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Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday Reflection from the Catholic Health Association of America

If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.
Psalm 95:8

In the days before refrigerators were common, many people used icehouses to keep their food cold. Essentially walk-in coolers, icehouses had thick walls, no windows and tightly-fitted doors. Ice was cut from frozen streams and lakes in the winter and brought into the icehouses, where large blocks were covered in sawdust to be used in the summer months.

A story is told of a man who lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. Though he and his companions searched thoroughly through the sawdust, the watch wasn’t found. The man’s daughter heard about the lost watch and knowing how much it meant to her father, she snuck into the icehouse. A while later she emerged, watch in hand, and returned it to her astonished father who asked how she managed to find it.
“I closed the door,” she replied, “lay down in the sawdust and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”

Ash Wednesday begins the Christian celebration of Lent. Forty days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to prepare believers for the celebration of Easter. A part of Lent is the call to quiet and reflection. A call to still ourselves and consider our faith lives. We cease searching and striving for the external markers of success and fulfillment and settle in to listen to what the still, small voice of God is saying in our lives and in our hearts.
It’s an opportunity to ask ourselves: Am I able to hear the voice of God?

Our lives are filled with noise. From our televisions and computers, tablets, phones and radios, even some gas pumps feature built-in speakers and screens for advertisement. And it’s not just media. Our lives are packed to the brim with things that require attention. In our facilities, monitors are always flashing, often beeping. Residents call out for assistance or need comfort. Calls have to be made. Emails must be answered. Dashboards need attention. Codes, sirens and call lights all require immediate action. While our faith affirms that God is in all of these things, still, Lent calls us away.

Lent calls us to our inner room. To an extra moment of quiet in the car or our office. To linger in the chapel. To wander in the woods. To soften our hearts and listen for the voice of God. The still, small voice that whispers and waits inside of us. Calling us to return. Calling us to faithfulness. Calling us to begin our Lenten journey back home to the God who loves us.

How can you make space in your days this Lent to hear the still, small voice of God in your heart?

Like the watch in the icehouse, what treasure are you seeking on your Lenten journey?

Copyright 2019 Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Sisters Documentary

Sisters is a one-hour documentary film by Robert Gardner that takes us into the lives of five American Catholic Sisters.

It is a film about faith and hope, love and death, seen through the eyes of five women who have committed their lives to the service of others in the deepest way. Without narration, their stories are told in the honest words and actions of the women themselves.

The video is available to view online. To watch click HERE.

To purchase a DVD for group screenings contact Char Gardner at: char@gardnerfilms.com

Sisters march for racial equality

This last week in St. Louis, Missouri, Sr. Suzanne Stahl and Sr. Elaine Lange marched with fellow members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in support of racial equality.

For more information on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious visit lcwr.org.

Pope Francis Movie

Recommended by the Sisters, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.”

DVD coming soon!

Release date: December 4th, 2018

A Reflection for Christmas

Advent Reflections from the Catholic Health Association of America

God’s Story and Our Story

The Solemnity of Christmas is celebrated with four sets of scripture readings for the Masses of vigil, midnight, dawn and day.  Each set of readings presents a different facet of the mystery of the Incarnation.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we touch the need of the early Christian community to trace the lineage of Jesus back to King David, since it was from his house that the Messiah would come.  We sense the tension and drama experienced by Joseph as he struggles to accept Mary as his wife when he learns of her pregnancy before their marriage.

Matthew calls us into the longing of the people of Israel for the fulfillment of promises uttered through ancient prophets; promises finally fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

The nativity story recounted in the Gospel of Luke includes those who are poor and powerless, yet not without hope. The shepherds, who are among the least in society at this time, go with joy to see for themselves the child whose birth is announced by angels.  We also get a glimpse of Mary somewhat bemused by all of the attention. The Gospel says, “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.”

Finally, the celebration of Christmas takes a mystical turn as we reflect on the Gospel of John, which opens us to the reality that Eternal Word, having existed before all time, has been born in time as one like us – the timeless enters time, the creator has entered creation.

History, drama, hope, joy, bemusement and deep mystery are all part of the Christmas story in our liturgical celebrations.

And are not these elements a part of the sacred stories of our lives as well?  Every element in the story of Jesus also belongs to us.  We can choose any one of them and tell the story of our own family history, our personal dramas, hopes, joys and even experiences for which we have yet to fully understand the meaning. These elements belong to the stories of our communities and our nation. And they belong to the health ministries we serve.

