God loves us back to life | Easter Homily by Fr. Michael Newman, OSFS

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The empty tomb. Artist unknown.

Acts 20:34a, 37-43; John 20:1-9

Good morning and Happy Easter! We celebrate today the Resurrection – the empty tomb that is sitting behind here. Jesus alive and present in our life or, as one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury says:

“Christ is not dead/nor does God sleep/while waking Man/God does striding in the Deep./To birth ourselves anew/And love rebirth/From fear of straying long/ on outworn Earth./One harvest in, we broadcast seed for further reaping./Thus ending Death/and Night/and Time’s demise/And senseless weeping.”1

In other words, “resurrection” as we celebrate it today in Easter is about God doing something new. We see this in our Gospel today when the disciples and Mary Magdalene get to this empty tomb and have no idea what’s going on. We see it in the first reading when St. Peter professes his faith in the resurrected Christ and how Jesus was resurrected by the Father’s love. Because, at it’s heart that’s what resurrection is. It’s about God loving us back to life. And this didn’t just happen once 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. It continues to happen today.

Earlier this week, when trying to write this homily, I took a break and looked at my Facebook newsfeed. I saw this story by a friend of mine who lives with her husband and 5 year-old daughter in St. Paul, MN.

Kiddo had an out-of-the-blue-meltdown/ “tantrum” when I was tucking her in, screaming me out of her room. It was bizarre. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t take it personally, I just went downstairs to read my book. 15 minutes later she comes down,

“Hey mom, can we talk?”
“Sure.”
Her words:
“What happened there? You didn’t do anything wrong, and I yelled at you, and I’m sorry. Can we try again?”

“Sure.”
Then she recounted each step of our bedtime ritual, (I think she was looking for her trigger…It’s what we’ve been trying to do after our fights, but she’s never LEAD the reflection-conversation.)
Upshot:
When we got back to the bed to tuck in, she said, “next time I get that mad and use any words like, “stupid” please tell me to, “stop” in your serious voice. And tickle my feet.”
“I love you. Please forgive me for tonight.”

This is resurrection: God doing something new – allowing the daughter to take the lead in this mother-daughter relationship, which then lead to a resolution, to a strengthened relationship, and to a deeper bond of love. In this moment, God loved both of them back to life.

“God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves…”2

Now “new” isn’t always perfect. Like the Easter story, “new” itself is often messy – there’s an open tomb, grave linens thrown on the floor, people not knowing what is going on. It’s not as serene as some stain- glassed windows would like you to think. For us, new looks like the person who is six days sober and still trying to stay on the wagon. “New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time we manage to admit we were wrong and every time we manage not to admit that we were right. New looks like every fresh act of forgiveness and of letting go of all those things we didn’t think we could live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming – never even hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along. This is Resurrection – newness in our messiness because God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves”2 – graves right now of sorrow, doubt, fear, anger, and pain. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over until we can say with St. Peter, Mary Magdalene, and my friends in St. Paul, “I have seen the Lord.”

Amen.
May God be praised.

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Fr. Michael Newman OSFS

Fr. Michael Newman OSFS

Rev. Michael E. Newman is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Director of the Oblate Novices. This homily was delivered at St. Mary of the Good Counsel Church in Adrian, MI. The reference to the Facebook conversation is between Vis Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde and her daughter. We reprint this with permission.

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1 Ray Bradbury, “Christus Apollo”
2 Examples adapted from Nadia Boltz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 174.

 

An Open Letter to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales’ Novices

Oblates and Sr. Karen.  Top, L-R: Joe, Craig, Jordan, Chris, Jim; Seated, L-R: Joe, S. Karen, Fr. Mike

Oblates and Sr. Karen at St. Jane House
Top, L-R: Joe, Craig, Jordan, Chris, Jim; Seated, L-R: Joe, S. Karen, Fr. Mike

Dear Novices of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales,*

We love you.

On behalf of the Visitation Community, I extend gratitude for your visit and spirited presence among us for the week celebrating our 25th Anniversary in north Minneapolis. We are so lucky that Fr. Mike Newman, OSFS, was able to come for a week and tote all of you along! What a director you have for your novitiate! St. Jane House experienced a new level of Salesian presence with all of you in residence.

