Monday, May 3, 2021

Remain by Going

A short reflection this week.

We have arrived at the last week of classes of the Spring Semester. We have also (finally) arrived in True Spring here in Iowa, with legitimately sunny and warm days, trees springing into leaf and blossom, the verdant hue making a proud return to the area. 

In the midst of these signs of life coming into full swing, and as we wrap up the school year, this past Sunday we heard Jesus telling us that he is the True Vine, and we, the branches. Along with his admonition that apart from him, we can do nothing, he gives the promise that remaining in him will yield much fruit. Liturgically, we are ramping up for Jesus' Ascension into Heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is known as the Church's Birthday, when God equipped those tasked with proclaiming the Gospel with the grace to do so fruitfully. In the liturgical year, we're not there yet, but the ramping up hopefully also serves as a reminder that this event happened in history; The Spirit is with us, and we live in its age.

Pentecost's Jewish origins stem from a celebration of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest (Shavuot), then combined with a celebration of God's giving Moses the Law. Fitting, then, that graduation traditionally comes around this time of the liturgical year: after a lifetime of schooling, years of formation, graduates are sent out into the world to bear fruit through their labor and relationships. Perhaps this is why we refer to it as "Commencement": the beginning of a new chapter, of a commissioning, of being sent forth.

There's a parallel to the Catholic Mass in that, actually: "Mass" comes from the Latin "Missa," the second to last word the celebrant utters in the liturgy (in Latin): "Ite, Missa est." (Go, Mass is/Go, has been sent). We derive our name for the Divine Liturgy from the command to go forth and leave it. An important part of Remaining in Christ is, in fact, going forth. Having had the encounter with him in Word, in Sacrament, and in Community, we are called to go out into our world and bear fruit. 

While we should be mindful every time we leave a church/chapel of that commission and of our call to communicate the Good News, the end of the semester offers another opportunity for reflection.

What have I learned this year, both academically and more generally? How can I put it to use for the betterment of my community and those I encounter this summer?

How am I called to show love and mercy in my job, in my friendships, back home, whatever I'm doing this summer?

And, before I head out for the summer, how am I called to be loving and merciful in this time of busyness and stress both for me and for others? How can I be attentive to my responsibilities and aware of others' needs?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Recognizing Jesus in Our Midst

 This blog comes to us by way of Liza McGrane, a 1st-year student here at the Mount.

Recently I read through John’s Gospel for the first time.  I was shocked to see how many times Jesus literally tells them exactly who he is, and they still didn’t believe him.  This made me ask myself the question, “How often is Jesus right in front of me and I don’t see him?”  So, I ask you the question, “How many times has Jesus been right in front of you and you don’t see him?”  It’s hard to say, isn’t it?  There are basic answers we could give, like, “Oh, I’m sure there have been plenty, but I can’t think of anything specific,which would be correct.  Similarly, there were plenty of times Jesus revealed himself to many individuals and groups in the Jewish community.   

One of the very first examples of Jesus revealing himself is the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  This is significant because A:  Jews weren’t supposed to talk to Samaritans and B:  because men didn’t talk to women in public places in those times.  After talking for a little while, in John 4:25-26 they have this exchange.  “The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed, when he comes, he will tell us everything.”  Jesus said to her, “I am he the one who is speaking with you.””  And that’s it, that’s all it took: she believed him, that he was the Messiah.  It really is that easy.  All we have to do is believe-- however, this wasn’t as easy for many who spoke with and saw Jesus, the same way it can be difficult to see Jesus when he’s staring right in front of us.   

In John 5, Jesus talks a lot about how “the one who sent him.”  To us this seems obvious that he’s talking about God the Father, but the Jews think he’s crazy.  I’m paraphrasing, but Jesus says things like, “I came so you might believe in the one who sent me” and “There’s no way you’re going to believe in God if you don’t believe in me.”  John 5:39-40 says, “You search the scriptures because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf.  But you do not want to come to me to have life.”  Jesus is basically saying to the Pharisees, “You think the scriptures will give you eternal life, but they literally tell you of me.  They tell you exactly who to look for and now that I’m here you’re not paying attention.  You’ll just keep looking in the scriptures when I’m right in front of you.”  So now I ask the question,: In what are we searching for Jesus when he’s staring us in the face?  Or is our idea of what Jesus is “supposed to” look like that’s getting in the way of us seeing him?   

