such good news Israel, surrounded by neighbors whose gods burdened them with laws: “God bears our burdens day after day. Our God is a God who saves!” Jesus and the Spirit save. The Spirit prays continually within us (Romans 8:26) and in today’s gospel Jesus prays for us. “May they be one as we are one.” As Jesus and his Spirit and God are one, such is the unity that is Jesus’ deepest desire for us.
What are your deepest desires? What besides the Spirit holds you captive? What are your burdens that God bears for you? Do you trust enough to hand over to God all those burdens? What might keep you from being one with all humanity? with all creatures? Pray for your interior freedom and unity. Praise the Spirit who makes us one.
Blessed be you, our God, who bears our burdens day after day. Help us to bear one another’s burdens, the burdens of our near neighbors and our far neighbors.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Acts 20: 28-38; Psalm 68; John 17:11-19
Today we hear Paul’s farewell to his co-ministers at Ephesus and Jesus’ farewell to his friends. Paul and his friends are portrayed as much more emotional, praying and weeping and embracing. Jesus is subdued, continuing his prayer. He prays for their and our protection. He prays for our joy. He prays that we may be made holy in truth. “Your word is truth.”
What would be your farewell to your friends, family, co-ministers, whether you are leaving a geographic place, a ministry, or this earth? What will be your final prayer? If you knew you would be dead at the end of this day, what final message and prayer would you leave? Pray it now.
Pray for us, Jesus, now and at the hour of our death. Help us to look on all that we have accomplished in your name and please give thanks to your Spirit for the Spirit’s power alive in our lives.
Thursday, May 12, 2016 Canada Health Day
Acts 22: 30, 23:6-11; Psalm 16; John 17: 20-26
In one of the great trials of all time, Paul is clever. Dragged before the Sanhedrin in the presence of the Roman cohort’s commander, Paul sets the Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the Pharisees who do, against one another. The Pharisees are suddenly defending Paul’s teaching about the hope of resurrection. In prison afterwards, Paul is visited by the Lord who tells him, “Keep up your courage.” Jesus, in his prayer, is keeping up his courage, reminding his Father of their intimate union and praying that by seeing that his friends are one in God, the world may know that God sent Jesus. “I made your name known to them…so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Imagine! The very love with which God loves Jesus is the love with which God floods us. Not, what would Jesus do? but “I in them.” Jesus is in us, loving with God’s own love. If God is for us, in us, surrounding us, who can do us harm? Rest in God’s protecting and abundant and unconditional love.
Please give us the gift of courage, Jesus, as we prepare to receive again the fullness of your Spirit. Make us bold, full of zeal, full of love as we respond, going to the least with your good news.
Friday, May 13, 2016
Acts 24: 27, 25:13-21; Psalm 103; John 21: 15-19
In Acts we hear of Paul spending two years in prison, just because Felix was a people pleaser (“a man left in prison” by Felix). He was abandoned. In our active spirituality, in our workaholic culture, two years in prison seems such a waste of Paul’s time. Not necessarily so. When we are old, feeble, diminished, imprisoned in our bodies, nothing is lost. Perhaps the sick and suffering do more to build the Body of Christ than all the action-oriented missionaries. In John’s gospel, we hear the same consolation: Jesus reminds Peter that when he is old another will lead him.
Let your imagination travel around the world, searching out the sick, the imprisoned, the diminished, those whom society casts off as non-productive. Smile on each group in the hospital, the nursing home, the refugee camp, the prison. Smile the Spirit’s blessing on the homebound, the jobless, even the criminals, and love them.
You choose the weak to confound the strong. When we are weak we know that your Spirit is strong in us, and your power is made strong in our weakness. Increase; help us want to decrease.
Saturday, May 14, 2016 Matthias, apostle
Acts 1: 15-17, 20-26; Psalm 113; John 15: 9-17
As we come to Pentecost, our readings prepare us. Acts transports us to the upper room where Peter speaks to the 120 gathered there. In our recent reflections on Acts, we have just studied how the early community made decisions, discerned: sharing of religious experience, keeping silence, deciding and checking the decision with a scriptural confirmation (Acts 15). Before the inrush Holy Spirit, however, the group uses a traditional means to “test” the Spirit, the drawing of lots. What must it have meant to Matthias to be, as the psalm puts it, lifted up and seated with princes? An ordinary man, never mentioned in the gospels, is named apostle. He may not have been at the last supper to hear Jesus call his disciples “friends.” You did not choose me, Jesus states, but “I chose you…to go and bear fruit.” We too need not have been at the last supper to be a friend of Jesus, chosen and sent to bear fruit.
Have you ever had the experience of Matthias? Just going about your daily duties and suddenly singled out for recognition? Ask Jesus to single you out today, to infuse your daily duties with his Spirit, to call you friend, to choose you to bear fruit. What fruit might you bear? What do you want?
Jesus, give us the gift of loving well. Heal any false ways we may have of loving and teach us to love as you love us. Thank you for loving us, choosing us, sending us.
Sunday, May 15, 2016 Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; Romans 8:8-17; John 14: 15-16, 23-26
Although on Pentecost we hear only Peter’s preaching, remember that 120, including women, were in that upper room. Suddenly “each of them” are filled with boldness, new language, zeal to speak “about God’s deeds of power.” In John’s gospel we hear Jesus’ promise that the Spirit “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” All of Romans 8 deals with God’s love poured into our hearts, the Spirit who cries Abba (or whatever name you use) from deep in our hearts, uniting us constantly to God. “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” Paul insists.
What name does arise in your heart when you speak to the Spirit? Ask the Spirit to teach you. Wait. Listen. Ask the Spirit to remind you of what Jesus has said to you, whether through Scripture, through your imagination, through another person. You might want to make notes. Pray for all those who have subscribed to the “war on terror”. Pray for their peace and ask the Spirit to set them free from fear. The Spirit frees us from being driven, but a bumper sticker proclaims; Driven by faith and not by fear.
You alone can set us free, Holy Spirit. Free us from fear, from rage, from greed, from everything that weakens or destroys the love whom you are.
Because we no longer as a church celebrate an Octave of Pentecost, we can spend this week praying, absorbing, savoring a part of the Pentecost Sequence for our contemplation each day. It is not that liturgists don’t appreciate the Spirit when they remove the Octave, but rather, because the Spirit permeates every molecule of every creature every moment, this is ordinary time. Ordinary time is flowing constantly in the Spirit. So we are called to “take a long, loving look at the real” each day to find the Spirit at work.
I leave you with a template for your time of prayer: read or listen the daily scripture (available on the website of the USCCB). What did it mean? What does it mean to you today? This is a living Word, God reaching out to you to deepen your friendship with Jesus, the Spirit and God. When you read of a healing, for example, God/Jesus/the Spirit is healing you or the world right there and then. Then as you question the text, how is the text of scripture questioning you? Let the Spirit teach you. Finally, you can close with a prayer that includes everyone in the world. God’s Word is not given for individuals, but to bond individuals into Christ’s kin-dom, a church open and welcoming every one, brothers and sisters all. “That we all may be one!”
Now the Sequence:
Come, Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the heart’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labour, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend:
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.