Monday, July 21, 2008

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8)

On Wednesday we began our catechesis at the Love and Life site. Whether we were ready or not, we had 450 pilgrims lining up outside our beautiful little chapel—some eagerly waiting to go in, others looking like they needed a few more cups of instant coffee. Every pilgrim’s story is different…why they came to World Youth Day, what they expect to get out of it, how they want their lives to change. Deep down, each one is looking for the same thing, rather the same One. Some already have a relationship with Jesus, and they come expecting greater intimacy with Him. But many are really searching, not quite knowing who Jesus is, or who He will be for them.

I saw Philip walk into St. Benedict’s that first morning. I was intrigued by his appearance: He was tall and slender with long dreadlocks, multiple ear piercings, and green and black tied-dyed knee high socks. I thought to myself, “I wonder what his story is…” I caught him after Mass sitting by himself. I walked over to him with my pilgrim lunch in hand and asked him how it was going. I took a bite of my pilgrim lunch (an ice cold sausage), and immediately I knew that God’s grace was at work. It had to be, or how else could I explain eating every last bite of that sausage?!

He told me that he used to be an atheist and now he didn’t know what he was. His girlfriend is an atheist and she wasn’t too excited about him coming to World Youth Day. He came because his mom had invited him to go, so he agreed, and the two of them set out for Sydney from New Zealand. He spoke of wanting to know the truth and of being happy. I smiled because I knew that in searching for the truth and for true happiness, he was likely to find only one answer—God. So I encouraged him to have an open heart and to dig deep into his own heart and lay all his deepest desires and questions and hurts before Christ’s own merciful heart.

I saw Philip the next day and he practically ran over to me and blurted out, “I went to reconciliation last night. My life is going to change. I’m going to stop hanging out with all my bad friends and I want to have a serious relationship with Christ.” I could hardly contain myself either; I was so proud of him. Then he told me, “You have something that I want. You have this life, this flame about you…you’re so full of joy, and I want that for myself.” I could tell that he already had it—“it” being God’s love, His life-giving, transformative, merciful love. I spoke to Him about being nourished by Christ in the Eucharist at Mass and in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The next evening we had a Eucharistic healing procession at St. Benedict’s. It was a sight to behold: hundreds of people on their knees, inching up toward the sanctuary where Jesus was waiting to meet them each personally. For some reason the image of the Israelites going up to meet God in the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant, came to me. We sang, “Holy, holy, holy,” and I spotted Philip amidst the crowd of people. He slipped in the side door and fell to his knees. I watched as he approached Bishop Lori holding Jesus in the monstrance. I was moved to tears as Philip grabbed a hold of the humeral veil and buried his face in it. I begged for healing graces for him. The moment is etched in my mind forever.

Later Philip told me that that was the most powerful night of his life. He had met Jesus and he really knew His love for him. Furthermore He knew that God is calling him…calling him to break up with his girlfriend and to grow in deeper fidelity to Him and to serve Him with his life.

That’s the power that World Youth Day had on one pilgrim. And if it was all for just that one pilgrim that would be enough. So many times we are not privy to know how God’s grace works in other’s lives, but sometimes, God allows us to see His transforming effect on people so that we can grow in our trust and faith in Him and foster a deeper sense of reverence and awe for others. God’s grace is at work in our world and in our Church today. Let us pray for the eyes to see it and the faith to believe it.

Sr. Mary Theotokos

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mass For Young Religious and Seminarians

“In a very special way, my greeting goes to the seminarians and young religious who are present among us. Like the young Israelites in today’s first reading, they are a sign of hope and renewal for God’s people; and, like those young Israelites, they will have the task of building up the Lord’s house in the coming generation.” (from the mass homily at St. Mary’s Cathedral July 19th). The sign of hope and renewal that Pope Benedict described us as is radiated first from he who has become known as the “Pope of hope.” We aspire to only magnify what he is teaching us and in that will build up the Lord’s house in the coming generation.

It was only appropriate that during World Youth Day our Holy Father desired to gather with the seminarians and young religious from across the globe. As Pope Benedict entered the Cathedral a shout of “viva el papa” came from one of the seminarians hovering around the front door where a sea of cassock clad seminarians and habited religious were flooding the center isle to get a closer glimpse of the pontiff.

The vibrancy and youth of the Church’s vocations were obvious by looking around at the faces of those religious and seminarians that were in attendance. At the mass on Sunday at Randwick Racecourse, the Pope noted how the Church is young. It was all too apparent at this solemn mass in Sydney’s Cathedral that Her vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are also young and filled with great love for the Supreme Pontiff.

During this mass with young religious and seminarians Pope Benedict dedicated the Cathedral’s new altar. How fitting that this took place in the presence of those who are preparing their souls for lives of consecration. Cardinal Pell reminded us that Christ is our Head and true altar and all Christians, most especially those consecrated as religious and priests are also spiritual altars on which the sacrifice of a holy life is offered to God.