There comes a point in Jesus’ ministry where the Jews start to argue over whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.  Some think he’s just a prophet, other’s do think he is the Messiah, and some don’t believe he’s the Messiah because, “The Messiah will not come from Galilee, will he” (John 7:41).  This is an example of letting our notion of what Jesus should look like get in the way of allowing us to see him.  There’s no “correct” way to see Jesus,; either we see him, or we don’t.  When a friend takes time out of their day to go on a walk with us or when the flowers start to bloom in the spring, we can see Jesus there through the kindness of that friend or the beauty of life.  Not only can we fail to see Jesus in the world and those around us, I think we can fail to see Jesus in ourselves.  I think in today’s world we've been conditioned not to be confident or take pride in ourselves because we didn’t want to be seen as prideful or too vain.  So instead of having the right amount of confidence or belief in ourselves, we decided we couldn’t have any at all and so it’s hard to see Jesus in ourselves then.  But Jesus is in us, too.  If we’re that friend who takes time out of our day to go on a walk with someone else, they can see Jesus in us, and we can see Jesus in ourselves too.    


I am currently reading a scriptural devotional for women called, I Choose the Sky by Emily Wilson.  Although this is a devotional geared towards women, I thought there was one message that was especially pertinent for everyone and related well towards this topic.  One specific devotional tells the story of a crippled woman from the Bible, always forced to look at the ground:, that was her physical perspective.  But, how often are our perspectives of our hearts like that of the women’s physical perspective.  what about the perspective of our hearts? Every time we choose negativity and pessimism and complaining, we choose to look at the ground when we have every opportunity to choose to look at the sky.  “When we choose pessimism, we place blocks in our hearts to seeing the goodness of God or even recognizing His presence before us” (p. 33).  This is what negativity does to us.  If we are always looking at the ground, we will be like the Pharisees trying to find Jesus in the scriptures when he was right in front of them.  If we are only paying attention to the negativity in our lives, it’s going to be really hard to see Jesus.  It also goes back to being able to see Jesus in ourselves.  If we are constantly bringing ourselves down that’s all we will be able to see.  We won’t be able to see him present in ourselves and all of the gifts and talents he has given us as blessings to be Christ to others.   


“A life spent in awe of God’s goodness, of speaking uplifting words, of sacrificing with joy for others - this is the life and perspective which allows us to look up at Christ before us in our lives” (p. 34).   

Monday, April 12, 2021

Eastertide: Word and Theology Nerd Struggles, and Then Something People Who Aren't Me Might Enjoy Reading

I'd promised another reflection on Easter, or at least, a small bit on why the name "Easter" is not my favorite. In order to make good on that and provide content that's a little less...niche?...this will be a longer post.

"Easter" is a term we in English-speaking countries have appropriated from one of our language's forebears. "Eostre," "Eastre, "Ostern," coming from various Germanic languages and Old English, has an association with dawn, spring, and a goddess in West Germanic religion. Their calendar has a month dedicated to her, and Easter prior to Christianity was a celebration of spring (among other things). Granted, we owe much of this knowledge (outside etymology) to one St. Bede the Venerable's records, without many (if any) other sources.

"Pascha" is the Latin and Greek (and Russian, for that matter) term for this great celebration, coming from "Paskha" in Aramaic ("Pesach" in Hebrew). This comes from the Jewish Passover feast, which in Christianity is seen as both its own tremendous demonstration of God's deliverance and care for the people and a prefiguring of Jesus' own deliverance of people from slavery of sin, condemnation, and final death. It might also be known as "Anastasis" or "Resurrection Day", unsurprisingly owing to this being the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. 

