Christ is risen – Alleluia!

Photo by Ian Beckley

Easter morning is full of images -- the empty tomb, the voice of angels, Mary's encounter with Jesus -- so rich, so full, and so basic to who we are as Christians.

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him. And if it couldn't hold him, it can't hold us.

All that Jesus said about life and death wasn't really understood by his disciples, until it was made real in that empty tomb and encounter in the garden.

And every Easter, we get to share in it.

We share in the promises made to the Children of Israel and to the entire world through the Prophets. We share in the promises made to the disciples and to all who listened to Jesus as he walked towards his death upon a cross.

What is this Easter? It's God's promise of a new day. It's God's promise of a new life. It's God's promise of a new world coming to pass in our midst.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This is an excerpt of a reflection written by Sister Therese Ann Rich in 2011.

World AIDS Day

Ursuline Sisters Mission is sponsoring a Red Ribbon Display in downtown Youngstown, Ohio to honor the roughly 800 people in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties living with HIV as part of local commemorations for World AIDS Day.

Each of the 80 ribbons on Federal Square represents 10 people.

Thurs., Dec. 1, 2022, World AIDS Day, the public is invited to an event at that location beginning at 4:15 p.m. Rev. Joseph Boyd of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown will lead the group in prayer, followed by remarks from Mayor Jamael Tito Brown on the work to end HIV and overcome the stigma experienced by those touched by the epidemic.

Also speaking will be Laura McCulty Stepp, Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry director, Erin Bishop, Youngstown Health commissioner, and Tim Bortner, founder and president of Full Spectrum Community Outreach.

Shelley Turner of Equitas Health and Bortner will lead “A Walk of Remembrance” to Wean Park, where Full Spectrum Community Outreach will host a candlelight vigil to remember those who we have lost to the disease. Equitas Health also will provide warm drinks and snacks from Mocha House.

The Premier Bank Tower Clock, Market Street Bridge and the walkway from Wean Park to the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater will be lit in red that day in support of World AIDS Day.

World AIDS Day was established in 1988 to reflect on the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, and to honor the more than 38 million people worldwide living with HIV.

Go Deeper! Are You Serious Jesus?

As a child growing up around Lake Erie, there were many occasions to set out early in the morning on one of the many fishing boats. And as may be there were times when we sat out all morning with nothing to show for our efforts. Professionals we were not. And as we came to shore we were exhausted for our efforts. None of us would even think about going out again that day!

In our Gospel today, we find Jesus sitting in Simon Peter’s boat after the crowds have gone. Jesus knows that Peter is exhausted from his own efforts at fishing all night. He knows that he has caught nothing, but even still he turns to Peter and invites him to do something. “Go out into the deep water,” he says, “and there let down your nets.” It sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? But is it really? What is Jesus really asking here?

Jesus  is asking Simon Peter to trust him. To trust him so much that Peter would be willing to leave the shallow places in his life and in his work and begin to explore the depths. To go to the limits of what he thinks is possible, not only for him but for those all around him. “Go out into the deep water,” says Jesus, “trust me and see what happens.” [Living Liturgy 2019]

Peter becomes a model for discipleship. It happens in the moment when Peter responds to Jesus’ call and says, “but, if you say so.” Then off he goes—perhaps reluctantly—out into the deep water and there he finds abundance like he has never imagined.

Jesus doesn’t call Peter to be anything other than who he is. He doesn’t call Peter to be a rabbi like him, or even to a career in carpentry. Jesus calls Peter to live in the depths of his own life, not to try to live out Jesus’ life. Peter remains at heart a fisherman who has a heart for Jesus and for the humanity that Jesus serves.

For most of us, Jesus does not come in dramatic ways.  Rather, he comes in the ordinary events of the day. Our ordinary daily living can be a radical response to Jesus. The Good News is that God calls us as precisely we are and works through our humanity.

