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This post is part of our Lenten Reflection Series: Be A Fountain of Mercy
Authored by Sister Mary Rebekah Kennedy, SND

LISTEN: Jerusalem My Destiny  – Rory Cooney

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!

In our Lenten journey we have arrived in Jerusalem with Jesus. I do not know if Jesus knew for sure what was going to happen to him once he arrived in the Holy City. But I do know that throughout the Gospels, Jesus was faithful to the journey itself which would lead to Jerusalem. Jesus’ journey was one of doing the will of his merciful Father.

Whether Jesus spent time in prayer with his Father, used his healing touch to make others whole again, or spoke words of comfort or admonition to his followers, he was doing God’s will. Jesus is the model for us all of a Son who lived in total awareness of his Father.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.

We, too, are called to live in that total awareness of being a daughter or a son of God. As we continue our journey through the Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we, too, be inspired to spend time in prayer with our Father. May our contacts with others reflect the comforting words and touches of Jesus. May we awaken each day petitioning God to lead us in doing His will.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.

And, finally, may we be reassured that we do not travel alone to Jerusalem. We are a part of the Body of Christ.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.

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This post is part of our Lenten Reflection Series: Be A Fountain of Mercy
Authored by Sister Mary Regina Robbins, SND

“Quick, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.” Lk. 15

Even though the Gospel for this Sunday is familiar to all of us, we never tire of it. It shows in bas relief how in Christ old things can pass away and new things can come. It is possible to let go of the old if it bogs us down, and believe in new life. So we hear again the parable of the Prodigal Son returning to his father who receives him with open arms and abundant blessings of love and gratitude. With a little imagination we can picture Jesus, the storyteller, holding his listeners spellbound as they wonder how the story will end. Surprise, shock! Jesus has come up with a terrifically radical, unforgettable story to get across the mercy of God, the loving Creator-God. He reveals his Abba as one who waits for us, refusing to take away our free will and who even lets us wander and fall until we find how miserable we can be apart from him.

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Especially parents can identify with this story as they feel an aching longing for their departed children. Many parents are tortured by what may have gone wrong or what could have been different in their relationships with their children. They hope and pray for their children to realize that they have a home and are painfully missed.

But the story is not just about others returning. It is also about us. In many ways we wander, straying from goodness and close dependence upon God. During Lent we are invited to spend time looking at where we are and where we have wandered. We allow ourselves in quiet prayer to recognize our plight. By facing our inner truth we come to an awakening, “I must return.”  The Church, especially during the Holy Year of Mercy, opens its doors, providing the sacrament of reconciliation and doctrinal promises of forgiveness and acceptance.

As Saint Paul says in the second reading, God our Father is reconciling us through Christ. As we prepare for the Easter renewal of our baptismal vows we believe: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”

What are these old things for you and what might the new things be? For the Prodigal Son it was very clear. Is it clear for you?

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This post is part of our Lenten Reflection Series: Be A Fountain of Mercy
Authored by Sister Mary Antonine Manning, SND

The burning bush that was not consumed and the barren fig tree that was spared destruction can lead us to a consideration of the duty of care for our common home—the Earth.

In his encyclical On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’) Pope Francis proposes certain practices that may seem trivial but as he says, “directly and significantly affect the world around us.” Among these are choosing to use less heating and wearing warmer clothes instead, avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating trash and recyclables, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living things, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, and turning off unnecessary lights (L.S. 211).

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“Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity,” (L.S. 211). The Pope decries what he terms a throwaway culture. “[W]e know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded and ‘whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor,’” (L.S. 50).

Lent provides us with the impetus to examine our lifestyle and to evaluate our stewardship of the Earth.

Questions for reflection:

Am I striving to be aware of how my actions affect others—my brothers and sisters throughout the world?

What type of ecological situations are we forcing future generations to face by ignoring ecological problems now?

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This post is part of our Lenten Reflection Series: Be A Fountain of Mercy
Authored by Sister Mary Teresita Keliher, SND

As we begin the Lenten season we journey with Jesus into the desert. In the film The Bible there is a heart-wrenching scene where Jesus is struggling for survival after 40 days in the desert. The devil approaches Him and offers a stone to change to bread. He takes Jesus to a high point and encourages Him to jump and trust that God will provide. Finally the devil takes Jesus to the temple and offers Him a royal kingdom. Each time Jesus rebukes the devil, staying strong against these temptations.

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Lent is an appropriate time for all of us to face our temptations and examine our God connections. What are our priorities and where does God fit in? We are offered three ways to improve our relation with God and our Christian family.

