Responding to the Message of Peace

When I was in grade school, I looked forward to May, not because it was the end of the school year – though that was exciting – but because it was the month of the Blessed Mother (and my birthday!) Every May, I would set up a “May Altar” in my bedroom. I really don’t know if that concept even relates to this generation of young people. I just recall that devotions to the Blessed Mother were very special in my family and in my school community as I was growing up. I attended Saint Helena Parish School staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. And each week in the spring, we would practice the hymns and format for the May Procession that took place in the parish church. It was simply magnificent! As students, we would process around the block and into church as we sang hymns to Mary. There was the crowning of the Blessed Mother statue in the church, followed by Benediction.

On May 13, 2017, the Vatican canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three children who saw the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary six times between May 13, 1917, and Oct. 13, 1917 at Fatima. They died in the influenza epidemic during 1918-1919. Lucia Santos, who was their cousin and whose beatification process began in 2008, died in 2005 at the age of 97. The vision told the children three “secrets,” and according to the Vatican website, they are described as: “The first and second parts of the ‘secret’ . . . refer especially to the frightening vision of hell, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Second World War, and finally the prediction of the immense damage that Russia would do to humanity by abandoning the Christian faith and embracing Communist totalitarianism. . . The third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: ‘If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.’. “

Saint Norbert, when he established his first community of Norbertines at Premontre, France, incorporated a special devotion to Mary, and since that time, all of the churches or communities of the Norbertine Order around the world are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Archmere is dedicated to the patronage of Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

So why are there many different titles for Mary? Wasn’t she just one person? It is true that Mary was singularly the Mother of Jesus, but she has been given a variety of titles over the centuries that are dogmatic, poetic, or allegorical in nature. Additionally, more titles of Mary are found in religious art. All of these are reflections of the ways in which Mary has revealed herself to us, delivering messages of peace, love, and devotion to her Son, Jesus.

The Blessed Mother is the quintessential figure of motherhood in the Catholic Church and in other Christian faiths. A life of sacrifice completely dedicated to God’s will and to her Son’s ministry, she said, “Yes,” to a plan that included her holding the lifeless body of her son after he was crucified. She also had to “let go” of her Son so that he could fulfill his life’s plan, and potentially hear words that may have been difficult to understand or emotionally accept:

“Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” But Jesus replied, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers.…” (Matthew 12:48)

The Blessed Mother is a powerful role model for parents. At this time of year, we contemplate our seniors graduating and leaving “the home nest” to go on to college. Being with family pretty much every day, students will become more independent, finding their way in new academic communities and creating new social circles. Just as Mary, with her husband, Joseph, provided guidance and support for Jesus through his formative years so that he would be ready to take on his public ministry later in life, parents have created the foundations for their sons and daughters to take the next steps in their lives.

As we graduate the members of the Class of 2017, let us pray for them through the intercession of Mary, our Blessed Mother. May they be inspired to challenge themselves academically, enrich themselves with new friendships, and strengthen themselves through prayer. Our graduates have the capacity to make change in the world, and to respond to the messages of peace delivered by Mary under her many titles.

Sharing Your Faith Experience

Have you ever had such a great day that you did not want it to end? While you were having that wonderful experience, did you have the impulse to want to share it with someone who was not with you at the time? How often are we told stories with the person concluding, “You should have been there!”

The Church is telling one of those stories this week – Holy Week. It began with Palm Sunday and continues through Easter Sunday. The exciting thing about this story is that we can be a part of it by participating in the rites of the Church, leading us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The original course of events happened about 2000 years ago, and we have the words of the Gospels to tell us what happened. If Jesus had been born into the 21st century, would the story have been told better if someone recorded these events with an iPhone, taking video and pictures and then immediately texting them to a family member or friend or, better yet, posting them to a Facebook page for the story to “go viral”? In a way, the pain and horror of the crucifixion are relived today in the recordings of images of innocent people dying from war and famine around the world, and killings and senseless crimes committed in our cities.

We are living in an age when we can create the reality around us by selecting what sounds and images we want to see. It is interesting that, when you use the Internet to shop or find news and information, the browser is “intelligent” enough to find similar websites with content that “one might also like.” In a way, the computerized iterations offer us more of the same, presuming we have preferences about almost everything. While that may be true, I believe that we need to be careful not to become complacent, but rather explore and learn about things that may be less familiar to or comfortable for us.

While communication vehicles are much different in the 21st century from the time of Jesus, I would conjecture that the human reactions to times of joy and sorrow are the same. And in those times, we want to share them with those whom we love. In a way, we are asking another person to experience what we are experiencing in that moment. When they are particularly joyful moments, we don’t want them to end.