I struggle with our English name for this holiday. Compared to "Easter", the term "Pascha" speaks a bit more directly to the miracle we celebrate and the cornerstone of our whole faith. It also connects us to the narrative of God's love and care that begins in the first words of the Old Testament and continues to the present day, making full use of the richness of our Jewish ancestry and the deposit of faith accumulated in the centuries following the Son's earthly time among us. In my kinder moments, I can see the welcoming of the spring is a wonderful natural educator or stepping stone to talking about the new life one finds in Christ through participation in his Paschal Mystery, hence the adherence to the usage of "Easter". For those of us in the northern hemisphere who actually experience a springtime around Easter, nature proves a good educator; sacramental (small "s," not one of the 7 Sacraments), if you will. Nature is able to point us to an inner reality that truly is cosmic in proportion, provided we have eyes to see it and a heart open. Being literate in the faith is also helpful for connecting the dots. I'm not advocating any hashtag campaigns for resurrecting (pun intended) "Paschal" in the English-speaking Catholic world; I am simply articulating some of the reasons I struggle with "Easter" as the title for this holy day and season.

But that's enough on that.

We just concluded the "Octave of Easter", the 8 day celebration of Easter as if each day were Easter Sunday proper. While out of the Octave, we're still in the season of Easter for another 41 days after today. Yesterday was the celebration of both The Second Sunday of Easter AND Divine Mercy Sunday. 

It might seem a tired tune to reflect on forgiveness in particular and mercy more generally, but it's both necessary and, c'mon, expected; this is Mount Mercy University, after all.

Christ modeled mercy and forgiveness: from the cross he beseeched the Father to forgive those who carried out his torturous and humiliating execution. And afterward, he modeled reconciliation to his disciples who had abandoned and denied him: he wished them peace and entrusted the Holy Spirit to them. His pity moved him to nourish multitudes, heal a great many sick people, even raise one or two people from the dead. there's also the whole Paschal Mystery. So Christ gives us himself as the model of how to live, and that model is one of self-emptying, love, compassion, and mercy.

Prayer for those who persecute us, wishing peace to them and interceding on their behalf. Love our enemies. Give not only of our surplus, but from what we need to help others. Care for those who cannot give you recompense. These are not nice things to do when we feel so inclined or at our leisure; these are concrete manifestations of what it means for us to live the Christian life. And I suck at it. I'm far more comfortable in the mindset of the world, doing nice things in the narrow surplus of time, attention, and money I have left over after my own needs and privileges have been met. But this year, this message of Mercy is hitting me hard, and I'm left discerning how to live it out.

I don't imagine I can make radical changes in the sense of surrendering all of my family's possessions or inviting destitute persons into our home regularly, at least not at this moment. Rather, I feel called to be on the lookout for ways to infuse Mercy into my life in the everyday. If I pride myself on witty deprecation of others, perhaps I am called to redirect that impulse and give thanks for what others are doing with no strings of superiority attached. If I find myself nursing resentment toward someone, perhaps it might be better to genuinely pray for them and their well-being, then my own healing...and possibly make amends if the situation demands (after all, "resentment is drinking poison and waiting for the other to die"). Perhaps in the midst of my busy schedule, I make a point to send a card or to call a loved one who is lonely and/or sick. I make a point to interact with and socialize and be kind and approachable with those folks I think of as "uncool", "annoying", "tiresome". 

What would happen if we lived our lives continually looking for and engaging with opportunities to give of ourselves and live as Christ modeled for us and bade us live? Surely it would be painful; there's a cross, and sacrifice, and self-emptying involved. But wouldn't we also find new live? Renewal? Joy? Peace? A yoke that is easy and a burden that is light? It might seem arduous or huge, but Christ has sent us the Spirit, as well, and does not leave us stranded. What would happen if we embraced compassion and mercy? What's the worst that would happen if we set aside our selfishness, our social or economic ambitions, our need to say something funny? 

Here's another way of saying all this: working out so people say, "Wow, they work out," is pretty vain. It shouldn't be an end goal in itself. We train in order to stay healthy, to be good stewards of the physical body we've been given, to help our mental health, to be more proficient or stronger at certain tasks. Lenten penance is much the same way. We don't work the muscle to show off that we can do it; we miss the whole point of the season if we do that. Instead, what we have done in Lent is to help us to live, no longer us, but Christ in us, according to the Easter mystery we celebrate. Put the muscle to use; know God's Mercy and show God's Mercy.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Holy Triduum: A Blog in Three Parts (Part 3)

 Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is a difficult day. Do I write about the most solemn celebration of our liturgical year that is the Easter Vigil, or do I talk about the actual day of Holy Saturday, this time between Christ's Death and Resurrection; the tomb time?

