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AUTHOR
Bob  »

See, I am doing a new thing!

                                    Isaiah 43:19

 

Some have described this time we are going through as an apocalypse.  In common parlance, apocalypse signifies cataclysmic end times, but in its original meaning, apocalypse denotes an uncovering or unveiling.  In that root sense of the word, we clearly are in an apocalypse.  The disunity, racial inequities and economic injustices present in our society have seldom been more exposed.  At the same time, the response to the pandemic has revealed the often unnoticed heroism of ordinary people and awakened the consciences of many.

The prophet Isaiah delivered God’s message, “See, I am doing a new thing!”  Likewise, prophetic voices today urge us to break from old ways and to not return to an old normality if it means a society that continues to advantage the few (even if the few are us!) at the expense of the many, and that threatens the survival of the planet.

Religious leaders are urging us to think new thoughts when envisioning how we will eventually come out of the current crisis.  Early in the pandemic, Pope Francis sized up the situation:

Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity.  Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. This is the opportunity for conversion. Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were.

Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, exhorted:

There are ways forward we never imagined – at huge cost, with great suffering – but there are possibilities and I’m immensely hopeful … Once this epidemic is conquered we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all was normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, a new normal, something that links to the old but is different and more beautiful.

Let’s pray for the grace to join with God in “doing a new thing!”

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Do you not perceive it?
AUTHOR
Mark  »

See, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the wilderness I make a way,

in the wasteland, rivers.

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/isaiah/43?13= (Isaiah 43:19)

 

In ruminating on Isaiah 43:19, a relatively “famous” passage of the Old Testament – especially the ‘I’m doing something new,’ line – I am sitting with two thoughts.

First, the word, perceive. One of the characteristics I inherited from my father is not being able to find what is in plain sight, especially in the refrigerator. The butter is there, perhaps even unobstructed from view but after four seconds I call out to my wife, “Where’s the butter?” and she responds, “On the second shelf.” I quickly retort, “No it is n—oh, there it is. You’re right.” I hardly can see what is in front of me, add another layer of perception or understanding, and, no, usually I do not perceive what is being done.  

Second, the last nine months in particular seem rather antithetical to this passage. The year 2020, and really our perception of the pandemic in March, seemed to turn the life-giving rivers of our beings into socially distant wastelands; the paths of our lives which had much greenery turned into a wilderness with hardly away forward. And yet, here’s God saying he’s doing something new. In fact there was a wilderness but now in this pandemic there are now new paths, where I only thought there was wasteland, there are now rivers – if only I can perceive it.

Yes, there has been much loss and discombobulation, but indeed in this new or next normal there will be paths and there will be rivers which hopefully will soon turn our various wastelands into lush and verdant pastures where one day soon we can safely gather, in person, and perhaps also without masks! I may not perceive that day just yet, but if my personal history and inability to see what is in front of my nose is any indication, I trust that these things are happening and I have hope that what I do not see others can point out for me along the way.

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That's Sufficient
AUTHOR
Mark  »

According to my three year old son, there is no one ultimate Christmas gift. Rather, there are three gifts that make for a good Christmas: a boy doll (read: robot), a boat (read: tub size not lake size), and a Mario Race Track (read: Hot Wheels set).

Now, according to his older sister, my six year old daughter, there is one ultimate Christmas gift. The gift, obviously, is an LOL Surprise Winter Disco Chalet Wooden Doll House with an ice skating rink. I will cede the point that that is an ultimate gift, given its price tag of $250.

But for me, most evenings at the dinner table I’m reminded of what I perceive to be the ultimate (Christmas) gift. You see, without fail, no matter how delicious my wife or I make dinner, likely our children will demand ranch dressing, ketchup, or parmesan cheese upon their plates.  At six and three years old they both wish to pour out their preferred condiment on their own. This action usually incites a dull comment from me after a few seconds of them squeezing or shaking the bottle. “That’s sufficient,” I say. I have said it so often and out of wrote automation that for the past month even before I realize I have uttered that phrase my kids begin to grin, their eyes start to widen, and they say with gusto, “You said sufficient, you said sufficient, you said sufficient!”

Indeed, I said sufficient. For I think they have poured out enough upon their plates. I do not quite understand the fascination my children have with the word 'sufficient,' but in some way I have my own fascination with that word, too. It is a word I would like to make real, welcome, and accompany.

The best gift for me in this tiring year isn’t glitzy, glamourous, over-the-top, or even awe-inspiring. That which isn’t too little or too much; neither brash or timid; that which is sufficient is a gift. It is enough.  What is sufficient and how can it be real? The Nativity certainly is an example for me.

The manger – the lack of support, concern, and yes room at the inn – says a lot about us, but it also says a lot about God: for Him, a lowly manager was sufficient.

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Leadership is like Fire
AUTHOR
Mark  »

Earlier this year I facilitated a presentation (via Zoom of course) entitled, “Leadership Like Fire: Stop Drop & Roll.” In that presentation I expounded upon by observations of what leadership is. In sum, leadership is about others, it’s about service, and it’s about discernment.

To make my case, I cited three leaders, three figures of the Church (I figured it would be less controversial to cite church leaders rather than cultural or political leaders) and they were: Vincent de Paul, Catherine McAuley, and Therese Couderc. I used their lives, their actions, as examples of good leadership, of servant leadership. The framework I used to adjudicate what good or servant leadership looks like was the model I became familiar with in graduate school: the Markkula Center Model.

