More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Advent Evening of Prayer

Sr. Mary Ellen Higgins, IHM
December 02, 2004

Advent Evening of Prayer

Advent is such a beautiful season of hope and expectation. It is perhaps, hope and a feeling of something more to come that draws us here tonight. Could it be that our hearts yearn for a more hope filled world, a place of peace, and a desire that in this advent season we will hear the voice of God and experience the heart of God ever more deeply?

This evening our readings carry us back some 2000 years. They speak to us of a humble, simple, young woman named Mary, a woman of heart, who lived in Nazareth. She had questions, fears and uncertainties in her heart as she encountered God's desires and invitations for her to Mother the long awaited Savior of the World. She chose to trust and hope in her God agreeing to accept that God's Spirit would overshadow her. Allowing her to bear within herself the One who would bring Good News to the poor.

Along the path of our own lives there have been and will always be many crossroads, invitations and opportunities for change. Many of these moments may be filled with questions, fears, and uncertainties. Much like Mary, we too struggle with a multitude of choices and decisions along our way. But when we face these difficult crossroads we simply need to tap into the fortitude we have already developed through our own intimate and many times simple experiences of God throughout the course of our lives.

In his wonderful book, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry", Jack Kornfield writes about the ever-changing journey of the human heart and I quote...

"The unfolding of the human heart is artful and mysterious. We might wish the path were orderly and predictable, but the ways of the heart are a landscape discoverable only in the journey. We cannot capture freedom and place it in time. For the mature spirit, freedom is the journey itself. It is like a labyrinth, a circle, a flower's petal-by-petal opening, or a deepening spiral, a dance around the still point, the center of all things...In the course of this great spiral, we return to where we started again and again, but each time with a fuller, more open heart."

Perhaps, above all else, this is what the journey of life is about- the unfolding of the human heart and a desire for hope.

Tonight we remember the Women Martyrs of El Salvador. It is 24 years today since the murders of Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan. These women each chose very consciously their own paths of life with great heart.

Ita Ford had been many years in Chile and discerned a call to go to be with the people of El Salvador. Four months before she died, Ita wrote a letter to her niece, Jennifer Sullivan, on the occasion of her 16th birthday. Ita's letter reminds us of the opportunities and challenges along life's path, and the importance of choosing our path with heart.

Ita writes:

Dear Jennifer,

"First of all, I love you and care about you and how you are. I'm sure you know that. And that holds if you're an angel or a goof-off, a genius or a jerk. A lot of that is up to you and what you decide to do with your life.

What I want to say, some of it isn't too jolly birthday talk, but it's real. Yesterday I stood looking down at a sixteen-year-old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I know a lot of kids—even younger who are dead.

This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment are getting snuffed out here now. The reasons why so many people are being killed are quite complicated, yet there are some clear, simple strands. One is that many people have a meaning to live, to sacrifice, struggle and even die. And whether their life spans sixteen years, sixty or ninety, for them their life has had a purpose. In many ways, they are fortunate people.

Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is and at whatever age. What I am saying is that I hope you can come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you, something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead.

I can't tell you what it might be. That is for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking and support you in the search.

Maybe this sounds weird and off the wall, and maybe no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I'm seeing and living things that others around you aren't. I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of sermon because I don't mean it that way. Rather, it's something that you learn here and I want to share it with you. In fact, it's my birthday present to you. If it doesn't make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it some time from now. Maybe it will be clearer. Or ask me about it, OK? (July 1980)

Four months after this letter was written, Maura Clark and Ita Ford were returning from Managua, Nicaragua after five days at their Mission Region meeting at the Diriamba Retreat House.

Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel went to the International airport in Salvador to pick up their friends. Shortly after 7 pm on the 2nd of Dec. 1980 members of the National Guard of El Salvador arrested four churchwomen as they were leaving the airport. Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan were taken to an isolated spot where they were shot dead at close range.

The story of what leads people to give their lives for others is the essence of the Gospel message. The witness of these women are repositories of hope, pointing the way to how this world, this suffering and this martyrdom in El Salvador will be transformed into redemption in our world. They show us the meaning of incarnation by having incarnated their faith, their hope, in that moment, that reality in El Salvador. By doing so, they also show us what it means to incarnate our faith and hope at this time in our world.

May Ita Ford's wish for her niece be our wish for ourselves, and each other as we enter into this Advent time and this New Year. How would we change if we asked ourselves each day: what energized me, what enthused me, and what helped me move forward towards the circle of love, life and peace within this day? These are wonderful questions to help us be open to the unfolding of our human hearts along our individual life paths.

May our human hearts and our evolving hopes direct our dreams and actions so that our families, our communities and our world may be places of deeper love, brighter light and pervading peace now and always.