Adapted Renew International Year C

The Baptism of the Lord

Any parent of an adolescent knows that tension is an every day household word. The adolescent experiences tension within themselves as they grow toward adulthood and they begin to assert their independence! And as they grow toward adulthood, their behavior frustrates and angers parents. The tensions have a good side, though. For the adolescent, it means they are growing up. For the parents, it means they have a real opportunity to instill wholesome values and attitudes in their children.

In our Gospel today, there is a tension between John and Jesus. But this tension is between lesser and greater, sinner and one without sin.

Jesus comes to John for baptism. John judges the situation from his narrow perspective of how he felt he should be in relation to Jesus-he was the one needing baptism, not Jesus. By listening to Jesus and befriending the tension, John opened himself up to a broader vision of his relationship with Jesus.

How often do we experience tension between ourselves and what Jesus is asking us to do?

This gospel calls us to open ourselves and seek Christ’s coming into our lives.

The Ultimate Victory Over Darkness

The other day, I was planning four faith-sharing sessions for Advent. A  “job hazard” for the liturgist is always living in the future — always planning for the next liturgical season.

For others, living in the future means hoping to buy some new gadget, receive a promotion, achieve some accomplishment and on and on. At the same time, too much “future living” can be dangerous because we can miss all the goodness that is already at hand, right before our eyes.

As we near the end of this liturgical season of Ordinary Time, we always hear Gospels about the end times that call for us to look into the future. These Gospels paint a dark and dreary picture of calamity and doom and we often dismiss them.

The imagery in our Gospel this week is no exception. We are tempted to ask, “When, Lord?” When Jesus answers, “No one knows”, this is our call to pay attention to the present. Now is the time for the in-breaking of Christ. Now is what counts.

There is inevitable darkness in our lives. Jesus teaches us to find in this darkness his in-breaking presence — here and now. We can come to hope in Jesus’ abiding presence through very human ways.

Often, when we face difficulties, it is others who come to us with a word of comfort or insight, helping us to see more clearly, giving us strength to make changes in our lives through their presence and compassion.

We don’t find Jesus in the clouds but here on earth; we don’t await victory over darkness only at the end of time, but here and now. Jesus has given us all we need. We need to live like he did, with compassion and understanding, wisdom and care, love and hope. The future holds no fear for us.

Adapted Renew International Year B

Oh What A Gift!

How often do we spend a great amount of time thinking about what gift to give a loved one for Christmas, birthday, or anniversary! How often is it not true that the only gift a loved one really desires is the gift of ourselves expressed in the giving of time, attention, and presence! Jesus’ gift of himself as “the bread of life” is a gift of eternal Life, boundless care, and abiding Presence.

In this gospel Jesus teaches us the mystery of who he is as “the bread of life.” He is the One who gives himself to us as a pledge of eternal Life, who draws us to himself, who gives himself so that we might live. The mystery of his being the “bread of life” goes beyond all human expectation because the mystery reveals a divine giving of a divine Self.

To receive God’s gift of Life—Jesus as living bread—is to pledge ourselves also to bring that Life of God to others. We are not “come down from heaven”; we have our feet planted firmly on this good earth, giving our own “flesh for the life of the world” through the good we do every day for others

We believe and live the mystery when we give ourselves for the life of others, such as giving time to those who are lonely, giving food to those who are hungry, giving forgiveness to those who have hurt us, giving attention to those who are discouraged, giving patience to those who annoy us. Believing and living the mystery of “the bread of life” means that we, like Jesus, give, give, give . . .

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels available at the RENEW International.


Golden Jubilee – 50 Years an Ursuline – Sr. Darla

Our Sister Darla Vogelsang is celebrating 50 years as a nun in the Ursulines of Youngstsown.  Sr. Darla entered the Ursulines in September 1960 after having graduated from Ursuline High School.  She entered the novitiate in August 1961, which is the date for which we mark Jubilee.


Sister Darla has had a variety of ministries during her 50 years as an Ursuline:  as a teacher at St. Patrick, Youngstown and teacher and principal at Immaculate Conception elementary schools in Youngstown, as a parish minister at Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart in Youngstown, St. Paul, Canton, and St. Patrick, Hubbard, in service to the Ursulines of Youngstown as a member of the Leadership Team, on the Liturgy Committee and the Retreat Committee.


