Friday, September 14, 2018

Dancing with God

I love the slow dance
When you hold me close

Ah, the easy airy 
Wonderful waltz

I love the flirty tango
It makes me laugh

The lively lindy 
Gets me all riled up

But to dance with abandon
Wild and free!
Is when I hear 
"Come dance with me"

After I wrote this poem, I heard the story about a 103 year old nun.  She had a beautiful tree outside her window that she called her "Jesus tree".  It was assumed it was aptly named because the branches were raised in prayer, but she was asked anyway why she called it her "Jesus tree?"   She replied, it is like the open arms of Jesus inviting me to dance!  

Let us dance!

Marilyn McCarthy has enjoyed being a member of the Xavier community for over 27 years.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Kathleen Friel Has Something To Say Sunday August 12th 2018

Sunday’s readings sound immensely comforting, don’t they?  Elijah is weary from his journey into the desert, and wants to give up.  God assured Elijah of God’s steadfast love by twice urging Elijah to drink and eat.  Suddenly, Elijah was able to walk for 40 days!  The Psalm encourages us to enjoy the goodness of God.  In the Gospel, Jesus assures us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

All of this sounds wonderful, right?  When we need help, we ask, the angels come down to give us some food, and we regain our strength.  We’ll live forever.  Sounds awesome!

But we know it’s not always so easy.  We all have felt the pain of illness that doesn’t magically go away, or the exhaustion of trying our best and still failing, or the sadness of broken relationships, or the fear of an unknown future.  How do we maintain our faith during such difficult moments?

For me, the answer comes in the second reading.  By imitating Jesus in our love for one another, our compassion, and our forgiveness, we can help each other get up and keep going, even when it feels like we want to quit.  We have faith that God will sustain us, and we put that faith into action by being present to others. 

During the past five weeks, I’ve had moments where I’ve identified with Elijah, sitting beneath a broom tree in the desert, thinking,”This is enough, Lord!”  For me, the biggest moment wasn’t in the desert under a tree.  I was on First Avenue and East 70th Street on July 18, 2018.  In May 2018, I’d developed some sudden, intense back pain, spent four days in the hospital, missed a lecture I was supposed to deliver, and ate a lot of mediocre jello.  Everyone thought one of my spinal discs had a problem.  In late June, I had a minor outpatient procedure to repair some spine fractures, and, just to be thorough, take a biopsy.  Turns out, breast cancer had spread to my spine.  In the hospital in May, I had passed a breast cancer exam.  What was happening??

So there I was, sitting on some steps on E 70th St, just after some medical tests.  I’d had lived with the diagnosis for about two weeks by then, but the reality was setting in.  I sort of felt like Elijah in that moment.  ”This is enough, Lord!”  It was hot, I had work deadlines looming, and every medical appointment seemed to branch into complex follow-ups.  Every doctor who reviewed my case looked at me and said,”Whoa, this is surprising!”  This response did nothing to help me.

Luckily, in short time, I’ve had many angels come and tend to me.  Friends came with me to appointments, or met me for coffee between appointments, or shared their own stories of survival.  Friends helped me find the best doctors, and bought me wine, and prayed for me.   I am so grateful for the love of God that so many people have shown to me.  I am now part of a wonderful network of medical professionals who have assured me that my situation is treatable, and that my life will not need to change much.  It’s going to be a long road, but one I know I can manage.  I am so grateful and blessed.

This Sunday, August 12, after the 11:30am Mass at Xavier, Kathleen will receive the Sacrament of the Sick.  All are welcome to join in prayer, and even better, to join in celebration with food and drink (maybe even a little wine) in the West Room after the anointing.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Moira Egan Has Something To Say

July 29th was the feast day of St. Martha, a complex figure as a role model for women.  When we first meet Martha, she appears as a whiny tattle tale, complaining that her sister is listening to Jesus, rather than helping her with the housework.  Jesus’ preference for Mary’s choice of contemplation and rebuke of Martha’s fretting about less important things seems to silence Martha and to reinforce the devaluing of the work traditionally done by women.  I find myself outraged on Martha’s behalf, and have begun to discover a deeper, more nuanced way to connect with her.

If someone didn’t worry about the details of hospitality, how would Jesus have eaten that night?  Since in that time and place, the only one who was going to get a meal on the table would be a woman, Martha seems to be condemned for fulfilling her traditional role.  Often, the way to address this seeming oversight by Jesus is to say that he wasn’t condemning Martha’s emphasis on housework and hospitality, but was challenging her to be less of a worrier.  Yet I have never been able to understand where the evidence for Martha’s worrying comes from.  It seems to me that she asks the same kind of question that Jesus asks throughout his ministry: is the way we have always done things just?  Are people being prevented from fully living out who they are?  How different the story would be if everybody, including the men in the group, pitched in to prepare the meal so they could all eat together, clean up together, and pray together. 