I try to imagine our founders, St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales, moving about in the week of your visit; their smiles, laughter, sighs, and joy with our time together. Can you see this?

You are welcome back anytime. In the meantime, you remain in our prayers as you make your way through your novitiate year. We hold Fr. Mike, especially, in his role as Novice Master. Blessings as you pursue the vocation to “Be who we are and be that well!” as St. Francis de Sales counseled.

LIVE+JESUS!

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

 

*For more on the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, visit their website.
**To see more photos of the Oblates’ visit to the Twin Cities, visit our Flickr Album, “Oblates Among Us”.

 

Celebrating our 25th Anniversary in the Heart of north Minneapolis

Today, the Feast of Guardian Angels, we mark our 25th year as a monastic community in the heart of north Minneapolis. The following history and images come from our archives, and are accompanied by pictures snapped at today’s Foundation Day mass.

25th Anniversary Mass

Foundation Day Mass 2014: A panoramic shot of our Salesian community gathered at Girard House.

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From the archives: Founding Sisters "bond" with community members.

1989: Founding Sisters “bond” with local members of the police force.

On September 29, 1989, Sisters Mary Margaret, Karen and Mary Virginia said tearful good byes to their beloved St. Louis Visitation to come to establish, with Sr. Mary Frances, the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

“Directed by the Holy Spirit through the ten years of discernment that preceded this foundation, we came with no other plan than to be faithful to our monastic way of life, which is centered on prayer and community, and to welcome and listen to those who came to our door. (Jesus promised us He would be there!) By faithfully listening to our neighbors, our agenda began to gradually unfold.”
– S. Mary Frances reflects on the founding of the monastery in our fall 2013 newsletter

Fr. Mike Newman, OSFS, presides at our Foundation Day mass with guests from our Visitation and Salesian Communities across the United States.

Fr. Mike Newman, OSFS, presides at our Foundation Day mass with guests from our Visitation and Salesian Communities across the United States.

On October 2, 1989Feast of the Guardian Angels,  Archbishop John R. Roach commissioned the Sisters to bring the gentle, non-violent charism of their founders to this inner city community. In his words, “I am happy I am sending the angels with you!.”

 

Click here to read more about the “Quarter-Century Marking”  of our northside ministry of prayer and presence: Fall 2013 Newsletter

 

Click here to see more photos from today’s Foundation Day Mass. 

Freedom and Liberty Meditation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

It is 1962 and I am on Robben’s Island in a 10’x7′ cell. It’s the thirteenth century A.D. and I’m on a battle field south of Scotland wielding a sharp weapon. It’s 1605, and I am seated at a desk in Savoy overlooking a body of water, pen in hand. It’s 1776, and I’m convened with other delegates for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

It’s been a busy morning in my imagination and prayer this Fourth of July as I contemplate notions of freedom and liberty. I’ve been reading all about the life of former South African president  Nelson Mandela; gone to images of Scotland’s legendary freedom-fighter William Wallace, aka “Braveheart”; mulled over  Salesian Scholars’ writing on the letters of Visitation co-founder, St. Francis de Sales; and imagined the scene of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Busy morning I tell you.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ― Nelson Mandela

In each case, my research and reading* informs my prayer and inspires my questions: What does it mean to be truly “free”? With freedom, what are my responsibilities? How do faith and liberty inform one another and move me to act or live in a certain way as a citizen and simultaneous religious person?

These clearly are not new questions for any person to contemplate. (Thank you Founding Fathers.)

What is new, however, is the time in which we mull over notions of liberty and spirit.  As former President Mandela lies in a hospital bed in Pretoria, South Africa, recovering — or nearing his end — his life’s journey speaks volumes to me.

Imprisoned for his political activity to fight to end apartheid, Mandela’s witness as a leader and revolutionary are simultaneously prophetic. His radical actions, after a thirty year imprisonment, to bring about the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, were rooted in a faith tradition that acknowledged both hurting sides of the apartheid rule. Mandela knew that for a nation to move forward together, freely, they would need to grieve together and forgive the wrong doing enacted by an oppressive regime, that kept either side imprisoned.

Reflecting on his life,  in juxtaposition with this day’s United States national holiday, I am moved considering the healing and forgiveness any nation requires as it strives to grow and be a place of freedom and equality for all.

