Reflection: A Las Posadas Communion

Last year I did not attend any of the Las Posadas nights here at St. Francis.  Mostly I think I was too stressed and withdrawn to want to be around happy people; my sprained ankle was a good excuse.  This year is different.  I’m different.  Although the stress of this missionary work is still high, my attitude and approach to it has changed.  My center and focus have begun to stabilize, and I am experiencing the serenity from having turned things out of my control over to God.  It is difficult to “let go & let God,” but, Oh! the freedom and peace that follow!

For those of you unfamiliar with Las Posadas, it is a nine day prayer and celebration beginning on December 16th, and ending on Christmas Eve. Click here for more detailed information.  Las Posadas is celebrated throughout Mexico and here in the American Southwest.  For at least 10 years I’ve been reading Tomie dePaola’s book The Night of Las Posadas to my First Graders in Florida, introducing them to this Hispanic Christmas tradition.  We would then make little construction paper donkeys with fan-folded legs, paper clips on the hooves, and a string to make it go “clip-clop” across the tile floor.  I brought this art lesson with me out here, and the kids loved making their little donkeys!  But, never did I imagine I would ever get to participate in the beautiful tradition of Las Posadas.

Unlike the book, here in the middle of nowhere we cannot walk from house to house knocking on doors every night for nine nights.  We’d freeze before getting to the first door, and the total distance travelled over the nine nights would be greater than the 80-90 miles Mary & Joseph initially travelled to get to Bethlehem!  So this community has improvised their Las Posadas (as it improvises with just about everything here!).  Nine nights; nine homes.  Each night members of this small parish gather at someone’s home and the prayer begins.  A small group gathers outside the front door reciting the words of the Holy Couple, “Let us in; my wife is weary and cannot walk; I request lodging from you.”  The group inside responds with “No!  This is no Inn, and you might be a crook!”  This back and forth continues for several verses, all sung in Spanish.  When those inside recognize the Holy Couple, their tune changes and Mary & Joseph are welcomed into the home.  Once inside the host family chooses Christmas carols to sing, grace is said, and everyone begins to eat what the host family has prepared.  The building of community happens at celebrations like this.  I have always said that holidays and traditions have two common factors in every culture, food and people.  And of both factors it is understood:  The more the merrier!

As a Catholic I was brought up to believe that when we receive the Eucharist at mass, we are partaking in the Body of Christ and we, as a faith community, become one flesh in Christ, nourished to do the good works of faith we are called to do (CCC 1331).  I participated in two nights of Las Posadas, and I am feeling blessed, humbled, and nourished for the experience!  The consecrated Eucharist is sacred and treated with great reverence in our churches and cathedrals.  Sharing the prayers and songs of Las Posadas with the members of this community is also sacred.  These last two nights have been for me a Communion in the Body of Christ that is just as sacred to me as the Communion received during Sunday mass.  “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism” (CCC 1396).  I certainly feel renewed, strengthened and deeply incorporated into this part of Christ’s Church.

I met new people, shared faith, laughter, good food, and great joy.  A real sense of communion in the Body of Christ!  This experience will certainly sustain me throughout this Advent and Christmas season.  Thanks, St. Francis parishioners.  Last year perhaps I did not feel worthy to enter under your roof, but your love and hospitality have healed me!

Merry Christmas, and may peace & blessings be with you and your community!


Holiday Activism for the Family Dinner Table

My classroom is tidy again, I’ve left school behind for Christmas break, and I have NOT taken home any school work!  I hope my fellow over-achievers out there are able to do the same in the coming days & weeks (especially you teachers!!!).

So much is going on at this time of year; I am always amazed at the busy-ness around me. Some of it is necessary, but much of it is not.  Support for, prayers for, and the work for peace and justice, however, never takes a holiday!