Is this rethinking an unrealistic pipe dream?  Perhaps in the time and place it would never happen, but isn’t the presentation of different possibilities precisely what Jesus is all about?  After all, how many other male religious leaders would have allowed Mary into his inner circle?  Surely most would have sent her off to the kitchen with Martha.  While we don’t actually have evidence that Jesus specifically challenged the gendered division of labor at play here, we do know that Jesus did not in fact silence Martha or end the relationship with her.  When her brother Lazarus died, in the midst of grief, Martha makes a profound profession of faith, recognizing who Jesus is and demonstrating her deep conviction that she will one day be with Lazarus. 

Here at Xavier, we recently reflected on Mary of Magdala as a towering woman, and a fortress builder.  I think these are apt descriptions for Martha as well.  Her ministry of hospitality helped create a fortress in Bethany where Jesus could find welcome and respite and a bulwark against others’ misunderstanding and fear of Jesus message of inclusion.  I am delighted that Martha, Mary and Lazarus are among those to whom Mary of Magdala proclaims the resurrection in the beautiful relief in Xavier’s Mary Chapel.  Visiting Jesus’ Bethany family is but one of countless ways the work enriches my prayer life.  As Martha remained towering in her faith and an unshakeable fortress of welcome, even when that calling appears to be devalued, may we too be magdala people of radical welcome and joyous and steadfast commitment to our own vocations. 

Moira Egan is part of the leadership team of The Women Who Stayed, and a member of the Xavier Peace and Justice Committee.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Luz Marina Diaz Has Something To Say Feast of Mary Magdala July 22nd 2018

Feast of Mary Magdala, July 22nd 2018
My name is Mary of Magdala -- Maria Magdalena, Miryam Migdal -- I am known as Jesus' most influential apostle. I kept vigil at the cross throughout Jesus' crucifixion, discovered the empty tomb after Jesus' resurrection, and was commissioned to 'go and tell' the good news. 
I was not a prostitute. Almost 600 years after my lifetime, Pope Gregory characterized me as a repentant prostitute, eclipsing my important leadership and apostolic roles,  a label that has stuck for over a millenium, even up to today. Calling me a prostitute has allowed my leadership role among the disciples to be generally forgotten.
I am so happy to have you as my friends. Yes, I am grateful for all the great friends devoted to rescuing me from the centuries-old slander campaign that has distorted my image in our collective memory and robbed us all of the power of my witness and leadership. I am thankful that you are rescuing my true role as a key faith leader in our salvation history -- an "apostle to the apostles."
The truth about me will open the doors for all women! All people!
Luz Marina Diaz was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She spent much of her early life working as a system analyst as well  as dancing, choreographing and teaching in two major modern dance companies in Venezuela. In 1994, she came to New York and discovered her vocation as a religious educator and liturgical dancer. She has 16 years of dedicated service in Catechetical Leadership and has been Director of the Religious Education Program at Xavier since August 2007. She also serves as chair of the Liturgical Ministers Committee, a member of the ISEL (Ignatian Spirituality in Every Day Life) team, a member of the Interfaith Committee and a member of The Jesuit Collaborative Hispanic Advisory Board.

Natalia Lee Has Something To Say: Feast of Mary Magdala July 22nd 2018

Mary Magdalene

Good afternoon to all of you, sisters and brothers. I first want to wish you a happy feast of Mary Magdalene, patroness of the mansplained and of the dismissed, of women on the move and women forced to migrate, of women truth tellers, and women who are gospel proclaimers. I ask that you pray with me now that the Spirit be with us this day.

We live in interesting times. Dangerous times, especially for women, for children, for the vulnerable and the displaced. Our times are dangerous to mental health, to physical health, especially to the physical health of non-white, non-heteronormative bodies. It can be difficult to discern how, or even if, individual lives matter. We are traversing, as a community, a country, a church, a time in the world when for the poor and the excluded, the displaced and the forgotten, as Jon Sobrino said, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

We live in dangerous times for truth, which is seemingly under assault every day. Those who dare proclaim the truth (black lives matter, ni una menos, families belong together) are ignored or maligned, not believed or taken seriously, called hysterical or worse.