As the Holy Father was reciting the prayers of the rite of dedication I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to religious consecration. As I along with six other novices are preparing for our own profession of vows in a few short weeks I was all the more compelled by these prayers when he said “Bless this altar…that it may ever be reserved for the sacrifice of Christ.” As consecrated souls we are called to be a sacrificial offering out of love for the Lord. During his homily the Pope emphasized to us that “you yourselves will become living altars, where Christ’s sacrificial love is made present as an inspiration and a source of spiritual nourishment to everyone you meet.”

During these days in Sydney with the young Catholics of the world we saw this everyday in the numerous encounters we experienced. Whether it was local Australians just wanting to be in our presence and chat about what it means to be a Christian. To daily mass going college students inquiring about the possibility of their own vocation to religious life. No matter the situation these people desired a sign of hope. They desired authentic love with the living God. They desired to encounter Jesus Christ and were given the great treasure of that experience with His Vicar on earth whom they long follow in order to build up the Lord’s house in the coming generation.

Sr. Mariam Caritas

A Window for God

All vocations are of the Cross. Vocation is the place where you realize that what your heart yearns to do is so far beyond you that it can only be accomplished in Christ. Thus you give yourself fully to Christ, sacrificing yourself to Him, and trusting that by doing so you participate in the world’s salvation. Each of us has a unique vocation. Each of us is a unique image of God; no one else can show God to the world as you can. He has a beautiful and totally individual plan for each one of us.
I first discovered my vocation calling at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. I was sixteen at the time and very young in my Catholic faith. For the first time, I saw the Stations of the Cross, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that I experienced the Cross. I saw Jesus sacrifice Himself and knew it was for me. In that same moment, as I was watching Jesus die on the Cross, my older sister leaned over to me and said, “Have you ever thought of being a nun?” In her voice, I heard the voice of God. From the moment onward, I never doubted my religious vocation. However it was not until five years later, when I was on a “Come and See” weekend with the Sisters of Life, that I was able to concretely make the connection between the love of the crucified Christ and my sister’s revealing of my vocation. During those five years, I was searching for signs, for ways of knowing which community I was called to join. Then, when I met the Sisters of Life, I prayed before the Crucifix and I knew I did not need signs. I knew God’s love for me on the Cross was enough. Could there be any greater sign than a God who died for me?
Thus, I entered the Sisters of Life and spent nine months as a postulant, living with the community but not yet being a sister. During this time, I prayed about the mission and identity God had for me. I prayed about who I was in His eyes. Then I was given the gift of entering the novitiate, receiving the holy habit and a religious name, Sister Talitha Guadalupe. One month and one day after entering the novitiate I found myself on a plane to Sydney, Australia to attend another World Youth Day.
When we arrived in Sydney we went immediately to Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. There Sister Mary Anglica pointed out to me something I had never seen before. As you enter the Cathedral, there is a beautiful stained glass window showing the Gospel story from which my name is derived. The window depicts Jesus raising a young girl to life and in the corner is the inscription, “I say to you arise.” In Arabic the words are “Talitha, koum.” Then, the next day when I was praying before Mass, I asked God to show me what my mission was to be for this World Youth Day. I opened the Gospels, and the story was my story, the story of the raising of the little girl. It was as if God was saying to me that my mission was just to be, to be who I am in His eyes and to allow Him to show the world something of Him through me. I was to be His stained glass window, reflecting to the world an image of Him that no one else could.
I stand in awe of this reality. Always in the past, I have prayed for signs to know who I am called to be. After this World Youth Day I feel that God has revealed to me who He wants me to be. He asks me to be His Sister Talitha and He entrusts me to the care of Our Lady of Guadalupe that this may be so. Now I need to pray for a different type of grace, for the grace not to discover my identity but to live inside it and to truly experience it as God’s gift to me. I was given the grace to touch Pope Benedict (at the Mass on Saturday morning for priests, seminarians and young religious) right in front of my window in St. Mary’s Cathedral, the window of Talitha, after to having prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe that this may be so. In this I feel that through the Church, God is asking me to truly live my identity, to truly allow Him to radiate through me.
This was indeed my experience of World Youth Day. I did not witness any major conversions, but I was able to be present to many people and I saw the power of this. I saw the power of allowing myself to be small before God and simply to be where He placed me. One encounter in particular resonates in my heart. Towards the beginning of the week, I was walking and saw some anti-Catholic cartoons lying on the ground. I felt compelled to pray for those who were handing out the cartoons, and did so, entrusting them to Mary and asking her to draw them into the heart of Christ and to heal any bitterness they may be feeling. Then, a few days later, I actually saw a man, “Peter,” passing out these cartoons. At first I walked by, but then I felt impelled to go back. I asked Peter what he was doing, and he said he was just passing out some Baptist biblical literature. Then he looked out into the sea of pilgrims walking by, a sense of wonder came over him, and he said, “There are tens of thousands of people here and Christ died for each one of them.” My heart too stopped before this marvel and together Peter and I were filled with wonder at God and His love. Then I asked Peter to pray for me and shared with him my name. He smiled when he heard my name, recognizing it from the Scriptures, and said he would always remember me. He thanked me for being sweet and I left. I do not know what God will do with this encounter, but it touched me. It touched me to be able to share with Peter, a man who was attacking the Church, my identity as a daughter of the Church, and to be able to stand together in wonder before God.
God is awesome in the truest sense of the word, and He has a mission for each one of us. Sometimes we wonder what this mission could be; we worry that we will never find it. But we need not worry. Eventually God leads us to a place where our hearts meet His in such a way that without really even being aware of it, we radiate His presence. We are each uniquely created in His image and thus we each show something of Him to the world.
As Sisters of Life, we speak of our mission in terms of the Annunciation and the Visitation of Mary. We speak of conceiving Christ beneath our hearts and carrying Him forth into the world as Mary did. This was always a hard image for me. I felt that in giving Christ away, I would lose Him. Yet, God has shown me that this is not so. Instead, in receiving Christ, in receiving Him fully, I am so transformed into His image that I share Him in being myself. It is my being and not my doing that He desires and so it is with every person. As Cardinal O’Connor, our founder and father would pray, “God wants to reach out to others through your hands, God wants to speak to others through your lips, and God wants others to look into your eyes and see Him. Give God permission.”
Sr. Talitha Guadalupe (SV novice)