This insight invites us deeper into the mystery we celebrate at Christmas, for it is less about the birth of a child in unusual circumstances, and much more about a God whose life is our life.  God becomes, in a sense, the leaven in the dough of our lives, changing, or perhaps more accurately, revealing, the nature of who we are as God’s people.

We cannot ignore the implications of this for those who serve in the health care ministry.  The “why” of what we do each day is intimately connected to this understanding.  And it is less important that those we serve understand it and all the more important that we who serve do.

As we celebrate this great mystery of Christmas, what must we do to invite others into this insight so that their stories, like the story of our God, become one with ours?

Copyright 2017 Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Reflection – Fourth Week of Advent

Advent Reflections from the Catholic Health Association of America

Don’t Box Me In

Anyone who has experienced moving to a new place and shopping for a new home will notice changes in home design over time. Homes built in the 1950’s often had one bath and the closets were small. Today, many homes have at least two full baths and the closets, if not “walk-ins”, are still many times larger than those of older homes. Somehow, we have become people with many more things requiring much more storage space than previous generations.  There are even stores dedicated solely to selling various kinds of containers for our stuff, and storage unit parks offer us extra space apart from our homes in which to store things.

The scripture selections for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are, in a sense, about containers.

In the reading from the second book of Samuel, David reflects on his palace of cedar and compares it to the simple tent that houses the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence among the people of Israel. He believes that the Ark certainly deserves a better place to reside and the prophet Nathan does not object to his building plan.  However, God speaks to Nathan later and reminds him, in so many words, that no building can ever fully express what God has done, or will do, for the people of Israel. In a later passage, not included in the Sunday reading, David sits before the Ark and, in his humility, acknowledges that God’s work can never be fully represented in human design.

The gospel passage from Luke tells the story of the Annunciation – Mary’s realization that she would carry Jesus into the world. Those familiar with the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary will recall that among the many titles given to her is, Ark of the Covenant. This makes the strong connection between the symbol of God’s presence among the people of Israel, and Mary as bearer of God into the world in a new way. Among the prayers in the Great Compline of the Annunciation in the Byzantine Catholic tradition is the following: “God is come among us; he who cannot be contained is contained in a womb. The timeless enters time.”  Unlike David in his initial conceit, Mary has no sense that she is worthy to carry such a presence within her, but consents nonetheless.

As we approach the celebration of the Incarnation during the fourth week of Advent, these scriptures present us with the question: Who carries the presence of God into the world now?

We believe that Jesus commissioned us as people and as Church to be bearers of his Good News. Like Mary, we recognize how broken we can sometimes be as people and as Church, how unable we are to fully or adequately contain and communicate the depth of God’s love for humanity. And yet, we consent nonetheless.

As people engaged in the particular ministry of health care within the Church, this week of Advent renews our sense of purpose as bearers of God’s healing presence to those who need it. We know we are not perfect. We know we cannot fully contain the depth of God’s healing love, but we consent nonetheless.

Copyright 2017 Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Reflection – Third Week of Advent

Advent Reflections from the Catholic Health Association of America

No Time To Stifle Ourselves

Many will know of the 1970’s television series, All In The Family.  The two main characters were Archie Bunker and his wife Edith Bunker. Archie was a crusty, unfiltered blue-collar guy who expressed opinions on race, religion and other social topics in a way that would make people cringe today.  Edith, though sometimes ditsy and confused, could take on Archie with surprising wisdom and strength.  When Archie didn’t like what he heard from Edith, he would dismiss her with a brusque “Stifle yourself, Edith!”

Edith didn’t always stifle herself.  When Archie challenged her most deeply held thoughts and feelings, she let him know he had finally crossed a line and pushed him back into his place.

The Third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice.  In the past when our observance of Advent was more akin to a Lenten discipline, this Sunday was a time to take a breather and celebrate the nearness of Christmas.  The scripture selections for this Sunday still reflect the theme of rejoicing, calling us to “rejoice heartily in the Lord.”

Henri Nouwen wrote of joy as an internal orientation that is not dependent on external circumstances, whether they are good or bad.  Joy is rooted in the sense of unconditional love—love that comes from God and is experienced in those around us.

Joy requires confidence and trust that this love is real, reliable and never-ending.  Reflecting more deeply on the scriptures for the Third Sunday of Advent, we see Isaiah’s confidence at work as he describes his sense of purpose:  to bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and bring release to prisoners.  This confidence is rooted in his relationship with God, in what he calls, “the joy of my soul.”  Similarly, John the Baptizer knows his place in relationship to Jesus, he says: “I am not the Messiah … I am a voice in the desert crying out: Make straight the way of the Lord!”  Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to live from a sense of joy because God’s love for them has been expressed in Christ Jesus.

