On August 14 the Sisters of Notre Dame in northwest Ohio were privileged to receive twelve new Associates as they made their covenant during the vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Associates are men and women, single or married, who feel called to the same mission as the Sisters of Notre Dame; namely, to witness to God’s goodness and provident care. Over the past twenty years, we Sisters are very grateful that our charism has been extended to families, homes, schools, and places of employment that we Sisters could never reach on our own. We count on the Associates’ prayers, and we appreciate their service. The prayer and service are mutual, in much the same way our Congregation began with mutual prayer and service. Elisabeth Kuhling asked Hilligonde Wolbring how she could help her care for children in need. Their friendship was the root from which our Congregation grew. We sisters have promised these new Associates our prayer and support. Together—Sisters and Associates—we trust God’s provident care and work to extend God’s mission.
Today is a perfect day for a picnic—no humidity, a gentle breeze blowing, temperature in the high seventies. It’s been a long time since we had such a beautiful day. I just had to go on a picnic. While making a roast for a later meal, I also prepared picnic food. The other sisters in my house barely noticed, and I was able to pack the coolers and get them into the trunk. When I called the Sisters to lunch, they saw empty plates and insect repellent. I responded to their questioning looks: “We’re going on a picnic! Get into the car.” My hope is that this little excursion from the ordinary will become a delightful memory and something to be passed on. May I suggest you create a surprise today—a little “shock of happiness”—whether rain or shine.
Having recently celebrated one of my favorite feasts, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, I was reflecting on stories about Mary, the Mother of God. While Luke’s gospel focuses on the call of Mary to be the Mother of God and the subsequent events related to Jesus’ birth, John’s gospel introduces Mary at the wedding feast at Cana. What I find interesting in the Cana event is that Mary is mentioned first, while the reference to Jesus seems almost an afterthought: “The mother of Jesus was present. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.” Would we have the miracle of water transformed into wine, if Mary hadn’t been invited, if she hadn’t told the chief steward “Do whatever he tells you”? And what if Jesus had not been added to the guest list?
There are symbolic levels to this story. First, the wedding couple are spared from embarrassment. On a deeper level the miracle symbolizes the abundance of God’s favor. A couple hundred gallons of “choice wine” means more than a “nice save” on Jesus’ part. Rather, the stored water symbolizes, according to Thomas Keating, “the old Adam, of solidarity in human incompletion and sin.” The miraculous wine points to the “refreshment, enthusiasm and exhilaration that characterize the fruits of the Spirit.” If we consider ourselves as guests in Cana, we see in the miracle “Christ’s union with the human family, a marriage that is consummated in the Eucharist and that transports the guests into the New Creation.”
We are incorporated into Christ; we are the Body of Christ. The wedding feast at Cana gives us a glimpse of the spiritual marriage of Christ with human nature and with each of us. That’s quite a wedding gift!
Fifteen hundred years ago some people living in the Four Corners region moved onto the Mesa Verde, where they lived and flourished for 700 years. I had the privilege of touring Mesa Verde National Park that preserves artifacts and architecture from these Ancestral Pueblo people. The cliff dwellings show the skill these people had to live in a difficult land. The structures showed a vigorous civilization and accomplishments in the arts. They built dwellings beneath overhanging cliffs. Shaping sandstone into rectangular blocks, they created rooms for living and storage. A village could have had 130 rooms, and about 80 people lived there. Listening to the history of the region, I wondered about their community living. Did everyone have a specific task? Did they live in families or large clans or persons having no relationship? Did they wake and retire at the same time? Was there a socio-political structure? What could I learn from these cave-dwellers about living in community today?
Colorado National Monument and Canyonlands National Park are just two of the national parks covering much of the West. Both are remarkable parks for their peaks, plateaus, and canyons. The diversity of the etched rock formed from volcanoes, erosion, and floods leave the viewer wondering, “How did God do that?” Boulders sit precariously on top of one another. A deep gorge circles a mountain peak or a limestone formation that seems out of place. Unusual shapes, that seem to rise out of the earth, defy explanation but are often named for their identity to something more mundane, such as “Kissing Camels.” How could anyone question the existence of God?
Our bus driver skillfully maneuvered the hairpin turns of the Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved continuous highway in North America. This was the first of several days that my sister Cathy and I toured in Colorado. Every day we marveled at majestic mountains and deep rugged canyons. We never tired of seeing mountains—we who are from flat Ohio. Praying the psalms will remind us of the sights of God’s grandeur. “In his hands are the depths of the earth, and the tops of the mountains are his” (Psalm 95:4) and “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights” (Psalm 148:1).
My sister and I toured Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park in Colorado. My favorite adventure occurred when we trekked up a path to reach 12,000 feet above sea level from the place where the bus stopped at 11,000 feet. Less than half-way up my breathing became labored, but I got a second wind and made it to the top. Fortunately, our bus driver went to the top, too, and took our pictures to prove our ascent. Two weeks later at home I played piano for the Feast of the Transfiguration. I wondered whether Jesus felt the difference in the air on Mount Tabor. And did Jesus find the mountains irresistible as a place to commune with his Father? My days in the Rocky Mountains inspired my praise of our Creator.
It’s Monday. The start of another week of work. Mondays are a time to make a goal or two or three. For me, such goals give me life. Whether it’s cleaning or yard work or a project at my place of employment or a special menu, my goals inspire me to get moving. Beyond inspiring me to use my time well, they inspire me to make a “great use of [my] life.” Something useful for earth and time, something useful for the timeless. William James wrote, “The great use of your life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” Anything I do now has an impact on our earthly future and on eternity.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha who was canonized in 2012. Her 23 years of life were filled with suffering—the death of both parents, smallpox causing poor vision, a trek to Montreal where she could practice her Christianity, and the denial of her request to found a convent. It is a day to reflect on the injustices toward Native Americans from the earliest days of our nation’s history to the present. The accounts of mistreatment embarrass me—as they should everyone. I can’t donate to every request for money that comes in the mail; however, I am partial to Catholic organizations assisting Native Americans. May we try to right the wrongs of our history through good deeds and “good trouble, necessary trouble” (John Lewis).
I remember as a little kid liking this line from Scripture: “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt. 10). Great! I thought. I’m assured heaven for such a simple deed. And so I carried a thermos of ice water or lemonade to my dad working in the fields. I made Kool-Aid and popsicles for my siblings. I carried a cup of water to my mom mowing the lawn. I was racking up a lot of points with God. Plus, I felt so good about it! My heart was really into my little deeds. I felt God must be very pleased with me. How could God not be pleased when I saw the pleasure on my family’s faces? My picture of God looked like the pictures in my catechism, but my feelings toward God and from God were like the feelings expressed in my family. I learned all about God’s love and gratitude and kindness and thoughtfulness from my family. May someone feel closer to God today through our cups of cold water—in whatever form they take.