Most recently Sr. Darla was certified as a Catholic Chaplain.  It is a kind of “encore career.”  She now serves as chaplain for HMHP at St. Elizabeth, Boardman and St.Joseph, Warren.


Sister Darla says that “a 50th anniversary for anyone is a hallmark year.  It is also an opportunity in prayer, gratitude and celebration to look back at the people and the opportunities that have formed me in religious life.  And it’s a celebration of the Ursuline Sisters as well, an opportunity for the community to celebrate the gift of Religious Life in the church.”


Congratulations Sister Darla!  Ad multos annos.


You Are the Body of Christ

Change is very difficult for most of us. even small interruptions in our daily routines can throw us off track!  Sometimes the change affects everything about our daily living. The sisters living at our motherhouse know this to be true as they begin to reposition their living space, many are moving to temporary bedrooms throughout the house! But no change we humans can imagine or encounter equals the change proposed by Jesus in our Gospel today and implied by the celebration of this solemnity. Jesus invites us to a change that makes a difference in who we are.

Real change means transformation of self. It means no longer clinging to who we are or acting as we wish but letting go. The real challenge of this solemnity is that we are invited to change. And what is at stake is life everlasting.

The real change Jesus invites us to is in changing ourselves into who he is: living bread. We are called to be blessed, broken and given so others may become the Body of Christ. We who are baptized are the Body of Christ.

The challenge of this solemnity is to change – to be transformed  so that we can more readily embrace Jesus’ very identity. We are to be his life poured out in our everyday good living. We are to give our life unreservedly for others.  This is the way to eternal life.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

What is a home? When you think of the word or image or idea of a home, what comes to mind? Some say home is where the heart is. Others say home is where you hang your hat. Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Somehow, someway, home has a special place in the human heart. It seems as though we are all longing for a place to call home.

“To feel at home.” It’s a lovely phrase. It also expresses the deepest longings of the human heart. St. Augustine gave famous expression to this longing when he wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Somehow our restless hearts are always looking for a place to rest, a place to find true and abiding peace, a place to call home.

In our gospel for today, we hear words that speak directly to the longing of the human heart for a home. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be.”

Jesus assures them that even though their relationship is changing, it is not ending. Even though he will no longer be with them in the flesh, they will remain connected. Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, where they will remain united to him forever, “so that where I am, there you may be also.” Our true home is with God, in God’s heart. Our true home, ultimately, is not a place, but a relationship, a relationship in the very heart of God, made possible by Christ.

Even now we can experience a foretaste of this eternal home. When we do the works that Christ commands us to do, when we love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, then God’s love will dwell in us, then God’s love will make a home in us. When the brokenhearted are comforted, then God will make a home with us. When people lay down their lives for one another, then God will make a home with us. When all of God’s children are invited to God’s table to share in his body and blood, then God will make a home with us.

Are You the One?

We say that the season of Advent is a season of waiting. We try to persuade ourselves that if we just say that often enough, it will become true. Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of waiting.

But it’s not. Advent is a season of impatience. Sure, there are other times throughout the year when we experience impatience. But this season, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this season is the climax of impatience, when all our anxiety and hurry and worry are concentrated into four short weeks.

We are busy preparing, each of us in our individual way, for something special to happen to us. Is this the right gift, or shall we seek another? Is this the right way for me to serve the poor, or shall I seek another? Is this the moment with my family that I was waiting for, or was I waiting for something else?

The horrible possibility lies in the back of our mind that our expectation will indeed go unfulfilled – that what we are waiting for will never happen – Or like John the Baptist, waiting in prison. Yes, John the Baptist. John the Baptist is back today, speaking differently than he did last week. Today, he represents Advent in another way, in a way that is just as authentic as last week’s style. But he is tired. He is discouraged. He questions. John the Baptist is like us. He jumps to hope with power and aggressiveness. But, later, he has questions; he even has doubts.

He thought he knew Jesus. He was eager and energetic just last week. But, then, time went by. Things got harder for John. In today’s passage, Jesus has begun his ministry, and John has been cast into prison by Herod the Great. He begins to have his doubts. Is Jesus really the one he was looking for?

