More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


IHM Founders' Day

Sr. Kathleen Burns, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
November 09, 2008

Founders’ Day Evening of Prayer

Today, the Church celebrates the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.  The scripture readings today call us to contemplate the foundation upon which our faith is based.

In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us:

Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me,
like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,
and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it,
for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there,
namely, Jesus Christ.

Ezekiel speaks of the water flowing from the foundation of the temple:

Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live…

He goes on to describe the great abundance of life made possible by that flowing water.

Today, it is fitting that we celebrate and contemplate our IHM foundations.  We, members of the Congregation, friends, family, colleagues, associates … all members of the IHM Family, are the building that has been laid upon the foundation set in place by Theresa Maxis Duchemin and Louis Florent Gillet.

In our prayer this afternoon, we consider five “building blocks” we have received as our heritage from Theresa: a spirit of service, identification with those striving to fulfill their human aspirations, an Alphonsian devotion to the redeeming mission of Jesus, courage, and a message of love and blessing to her “beloved sisters.” 

When I think about these themes, my initial tendency is to think along the lines of a character from a film that I used to show confirmation classes.  In this film, a young adolescent boy is remembering the bishop’s sermon from his confirmation ceremony.  The bishop told them to  “feed the hungry, heal the sick, end divisions, make peace.”  The boy is watching television and a news report comes on about starving conditions in Africa. He begins to daydream and he imagines a refugee camp, teeming with starving people in the direst of straits. He sees himself arriving dramatically in a truck filled with food. “I’m here!  Look!  I’ve brought you food!  I’ve saved you!  You will not starve! Come and eat!” … At this point, his reverie is interrupted by his little brother who comes up and says, “I’m hungry, would you fix me a sandwich?” “No, get it yourself!”

In another scene, the boy is watching a western.  The cowboys and Indians are fighting each other fiercely. The young man imagines himself in the scene, arriving on a white horse with the cavalry, bugles blaring:  “Stop! Stop! Don’t fight!  I have come to bring you peace!”… At this point, the little brother comes in with his clumsily made sandwich and changes the channel on the TV.  “Hey!  I was watching that!”  Bop!

You see the point.  It is too easy to think about the grand gestures, the events that inspire, the moments acknowledged by history.  But the danger in that, is that I might not let them touch me where it really matters.

When I catch myself doing this, I try to turn my thoughts to how I can live the ideals under consideration in my day-to-day life … in the nitty-gritty.  To go back to the water from the temple metaphor … water gives life because it seeps into the smallest places, between the grains of sand to bring life to all it touches.

So what I want to do is to think about how I can live these themes from our heritage in the small places in my life, for example, in my daily, messy interactions with the people with whom I live and work every day.  I firmly believe that if I can do this, then if the moment ever comes for the “grand gesture,” I’ll be ready to respond to if like Theresa.  I believe that this has to be how Theresa herself lived her life.  She lived these themes in the small, seemingly unimportant places in her life, otherwise she would not have been prepared for the big, important moments.

So, what does it mean for me to have “a spirit of active and self-confident, yet self-forgetting service”?  For me, and I do want to emphasize that I am speaking to myself here, it is in looking for opportunities to serve in little ways:  to empty the dishwasher, to refill the ice cube tray, to do any one of the many small tasks that serve the group I live or work with that are easy for me to overlook.  Going a step higher: to volunteer to serve on committees, to chair meetings, to be willing to take on a service positions in my local community.

What does it mean to have a “commitment to the poor and an identification with those who strive against great odds to fulfill their human aspirations”?  It means being aware of how my personal decisions affect the poor – knowing that, in this interdependent world, my “conspicuous consumption” and my “carbon footprint” affect everyone, and the poor are particularly affected.  

How do I honor the human aspirations of the people around me?  I need to let people know that I appreciate them, to thank them for ordinary favors (thanks for doing the shopping this week).  I need to tell them they’ve done a good job (I really like the way you decorated the table).  I need to support the people who’ve taken on positions that support me:  who chair the meetings, serve on the committees, serve as contact person, treasurer, etc.

What does it mean to have “a devotion to the redeeming mission of Jesus as expressed in the Alphonsian tradition”?  I need to be sure that the people I come in contact with leave me feeling redeemed.  How do I treat the wait staff in restaurants, the cashiers in stores and so on?  Do I ignore them, treat them like furniture, or worse, take out my upsets and bad moods on them? Or do I acknowledge their humanity?  Do I look at their name tags and call them by name?  Do I say “Thank you” and “Have a nice day”?  

What about the people I rub shoulders with every day – the people I live with, the people I work with? Do I treat them as redeemed? How about when someone wants to talk to me and I want to watch my program? When someone does something that irritates me?  Sometimes it is hard to see the people closest to me as being “redeemed.”

What does it mean to be “an example of courage”?  How do I meet the challenges that inevitably come to me in my life?  We are all familiar with the Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  It seems to me that either course, changing what I can or accepting what I cannot change, can take courage.  And that two people facing what seems to be the same challenge might courageously choose differently.  

I learned long ago that ignoring my challenges, hoping they would go away, doesn’t work … though sometimes I need to relearn this, case by case.  And even when I choose to accept or to work to change something, the choosing is not at an end, I need to choose again and again for each of the component parts of making the original choice.

For example, when faced with a health problem, I usually have little choice but to accept it.  But then I have many choices to make in the acceptance of that fact.  Do I have the courage to make the lifestyle changes that might make my condition better?  Do I have the courage to ask for help if I need it?  

What does it mean to receive Theresa’s blessing?  It is truly a blessing to be an heir of Theresa by membership or association with the IHM Congregation.  When we embrace Theresa and her spiritual heritage, expressed in this age by the IHM Core Values:  rootedness in God, community, justice, respect for diversity, wholeness; then all that we do together, our mission, is multiplied.  What we are together is much more than the sum of the individual parts.

Now I know these ideas are not particularly profound, nor have I plumbed the depths of these five themes.  I didn’t intend to do that – just to share a few ideas.  My hope is that this little reflection will be for each of you a springboard for your own pondering of how to live out the heritage of Theresa in the ordinary every-day of your lives.  

My prayer is that we will let the heritage we receive from Theresa be that water flowing from the foundation that seeps into every part of us, touches every part of our everyday lives, gives us life and, in turn, we become life-givers to everyone we meet.

So let us like Jesus in today’s gospel burn with a zeal for God’s house.  In the spirit of Theresa, let us go out, feed the hungry, heal the sick, end divisions, make peace.  Let’s follow Theresa’s model of service, her identification with the poor and those striving to fulfill their human aspirations, her devotion to the redeeming mission of Jesus, and her courage, and let us treasure the blessing we have received from Theresa. Let us do it in our ordinary, day-to-day lives -- then we will be true sons and daughters of Theresa Maxis Duchemin.

Thank you.