January’s Church Calendar Honors Teachers

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | January 13, 2022 |

The list of saints in January seems to give a hats-off to teachers. January 1 celebrates Mary, the Mother of God. She is also known as the Seat of Wisdom. (Picture the Son of God sitting on her lap, his seat, and learning his first words and prayers.) Then begins an impressive list of teachers. On January 4 we celebrate Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born saint of the United States. Forming the Sisters of Charity, the first native-born congregation in the United States, Mother Seton was the superior. Schools and orphanages opened under her direction, and many immigrants were helped.

On the very next day, we honor St. John Neumann, who began the first diocesan school system. Later in the month, we will celebrate the feasts of St. Francis de Sales, St. Angela Merici, and St. Thomas Aquinas—all heroes in education. St. Francis de Sales is the patron of adult education, journalists, and the deaf. He wrote extensively and encouraged other writers. St. Angela Merici founded the Ursuline Sisters known for their education of girls. St. Thomas Aquinas was brilliant, a prolific writer whose writings are studied by many, especially those seeking ordination to the priesthood.

Of course, all saints in some way are teachers. We learn from their example. Might we also say that all teachers are saints? Who else can match their patience, dedication, long hours, creativity? Reflect upon your teachers. Whom would you nominate for sainthood?

Advent Hymns Renew our Spirits

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | December 21, 2021 |

From the ubiquitous hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” written in the ninth century to “Awake to the Day” composed in this century, all Advent hymns touch my heart in a way I rarely experience at other times of the year. I think this is true for many, as I hear our Sisters often claim “Advent is my favorite season.”

Many hymns are written in E minor, my favorite and easiest key to play. Some hymns sound like tones of the Middle East, resonating and connecting with our ancestors in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Messianic images recall titles seldom used throughout the rest of the year–O Wisdom, O Key of Knowledge, O Root of Life—supplying concrete images to meet God in prayer. My favorite hymn is “My Soul in Stillness Waits/En el Silencio Te Aguardo” by Marty Haugen. The refrain embodies for me the meaning, the quiet, the anticipation, the hope of the season: “To you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you.”  When I sing the hymn, I give the fermata on “waits” a long hold before singing very softly without accompaniment “truly my hope is in you.”

I wish Advent were longer than four weeks. There’s not enough time to sing all the seasonal hymns. Fortunately, the haunting melodies circulate my brain and heart effortlessly.

Move Those Tent Posts!

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | December 19, 2021 |

The prophet Isaiah writes “Enlarge the space for your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly; lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes” (54:2).  These words give encouragement to the Israelites to continue living the covenant with the God whose love “shall never leave you” (54:10). Although I’ve never camped in a tent, I imagine that widening the space would be welcomed, giving more wiggle room or space for a visitor. Our hearts can be tents. Can we widen the space in our hearts for a neighbor, a relative, a coworker, the persons we pass during our day? Of course, it isn’t easy to pull up stakes, but it’s something we’d need to do whether needing an inch or a yard.

It’s not easy to move our hearts over when they already seem full. Yet with God’s grace and our willingness to sacrifice it’s possible. Our abundant God is always ready to increase our heart (tent) capacity. How might you move your tent posts today? Who or what may be waiting to come in?

“God Love Things by Becoming Them”

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | December 16, 2021 |

In his book The Universal Christ Richard Rohr writes, “God loves things by becoming them.” Rohr explains that while we think of the Incarnation as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Incarnation began with the first instant of creation when God united with God’s creatures. God’s “Let there be light” after billions of years would be articulated in Jesus Christ who claimed, “I am the Light of the world” (Jn. 8:12).  

When I was a little kid, I knew God was ubiquitous (but I didn’t use that big word). I knew God was “around” and could see what I did and hear my prayers. Now decades later I try to wrap my head around God’s presence in everyone and everything. Some scientists called this the “God particle.” Rohr writes, “Long before Jesus’s personal incarnation Christ was deeply embedded in all things—as all things!” This universal presence was in Mary’s flesh giving flesh to Jesus’s flesh.  Consider for a moment: At the Annunciation when Mary said her yes, the Incarnation of Genesis chapter 1 became the Incarnation story of the Gospels.  The Word spoken in Genesis became flesh—the Son of God and Son of Mary. So for billions of years before this time and for billions of years after this time, we can say with Saint Paul “There is only Christ. He is everything and He is in everything” (Col. 3:11).

If everyone realized that the Christ is the shepherd and wise men of Bethlehem, the Christ is sacristan arranging the manger scene in church, the Christ is the tired clerk, the friend wrapping our gift, the one lighting the Christmas tree in the park, and the homeless person on the park bench, then that would really be putting Christ back into Christmas.