What happened to the vivid forecasts of John the Baptist? John sends several of his own people, his own disciples, to ask the poignant question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” John has devoted his entire ministry, even gives his very life, to preparing the way for Jesus Christ, but John does not even recognize Jesus when he comes.

This is the Advent question: “Are you the one I’ve been waiting for, or shall I wait for another?”

We will find a precious gift, the gift of Christ; we will find reconciliation and peace-if we have eyes to see beyond our expectations-if we look around us and notice new places where Jesus is working.

Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown Mark a Milestone and Plan For the Future

By Michele Ristich Gatts

Angela Merici was a courageous woman. She was also fortunate. She was educated. She had strong faith. But what Angela witnessed in her community saddened her so greatly that she was moved to action.

“She saw that there were needs – young women who were being sexually abused by soldiers,” reflects Sister Mary McCormick, a member of the leadership team for the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown. “She believed they could have a life of service, a safe life, rather than a life on the streets.”

And so, says Sister Mary, Angela employed perhaps her greatest gift. “She was somebody who networked. She gathered together people to help her from various backgrounds. She had businessmen of the day who were advisors to her, she had widows who had some affluence, plus, she had a close group of advisors in the church.”

The movement that Angela – St. Angela Merici of Italy – began in the 16th century not only improved the lives of people in her community, the ripple effects of her faith, strength, caring and good works continue to this day, changing and improving the world.

St. Angela was the founder of the Ursuline Order of nuns, who are celebrating 475 years of serving others.  “The struggles and the fears and the needs of people – St. Angela was able to be there and be with them in a pastoral, supportive way,” says Sister Norma Raupple, also a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown leadership team. “I see her as a great model for us in our time.”

The Sisters marked the anniversary of their order’s founding Nov. 25 with mass and a celebratory brunch at the Motherhouse. A video of Sister Mary’s reflection presented at the occasion can be viewed elsewhere on this site.

For 136 years, the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown have ministered in education, hospitals and health care facilities and in parish and outreach programs for the poor and disadvantaged.

Like their founder, the Ursuline Sisters build bridges between the more fortunate members of our community and those at risk of becoming lost.

“We can provide for that networking so people in need – women, immigrants, HIV positive people or families of those with autism – find the resources so they have a future that’s hopeful instead of a life on the streets,” explains Sister Mary, who’s also an associate professor of systematic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in the Diocese of Cleveland.

Some of the Sisters’ past and present good works locally are the founding of and continuing educational endeavors at Ursuline High School, Youngstown Community School and Millcreek Children’s Center, Youngstown, and The Ursuline Preschool and Kindergarten, Canfield. Some of the sisters teach other schools and in higher education. They founded Beatitude House, with locations in Youngstown and Warren, which aids women and children who are often fleeing abusive situations. Its educational arm, The Potter’s Wheel, Youngstown, helps disadvantaged women succeed in educational and employment opportunities.

The Sisters also offer HIV/AIDS and Prayer Shawl ministries, work in Social Work and as Chaplains in area healthcare, rehabilitation and nursing-home facilities, and offer Spiritual Direction. The Sisters’ Ursuline Center hosts numerous activities and classes; swimming and water-aerobics classes are offered at the Ursuline Pool. Both facilities adjoin the Motherhouse.

But as much as the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown minister to the needs of others, they are currently struggling with a need of their own. The Sisters are aging, with their membership declining to fewer than 60. If their good and vital works in our community are to continue, the Ursuline Sisters need new members to build on their heritage.

“I think the challenge is for young people or middle-aged people to just know us,” Sister Norma posits, “to come and volunteer with us in our huge variety of ministries, or to come and pray with us.”

One such opportunity is Wednesday evenings during Advent, where all are invited to Evening Prayer with the Community at 6:30 p.m. in the Motherhouse Chapel, 4250 Shields Rd.

The Ursuline Sisters also are utilizing social media. They blog. They’re on Facebook and post videos  online. Soon, video profiles on this Web site will tell the stories of many of the Sisters and how each is answering her call to serve God.