We continue to live in dangerous times for women, especially. US women die in childbirth at alarming rates, especially women of color. Black women are three times as likely to die in the US after giving birth than white women.  Intimate partner violence harms 1 in 4 women, up to 20 persons a minute in this country. In addition to this, sexual violence and harassment, environmental injustice, homophobia and transphobia are crushing daily realities to so many women.

What, then, is good news today? If for Frederick Douglass the question was what, to the slave, is the fourth of July, then what, to a woman of color in the US of the 21st century, the age of #metoo, and family separation, what to us is the feast of Mary Magdalene? How can we, in these dark days, celebrate women and women’s leadership, when our sisters and our children are cut down at every turn? Who is this woman who we claim to be a towering figure in Christianity, the apostle to the apostles, the friend of Christ? Where is she in all these narratives that border on despair?

I think we can find her if we pay attention. Remember, attention is the expression of love, and Mary Magdalene was attentive. Mary, whom Jesus called Magdalene, saw it all. She walked alongside Jesus in his best moments, and stood at the cross at the absolute worst. She saw God, collaborated with God, through moments of triumph but also, and more importantly I think for us today, in moments of despair. She proclaimed the truth and stood firm when she wasn’t believed. She was, for some time (as Jim Martin reminds us every year at this time), the whole of the church, experiencing the truth of the resurrection before anyone else, and she walked before us in the need to share that hope-filled truth with a community that had lost hope. The Magdalene is, foremost, a beacon of hope.

Biblical archaeologist and professor Joan Taylor noted in a 2014 article that there was no town named “Magdala” in first-century Palestine, or mentioned in the earliest NT writings.[1] There were towers (migdala) all over Palestine, ancient and contemporary, and so the claim that the word “Magdalene” ties Mary to a particular location is difficult to support. Instead, suggests Taylor, the possibility exists that Jesus gave Mary a particular nickname, not unlike calling Simon Peter or the Rock. Because of the ambiguity of the Aramaic word Magdala (Hebrew Migdala, or tower), Taylor raises the possibility that Jesus named or called Mary “The Tower” as a sign of her closeness to him, her prominence among his followers, and her independence from patriarchal familial relationships (she’s not the wife, or daughter of X).. Instead, Taylor says, “Perhaps, as Simon Peter was a Rock, she was in some way the woman of the Tower.” (222)

But history has misunderstood and maligned Mary, whom Jesus called Magdalene. Our tradition, steeped in male-dominance, relegated her to a state of irrelevance, calling her a prostitute, a woman of ill-repute, a whore. Artists and authors eagerly inscribed this image in our collective imaginations, sullying not only the narrative of the Magdalene but the beauty of women’s bodies, reducing her to sinful submission saved only by the merciful Christ. She is depicted as a temptress and a seductress, a woman who used her “wiles” until God put a stop to her awful behavior, aroused her shame, and set her right. Sound familiar? A foil and a foe to Jesus’s mother, virginal and “uncorrupted,” again reminding us that women’s bodies are only useful as vehicles for sin.

Jesus did not see this. When Jesus looked at Mary, called Magdalene, he saw a tower: a beacon, a fortress, a lookout. She stood out, she stood tall, a marker, a sign. Can we see these things in her? I’ve already talked a bit about how Mary Magdalene is a beacon of hope, having witnessed the worst of Jesus’s suffering she is among the first to witness his triumph, and must share this victory with the others. Hope works like that—not something we contain merely within ourselves, a little propeller that pushes us forward to the next day, but a combustion engine that propels us outward, into a community that needs it most. Mary Magdalene is the woman who refuses to give in to despair, who tends to the wounded and the dead, who finds in that tomb nothing…nothing but promise, and who then turns and lets that joy overflow.

Mary Magdalene is a tower—the kind of tower that is a fortress against assault. An independent woman (remember she is not named in relation to any male family member) of means, my students frequently refer to her as someone who “bankrolled Jesus’s ministry.” A source of strength and refuge for Jesus and the other disciples, she also embodied, from the time she left the empty tomb to the time she reached the other apostles, the whole of the church and the essence of our ecclesial mission. That seed of hope let loose in the world, that is what it means to be the church, reaching outward toward the other. Mary proclaimed, like a banner you’d hang on a tower, or a tower itself, the strength of the message of Christ. She was a tower in the sense of an elevated pulpit: she stood and proclaimed the truth she housed in her being—Christ is alive, even here, even now. And she didn’t change her tune, even though the men dismissed her testimony. Like countless women before and since, the men did not believe her. Patroness of the mansplained, indeed. So many men did not believe her, in fact, that for centuries she was derided as a prostitute—only a story of unbelievable redemption from horrible sin could justify her nearness to the Truth. But we know better. Women tell the truth all the time and are not believed, sometimes a truth they know with their own bodies: I’ve seen it or experienced it, I KNOW. I’m sure many of us are in the room right now. Me too.