With so many issues in the news lately I wanted to focus on some things to consider taking part in and passing along that don’t involve demonstrating en masse in Ferguson, NYC, or DC (although I do encourage that!).  Many of us will be spending time with family, and this is the perfect time to drop little seeds of knowledge about the issues we care about.  Now, I am not advocating for starting family feuds over politics, religion, or other potentially volatile subjects!  Try a more subtle approach.  I have found some links of interest below that I think will help with re-educating the family.  If your family is anything like mine, you’ll have some explaining to do, and at some point you’ll just have to “agree to disagree” until Easter (or Passover)!  I can get away with a lot around our holiday table:  I bring desert & rule the homemade whipped cream bowl.  No whip for the unruly!

So here’s what I’ve found to share at this year’s Christmas dinner with the family:

With gift buying and giving come concerns about child labor, workers rights and their dignity, as well as Fair Trade and sustainably made items. Even if you make your gifts, it’s worth going that extra mile to make sure your supplies are sourced with these things in mind. Some good sources for guides & information include Fair Trade USA, US Department of Labor, and Free2Work, among others.

Many of us will eat out over the holidays. Many restaurant chains are being urged to take steps toward buying produce from sources that respect the workers dignity, and provide fair wages for their labor.  Those of you who know me know how much of an advocate I am for the CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) and the Fair Food Program.  They have made such amazing progress over the last 20 years!  Corporations like Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart have signed the Fair Food Agreement and are now part of the solution to improve the lives of farmworkers and their families.  But now, in the wake of the LA Times investigative report into the labor practices of Mexican farms, we find several Corporations  who are guilty of being complicate with the growers in Mexico who deny their workers the most basic of human rights.  As we gather ’round our plentiful tables, we must consider where our food comes from, and who harvests the apples in our pies, the celery in our stuffing, the grapes for our wine, and the mined minerals in the devices with which we capture our precious moments on social media.

There is a new petition addressing some of these concerns. Click here to add your name to this petition letting Subway, Darden, and Safeway know that we insist on oversight and victim compensation.  If it’s wrong for US children to labor in the fields for 12 hours a day, with few (if any) breaks, and for a mere pittance, then it’s absolutely wrong for children of other countries to do so.   If you click here you’ll find this petition and several others from Fair World Project.

And, finally, I ask you to pray for peace.  No matter what your beliefs are, no matter what formal, informal, traditional, or non-traditional faith foundation you may practice, prayer is powerful.  You may call it by another name, but if you are silent with your thoughts, you are in prayer, and your prayerful energy is joined with that of others.  That’s what makes prayer so powerful!  I ask that you join me & my community in prayer on January 6th as we pray for 3 special Sisters on a special mission.  I also invite you to pray for peace daily.  Peace in our world, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts.  Every day.

Merry Christmas, everyone!



Considering Peace in Syria

Pope Francis invited Catholics, people of other faiths, and all people of good will (I like that!) to join him yesterday in prayer & fasting.  He held a vigil at the Vatican to pray for peace in Syria.  Yesterday I attended a friend’s Ordination to the Deaconate.  This joyous occasion and the celebrations that followed were in stark contrast to the prayer vigils going on in Rome & around the world.  Today and every day I will offer my thoughts and prayers for peace.  Peace in our homes, in our schools, our workplaces, our nations, and especially peace in our own hearts.  So often I hear fatalists say, “What’s the point?  People are always going to hate, kill, and find reasons to go to war.  You’ll never have world peace.”  I believe that’s a cop-out for doing nothing while maintaining the status quo.  I choose to “picket & pray.”  I also agree with Pope Francis (and everyone else who has ever uttered these words), “Violence only begets violence.”