In addition, a service group for young women in high school and college is in the works.

Sister Norma, who ministers with immigrant mothers, says she was drawn to life as an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown because “they appeared to me to be happy and lead meaningful lives. I wanted to be part of something bigger and make a difference, put my life in with a group of other women.

“I wanted to build my life and continue to grow in my longing for God and my relationship with God. This way of life gives you the support that helps you to do that,” she continues.

Sister Mary agrees that her life has been enriched by being an Ursuline Sister. The vocation has helped her receive her education and introduced her to numerous people locally and nationally.

“Most of all, I’ve come to see so many things in my life as a great blessing, and I think that’s really rooted in prayer,” Sister Mary states. “That’s one of the blessings of community life — you get to see those blessings over and over and over again.”

Through outreach efforts, the Sisters hope women thinking about a religious vocation will consider life as an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown.

“If our lives have made a difference in our local church and local community,” Sister Mary says, “then we hope other people will join us to continue to make a difference.”

Sister Norma says the next generation of Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown could “build on history, build on our heritage, build on the vision of St. Angela, but then to create it and establish it for their time.”

The Ursuline Sisters Celebrate in Thanksgiving for 475 Years of Service

Here it is Thanksgiving Day and the 475th Anniversary of the Founding of the Ursuline Sisters.
We have much to be thankful for: our lives, our health, our family, our friends, our community. In a particular way this year we are grateful to God for this anniversary. There is no word that immediately comes to mind for a 475th anniversary. If you were to make one up from Latin roots, you might say we are celebrating our dodransquincentennial, a word that means 1/4 century less than 500 years. No matter what you call it, 475 is a long time.

People mark anniversaries for 2 reasons: to look back and to look ahead. What we remember is pretty well known to most of us…Sr Mary McCormick’s reflection for 475th Anniversary Nov 25 2010

Local news coverage

Who Is My Neighbor?

There is an isolated spot on a dangerous road in the Middle East known as “The Bloody Pass.” The road, at the time of this event, was more of a narrow path — a twisting, turning path with cliffs and caves on either side — lots of places for thugs to hide. This particular place, “The Bloody Pass,” got its name because of the violence that commonly occurred there.

Unfortunately, one poor man happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was attacked by bandits and left half-dead, tossed to the side of the road. He was bleeding and certainly would die without help. The bandits even took his clothes.

Recognize this story? It’s one of Jesus’ most well-known parables — the Good Samaritan. In fact, most of us have heard it so many times that we tend to gloss over it, thinking, Yeah, yeah, the Good Samaritan — help people in trouble and stuff… got it.

Notice the setup for the story of the Good Samaritan. What prompted Jesus to tell this story in the first place? Verse 25 says that an “expert in the law” wanted to “test” Jesus. In other words, this man, who knew the Old Testament and Jewish law backward and forward, inside and out, was trying to trip Jesus up.

When the man asked, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” How did Jesus respond? He said, basically, “Hey, you’re the expert. What does the Law say?” The “Law” Jesus referred to here is the “law of Moses,” or the first five books of the Old Testament.

The expert then recited what Jesus calls in Matthew 22 the greatest and the second greatest commandments: He answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In return, Jesus responded, in essence, “You got it. Do those two things — one, love God with your whole being and, two, love your neighbor as yourself — and you will live.”

“OK, Jesus, tell me this: Who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor? Who is it, exactly, that God calls us to love just as much as we love ourselves? And beyond that, once we know who our neighbor is, what do we do? How do we show that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves?

Jesus answers the question in a beautiful story of compassion in action.

Jesus ended His conversation with the lawyer with a powerful command: Go and do likewise. That command — go and do  likewise : the mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves . “Who is our neighbor?” The parable of the Good Samaritan gives us the answer. It’s simple – our neighbor is anyone in need that we are in a position to help – the unselfish attention to a sick child, the vigil kept  at the bedside of a dying relative, the outreach to the poor and oppressed in our world, making the stranger feel at home among us.