There's so much I could talk about with the Vigil, but I'm going to refrain today. Let it suffice to say that if you have yet to attend an Easter Vigil, let next year be your year, if possible. Even if not done particularly well, the depth of what is done, said, professed, etc. is tremendous on its own merit. If you are a member of a parish that also does things aesthetically well, has good musical taste and talent, is welcoming several Elect and candidates into the Church, and has a knack for bringing liturgy to life in a way that is engaging without being self-celebratory--or truly, even one of those things--then you've hit a jackpot. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I will be offering an Easter Sunday post as well (part 4 of 3). At that time, I will likely reflect on why I think 'Easter' is a stupid name for this holiday, among more important things (probably). For now, however, I simply reflect on the difficulty of Holy Saturday day.

It's a day of being in the tomb. Of things being still. Of life being numb. The Ancient Homily in today's Office of Readings posits that beneath this numb stillness and passivity on this plane, Christ is at work scouring Hell of its denizens, claiming them for Heaven, ushering them into new life.

When I read this Office reading, it evokes an image of things simmering beneath the surface without us having the resources to be aware. It's only when it reaches a rolling boil that we might take notice. Perhaps that is symbolically at the Vigil, or Easter Sunday.

In our own lives, the journey through grief, loss, and death is 99.999% likely to take longer than a weekend. The loss of a loved one, or a limb, or a job, or the life I once had, often takes weeks if not months to fully settle in (and will continue to settle in new ways for a long time after). It can take a while for us to realize just how hurt, damaged, or affected we are. And then it's usually much more time to come to a place where we find ourselves able to enjoy life again in a full manner, albeit modified. Sometimes we can see some of the work that goes into that; often we aren't aware that healing has been happening until one day we realize that we've recovered.

Holy Saturday is a day of hope for the Christian. It serves as a reminder that trials nor tribulations, principalities nor powers, etc. can keep us from the love of God. We celebrate the embodiment of that perfectly shown in the Paschal Mystery, of course. In my own life, it offers me hope that God's grace is at work in my heart, my mind, my soul...thought much of the time I am not aware of it. It bubbles over it moments of deepening conversion. I catch glimpses when I'm able to see how many wild elements of my life and relationships and events have worked together to achieve a certain outcome, and if even one thing were out of place, my life as it stands or some crucial event therein wouldn't have happened or been the same. I naturally see it in times of grief and loss, both of loved ones and of lost opportunities, as well as a few health moments and transitions into new phases of life.

Where in your life do you need assurance that God is at work, even if things seem completely at a standstill and things aren't where you want them? How can you nurture hope and trust in God in those places? Holy Saturday is a day of hope; Easter Sunday, God bringing new life from death, and the ultimate promise of new life after the end of the age...all this might still be far away on the horizon (or yet to be seen), but Good Friday is in the rearview mirror and shrinking away, even if imperceptably at times. Take heart; the battle may be far from over, but you are not alone, and the one who has conquered the world and death is with you and is not giving up any time soon.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Holy Triduum: A Blog in Three Parts (Part 2)

 Good Friday - What have I done to you?

Note: This will be disjointed. I apologize, but hopefully you are able to glean something from my thoughts, scattered and poorly connected though they be here.

Each year I come to a new parish, I look forward to Good Friday to see if they sing the Reproaches as part of the Triduum's observance of Our Lord's Passion, and if so, what setting they sing. As an fyi, "The Reproaches" refers to a series of antiphons that express God's...well, reproaching God's people. "O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!" is the refrain. As we reflect on the tremendous agony and affliction our Savior suffered, and that it was done for our sake, it is a harrowing and shaking remonstration. 

Years ago, a choir in which I sang offered an arrangement by Damian Lundy, FSC. It is a simple arrangement that does not have the powerful thunder or celestial otherworldliness of the arrangements you might commonly encounter in a basilica. It does not offer an imposing voice from heaven; rather, its approachable melody speaks more of what I might imagine Christ crucified might ask from the cross. While the exact lyrics are under copyright, it basically lists the wonders the Lord has worked in salvation history...and our response to all of that is Christ's scourging, suffering, and crucifixion.

