It was a beautiful Sunday morning. People were filling the church to its full capacity! As they entered, each were given a bulletin filled with announcements, topic of today’s sermon, what songs they would sing and who to pray for. At the end of the line stood an older man. His clothes were filthy and you could tell that he had not bathed in days. His face was covered with whiskers, for he had not shaved for a very long time. When he reached the usher, he removed his tattered old brown hat in respect. His hair was long, dirty, and a tangled mess. He had no shoes on his feet, and wore only soiled black socks to cover the sores upon his feet. The usher looked at him turning up his nose at the old man and said, “Uh, I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid we can’t let you in. You will distract the congregation and we don’t allow anyone to disrupt our Mass. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.” The old man looked down at himself and with a puzzled look on his face, he placed his old brown hat back upon his head and turned to leave. He was sad as he loved to hear the choir sing praises to the Lord. He loved to watch the little children get up in front of the church to sing their little songs. He carried in his pocket a small worn out prayer book and loved to see if the priest preached a passage from the Bible that he enjoyed. But he was respectful, and didn’t want to cause any commotion, so he hung down his head and walked back down the steps of the big brick church. He sat down on the brick wall near the edge of the church yard and strained to listen through closed doors and windows to the singing going on in the church. Oh how he wished he could be inside with all the others. A few minutes had passed by when all of a sudden a younger man came up behind him and sat down near him. He asked the old man what he was doing? He answered, “I was going to go to church today, but they thought I was to filthy, my clothes to old and worn, and they were afraid I would disrupt their Mass. Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. My name is George.” The two men shook hands, and George couldn’t help but notice that this man had long hair like his. He wore a piece of cloth draped over his body tied with a royal purple sash. He had sandals on his feet, now covered with dust and dirt. The stranger touched George’s shoulder, and said: “George, don’t feel bad because they won’t let you in. My name is Jesus, and I’ve been trying to get into this same church for years — they won’t let me in either.”
“Where’s Angela?” I asked. The rest of our family was slumped on the living room couch. Everyone shrugged. Curious, I went in search of my sister. I checked each room of the house. When I finally found her, she was intensely focused on something. She looked up, revealing the object of her attention—her prayer book. I started to notice that Angela “disappeared” about the same time each day. I wondered how she found time to pray: Between college, friends and a part-time job. Angela’s one of the busiest people I know. So I asked her. “Well, every day I have to make the choice to spend time with God,” she said. “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it—prayer helps me to get to know God on my own, to have a real, personal friendship with him.” Angela had some great tips on how she formed her good habit. Here are eight of them. 1. Plan a prayer “appointment.” Write a specific time and location on your calendar, or in your planner. You might want to choose a time that corresponds with another daily activity: after you get up in the morning, right after school, or immediately after dinner. Try to avoid putting prayer off until the end of the day. “If I wait until bedtime, I usually end up skipping it because I fall asleep,” Angela says. 2. Choose your “tools”. Some basics include: i. A copy of the Bible or the New Testament; ii. A good prayer book; and iii. the Catechism – you can get a pocket-sized copy in any Catholic Book Shop. 3. Start with prayer.Ask God to keep you focused and to help you understand what you’re about to read. “Sometimes, my mind just starts to drift. I tell God I’ve set aside this time especially for him, and that I choose to focus on him,” Angela says. 4. Use your Bible and your Catechism. Even if you use a prayer book with verses printed in it, read the passages in your Bible or Catechism anyway. “Prove it to yourself that it’s really there,” Angela suggests. “It helps you to think of that verse as part of God’s Word, and not as just an excerpt from some random book.” Plus, you might spot another meaningful message from the Catechism that wasn’t included in the prayer book. 5. Read it until you get it. First, read verse by verse—read each verse several times until you understand what it is saying, then move on to the next one. Then, go back and read the entire passage, putting its meaning all together in your mind. Even if you’re familiar with a passage, try to read it like you’ve never seen it before—don’t skim over things. God might give you an understanding of something you’ve never noticed before. 6. Don’t just read about our faith—do what it says (James 1:22). Make a list of personal traits (patience, kindness) or spiritual goals (witnessing, prayer) you’d like to work on.Try to find ways to put your faith into action. 7. Make a commitment. On a piece of paper, write these words: “I commit to spend time with the Lord every day for the next month.” Sign your name and tape the paper somewhere in your bedroom where you can see it. 8. And finally number eight: Don’t give up. Let’s face it: There will be days when you skip prayers. Just try to keep it a high priority and do it whenever you can. “God is not going to abandon you if you don’t do a prayer one day—he knows what our days and commitments are like, and he knows our hearts,” Angela says. “Any time that you spend with God, he can use it to teach you and to grow your faith.”
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.