In these ways is Christ’s love made manifest.

How I Proclaim the Gospel

Each year the Ursuline Sisters commit themselves to ministry, the Youngstown Ursuline’s do this around the feast of St. Angela in January of each year.  The following is a reflection written about the importance of ministry as it is connected to Jesus’ teaching.

“Home,” the poet Robert Frost wrote “‘is where when you go there, they have to take you in.”  As Ursulines, we would say that our home is in the “heart of God.” When we live there, we are unconditionally embraced by love and acceptance.

However, God’s home is within each of us and among us. So there is ongoing communication between our home and God’s home; our heart and God’s heart.


I have always thought of ministry as a call from the heart of God, a call to share what I have received from God’s heart. For me, ministry is always, where God is asking me to create a “home,” a space where others can recognize and continue to be attracted to God.

However, I also firmly believe that ministry, is God’s work. God is asking for my heart to be so open, so transparent, like a clear pane of glass, that God’s light can shine through me and reflect God’s love.

So how then, do I, as a minister, proclaim this “Good News of God’s Love in Canfield Ohio in 2010 ?

I also believe that in the New Testament Jesus teaches us how to minister – we are asked to watch Jesus and imitate him:

1. Jesus was first and foremost a presence to others, so I need to be with “the other” as a presence, as a companion on the journey.

2. I find when others were with Jesus, they felt “at home.” So in ministry I need to be attentive to creating community so that others can also be “at home.”

3. Jesus nourished others, he taught the importance of being fed. So I am called to provide nourishment for others, in a vast variety of ways.

4. Any reading of the gospel uncovers the generosity of Jesus, always the abundance, whether in the story of the loaves and fishes, or the wedding feast at Cana. So I too am called to reflect this sense of abundance, always the more in ministry.

5. Finally, Jesus gave his life for the people; he gave of himself in Eucharist.  So I am called too, to empty myself, to give, and give some more, to go the extra mile and not count the cost.

Obviously, all of this is done in very human situations, in the simple here and now.

The poster that was created for the 400th anniversary of the Ursulines entitled “Angela: A Woman For All Times” hangs several places in the Motherhouse and is a reminder when I read the two lines of writing on it that it is always the wedding of contemplation and action – prayer and apostolic ministry that results in proclaiming the good news of God’s love in this contemporary church.

Another poet, this time an anonymous one, uses different images and metaphors to express how to proclaim the gospel. The poet writes:.

“The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself.They neither paint nor sculpt- their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They are the artists of being alive.”

We Ursulines know how to make others “feel at home” we are the “artists of being alive” and we have learned all this at the feet of the master.

Happy 15th Anniversary of the Cafe

The Ursuline Sisters Ministry to people with HIV/AIDS began in 1993 with a monthly support group.  The following year we started to distribute pantry bags on the 3rd Saturday of the month, and in 1995 we decided we needed to bring people together for a longer period of time to have an opportunity to talk and share and visit in a safe environment.  At that same time, one of our volunteers suggested that we feed people since not many of them were cooking on a regular basis.  That was the impetus for launching the monthly Café which soon became a monthly community.

In February of 1995 we held our first Café where the volunteers served dinner to our 25 guests!  In November of 1995 we provided each of our Café guests with a complete Thanksgiving dinner, and have done holiday basket food distribution for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter from then on.  The Café has served 180 meals since 1995; we have never missed a month and the number of guests continues to grow.  We now provide bags to an average of 65 households, and a sit-down meal to 130 men, women and children.  In the last fifteen years we have been blessed with wonderful volunteers who work hard to provide the food, cook it and get the auditorium and the bags ready, as well as many groups, churches and individuals who have gifted us with food and a variety of donations that we distribute each month.

Baptized by the Holy Spirit and Fire

In preparing adults to be received into the Catholic Church, we spend a great deal of time talking about the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Several years ago, one of our catechumens asked, “What, really, is the Holy Spirit’s fire?”

