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The Empty Egg


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 31/03/2015

Jeremy was born with a twisted body and a slow mind. At the age of 12 he was still in Year 2, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him. One day she called his parents and asked them to come in for a consultation. As the Forresters entered the empty classroom, Doris said to them, “Jeremy really belongs in a special school. It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems. Why, there is a five year gap between his age and that of the other students.” Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue, while her husband spoke. “Miss Miller,” he said, “there is no school of that kind nearby. It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school. We know he really likes it here.” Doris sat for a long time after they had left, staring at the snow outside the window. Its coldness seemed to seep into her soul. She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters. After all, their only child had a terminal illness. But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class. She had 18 other youngsters to teach, and Jeremy was a distraction. Furthermore, he would never learn to read and write. Why waste any more time trying? As she pondered the situation, guilt washed over her. Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared to that poor family, she thought. Then one day, he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him. “I love you, Miss Miller,” he exclaimed, loud enough for the whole class to hear. The other students snickered, and Doris’ face burned red. She stammered, “Wh-why that’s very nice, Jeremy. N-now please take your seat.” Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter. Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. “Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life. Do you understand?” “Yes, Miss Miller,” the children responded enthusiastically-all except for Jeremy. He listened intently. His eyes never left her face. The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk.  In the first egg, Doris found a flower. “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said. “When plants peek through the ground, we know that spring is here.” A small girl in the first row waved her arm. “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,” she called out. The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that’s new life, too.” Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine.” Next, Doris found a rock with moss on it. She explained that moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom, “My daddy helped me,” he beamed. Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty. Surely it must be Jeremy’s she thought, and of course, he did not understand her instructions. Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly, Jeremy spoke up. “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy, your egg is empty.” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too.” Time stopped. When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?” “Oh, yes,” Jeremy said, “Jesus was killed and put in there. Then His Father raised Him up.” The recess bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the schoolyard, Doris cried. The cold inside her melted completely away. Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the cemetery were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his coffin… all of them empty.

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Lent: The Journey of the Seed – Part 6


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 31/03/2015

Sarah-Leah Pimentel. God writes straight on crooked lines. This is our experience of life. Sometimes our perfect plans don’t quite work. Other times we feel that we are on the right path and circumstances turn everything upside down. The newly-born Schoenstatt Movement of 1914 could not ever have imagined the events that shaped the history of its first 100 years. God chose to write on these crooked lines. Time and time again, it seemed that everything was acting against it. Joseph Engling, Max Brunner, Hans Wormer – some of the first sodalists – didn’t even get to see the first five years of Schoenstatt’s life. The first Schoenstatt Sisters sent to South Africa and then the Americas had just barely finished their formation and they found themselves in a kind of exile in foreign lands where they had to figure it out as they went along. And nobody goes into a concentration camp and expects to live. This is hardly the best way to build the foundations of an international spiritual movement. And yet, it was on these crooked lines that God chose to write. So as we conclude this Lenten series let us look again at Fr. Kentenich’s description of the best kind of terrain for growth: “The outward conditions for growth are all sorts and degrees of difficulties, continual inner and outward battles.” (Joseph Kentenich, 1954/55, Kentenich Reader Vol. II, p. 25) And I’ll add the sentence that follows this quotation we have been working with for five weeks: “This is [what is] meant when we say that Schoenstatt is a child of war.”

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Lent: The Journey of the Seed – Part 5


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 31/03/2015

Sarah-Leah Pimentel. The history of Schoenstatt’s spiritual development is a gradual movement from a personal spirituality to one that is outward focused. A friend of mine once described the covenant of love as the soil that nourishes both the inner and outer journeys of our Schoenstatt life. The Blessed Mother takes the first step by inviting us to enter into a covenant of love with her. We respond by sealing our covenant of love with her, and in so doing, we embark on a journey of self-education – guided by her loving hand – that gradually leads us to grow more deeply into God’s plan of love for our lives. However, the joy of that self-discovery cannot be contained and so, it must necessarily pour itself out for others. This is the focus of our reflection this week, as we return to the passage we first examined during the second week of Lent: “The good earth they need is the natural and supernatural readiness to be generous, but above all, to be chaste and to love.” (Joseph Kentenich, 1954/55, Kentenich Reader Vol. II, p. 25) 