Sarah-Leah Pimentel. We have spent the first three weeks of our Lenten journey examining Fr. Kentenich’s metaphor for our spiritual life as a seed and exploring the qualities needed for its growth. So far, our reflections have been on our individual spirituality. But Fr. Kentenich’s words are just as relevant in the context of Schoenstatt’s spirituality, for us as an international family, a gift to the Church and society. Let us begin by exploring the first part of the text we’ve been working with: “Their [the seeds’] inner ability to germinate urges them to bring forth a distinctive spirituality and universal apostolate” (Joseph Kentenich, 1954/55, Kentenich Reader Vol. II, p. 25). In the same way as we have the necessary elements to unfold our spirituality already within us, so too Schoenstatt has already laid the foundations that will allow our spirituality to blossom even more abundantly in Schoenstatt’s second century. The Blessed Mother has prepared the terrain for us by initiating her relationship with us. She set up her home in our shrines – daughter shrines, home shrines, office shrines, heart shrines. Her Covenant of Love with us is the first building block of our Schoenstatt spirituality. When we respond by sealing our covenant with her, we cement that relationship bond.
Brother Hammer served as the chairman. The other members of the tool belt informed him that he must leave, because he was too noisy. But brother Hammer said, “If I have to leave this carpenter’s shop, then brother Gimlet must go too. He’s insignificant and makes a very small impression.” (A gimlet is a small tool with a screw point, grooved shank, and a cross handle for boring holes). Little brother Gimlet arose and said, “All right, but brother Screwdriver must go also. You have to turn him around and around to get anywhere with him.” Brother Screwdriver turned to the other tools in the belt and said, “If you wish, I will go, but brother Plane must leave too. All of his work is on the surface; there’s no depth to what he does.” To this brother Plane leveled his terse reply, “Well, then, brother Saw will have to depart too. The changes he proposes always cut too deep.” Brother Saw complained, saying, “Brother Ruler will have to withdraw if I leave, for he’s always measuring other folks as though he were the only one who is right.” Brother Ruler then surveyed the group and said, “Brother Sandpaper doesn’t belong here either. He’s rougher than he ought to be, and is always rubbing people the wrong way.” In the midst of the discussion, the Carpenter of Nazareth walked in. He had come to perform his day’s work. He put on His tool belt and went to the workbench to make a table for a family. He employed the ruler, the saw, the plane, the hammer, the gimlet, the screwdriver, the sandpaper, and all the other tools. When the day’s work was over, the wonderful table was finished, and the carpenter went home. All the accusations against each of these tools were absolutely true, yet the carpenter used every one of them. No matter which tool He use, no other tool could have done the work better.
Sarah-Leah Pimentel. The events that have taken place in Cape Town, South Africa over the last few days are a poignant starting point for our reflection in the third week of Lent. Devastating fires destroyed more than 4,000 hectares of natural vegetation along the mountain range in the southernmost tip of South Africa. The fire began unexpectedly in the night on a small section of the mountain near my house. Three days later, everywhere you looked all one could see was fire and billowing smoke. As the firefighters doused the flames and the smouldering embers died, the mountains looked more like a desolate lunar landscape than the home of the famous fynbos. Yet, despite this devastation, botanists are reminding us that the fynbos — the natural vegetation of this area — can only reproduce if it is exposed to fire. It is normal for fires to occur every 10-15 years to allow the vegetation to renew itself. It is also a natural way of culling alien plants that don’t belong in the area and strangle the fynbos. Nature conservationists predict that this same barren landscape will be teeming with new life when spring comes in September. FAther Kentenich says: “The outward conditions for growth are all sorts and degrees of difficulties, continual inner and outward battles.” In our lives too, it’s the trial of fire that deepens our faith and produces hope. Disasters, difficulties and suffering are often beyond our control. They occur suddenly and threaten to completely change the landscape of our lives. All of these things shape our spirituality. So do the religious, social and political contexts in which we find ourselves. Fr. Kentenich reminds us that in every Christian life, we will encounter difficulties and will have battles to fight. Every life comes with its own suffering: broken relationships, illness, financial difficulties, spiritual battles, battles within ourselves, disappointments of life, loneliness…We might ask, why do we need these things in order to grow in faith? (more…)
Sarah-Leah Pimentel. “The fruitfulness of a seed depends, as we know from experience, on its natural ability to germinate, the quality of the soil and from outward factors – the sun, rain and wind. …What applies to the seed in nature can be applied to the seeds of our spirituality and a universal apostolate. The good earth they need is the natural and supernatural readiness to be generous, but above all, to be chaste and to love. Normally only those who are generous are capable [of living our spirituality]…Chastity is necessary according to the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” The outward conditions for growth [which our spirituality needs] are all sorts and degrees of difficulties, continual inner and outward battles.” (Joseph Kentenich, 1954/55, Kentenich Reader Vol. II, p. 25) In Part 1, we reflected on how our spirituality is like a seed that has a natural ability to germinate when we are living according to God’s plan for our lives, following the natural rhythms of our unique personalities, character traits, the way we commune with God and relate to others. (more…)