More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Evening Prayer, Founders' Day, 2006

Sr. Catherine Luxner, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
November 08, 2006

Celebrating our Partnership in Mission

Reading: Psalm Nine for the IHM Congregation
adapted by Sister Michel Keenan, IHM


“A vine you transplanted, O Lord . . .
You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land.”

May you continue to bless us, Lord;
Let us be rooted deeply in Your ways.
Give increase to our holiness;
Give increase to our courage
in breaking new ground for You!

And for Your glory, Lord
May our strength and numbers
Be equal to Your hopes for us.

“Once again, O Lord of hosts,
look down from heaven and see;
Take care of this vine,
and protect what Your right hand has planted.”
Break our ground again
Plant and water
Stir us up
Nourish our growth within and without
and harvest us for Your glory!

 Song Response:  This is Our Story



When Mary Jo and I talked about possible readings for this evening’s prayer, the first thing that came to my mind was Sr. Michel’s Psalm, because it speaks so beautifully of God’s action in our past and for our future.  Then, last week, when Mary Jo sent me the copy of the prayer that included the refrain “This is our story…. This is our song,” I had a kind of aha! moment, because the title of this hymn is Blessed Assurance.  And hasn’t the Congregation been blessed from the very beginning with the assurance of God’s love and care for us?   Undaunting confidence in Divine Providence was certainly the song of Theresa Maxis, Louis Gillet, and St. Alphonsus.  From Theresa’s earliest days with Mother Lange and the Oblate Sisters of Providence to Michigan, to Susquehanna County, to Scranton and the many places where IHM Sisters have served, God’s unconditional, constant, and redeeming love has been the foundation of our mission and ministries.

Theresa, Louis, and their little band in Monroe were captivated by a desire to take Catholic education to the people of frontier Michigan.  This was not a plan just of their own making.  If so, judging from all the hardships, they were crazy!   But, to borrow from Anthony Gittens, our founders didn’t have a mission, but rather, God’s mission had them.  The mission of God also had St. Alphonsus, and fueled his passion to tell the poorest and most abandoned how much God loved them.  Likewise, it was God’s mission that impelled the Sisters who planted and nurtured the seeds of all our sponsored works, and the hundreds of other expressions of our charism over the years.  

161 years ago Theresa and Louis could not have even begun to realize how the seeds of their little congregation would “take root and fill the land”—literally, and especially, spiritually.  And today, as we continue their vision in our own little piece of history, we can’t imagine what God’s providence will unfold over the next 161 years.

We sometimes hear ourselves--and others—lamenting, “If only there were more Sisters!”  And while we happily remember the days of a Sister in every classroom, and celebrate the accomplishments of those great women who built Catholic education, healthcare, and social service systems, I can’t help but believe that now is not a time for lamenting, but rather, a time for great hope. 

One of the teachings of Vatican II that, I’m sure, makes St. Alphonsus smile is that everyone is called to holiness, and that our call to discipleship comes first and foremost from baptism.   How blessed we are to have so many associates, friends, co-workers, and family members who take that baptismal call seriously and who are so “at home” with our IHM spirituality and core values.  For me, this is “blessed assurance” that our charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit that speaks a message of hope to the people of God.

My ministry at Marywood University gives me many opportunities to talk with faculty, students, and staff.  Many of these conversations are around what I call the “used-to-be-Catholic” theme.  For example I hear things like: “I think my grandparents were Catholic!” or “I was Catholic when I was a kid, but I just never understood what they were doing in our church on Sunday. So I when I became an adult, I stopped going.”

These are sad, but true stories, and I daresay we each have our own lists of young and not-so-young adults who are struggling to find their place in the church, who are hungry for spirituality in their lives, and who are searching for faith communities that will help them connect the gospel to the very complex world in which they live.

On the brighter side, let me share a few comments from the Marywood community that convince me that God is breaking our ground again; planting and watering and giving growth. 

In a small group conversation about the mission of the University, one person shared:  “I go to my parish church; but there’s not much there for me to connect with.  But I do resonate with the “flavor” of Catholicism that I find here at Marywood.”  Another time, after a conversation about the life and spirituality of St. Alphonsus, someone said “Wow!  This is great stuff!  It’s so connected to all the things I love and care about.  I wish I had known this guy years ago!”

I’d venture to say that the “flavor”--or spirit-- these people are experiencing is our legacy from Alphonsus, Theresa, Louis, and the generations of sisters gone before us. What if these comments are indicative of how God is breaking our ground again and stirring us up?  What if these are the ways God is nourishing our growth within and without, and unleashing and setting free our charism?  At this time in the history of our institutional church, I do not have any doubt that this is our moment to be profoundly rooted in God and to re-commit ourselves to being “prophetic signs of hope in our world.”

While Founders’ Day naturally invites us to look back, the Holy Spirit never allows us to dwell in nostalgia. The “blessed assurance” of which we sing is that God has promised to be with us always. We might have written the mission statement, but we didn’t create the mission.  That belongs to God, and because it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it’s living, it’s dynamic, and it’s so very much bigger than we are.  It’s ours to enter into and to live passionately, but it’s not ours to copyright, define rigidly, or confine in any way.

Yes, the number of professed sisters isn’t as large as it used to be, but diminishing numbers will not diminish the power of the Holy Spirit.   In preparing to establish the first PA mission in 1858 Theresa Maxis said:  “It was an easy matter to select members for the new mission, as the community now numbered twenty.”  This should be for us “blessed assurance” that mission is never about standing still and holding on tight, but rather about heeding the call of the Gospel, discerning the signs of the times, responding to needs, …and, when necessary, letting go.

Our IHM charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit within and for the whole people of God.  It’s not something that we clutch for ourselves.  Because it’s of God, it’s destined to grow beyond us, to fill the land with the blessed assurance that God loves us more than we can ever dream or imagine.  In the words of St. Alphonsus, it means we are called to let the whole world know that God is “crazy with too much love for us.” 

This is our story………this is our song!