I have yet to hear it again. I hold the tune and lyrics in memory, relishing how their mournful reprimands pierce me and shake me to my core. It sounds an odd thing to say, but allow me a moment.

No celebration of the Resurrection is what I would call full-bodied without intentional reflection on our individual roles that led to Christ's Passion and Death. If we have been saved from the wages of Sin, i.e., death, it's probably important to know how we have followed Sin's path in our lives if the love of God, the gratuitous nature of the invitation to eternal life, are to hit us more immediately and personally rather than abstractly. It's far easier to shrug off the abstract. It's far more difficult to not be stricken by the personal.

How have I prepared a cross for the Lord? How do I spit in the Lord's face, mock Him, nail him to the cross? If whatever I do to the least is what I do to the Lord, what have I done to the person I love least? Dorothy Day once said, "I only love the Lord as much as the person I love the least." We do this in our concrete actions and in the myriad ways that we tacitly support our communities' failure to strive for (or sometimes outright neglect of) the common good and inalienable dignity of every human from conception to natural death. I am not exaggerating when I say "myriad". I always have the temptation to water this down. After all, that's a lot to bear. It's too much to bear, in fact. My own failings and shortcomings as a person are too much to bear on their own much of the time, let alone those greater sins of the community I with which I cooperate more remotely. It is impossible, save for the grace of God. We are too finite and limited to accomplish this on our own. We need God. Easter spoilers: God gives this grace to us abundantly. 

The interchange between the Passion and Resurrection ought to be one we engage with every day. Each day we can reflect on ways in the past and present (both in concrete, one-off actions and in patterns of behavior and systems of sin) that necessitate what Christ has done for us on the cross, which in turn allows us to rejoice all the more intimately in the glory of the Resurrection, which in turn can help us take up our own crosses and deny ourselves as we live more deeply in God's love and share it with others. Some days this may well feel empowering and exhilirating. In other seasons it will feel more like dialysis: arduous, lengthy, painful.

The Triduum liturgy holds up what's at the center of our faith as if under a microscope: going intentionally through every little beat, recalling why we rejoice, why we need to be here, what we are called to do as we go forth. We live the truth of this Triduum every day, celebrate it at every Mass. 

Give us the strength to more and more turn our eyes toward your cross, to not hide from that sin in our lives that nailed you there and scourged your back, Lord Jesus. Through the grace of your Resurrection, may our journey with you through your Passion shed ever-greater insight into how deeply we need you, how incomprehensibly much you love each of us, and how powerful your love can be in our lives if we let it. May we hear and hold onto your reproaches, may we know what we have done to you, and by your grace may we not come away from that encounter unmoved. 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Holy Triduum: A Blog in three parts (part 1)

There's so much to say about each part of the Easter Triduum. I left out many small reflections for each day, but would love to talk about any and every element of this time with you, should you so desire. Just let me know!

Part 1 - Holy Thursday

It's a predictable refrain this year: "This whole year has been Lent." I've written it here. Other contributors have articulated something similar, albeit better than I. I saw Holy Week and the Easter Triduum coming from miles away, it seemed, with planning and scheduling; I yearned for it, even; yet somehow I'm left reeling that this night I am suddenly here in the thick of it. Perhaps it's because were in this liminal space of not being totally in lockdown like last spring, but not being wholly "normal, either; this place of limbo can be distracting and tiring.

There are more pressing things, I suppose, than pondering how we got here, such as engaging and being present to it the best I can now that it's arrived. So I'll get to that, and I will offer reflections for these days of the Triduum as well. First, though, I want a minute to acknowledge the sadness of another very different celebration of these most holy days of our calendar. 