Mary, whom Jesus called a tower, can be a person who invites us to change our perspective. From a tower we can survey the landscape, see with broader vision. The tower invites us to contemplate our smallness in the scale of creation. It also allows us to see more. Perched in a tower, we cannot help but look beyond: beyond our comfort or discomfort, beyond our politics and religious boundaries, beyond our selfishness or our shame. In the person of Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, hearer and proclaimer of the Word of God, we have an invitation to not turn away from the suffering of those in our families, on our borders, in the jails our taxes pay for; nor from the suffering of the millions of migrants across the globe, many of them women and children, vulnerable and unwelcome and disbelieved. They, too, proclaim the truth, and we, like MM must hear them and proclaim the truth in hope.

Today we celebrate this towering woman, and we name, acknowledge, and revere all the towering women who brought us to this moment—the mothers and grandmothers who kept our faith alive and nurtured it when we were children, the teachers and professors and mentors, the friends we’ve made from surprising and reviled places, the misfits and the misunderstood. We celebrate the ways in which this unlikely messenger bore the whole church within her, like another Mary in the gospels bore the whole of God within her. But we cannot merely celebrate this figure, we must go and do the same: to whom will we proclaim the hope that is within us? For whom will we stand up, even if we are disbelieved? On whose behalf will we challenge the structures that keep people invisible, disposable, forgotten? And finally, who will we choose to believe today, what voice crying out from the tomb, or the detention center, or the jail, or the shelter, or the street corner?  

Mary, whom Jesus called Magdalene, truth teller, hope-bearer, towering woman, pray for us.

[1] Palestine  Exploration Quarterly 146:3 (2014)

Natalia Imperatori-Lee is an associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in New York and author of the forthcoming Cuéntame: Narrative in the Ecclesial Present (Orbis Books, 2018)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Marian Ronan Has Something To Say

Revisiting Dorothy Day

By Marian Ronan

Because of my half-century of participation in the Grail, an international laywomen’s movement, I have always felt related to Dorothy Day. The first recorded contact between the Grail and American Catholics was a 1936 letter to her from the co-founder of the US Grail, Lydwine van Kersbergen. In 1943, with the Grail planted in the Midwest, Day, on sabbatical from the Catholic Worker, participated in a three-week Grail program on rural living,  liturgy, and the women’s apostolate. Later she made a silent retreat at Super Flumina, the Grail’s farm in Foster, Ohio.

My personal contacts with Day were limited.  She spoke at a meeting of the Catholic Art Association—or maybe it was the Catholic Art Guild, since the Art Association shut down in
1970––during one of the summers that I spent at Grailville, the Grail’s farm and conference center near Cincinnati, when I was still a fourth-grade teacher.  Her talk followed the showing
of a short art film, “Two Men and a Wardrobe.” My recollection is that Day was quite dismissive of the film, something that led me to categorize her as a crabby, old-fashioned Church type; I was in my mid-twenties at the time and not very forgiving.

I also wrote to Day in 1975, after I had become a full-time member of the Grailville staff, asking if she would send me a copy of the Muslim “Ninety-Nine Names of God” that another
Grail member, recently home from Egypt, had given her. She responded,

Sorry. Those 99 Names have disappeared from my treasure box, though the beads remain. My bedroom is always used in my peregrinations, so things disappear, are ripped off, liberated, to use the language of the young.
My love to all there.
–– In Christ––Dorothy.

The message came on a postcard bearing the kind of dramatic woodcut, this one by Antonio Frasconi, that appeared frequently in the Catholic Worker. Eventually I had the postcard
framed archivally, to preserve it. When I show it to visitors I tell them that if Dorothy is canonized, it will become a second-class relic, a comment that baffles most of them.

All the rest of my “encounters” with Dorothy have taken place since her death in 1980. One was reading the letter from Cardinal John O’Connor to the Vatican nominating Day for canonization. It highlights, as a reason for her canonization, Day’s repentance for the abortion she underwent before she became a Catholic. Later, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, at an event in Day’s honor at St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village, the church where Day was baptized, described her as an “obedient daughter of the Church.” I was well past my mid-twenties by then, but my responses to these statements were still not very forgiving. With regard to Day’s obedience to the Church, for example, I thought: except for the cemetery workers’ strike, where Day and her Catholic Worker colleagues picketed against the strikebreakers brought in by the Archdiocese.