This week of Advent is less about seeing Christmas near at hand, and more about renewing our sense of purpose and our unique place in the unfolding process of bringing about God’s reign.  The work continues and we have a part to play.

We experience pressure from many sources that tell us to stifle ourselves, sometimes draining energy from our unique mission as a health ministry and our own sense of purpose as individuals.

The confidence of Isaiah, Paul, and John in their relationship with God and purpose in the world models what a deeply held conviction can do for us.

This week of Advent may be a time for us to guard carefully against those influences that would tell us to “stifle ourselves.”  Like Edith Bunker, may we find the right time and place to draw the line.  May the examples of Isaiah, Paul, and John give us the wisdom to know when that is.

Copyright 2017 Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Reflection – Second Week of Advent

Advent Reflections from the Catholic Health Association of America

In the Meantime

There was a post on Facebook commemorating a person who recently died.  It read simply:  “Born 1932. Died 2017. In between, amazing human being.”  It was a very simple way to sum up the life of the person.  The sentiment it represents is echoed to some extent in the exhortation in the Second Letter of Peter, one of the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent.  Peter writes, “ … what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God!”

Peter reflects the early church’s belief that the end time was not far off, and that believers should be faithful at every moment, ready to welcome the Lord in his second coming at any time.  He suggests that we may indeed have a part in bringing about the second coming by living lives of holiness, as he writes, “ … he shows you generous patience, since he wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.”  In other words, God is willing to wait until we are ready to accept and love Him as He has already accepted and loved us.

Advent is considered a time of waiting for the Lord to appear in our lives.  In this view, it is we who do the waiting.  But if we reflect carefully on these words of Peter, perhaps we should turn that around and reflect on the possibility that it is God who is waiting for us.

In reality, there is no waiting for God, for God has already given us the gift of his son Jesus, who lived among us, died at our hands and rose again to reveal for us the promise of eternal life.  This is the core belief of Christians.  In a sense, the ball is now in our court to plumb the depths of that mystery; to understand what difference it can make in our lives.  God is waiting for us.

If we take this view, Advent becomes a time for us to reflect more deeply on the shape of our “in between” time.

How does the conduct of our health ministry reflect God’s reign to those we serve beyond the day-to-day business concerns we must address?

What difference does it make to our manner of conducting the business of health care when we think of our work as hastening God’s reign?

More personally, if I am willing to accept that God is waiting for me, how does that change the priorities of my “in between” time here and now?

Copyright 2017 Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Reflection – First Week of Advent

Advent Reflections from the Catholic Health Association of America

Defiant Christmas Trees

With December, Christmas trees begin to appear.

We suddenly notice they are in our hospitals, our office buildings, and the vast variety of sites where we deliver health care. We also find them in malls, on lawns, and coming through the television with steady, even annoying, regularity. In fact, for many of us, the furniture is moved aside to make room for the tree to join us in our homes.  They seem to be everywhere.

Christmas trees may be hard to avoid, but their message is easy to miss.  

Spiritual traditions interpret December as the season the sun arrives late and leaves early. More scientifically, the earth is turning in such a way that we are in darkness more than at other times of the year. This greater darkness symbolizes the growing power of all that afflicts us – in body, mind, society, and spirit. Winter brings with it a sense of our vulnerability.   

As an antidote, Christmas trees accompany the darkness of December. They are symbolic push backs to the absence of light. Their branches are not bare but full, leafy, and strung with lights. Their power glows, radiates, shines. They are not victims of the December darkness, and they refuse to allow it to dominate. Their brightness is defiant.

What is the message of this defiance?

We may want a perfect world – good enough health, good enough finances, good enough relationships, and a good enough, stable, non-violent society and world. But that is not what we always get. We find our health precarious; our careers, jobs, or vocations under stress; our finances dipping badly; our relationships in need of repair; our society and world either slightly or wildly insane. We are under duress.

Enter the Christmas tree. Its lights say: “Give all the things that afflict us their due, but do not give them our soul. There is something stronger in us than the surrounding darkness.”  

That is why Christmas trees are perfect for Catholic Health Care.  Catholic Health Care holds human dignity to be essential. It does not come and go with the fickleness of fortune. The body may be under siege, the mind may be quivering with anxiety, and social supports may be waning, but dignity is the rock that remains, the rock on which the whole house is built. There is always a power of love that holds us, a deeper identity that survives all attacks. It is imperative to allow Christmas trees to remind us of this deeper truth when the December darkness is parading a shallower truth.   

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”  (Jn. 1:5)

Copyright 2018 Catholic Health Association of the United States.