I miss the richness of the liturgy. This year is better in many ways than last year, to be sure! But there was no real celebration with palms here; I saw no washing of feet; no transitus of the Blessed Sacrament to a tabernacle/altar of repose with the congregation in tow. I am sure I will see more in the next few days, such as not venerating the same cross as those with whom I have gathered to pray. I am grateful that I am still able to celebrate this Triduum Liturgy across these three days in person as opposed to last year, that even last year the truths they celebrate are true even if I can't be physically present at the liturgy. I grieve the temporary loss of these moments, though, that have engaged my senses as well as my heart and mind and assisted me in fully active and conscious participation.

And yet perhaps this time deprived of these smaller moments is one the Spirit might make an opportunity, should I be able to cooperate.

To be succinct for tonight, a Taize chant that has haunted me from the moment I first heard it is "Stay With Me". Just look it up on Youtube as "Stay with me taize" and you'll find it. This year, the impassioned, persistent plea of Christ comes to me all the more urgently through the words: "Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray!" In this unusual time when things are so clearly not ideal, what does it mean to stay with Christ? The chant refers to his charging his disciples to keep watch and pray while he prayed at Gethsemane. And yet I also hear in it Christ's exhortation from John's Last Supper discourse to remain in him, that we bear fruit. How do I stay with him? What does that look like particularly now in these holy days, but as the Easter season unwinds as well? I have no novel or ground-breaking reflection here; only the Lord's gentle, loving, but insistent reminder to me that apart from him I can do nothing. 

Who do I need to forgive? Who do I need to serve? What does it mean to empty myself, to forget any pretense of status, to lovingly minister fully aware of others' ugliest tendencies?

May we stay with you and remain in you, Lord, watchful and alert. Help us to cling to you, especially when fear tempts us back to the ways of greed and self-interest, suspicion and uncharity, gossip and detraction, vanity and superficiality. Help us to bear great fruit.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Using ALL Our Gifts

 This entry comes to us from Ashlyn Harrington, a sophomore Education Major.

Something that I have been reflecting heavily on recently is using my gifts from God to serve those around me. Sometimes it can be difficult to have the bravery to put them on display for the world to see, but in 1 Peter 4:10 we read that as Christians we are called to use our gifts to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace. Now in that context, Peter was referring to spiritual gifts, such as healing or prophesy, but the idea that we should bless those around us can still be carried over into our individual talents and gifts. God does not give us anything for our own benefit, but instead to use our gifts to serve others and him.

If you thought that your talents were for you to be successful, you’ve missed the whole point. We are frequently told by society to not be boastful of our gifts, but remaining humble doesn’t mean that we should ignore our talents. If we weren’t meant to use them, they never would have been given to us in the first place. Rather, we are called to use our gifts to serve others and be served by them. We are all made for a unique purpose, with each person’s gifts varying significantly. This is a WONDERFUL thing! We were made uniquely, because together we make up the Body of Christ. Paul compares this to a human body, in which each of us plays a distinct but important role. Maybe you’re an arm, a vein, or a toe: All are important, but need a head (Jesus) to guide them. This means that everything we do directly points back to him, including the use of our gifts. Maybe you were given strength like Samson, beauty like Esther, or maybe you’re just really good at making frozen pizzas. The gift itself doesn’t really matter, but how we choose to use it does. So use you gifts, even if they don’t seem big or important!

With Easter right around the corner there are so many ways to start practicing. Paint a picture for your mom to give to her as an Easter present. Help your grandma cook the ham. Have an epic dance battle with your little cousins to keep them occupied so their parents can have a nap. Help your brother pick out an outfit to wear to church, because you know he’s not great at matching. Sing in the choir, or if you aren’t quite there yet, sing your heart out with the rest of the congregation (God doesn’t care if all the notes are right anyway). In Matthew 25 it says that if we strive to use our talent for the glory of the kingdom, we will be given many additional gifts to be shared, but those who do not use them will lose them, and they will be given to someone else to praise the Lord. There are so many opportunities coming up where you can share God’s glory, so take advantage of it, and continue to use your gifts to serve those around you not only in the Easter season, but throughout the entire year.


On behalf of everyone at Mission and Ministry, have a blessed, fruitful, and prayerful Holy Week. May you find solace, hope, fortitude, joy, and strength in the mystery of Christ's Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Remain by Going

A short reflection this week. We have arrived at the last week of classes of the Spring Semester. We have also (finally) arrived in True Spr...