A good leader is a servant leader, one who wants to serve, one who is concerned with the growth of those they lead, and whose decisions ensure the least privileged are helped or at least not harmed. Again: service, others, and discernment.

But, leadership is far more art than science, and so tidy categories and succinct definitions as well as charts and brief biographies of past leaders don’t quite get us to the heart of leadership. Prose is necessary to explain the heart of leadership but poetry is necessary to understand what makes the heart of leadership beat. As such my presentation, like my personal opinions on leadership, employed some poetry, some beautiful themes and words from Joseph Grant of JustFaith and his book, Still in the Storm.

Grant spoke of making space, making time, and dropping down to learn, to grow, to be where we ought to be – to lead. And so to me, good, ethical, moral and yes servant leadership is best encapsulated on Holy Thursday. The example Christ provided by stooping down, and washing the feet of others, to be of service to the least and the last, that’s leadership.

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AUTHOR
Sr. Rose  »

May 10, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the canonization of our Cenacle foundress, Saint Therese Couderc.

Since we can't get together physically during this pandemic, we invite you to join with us in spirit as we express our gratitude to God for the gifts Mother Therese has bequeathed to us.

In thanksgiving we remember her words to us about the blessing of surrendering all to the good God. Here is a brief video of her meditation, "To Surrender Oneself":

 

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The Blooming
AUTHOR
Mark  »

It snowed. Before it snowed the stems of the daffodils had already broken the ground, growing, rising upwards. The next day, the snow melted. The stems of the daffodils are growing and rising even more. In the midst of that hallmark of Winter – snow – Spring had not stopped; in fact, she appears to have used that snow to quench the voracious thirst of the growing new life.

 Like Winter to Spring or any other seasonal transition, life had changed, not ended. This is not to say that all is normal, fine, or going well. Some seasons are impacted by flood or draught. The earth can be fickle. I too can be fickle, so I won’t belabor that point.

It may seem like snow has covered us all, that there is struggle in surviving the unexpected cold. I do not prophesy, but I do hope and though at times difficult I do trust too. A snow has fallen. I hope that the warming, elongated Light of Spring will melt that snow, turn it to good use, and I trust that with God’s help we will continue to grow and rise upwards. I look forward to the blooming daffodils, and in due time, for the blossoming of human life in a Spring-time garden. Let us hope and trust. Let us tend our gardens as we find them, as we are able.

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A Path Above
AUTHOR
Jill  »

If I had to create a timeline of my life, it would not be a linear image of my fondest memories. But it would be an unambiguous fanciful record of my life’s heartbreaks against the backdrop of my hopes and dreams. The unveiling truth of where my focus has resided gives me pause, I can trace the intermission of my soul when I chose to inhabit the promises of God. For years uncertainty and doubt caused chaos and confusion, but the day I shifted my view toward Jesus I became liberated in the path ahead.

 

Where is your focus leading you? Try to develop a daily practice of focusing on the promises of God when you feel yourself veering off your path.

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The Household Hearth
AUTHOR
Joan  »

The genesis of the word “focus” is Latin for household hearth.  This makes perfect sense given the hearth in the house was the focal point of the household.  It kept the family warm and fed and was the gathering place for all the members of the household.  As I pondered this I became aware of the appropriateness for my life.  What I focus on does play a major role in how I feel about life – how well I am kept warm and fed emotionally and spiritually.  When I focus on the greater good, the world outside of my small needy self, I do feel a part of the great whole.  The things I focus on in my daily life do impact how nourished and sustained I feel.  My focus in life is my “household hearth” and I am called upon to be as conscious as possible to keep the fire warm.  I try to do that with prayer, meditation, mindful action and reaction and a focus on the important things in my life and the lives of those around me.   

What do you focus on and how well does that nourishes you and those you love and care for?

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Life In Focus
AUTHOR
Mark  »

What’s in focus is what we see in front of us. Equally as important to our sight is our peripheral vision, which is not in focus but rather blurry and off to the side. Pope Francis speaks often on focusing on the peripheries. To do this we must turn our heads, our attention, to bring the periphery into focus. When we make this movement to look at, observe, or otherwise pay attention – which is focusing – that which was previously out of focus and off to the side is transformed into our center of interest and clarity. As such, we first have to choose what we want to focus on, and then we must move in the direction of that object to make it clear, make it our focus.

As an example, if we want to focus on a person or focus on the conversation we are having with a person we must make sure we move our sight unto that person and away from things such as the cell phone in our hand. To focus is to provide definition through attention, and people – not things – should be our focus.

What helps you focus? For me, I prefer quiet and order. Noise, even music I like tends to distract me more than it enables me to focus on a person or a task.

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Let's Grow!
AUTHOR
Jill  »

This year I challenge you to participate in the communities that serve you. Whether it is your church or neighborhood, take time to consciously be a blessing to the people and environments that have blessed you. Community is not just the groups that occupy a space, but is also the relationships that we build there. Life without intentional engagement leaves us mentally and spiritually fragmented by a lack of understanding, patience and compassion for those we share our communities with. There is growth in our humanity when we choose to grow together.

Who is taking on this Community Grow challenge with me this year? Share your thoughts in the comments and grow with the Chicago Cenacle in 2020!

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