This is the exceedingly joyful message of Easter demonstrated by Jesus, who tells us: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”(John 14:3) Imagine that Jesus is so excited to be “in [his] Father’s house [with] many rooms,” he wants to send us a text message or photograph or video to share his joy with us. In this case, the technology is replaced by the words of the Gospels and by the celebrations of the Church this week that help us to be present with Jesus – to eat with him at His Last Supper with his apostles, to pray with him in the garden at Gethsemane, to denounce the brutality of his arrest and torture, to mourn at the cross at Golgotha, to wait at the tomb of Jesus, and to celebrate His resurrection.

I pray that your days are filled with more joys than sorrows, and with each day, I hope that you have someone with whom you can share the experience. And through our faith, may we be excited to know that there will be a joyful time for each of us that will never end.

Happy Easter!

The Power of Family Life

Saint Joseph and the child Jesus

We celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary this month on March 19. From the Scriptures, we know very little about him. What was written can be pieced together to give some sense of who he was and what he might have been like.

He was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and a member of the working class poor. We know this, since when Jesus was circumcised in the Temple he offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice, which was acceptable in those days for those who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb (Luke 2:24). He did, however, descend from royalty, the “House of David,” who was King of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).

Yet Joseph was humble and compassionate. He protected Mary from being accused of adultery and stoned to death, because she was pregnant and unmarried. Instead of revealing her pregnancy, he planned to send her away, but then he listened to the angel in a dream who told him of God’s plan that Jesus should be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-25). Knowing this, he married Mary and became a father to Jesus.

Throughout his life, Joseph protected and cared for his family. When an angel told Joseph that Jesus was in danger of the King, he left everything he had, including family and friends, and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, until it was safe to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23). He, along with Mary, looked for Jesus for three days, until they found him in the Temple (Luke 2:48). And to all who knew the Holy Family, Joseph treated Jesus as his own son, for Jesus is referred to in the Scriptures many times by the people, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22)

We know that Joseph was not at Jesus’ crucifixion. Many historians and theologians believe that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry, and the apocryphal gospels place the dates for Joseph’s birth and death as 90 BC in Bethlehem and AD 18 in Nazareth.

Though we have to piece together phrases and scenes from the gospels to create in our minds the person of Joseph, we know that he represents important qualities that support family – qualities that we all hope are emulated in all of our families today: humility, compassion, protection, respect, care, sacrifice, and love.

Archmere’s community is built on the strength of individual families over the years, as well as the charism of Saint Norbert. In a way, Norbert wanted to emulate the Holy Family as he conceived living a spiritual life in community in the 12th century. He gathered ordained, religious men and women, as well as lay men and women to live in community in Premontre, France in the late Middle Ages. His concept of one community of the faithful would not survive the ecclesiastical structure of the Church, which separately acknowledged the community of priests and brothers from the religious community of Norbertine nuns. Yet, in spirit and in charism, they were founded as one community, building on each other’s strengths and gifts, reflecting the dynamic of a biological family. Over the years, many Norbertine communities would flourish around the world, each a reflection of the people and culture that created it.

I have heard Archmere referred to as a “family” and, particularly, the Patio, as “a home,” originally built for the Raskob family of 13 children. I believe that a more accurate and enriching description of Archmere is a community of families, each contributing its own unique histories, talents, and contributions to strengthen the Archmere genealogical tree.

Figures from the 2002 U.S. Census indicate that only 7% of the population in the United States is part of “traditional” families, where the father works outside the home, and the mother runs the household with children living at home. Another 16% of the population is dual income parents with children, and 13% is dual income couples with no children. The remaining 64% of the population is in single parent households or other family configurations. Since 2002, I would imagine these figures have become even more pronounced in non-traditional family composition.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017, Archmere hosted a visit by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, along with Rev. Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. These men were appointed by Pope Francis on August 15, 2016, to, in the words of Pope Francis, “help families live out their vocation and mission in the Church and in today’s world.” Their work would be accomplished with study, research, and teaching in dialog with “scientific institutes and academic institutions, including relationships where there is an ecumenical or interreligious element, whether Christian or pertaining to other cultural or religious traditions. To bend down over the wounds of humanity in order to understand them, to care for them, and to heal them is the task of the Church that trusts in the light and the power of the risen Christ, that is able to deal with tension and conflict, as does a ‘field hospital,’ a Church that lives, preaches, and carries out its mission of salvation…”

We, at Archmere, are fortunate to have a faith tradition that holds up for us the Holy Family as an example of family life that represent important values for us to admire and adopt into our own life experiences. And we are blessed to have Pope Francis address the challenges of family life and provide for us an inviting and welcoming opportunity to talk about the challenges and opportunities in sustaining the nurturing and life-giving power of family life.