Fr. John Dear just posted a reflection, in response to the Syrian crisis, on the Pax Christi USA blog on living nonviolently in a violent world .  [Ignore the part where he plugs his new book!]  He talks about being nonviolent with ourselves first.  Always an excellent place to start if we want to change the world for the better.  I recently picked up Fr. Dear’s other book Put Down Your Sword; Answering the Gospel Call to Creative Nonviolence, and in Chapter 2 he offers the “anti-Beatitudes.”  The list is a real slap-in-the-face to our culture of violence, imperialism, and our consumer driven mentality.   The one that hit me is what he calls the “motto of every warlike culture:  Blessed are the violent and the invincible, the proud and the powerful, the domineering and the oppressive.”  Jesus says, the meek, the gentle, and the nonviolent will inherit the Earth.  This “anti-Beatitude” suggests that the violent will “inherit nothing but blood and destruction.”  Personally, I’d rather be labeled a “bleeding heart liberal” who advocates for peace & justice, than a war-monger who causes hearts to bleed in the name of homeland security or some twisted idea of peace in the Middle East.

In the next couple of weeks many people all over the world will be preparing to celebrate International Day of Peace on Saturday, September 21st (my school marks this day with the Pinwheels for Peace project).  With the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9-11 coming up this week, in the shadows of yet another International debate over possible war in yet another country in the Middle East, my heart is heavy & torn.

As the world considers war in Syria, I consider her refugees, her victims, her dead.  I consider the many victims of wars & conflicts in the last 100+ years.  I want to inherit a world of peace, but I also want to bequeath one to the next generation.  If war begets war, & violence begets violence, then shouldn’t it hold true that peace begets peace, & nonviolence begets nonviolence?  We seem to have mastered the ways of violence; when will we ever learn the ways of peace?

My Daily Bread

My Daily Bread

My “daily bread” includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  This is a traditional form of prayer that once was only prayed by clergy & religious, but now is enjoyed & practiced by laity as well.  As an Adrian Dominican Associate, an increase in prayer-life is expected & I chose to add this to my daily routine.  The LOH book pictured above was given to me by Sr. Margaret, OP who is part of my Mission Group.  This prayer book once belonged to her mother, Jane, who was a 3rd Order Franciscan.

This is an older edition Liturgy of the Hours & it was very confusing to learn how to use.  When I first started attending LOH at St. Lucie’s parish Fr. Mark would sit behind me & helped me out (I learned in spite of his good natured teasing!).  Being an artist & a visual learner I created the elaborate color-coded yarn bookmark (pictured above) to assist me in keeping my place in the book & keeping my place throughout the liturgical calendar.  Fr. Mark still sits behind me, but he doesn’t need to ask if I need help anymore (he still finds opportunities to tease me, though!).  I also found this great site for the times when I do lose track due to a lack of “daily bread” (this happens during the school year at least once a month!).

I treasure this little book for several reasons.  First of all, it is a gift from Sr. Margaret & it was her mother’s.  That makes it dear to her, and dearer still to me.  We Dominican women can be sappy & sentimental!  I also treasure it for the sense of connection it gives me.  When I pray the LOH I feel connected to God, scripture, and others all over the world that are praying the same prayers & contemplating the same message for that day.  I also treasure this little book for the little “edits” that Jane added throughout.

I laughed out loud at the first edit I noticed:  “…make your Church a more vivid symbol of the unity of all mankind.”  And, later that same morning, “You must never grow weary of doing what is right, brothers.”  What about us “sisters”?  There have been a few times when I’ve come across necessary edits that Jane somehow missed.  Some may find crossing out & writing in a book offensive, but not me, not if it’s done with respect to the both the reader & the message.

I feel left out of the “salvation story” and the history of our Church when the NT Letters are only addressed to “brothers”, and do not include “sisters” (thankfully our daily & Sunday mass readings all use the address “Brothers and sisters” for these readings).  There is even a Canticle (Daniel 3:57-88) in the Sunday Week I prayers that I simply had to edit.  I mean, really?  “Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord.”  Like there weren’t any holy women in the OT, or any since then?  Of course I added “and women” to Daniel’s oversight.  I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it; just an honest mistake.

