St. Ignatius Loyola said “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.”
St. Francis of Assisi (might have) said, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”
St. Teresa of Kolkata said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Today is the anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Mercy, who taught me from Kindergarten through 12th grade. And this weekend was to be my 50th high school reunion, now postponed till next Fall along with so many other 2020 milestones. So I have “the sisters” on my mind.
Like so many religious communities of women, the Sisters of Mercy began in response to the needs of people around them. On September 24, 1827 Catherine McAuley opened Mercy House in Dublin to educate poor young girls and house homeless women and their children. Eight of the sisters came to San Francisco in 1854 when Archbishop Alemany pleaded for their help during the cholera epidemic. No fanfare, just tending to the needs of people who would otherwise be without shelter, medical care, or education. The ones who taught me were role models of women in leadership when there were few – women of intelligence, competence, passion and joy.
Yesterday I took part in the kickoff for the 2020 Virtual Nuns on the Bus tour. It was a beacon of light in this dark and troubled year. For those who don’t know, the first Nuns on the Bus tour was in 2012. That year two events converged to spark the idea: 1. The Vatican was investigating U.S. Sisters for perceived theological and cultural deviations from orthodoxy and 2. The economic divide in the country was becoming more and more painful, and the proposed federal budget planned major cuts to programs for individuals and families in poverty. So Network, a social justice organization founded by several religious congregations in 1971, decided to use the notoriety from #1 to call attention to #2. This year their theme is, Who We Elect Matters, and they are travelling virtually around the country to hold town hall meetings and interact with people whose voice might be missed. They radiate hope, energy, and love. You can check them out here: https://networklobby.org/bus2020/
This past Monday (September 21) was the U.N. International Day of Peace, established in 2002 as an annual day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire. This year’s theme is Shaping Peace Together. The U.N. webpage for the day states:
This year, it has been clearer than ever that we are not each other’s enemies. Rather, our common enemy is a tireless virus that threatens our health, security and very way of life. COVID-19 has thrown our world into turmoil and forcibly reminded us that what happens in one part of the planet can impact people everywhere.
And it ends with a call: “Celebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope in the face of the pandemic. Stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination or hatred.”
In the midst of chaos and pain, perhaps we might honor all of these visionaries and servants of “the least among us” by being intentional about our own acts of compassion, kindness, hope – and love.
This photo was taken in a small family vineyard in Burgundy, France. It shows the grapes at the moment of véraison, meaning the onset of ripening. As the farmer/winemaker was excited to share, this is one of the most important moments in the yearly lifecycle of a grapevine. It is a turning point where the vine transitions from growing to ripening, when acid accumulation ceases and sugar increases as the grape uses acid reserves for energy.
At this moment the winegrower changes the way s/he cares for the vines: inspecting, pruning and testing with an eye to the harvest. The changes in this time critically influence the ultimate quality of the grapes, so for the winegrower it is both exciting and stressful to support the process, fully aware that nature can’t be controlled.
It occurs to me that this could be a helpful metaphor for navigating our spiritual lives at this moment in history, with medical, economic, political and cultural crises converging. I’m finding some inspiration for this in Ignatian Spirituality. In the Spiritual Exercises, we are continually invited to live in the moment because the present is the only moment of grace. Moments of grace are moments of experiencing the presence of God – which is mostly about us paying attention.
Winegrowers talk about veraison as a “moment”, and when I listened to the one in Burgundy I experienced it as a grace. He was totally present to his vines and the life within them, an attentiveness that would guide his work for the crucial ripening process.
Ignatius points us to a vision of God who is alive and active in the world and in each person’s life. Now I believe this, of course, but my responses to daily stresses might indicate otherwise. How often do I listen to the latest news and feel simply overwhelmed? Because I don’t trust others in their roles? Because I can’t fix it all for myself and those I love? Because it is too big, or maybe even too evil?
When I take time to remind myself who is actually in charge, who loved us all into being and who is with us always, I can walk more humbly with God in each moment of the day and be open to divine guidance for my attitude and actions. And I can more readily experience each moment as a moment of grace.
Fear not, I am with you;
be not dismayed; I am your God.
I will strengthen you, and help you,
and uphold you with my right hand of justice. (Isaiah 41:10)