I answered, ” We have several expressions that might give us a hint: a coach works with a team to get them all fired up, your boss tries to light a fire under your staff to undertake a new project; someone intent on a mission has a fire in the belly.” “All these expressions,” I said, “point to commitment, intensity, energy, a drive toward a goal. Our baptism is meant to instill in us all this commitment, this energy as well.”

Our Gospel today tells us who we are and how we have been gifted. Our Baptism transforms us and confers on us a mission. By Baptism, we are The Body of Christ entrusted with cooperating with the Holy Spirit in making present God’s love by which the world is saved and renewed. We are missioned to a Gospel way of life.

Taking our Baptism seriously means that the ritual is just the beginning of a lifetime of living for God and for God’s people.

Rise, Shine, Your Light Has Come

As a child, my dad would tell the story of La Buffana. According to tradition,  Italy’s main celebration is on the 12th day after Christmas, the day Jesus Christ was revealed as the son of God.

According to my dad,  legend has it that the three wise men stopped at Stregga Bufanna’s house on their way to Bethlehem and she showed them such gracious hospitality they told her where they were going, and asked her to come along. She declined at first.

“She said ‘I’ll catch up with you’ and she never has caught up, she is still looking and she is stopping at every home to see if the baby Jesus is going to be at that home.”

According to some versions of the story, on her original journey La Buffana had gathered up some toys that belonged to deceased child and she was trying to take the toys to Bethlehem. Since she never got there — she was never able to catch up to the three wise men — she leaves toys for children in every home she visits.

This Sunday’s gospel is a wonderful story and it is easy to get caught up in the details of stars and kings, journeys and searches, newborn Baby and gifts. However, we need to move beyond these details to get to the challenge of the message that is there. The point of the Gospel is amazing- God chooses to manifest the mystery of Christ Jesus to all the nations.  And the challenge for us is to become the story.

The light of the glory of God is all around us. We need only to do two things: search for the Christ among us and be the revelation of His Presence. We are to seek the light within us. And we are to become the story. Like La Buffana,  we make present the Word that dwells among us and within us through the light of our faithful living of the original story.

Prayer Shawl Ministry Flourishes

A group of Valley women found a way to take a hobby and turn it into a way to help people that suffer from long term illnesses.

The Prayer Shawl Ministry first began in 1998 in Hartford, Conn. Today it has blossomed into hundreds of chapters in every corner of the world.

“The idea is, when each one of us starts at a home, or wherever we’re knitting, mentally we pray that whoever receives this garment will experience warmth and healing and comfort,” said Eileen Novotny, Ursuline Associate who is the organizer of the the local chapter here at the Motherhouse of the Ursuline Sisters.

Click here to view local coverage of the Prayer Shawl Ministry as seen on WYTV

Emmanuel-God With Us

Several years ago, I was leading the Children’s Liturgy of the Word on this feast of Christmas. As we were reflecting on this feast, one of the children asked me, “Sister, were the shepherds any different after they visited Jesus?”

For years, that question has stayed with me. It didn’t take much for the shepherds to abandon their sheep and follow up on a strange message of angels! They saw the infant for themselves and then “they returned glorifying and praising God.” To whom or to what did they return? And were they changed because of their encounter with Christ? Did they return to their sheep? To their former way of a shepherding life? Maybe to some shepherds who didn’t go with them?

In trying to answer that child’s question, I said they returned with a difference. Their encounter with this infant stirred in their hearts and changed their lives forever.

We,too, are changed by our encounters with this Savior born to us. We are changed when we recognize and respond to this divine encounter. We encounter the Savior in the sick and suffering to whom we extend a healing hand, in the child who needs moral guidance, in a parent who needs an encouraging word, in a lonesome youth who needs a friend. And their presence changes our lives.

Emmanuel not only came at a specific moment in history; Emmanuel is among us at all time. Even more, we are to make Emmanuel present.

Associate Brigid Kennedy was awarded the 1st Annual Ohio Department of Health Pioneer Award

Associate Brigid Kennedy was awarded the 1st Annual Ohio Department of Health Pioneer Award for her leadership, passion and dedication to HIV community planning.  According to ODH, Brigid demonstrates “a commitment to the ideals of community planning and the execution of those ideals in an innovative and forward thinking manner.”