Generosity becomes a source of renewal

Generosity is not just about giving of ourselves (natural), but also of passing on the spiritual (or supernatural) gifts that we have received. Reminiscing on the Jubilee celebrations in Schoenstatt my friend reflected that the renewal of the covenant of love on 18 October 2014 was one of many instances in the last 100 years where the Schoenstatt Family has passed on our most precious gift. We see it in our branches every time a new group is started. The elder members are instrumental in passing on their experiences and the wisdom of a life lived in the covenant to the next generation. I had a very real sense of this during the Jubilee celebrations in Schoenstatt, particularly during the vigil on 17 October. The theme for the night was the “Night of the Shrine,” which is an annual celebration of the Schoenstatt Youth. It began in 2005 with the Youth Festival in Schoenstatt, attended by some 3,000 members of the International Boys and Girls Youth prior to the World Youth Day in Cologne. I was blessed to have been a part of the volunteer team that worked for a year to prepare that Youth Festival. And it was with immense emotion and pride that I sat again in the Pilgrim Arena nine years later and watched as a new generation of Schoenstatt Youth took the symbols of that first Night of the Shrine and gave it new life and new meaning. Ten years ago, a large Perspex shrine where the youth have continued to place their petitions and prayers symbolised the desire of the International Youth to make a Covenant of Love for the Youth of the World. On 17 October they — the youth we entered into a covenant of love with — were renewing their own covenant of love with the entire International Schoenstatt Family. The generosity of 3,000 young people to share their covenant with youth who hadn’t even been born yet, multiplied itself in the covenant of love renewed by thousands of people all over the world on 18 October 2014. Generosity, therefore, becomes a source of renewal. But generosity is also a relinquishment. Part of this renewal requires letting go. It was beautiful to be present at the Night of the Shrine last year. But it was also difficult. It brought home for me that I am no longer part of the Schoenstatt Youth. My life journey has taken me to other places. Together with the many others who helped to prepare that Youth Festival in 2005, we provided our small contribution to the Schoenstatt. But now, we need to let go and let a new generation discover the treasures we found and multiply them.

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Making The Most Of The Holy Week


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 23/03/2015

Perhaps Lent this year went well for us, a profound time of confronting weaknesses out of love for the Lord. Or maybe it went rather poorly, and in fact was kind of forgotten in all the busyness of life. Either way, there is still time to take advantage of the opportunity the Church gives us to grow closer to Christ. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, which unites the “royal splendour of Christ with the proclamation of his passion,” says the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (No. 138). Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic King, and in his paschal victory.” Lent ends officially with the beginning of the Easter Triduum at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Through the Washing of Feet, we remind ourselves that we are called to love our neighbour and notice their needs. There is all, at the end of Mass, the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, available until 9.00pm — is the best way to end Holy Thursday. The Easter fast that many begin after Holy Thursday Mass is obligatory on Good Friday. “Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fast and abstinence from meat. Mass isn’t offered on Good Friday; but a Communion service and veneration of the cross is. When possible, Catholics take a break from work between the hours of noon and 3 p.m., the time Christ spent on the cross. This is also a prime time to pray privately the Stations of the Cross. Holy Saturday is an silent time of waiting. No Mass is offered, not even a Communion service like Good Friday’s. It isn’t an official fasting day, but many Catholics eat modestly this day as we wait to celebrate the Resurrection. On the Saturday evening, we celebrate the Resurrection with the wonderful Easter Vigil. This is the greatest feast of the Church – as we carry in the Light of Christ and dispel the darkness. Easter Sunday is the great day of victory and new beginning!

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Christianity is Not an Ornament


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 02/11/2014

‘Christianity Is Not an Ornament,’ says creator of controversial ‘Jesus the Homeless’ Sculpture.  Even though some Christians feel that the image of Jesus as a homeless person is offensive, the artist believes it’s a clear representation of the Gospel message. The life-size bronze sculpture depicts Jesus Christ as a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. Earlier this year, a woman called the police fearing for the safety of her upscale community after believing that the statue was a vagrant sleeping outside St Alban’s local Anglican church. Cindy Castano Swannack, the woman who had called police, said that even after she discovered the person she saw is only a sculpture of Jesus depicted as a homeless person, she further commented that the image is offensive. “Jesus is not a vagrant; Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy,” Swannack asserted. Christian artist Tim Schmalz, who created the “Jesus the Homeless” sculpture after witnessing the enormity of homelessness in wealthy cities answered that Swannack is not alone in her criticism. “When some people look at it — and I’ve heard comments — they’ve expressed that it creeps them out. And they ask, ‘How can you represent Jesus like this?’” Schmalz explained. When he was in Rome, he presented Pope Francis with a bronze model of “Jesus the Homeless,” he said that he thought about Mother Theresa and her emphasis on Jesus wearing many disguises, as the sick and the marginalized. He further commented that he sees people’s reaction to the piece as a cultural expression of “the value we place on people.” “This sculpture is not an ornament,” he asserted. “Some people say it frightens them. But I’m glad about that, because Christianity is not an ornament. Many people are used to putting their faith in a specific compartment of their life and bringing it out like something that can very much comfort them… This sculpture is for the marginal-ized people, so that when they come by it on a city street and they see the Son of man looking a lot like them, I think it will give them back something. And that’s part of the power.”