Tender Parents

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | December 13, 2021 |

In the discussion of nature versus nurture, nurture has my vote. Christmas cards of Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus indicate the artists feel the same. Certainly, Mary’s genes had much to do with Jesus’ physical appearance. But beyond that, the portrayed emotions convey nurture in the tenderness, care, and love of the parents. More frequently greeting cards with Joseph replace a rather stoic older man with a younger man sleeping peacefully after fatiguing days of travel and tension. One can imagine Joseph’s relief in finally finding a place to stay. Mary has given birth, and the guardian of the Holy Family can breathe again. No staff with lily props up the foster father. Yet the artist portrays Joseph’s attentive love even in sleep.

The love of Mary for her Child is palpable on that Hallmark card. Mary who was filled with grace and never sinned throughout the course of her young life had only purest affection for her baby. How was that pure love nurturing her Child? What was Mary’s impact on her Son who would tell of his heavenly Father’s unconditional love? What did Jesus learn from his parents’ prayer, observance of the Law, forgiveness, service, and kindness? I imagine Jesus imbibed a spirituality that formed his Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, his care for the blind and lame, his self-sacrifice to the point of death.

All Is Miracle

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | December 8, 2021 |

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Now that’s genius! The holiday season is a time for miracles. Make a miracle happen at least once a day. (Might make a good Advent practice.) Surprise someone with Christmas cookies, offer free childcare, offer to store someone else’s Christmas presents and wrap them, take someone who doesn’t drive to a concert or play, include in your Christmas cards a note about how much the recipient means to you, offer to clean a teacher’s classroom on the last day of school, shovel the next-door neighbor’s sidewalk or driveway, get involved in a community or parish project. While performing such an activity, pray for the recipient(s). That will make each act a double miracle.

Anyone Can Honk

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | December 4, 2021 |

A bumper sticker reads “If you want justice, work for it. Anyone can honk.” In the past few years, many more of our Sisters are involved with social justice issues. The range of involvement extends from educating ourselves on issues and -isms to contributing to worthy causes. Our Sisters make sandwiches and deliver them to the homeless, write congresspersons and go to the border. Our work in education gives primacy to schools in the central city. Some tutor and teach English as a second language. In other ways, Sisters give power to the powerless, voice to the voiceless. While not every sister has the ability or time to devote to social justice issues, our Liturgy of the Hours (Morning and Evening Prayer) has daily petitions under the umbrella of justice: care for the environment, just legislation, food security, protection, care for babies and children, peace, and more. Whatever path to justice we choose in prayer or in action, we “should do all things in the name of Jesus” (Sister Maria Aloysia, July 13, 1881).

Always Enough

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | November 29, 2021 |

Harry S. Truman claimed: “There is enough in the world for everyone to have plenty to live on happily and to be at peace with his neighbors.” As Christmas approaches, numerous organizations, schools, and towns collect toys, clothes, and food. Gifts for the less fortunate fill semis, overflow collection areas, and fill car trunks in amazing abundance, proving that there is enough when we are willing to share. It’s in the sharing that we can be at peace with ourselves and with our neighbors.

Here are a couple ways to give Christmas gifts so that others beyond the circle of family and friends can share in the plenty.

Consider foregoing the annual gift exchange at your place of business. Instead of giving to fellow employees, each person wraps a gift for a good cause. All can still enjoy opening gifts, but nothing is kept for oneself.

Instead of a gift exchange, put the agreed amount of money toward a charity such as Heifer International, St. Jude Hospital, Boys Town, or a local need.

Gratitude

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | November 25, 2021 |

Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.” How is gratitude the progenitor of all the other virtues? Probably because the focus is not on ourselves. We have done little or nothing to receive our material and spiritual gifts. Moving the focus away from ourselves to the givers removes egotism and suppresses selfishness, leaving room for the gratitude the giver should receive from us. Many spiritual writers place thankfulness as the first ingredient in maturing our spiritual lives. God has given us everything. When doing so, Genesis claims that whenever God created, God’s response was “That’s good!”  It’s almost as if God gives the creature (light, trees, animals) the credit for its goodness. When God created us, God said, “That’s good.” And ever since God has delighted in our goodness. Of course, we pray our gratitude to God for all God’s gifts, especially our being. But no matter how often we say “Thank you, God,” God has outpaced us in smiling upon us as we use God’s gifts and hear God say “Thank you” to us.

Freeing Others and Ourselves to Enter a New Future

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | November 21, 2021 |

Throughout his journeys Jesus freed people of their sin, shame, or illness. He freed the lame, the blind, the adulteress, the miserly to start a new future. Perhaps in that momentary encounter these persons let go of the past, not letting anything hinder their new future, their new perspective, the new hope and dreams Jesus provided.

God is always at the ready to do the same for us. Just as we cannot relate only to the past deeds of others, we must be ready to release our past, forego negative thoughts, relinquish old habits to take steps beyond where we are now. We need resilience and courage to create the next moment of our lives. Today think new thoughts, create a new future, and become a new you.