Brigid was also honored recently as one of the Mahoning Valley Professional’s 40 Under 40 for her professional accomplishments and community service.  Brigid was also singled out as one of five MVPs the night of the event.  Here is her acceptance speech:

“I first want to thank my co-honorees here tonight as well as all of the past and future 40 under 40 honorees for making this Valley a better place to live.  Some of us consciously chose to return to our hometowns and others couldn’t imagine ever leaving, but whichever the path, our future is brighter because of you.

And I need to thank some important people, some of whom are with me tonight, who are the reason I am here before you.  One thing people who know me well can tell you is that my work and my family are the most important things in my life, and that often there’s not much distinction between the two: my family gets co-opted for the cause and those with whom I minister become my family; and then rinse and repeat.  My family of birth, my family of choice, my children, the Ursuline Sisters and Associates, our HIV/AIDS Ministry, Children’s Services, Catholic Charities, my parish, my friends, . . . they all overlap and interconnect to lift me up and keep me going, and I am grateful for all of them.

St. John of the Cross said “In the evening of life we will be judged by Love.” There are many labors of love going on in the lives of tonight’s honorees.  We are all under 40 (though speaking for myself, some of us barely,), so the evening of life is hopefully at some distance, but we can say that we are getting it done now.  And I am proud to be counted among you.  Thank you.”

What should we do?

Being cooped up in the house as a child was more challenging to my mother than to my brother, sister and me. We kept chanting, “What should we do?” and my mother had to stop her work and be an activities director! Sometimes, my dad would pull a tube out of our TV and we cried, “What should we do?”  He forced us to find something to do inside that was as interesting and as wide open as the outdoors. “What should we do?” has a set of expectations – if what we do is to be satisfying, it must fulfill our expectations and involve more than what we are doing right now.

In our Gospel today, the same question is asked.  And John’s answer doesn’t focus on accomplishments, rather, on relationships. The good news preached by John  is that our relationship with others makes visible our relationship with Jesus.

Just like John, our lives are about others. John turns the question into “How shall we be?” We are called to be the presence of Christ in the world.  We are called to be just and loving toward each other.  Or still yet, the question is replaced by “Who shall we be?” We are called to be Christ for each other.

True Glory

How often have I eagerly agreed to do something only to want to back off when I get the details and begin to realize the demands. Why do I say yes so easily? Is it for the glory?

This Sunday’s Gospel begins with the apostles seeking glory. They want a ticker-tape parade; Jesus promises suffering and death as the road to true glory. How different Jesus’ glory is! For Jesus, true glory demands dying to self. Yet this true glory is stronger and more full of life than human glory.

What does this true glory look like for us?  Daily we are called to die to self- to forgive when we have been hurt, to reach out to others in need even when it draws us out of our comfort zone, to bite our tongue and  hold back a cutting remark, to speak the truth even when we know it will not be welcomed. In these acts we experience new life-the strengthening of our relationships with Jesus and one another; the peace we feel when we don’t give in to hurting another, the sense of integrity when speaking the truth.

These are the demands that identity with Christ entails. Are we ready to follow?

“This is My Body”

“It’s all in the details” was my father’s mantra. He was methodical in his preparations. From him we learned that nothing significant in our lives happens without preparation. We spend years in school before we begin a profession. We spend months preparing for a wedding; years preparing for profession of vows in a religious congregation. We spend hours pouring over specs as we build a house. Big events take careful preparation. In our gospel today [Mark 14:12-16, 22-26], Jesus sends two disciples ahead to make preparations for a supper. Such careful preparation means something important is about to happen.  And so it does, Jesus gives himself, body and blood, the Eucharist, to us as food. Truly the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the mystery we celebrate this Sunday.

This feast offers us an opportunity to reflect on the times when we are called to be what we receive-when we become the Body and Blood of Christ for each other. By our participation in the Eucharist, we accept the new relationship of divine self gift and personal presence. Even more, we become that presence for the world, called to that same self-giving.