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A Priest’s Courage of Faith


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 01/09/2014

I was reading William F. Buckley’s Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith and came upon this story relayed by the late actor David Niven about a disaster at sea and the sacrifice of a priest. “David Niven told the engrossing story (I had never heard it) of a single episode in the chaotic flight from France after Dunkirk in 1940. One motley assembly, ‘Royal Air Force ground personnel who were trapped, Red Cross workers, women, ambulance drivers and, finally, the embassy staff from Paris with their children — by the time they got to St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, there were over three thousand of them and the British government sent an old liner called the Lancastria to come and take them away, with three destroyers to guard her. They were just pulling up the anchor when three dive bombers came. The destroyers did what they could, but one bomb hit, went down the funnel and blew a huge hole in the side, and she quickly took on a terrible list. In the hold there were several hundred soldiers. Now there was no way they could ever get out because of the list, and she was sinking. And along came my own favorite Good Samaritan, a Roman Catholic priest, a young man in Royal Air Force uniform. He got a rope and lowered himself into the hold to give encouragement and help to those hundreds of men in their last fateful hour.’ ‘Knowing he couldn’t get out?’ ‘Knowing he could never get out, nor could they. The ship sank and all in that hold died. The remainder were picked up by the destroyers and came back to England to the regiment I was in, and we had to look after them, and many of them told me that they were giving up even then, in the oil and struggle, and the one thing that kept them going was the sound of the soldiers and the priest in the hold singing hymns.’” Winston Churchill hid the news of the deaths of possibly more than 7,000 men from the public as it might have damaged morale. He reportedly said, ‘The newspapers have got quite enough disaster for today, at least.’ Although the sinking of the Lancastria may be the worst maritime disaster in Britain’s history with more deaths than the Titanic and Lusitania put together, it has not been truly recognized as such. Such stories serve to inspire and, I think, force us to question ourselves. When I hear a story like this I am terrified at the lack of my own faith.

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Carry the Gospels with You


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 14/04/2014

Pope Francis has often repeated the need to read a passage of the Gospels every day, whether on the bus or waiting for a train. But last Sunday, he went one step further by giving all the faithful in St. Peter’s Square a free pocket-sized book containing the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Acts of the Apostles. Several thousand copies were distributed at the Sunday’s Angelus in a bid to help the faithful get into the habit of reading a short passage daily. “At the weekly Sunday Angelus and on various other occasions, Pope Francis has, many times, called the faithful to always have with themselves a small book of the Gospels,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told reporters Friday. “He calls on the faithful to keep taking it out, re-reading it and and to meditate on the words and actions of Jesus, especially those related to the daily liturgy and which the Pope has developed in his reflections.” The initiative, similar to the distribution of the “Misericordinas” some months ago when thousands of rosaries were handed out to the faithful, will be implemented by the Almoner of His Holiness together with 150 scouts, seminarians from the Roman Seminary, sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, other religious, and individual volunteers. The Vatican stressed it is the role of the Almoner to distribute not only material but spiritual charity on behalf of the Pope. The book is printed by the Vatican Typography in a special edition which will not be available for sale. Containing the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, it begins with the Pope’s words from his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”. On the inner cover leaf there are instructions on how to recite the “Chaplet of Mercy” and it ends, on the inner back cover, with Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman’s prayer: “Dear Jesus…”, that Mother Teresa advised her nuns to recite every day. Here is this beautiful prayer – perfect for Easter:

Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go; Flood my soul with your spirit and life; Penetrate and possess my whole being so completely, That all my life may be only a radiance of yours; Shine through me and be so in me, That everyone with whom I come into contact, May feel your presence within me. Let them look up and see no longer me—but only Jesus. Amen.


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