  1. PRAY – We are encouraged to pray more during this Lenten season. Where are you in your prayer journey? If your answer is that you don’t have time to pray, then Lent is the perfect opportunity for renewal. For Lent create a prayer space, maybe with a cactus plant as a reminder of Lent. Practice silence and create times of quiet, at home or in the car. Meditate, breathe slowly and pray the Psalm for the day. Read a spiritual book. Take a walk and see the beauty around you.
  2. FAST – Jesus fasted in the desert. Lent motivates us to fast, wasting less, giving up grudges, fasting from TV.
  3. ALMGIVING – Finally we are encouraged to look around us and see those in need. Almsgiving motivates us to spend a little less on ourselves and offer money to a charity. What could you do to help? Simplify your life. Do some spring cleaning and offer the extras to a local second-hand store.

Pope Francis has offered the idea of practicing a Work of Mercy on Fridays. The Pope is a tremendous example to us we see him reaching out to those in need. Our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to be better disciples in our world today. Kerry Weber, managing editor of America Magazine, wrote the book Mercy in the City in which she describes her Lenten journey of picking a work of mercy each week and executing it in some way.

Reflection Questions:

  • What is a temptation in my life that I want to address this Lent?
  • How does my involvement in economic, political, or church systems contribute to the building of the Reign of God?

Prayer: Grant almighty God, through the observance of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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This post was written by Sister Betty Mae Bienlein.

On Christmas Day, 2015, Sister Mary Rebekah Kennedy and I joined the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association to participate in a small gesture of solidarity with the Muslim community in Ventura County, California. The event was organized by the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association to promote inter-religious relationships. Reverend Julie Morris, an Episcopalian Minister and parent at La Reina High School and Middle School, invited us to attend this event.

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About 75 non-Muslims stood in unity with the Muslim community supporting them, their values and faith, and denouncing Islamophobia in all its forms. We gathered on the lawn in front of the Mosque with signs and banners, greeting the passersby with peace and solidarity.

All were invited to join the Muslim community for the Friday Jummah prayer. We listened as Imam Ahmed Patel graciously thanked the visitors for supporting them especially on “the most holy day, Christmas Day, of the Christian religions.” He also spoke about the Muslim religion as one of peace and respect for others and that their religion was not one of extremes. “If the Quran says we pray five times a day we do not pray six times a day.” Imam Patel also stated, “That for a Muslim, we are first human and then a Muslim.” As we left the gathering we were treated to donuts and many hugs and kisses filled with gratitude.

Imam Ahmed has posted the following statement on the Center’s website.

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The Sisters of Notre Dame continue to support our Muslim neighbors and strive for peace and unity among all religious individuals.

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

It seems hard to believe that we have already reached the second week of the Advent season, when we revisit the story of John the Baptist calling out to us in the words of Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord! Clear him a straight path!”

We might choose to lament that “making ready” has come to mean decorating and shopping, planning, scheduling and traveling; but how sad it is if we don’t move beyond those thoughts to make our own preparation for the coming of the Lord. Imagine how Mary was preparing in those last weeks before her son’s birth. She had to be so focused on that life within her, what his birth would mean, how her life would change. She was clearly making ready and clearing the path for him.

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So, we may need to ask ourselves: What am I doing this Advent that is different than previous years to make ready the way of the Lord in my heart, in my life with others, in the larger world? What am I actively doing to clear Him a straight path?

We need to make within us place and space. This may mean that we need to focus on gratitude and joy, and weed out the negative and our tendency to judge others. It may mean that we are called to simplify our life in some way: reduce our commitments and our busy-ness; clear out our possessions to pass on to others; challenge our own decisions so we give time and attention to relationships that are healthy and helpful.

Maybe this year, clearing the path is about dealing with a thorny relationship, or something we are holding on to which blocks the path for the Lord’s presence. Perhaps it’s about reaching beyond ourselves and forming new relationships with persons who have something to offer from a background, culture, experience, or education that is different from our own.

It may mean that we spend more time in silence and prayer to foster a greater openness within, a clearing out of our own heart, to make way for the message God has for us. As we celebrate this week of Advent, how will we respond to the question: Will I be ready to hear what he has to say to me this year?

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series- a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Ah, Night! Bursting with new-born-stars
Strewing pathways of fire as they soar
In silent pilgrimage through endless space,
And I stand smallened by their hugeness.
And yet within me, deeply rooted, is a light
Already safe at home and never to be dimmed.
– (Rainer Maria Rilke translated by William J. O’Malley)

The stars are lighting up the skies even when we cannot see them clearly. Our God is present in our midst even when we are unconscious of the very real presence of the divine. The divine spark is within each of us even when we focus only on our failures and limitations.

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When I was a postulant, the bulletin board outside our dining room had the following Advent reminder:

“Many saw the star, but only a few had the courage and wisdom to follow the star that led to love!”

Advent is a time for renewing ourselves in seeking and finding and celebrating the light that is Jesus. It is a time to get back in touch with the star that calls us to believe, to follow, to discover the gift that is Jesus living within me. Do I have the courage?

It is a time for pulling away (for a few moments each day, for perhaps an hour or maybe for even a day) to put aside the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season to concentrate on the star that is beckoning.

Advent is a time to reach into my own soul and find the God who dwells within; the Child who yearns to be born anew in me; the Child who has perhaps been forgotten in the busyness of everyday life; the Child who needs to be tended to, loved, cherished in my heart; the Child who is the Prince of Peace.