Most recently, my encounters with Day include reading Jim Forest’s biography, All is Grace (Orbis 2011). I have had it in my head for years to write a book about Joan of Arc, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Day, because of the strong but seemingly unlikely connections between them––Thérèse the ascetic having written a play about Joan the warrior, and Day, the pacifist, devoted to Joan as well, then writing a book about Thérèse. Forest’s book is part of the material I’ve been accumulating for the project.

Forest is a terrific writer, and I learned a great deal from his biography that I had not known about Day. For one thing, I learned that she really was in many respects a traditional, if
also utterly committed, Catholic. She was also a fairly judgmental individual, a sin she confessed again and again. So my evaluation of her in the 1970s was not entirely mistaken. I also learned that Day really was an obedient daughter of the Church, frequently following the directions she received from bishops and priests—though she was by no means naïve about the sins of the institution.

I even learned that Day really did seriously regret—repent of—her abortion, though whether she would want to be remembered for that before anything else is another question. Indeed, she objected strongly to any suggestion that she was a saint, believing it undercut the Catholic Worker’s fundamental commitment to egalitarianism and denial of self.

Perhaps the most important insight I took away from reading Forest’s biography, however, is that precisely because of her high level of Christian commitment and the strength of her positions, Dorothy Day may well be exactly the kind of role model needed in this difficult time. In the midst of the environmental crisis that engulfs us, for example, I look around our apartment and wonder why in hell I ever bought all these clothes, these books, those items of kitchenware, and I find myself deeply inspired by Day’s poverty and self-abnegation.

And as I observe the chaos that paralyzes many of the groups I belong to, underpinned by the individualism and expectations of gratification by so many in my generation, I find myself profoundly challenged by Day’s concern with and obedience to authority, however communal her understanding of it was.

And when I am too lazy to turn out for public demonstrations or too afraid of being arrested, I remember Day’s endless commitment to social action, and her many stays in jail. Could it be, I find myself wondering, that the woman I once dismissed as too traditional a Catholic and too judgmental a person is exactly the model––the saint––we need as we face the crises that confront us?

Marian Ronan is Research Professor of Catholic Studies at New York Theological Seminary, a Black, Latinx and Asian theological school in New York City, and co-author, most recently, of Women of Vision: Sixteen Founders of the International Grail Movement (Apocryphile Press, 2017)

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Sharp Edge

In John the Baptist, we celebrate the greatest of the prophets, a man whom history has now sanctified in Scripture, statue, painting, and song.

But what might it have been like to know him in time?

Prophets generally make us uncomfortable. Like John, they shake up their family’s routine, sometimes rendering their parents speechless and their neighbors astounded. They might dress oddly, rant a bit, and follow a strange diet. They hang out in inhospitable places. Prophets are the oddities on the edge of our striving for comfort. Someone like John the Baptist would not be the most popular member of your country club.

And yet John the Baptist’s call is one given, in its own particular measure, to every disciple of Christ:

     - Go to the sharp edge of your existence. That is where you will find the Divine Presence.
     - Go by way of the inner desert, continually learning the aridity of all that is not God.
     - Shed the trappings that separate you from the Holy – be they the adoration of wealth, power, or vanity.
     -Then speak the Truth you have become.

The poet Mary Oliver put it simply this way: 

“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Where will we find the prophets today? At the borders of everything. But they will be building bridges, not walls. They will be inviting the rest of us out of the quagmire of our comfort zones to come see Christ rising on the bright distance of our courage. Today’s prophets, like John, will be pointing away from themselves to the place where Christ waits with His counter-cultural Gospel – among those who are poor, weakened by the world, among the marginalized who live at life’s sharp edge where Grace is most accessible because it is all there is.

The wonderful Baptist, robed in his camel hair, eating locusts, shouting and throwing people into the Jordan! The greatest of the prophets calls down the hills of time to us today: “Behold One is coming after me. Prepare your hearts! Do not miss Him!”

~ Renee Yann, RSM

Sister Renee Yann, RSM, D.Min, is a writer, poet, and speaker on topics of spirituality, mission, and ethical business practice. After twenty years in teaching and social justice ministry, she served for over thirty years in various mission-related roles in Mercy Health System of Southeastern Pennsylvania, completing her ministry as Chief Mission Integration Officer for AmeriHealth Caritas Health Plans. Sister Renee has a daily blog which can be followed at: She is also reachable on Twitter at @ReneeYann, RSM