In my previous post, Perfected in Love, skywanderer commented on the use of a gender-biased prayer that I quoted from this book (see post & comments here.).  I promised pictures of my LOH book with Jane’s & my edits.  So, enjoy the pictures below. Disclaimer:  I do not encourage or support vandalism of any kind, so please do not “edit” books that are church property.  I do encourage you to chuckle knowingly when you see gender-biased pronouns!

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Holy Week Reflection: Contemplation to Action

I’ve been in “contemplative-mode” these last few days.  It seems like everywhere I look social media, news media, and politics across the globe are all a-buzz with commentary, actions & petitions, and legal battles on everything from gay marriage, & the environment to sequestration, & gun violence. Some of what I’ve read is very good; some of it, not so much.  As someone who advocates for peace & justice, I cannot approach any of these issues from my initial feelings of anger & frustration, or from a position of self-righteous indignation.  I must take time to reflect or my action degrades into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.

In a recent Lenten reflection on the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. John Dear, S.J. writes about many examples of Archbishop Romero’s actions and includes stories from the new book Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil (Orbis, 2013).  I have not read the book yet, but I was struck more by one of Fr. Dear’s thoughts:

“It’s important not to love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to take the risks that history demands of us,” Romero said in his last homily, one minute before he was assassinated at the altar. That’s an important lesson for all of us — laypeople, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes included. History, and the Christ of history, demand we take risks on behalf of suffering humanity and creation itself. Romero shows us we do not have to be afraid. We, too, can go forward, do what we can, speak out as best we can, and try to make a difference.

When I consider what is taking place inside the Supreme Court this week, or in the Oval Office, or the “back rooms” of Congress with the lobbyists from Monsanto, or what is happening in war-torn places like Aleppo, Syria, or in ordinary places like the kitchens & living rooms of activists, I am overwhelmed with humanity and a sense of humility.  I can read one article and feel angry that such things could happen or that such people could act this way or that.  Then I read another article about something else and I am filled with joy, delight, or a feeling of hope in the basic goodness to be found in people here in the US & around the world.  But then I read yet another article, tweet or news report about more acts of violence involving drones or a handgun and I am filled with despair again.  I either have to stop reading all of this, cut myself off from the world, or I have to adopt a healthier way of responding to it; without fear as Archbishop Romero’s example suggests.

Burying my head in the sand is not an option if I am to “move forward, and try to make a difference”, so I must develop a healthy alternative to riding this emotional roller-coaster.  As an activist & advocate for peace & justice there are many amazing examples of men & women who can inspire me; Archbishop Romero, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard Rohr, those I marched with during the CIW march last week, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and countless others who make headlines only as “protestors”, “occupiers”, or “insurgents”.  I believe it is necessary to feel angry, hopeless, or frustrated at first when faced with injustice, but then I have to reflect, contemplate, and/or pray about how to respond to it in a positive way.  If I don’t reflect and pray first, then I am no better in my reaction than those who perpetuate the injustices that outrage me.

Words are important.  Activists take action against injustices, they do not just react.  There is considerable thought behind their actions so that their efforts do make a difference and affect a positive & just change.  That, I believe, is why non-violence is the key to successful activism.  When we react to injustice without thinking, our words & actions can appear or sound aggressive or violent.

Simplicity is important, too; it is also sometimes the most challenging thing to put into practice.  I like reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily reflections (the Center for Action & Contemplation).  His insights are often simple and obvious, but always rooted in love, contemplation, & non-violence.  Fr. Dear’s reflections are also a call to fearless contemplation, non-violence, and action (Pax Christi).

As Christians around the world enter into the Triduum of Holy Week my prayer is that we all reflect on the Passion of Christ, the injustices and pain present in our world today, and how we can respond to God’s call to action on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized of our societies.  I hope I don’t ever have to be as fearless as Archbishop Romero or a Syrian freedom fighter, but if I am called to take a great risk, I trust that God will be in it with me.