Advent is a time of preparation. It is a difficult time if we use it properly. It is not limited to buying gifts, but is discovering anew the gifts within ourselves. It is not limited to decorating trees, but is challenging us anew to prepare (yes, even decorate) our hearts for the rebirth of Jesus in our lives. It is not limited to cleaning our homes for guests, but is calling us to “clean up” and get rid of the clutter in our lives that is preventing us from being a truly Christ-welcoming home. Do I have the courage to follow the star of Advent, the star that leads to love?

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Vision & Challenge is published tri-annually by the Office of Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Notre Dame in California. This issue highlights some exciting new ministries of the sisters, including Sister Jennifer Marie Zimmerman’s position at Christus Ministries. If you would like to be added to our mailing list, please send an email to cvieira@sndca.org.

Click here to read the online version.

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The Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame came into being in Coesfeld, Germany in 1850. In 1849, two young teachers, Hilligonde Wolbring and Elisabeth Kühling, befriended orphaned and neglected children and took them into Hilligonde’s home where they educated and cared for them. Both young women had been educated in the spiritual and pedagogical tradition of Reverend Bernard Overberg.

Their spiritual director, Reverend Theodor Elting, invited them to consider religious life. Three Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, in the Netherlands, came to Coesfeld in 1850 to give these two women preparatory training for religious life. The Amersfoort congregation had received their spirit and rule from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, founded in France by Julie Billiart in 1804.

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Hilligonde became Sister Maria Aloysia, and Elisabeth, Sister Maria Ignatia. October 1 is considered Foundation Day because it was the first day that the Sisters of Notre Dame were in Coesfeld, Germany. Today the Sisters of Notre Dame, a Marian family of women religious, serve the Church throughout the world in education and other ministries. Together with their lay collaborators, they continue to be bearers of hope and joy, witnessing to God’s goodness and provident care.

Schools across the county with roots to the Sisters of Notre Dame are encouraged to celebrate Foundation Day and the rich heritage of the sisters. One year, Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio, celebrated Foundation Day by inviting some of the Sisters of Notre Dame to have lunch with the students and teachers. “Sharing a sandwich” with one of the sisters was a wonderful way to build a connection between the student body and the heritage of the sisters in a casual setting.

Acting in the spirit of St. Julie Billiart who proclaimed, “You are not asked to do all the good in the world, just that bit which lies within your power,” Notre Dame Academy in West Los Angeles initiated Women Helping Women. Each graduating class has the honor of leaving behind a $1,000 student scholarship for an incoming freshman who needs financial assistance to attend NDA. Earning their own money by doing an extra family chores, each student is asked to bring in a modest donation to help another young girl realize her dream of attending NDA. Money is collected on Foundation Day.

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Inspiring Catholic school educators with the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame is one of Sister Marie Paul Grech’s top priorities. Put simply, that charism (or what the sisters believe) is that God is good and provides for us. They strive to look at the world with hope; and what could be more important in a classroom than a positive attitude?

Sister Marie Paul loves this part of her ministry. Her love for teachers and her respect for the role they play in the lives of their students shows in her dedication to faculty and staff retreats.

“These men and women who give of themselves so generously to touch the hearts of the young are always an inspiration to me. It’s a real joy to continue spreading our Notre Dame charism and spirit,” Sister said.

She taught secondary school for more than 30 years in Ventura and LA counties, as well as in the sisters’ mission in Uganda, Africa. Armed with her faith and a lifetime of experience as a sister, Sister Marie Paul shows others how to infuse their classrooms with joy and compassion.

“Teachers continue our mission in our sponsored and affiliate schools where we are no longer physically present. God’s call to teachers in every Catholic school is vibrant and it is my joy to be part of their ongoing response to that call,” she said.

Sister recently led a retreat for 20 teachers from Saint Jude the Apostle School in Westlake, Calif. The retreat began with a morning Mass and breakfast, followed by small group discussions and a video presentation.DSC_0455

“Your job” Sister Marie Paul told the group “is to help children connect the dots- between science and religion, between what they learn on the playground and in the classroom. Your job is to teach them how to learn.”

Deana Herrera (pictured at right in the photo below) has taught at Saint Jude the Apostle School for seven years. She was motivated to apply Sister Marie Paul’s lessons in her fourth-grade classroom.

“Her positive spirit reminds us to see the good in our everyday lives,” Herrera said. “Sometimes when things don’t go as planned, one of my students will say something really funny. Those moments are God saying ‘Lighten up!’”DSC_0470

Sister Marie Paul is the coordinator of Kindred Hearts Ministries (KHM). KHM offers prayer programs, spiritual events, retreats and many other services for local parishioners provided by the Sisters of Notre Dame. To learn more about KHM, visit www.sndca.org/khm or email Sister Marie Paul at mgrech@sndca.org. Click here for the KHM calendar of events.

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