Where do you seek sage counsel?

Where do you seek sage counsel?

This past week the United States’ Supreme Court made a decision that impacts women and men across this nation who have felt called to marry another person of the same gender. In Congress this past seven days, elected officials have been considering the way immigrants are treated when they have crossed the border and desired to stay.

So much is at hand in our current circumstances that begs attention, reflection and prayer. This is why I turn to our history, to freedom fighters from here and abroad, and seek sage counsel in the spiritual leaders at the helm of the Visitation Order.

Where do you go for guidance? What do your contemplative questions give rise to in your own prayer and actions? How are you celebrating your faith and freedoms this day?

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Reading Resources:
FREEDOM TO LOVE: A Close Reading of St. Francis de Sales Letter 14 October 1604 to Jane de Chantal by Alexander  T. Pocetto, OSFS, Ph.D.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Readying our Hearts for Lent: Words from St. Francis de Sales

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For [St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales] the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart.” Introduction to the Letters of Spiritual Direction p. 54

On Wednesday, February 22, 2012, we begin our Lenten journey. As individuals, and as a large Catholic faith community, we lean into this season, embracing Christ’s journey to the desert as our own. We empty ourselves and tune into our poverty, our longing, our desire, our suffering, and become more vulnerable as we examine our very humanity and our need for God.

Well, in theory that’s what we all do, right?

In my own pre-Mardi-Gras preparation for this Lenten journey, I turned to our Visitation co-founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, for a little inspiration and guidance. Opening their “Letters of Spiritual Direction”, (translated by Péronne Marie Thibert, VHM, with an introduction by Wendy Wright and Joseph S. Powers, OSFS; and preface by Fr. Henri Nouwen),  I landed upon some Salesian material in the Introduction to the book that really resonated with me and struck me as particularly “lenten.”   Theme V of Francis and Jane’s letters, as the authors point out,  focuses on the heart-centered nature of their spirituality. The chapter begins with these words by St. Francis:

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

“Since the heart is the source of all of our actions, as the heart is, so are they.” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life III, 23)

The authors go on to define “classic desert spirituality” here and the “extent to which its focus is on the exterior dimensions of spirituality (as opposed to Francis’ attention to the interior).  As indicators of the transformation of the person,  one fleeing society has exterior markers; these include entering a monastery, donning the habit, taking a new name, and being celibate.  Salesian spirituality, on the other hand is first and foremost distinguished as rooted in the interior life, the heart.* (And, I might note, something the laity might aspire to as well as the religious.)

Authors Dr. Wendy Wright and Joseph Powers, OSFS, explain:

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For Madame de Chantal and the Monseigneur of Geneva the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart. It is only after the slow and dramatic change of person has been engraved in the center of one’s being that the issue of that metamorphosis can be seen.  To impress this idea on his readers, Francis relied upon the metaphor of the almond tree (an image shaped by the particular botanic knowledge of his day.)”

To quote Francis de Sales then:

“Men engaged in horticulture tell us that if a word is written on a sound almond seed and it is placed again its shell, carefully wrapped up and planted, whatever fruit the tree bears will have that same writtten word stamped on it. For myself…I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with external things, such as bearings, dress or hair. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin inside. ‘Be converted to me with your whole heart,’ God said. ‘My child, give me your heart.’  Since the heart is the source of actions, as the heart is, so are they…

For this reason…..I have wished above all else to engrave and inscribe on your heart this holy, sacred maxim, LIVE JESUS! I am sure that your life, which comes from the heart just as the almond tree comes from its seed, will after that produce all its actions — which are its fruits — inscribed and engraved with this sacred word of salvation.”

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

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It is my hope that this reflection inspires your journey into Lent, tending to your interiors, to your hearts; may a desert of contemplation and sincerity be cultivated in the midst of your present surroundings. May you know and trust the Divine source of Love that exists in your heart and guides you daily.

Happy Lenten Journey! LIVE JESUS!

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*I invite you all to turn to page 54 of this text and simply read the first page of this section of the book — as my attempts to summarize will undoubtedly do injustice to our authors’ work. (Amazon will let you read this online for free by clicking here.)