Who is Like God?

The third and final day of Catechesis was coming to a close, and the pilgrims were alive and buzzing… singing the World Youth Day theme song, laughing, taking pictures with one another. The mad dash for the food bags had begun, and I stepped back to take it all in and heave a sigh of relief. It was finished!
A young man approached me, “Sister, can I ask you a question?” “Yeah, sure…do you want to step outside?” His openness was apparent, and I knew his question would be a personal one.
“What’s your name?”
“Ah, Michael means ‘Who is like God?’ Your name is a question. Because there is no one like our God! How awesome… so, how’s it going?”
“Sister, I read Pure Manhood. I read Pure Womanhood. I read Sent.” He was referring to the materials we had handed out at the beginning of each day according to its theme. “I know I need to stop having sex with my girlfriend and I don’t know how to tell her. What should I say when I go home?”
I blinked, feeling incredulous; pausing in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was amazed and totally blown away by his humility! What strength and determination I saw in the eyes of this young man. Overjoyed and excited, I grabbed his shoulders and shook him hard; we laughed and exchanged a high five. I put my hand to my heart. What good tidings, tangible grace! “What a man!” I said to him, “I am so proud of you. God is going to totally honor this decision.” He smiled, and agreed, laughing at my exuberant response.
I asked seriously, “How do you think your girlfriend will respond? What are you most afraid of?”
“She’ll think I’m breaking up with her, or I don’t love her any more…but I do love her, and want to marry her one day.”
In an instant, it was as if I was talking to my own brother. And he wanted to be a man who does God’s will. He wanted to protect this young woman he cared for.
“Well, let’s start there…reassure her of your love for her. Tell her how much you love her and how you want to protect her purity, her relationship with God and that you haven’t been doing that. You’ll need to apologize. Can you do that?”
He was eager, and replied, “I went to confession and everything.”
“Tell her, no more fear of pregnancy, no more feeling used or rejected. You want to love her heart, and you want to be able to commit to her fully and cannot do that right now. Do you want me to write this down?”
He nodded and we stood there, putting to words his desire for purity, for a new beginning, for a relationship rooted in Christ, in prayer.

“How old are you Michael?”

We talked about dating as discernment for marriage, how sex before marriage blurs your ability to clearly discern and makes you feel distant from God. It was so very beautiful. I told him to begin praying every night for his future spouse, wherever she was and whoever she was…to pray for her purity, her relationships, that she would be a woman of faith, in love with Christ. He had been bolstered by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and asked for extra copies of the books for his girlfriend so they could talk about it.

“Michael, do you realize that you’ve received a grace? Do you see that? Do you know that God has touched you?”
He looked at me, opening his hands, “I was thinking to myself, ‘What if I hadn’t come to this site?’… I never would have read these.”

After promising to pray for one another, and a last word of encouragement, he headed back to his group and I wandered over to my dear sisters, almost in a daze. So much effort, prayer, and planning had gone into preparing for these pilgrims, for these sessions of catechesis. Hours and hours of meetings, phone calls, e-mails, organizing…and if it was for Michael alone, we would do it all over again. How many stories of grace will go untold? We’ll never know. But as Sisters of Life, consecrated for Love alone, loving purely and intensely in reparation for offenses against life and love, we are certain… nothing we do for love of Jesus and for love of our brothers and sisters can ever again be considered casual or small.

Sr. Bethany Madonna (SV novice)

Learning to Love Without Limits by the Stations of the Cross

The dramatic recounting on Friday of the events surrounding the crucifixion and death of Christ surely awakened a call, in the hearts of all who witnessed, a desire to love without limits as Christ and his Blessed Mother.

Through the prayer of the Stations of the Cross, the Holy Spirit inspires us to recognize the face of Christ in those around us in need. We are taught by Mary, Mother of God, Joy of all who Suffer, to accompany those most in need with our prayers and loving attentive presence.

As Christians we believe that there is a mystery of God's salvific and merciful love which surrounds human suffering. The Church, our Mother and Teacher, helps us to understand and enter into this mystery through the prayer of the Stations of the Cross.

When suffering enters our lives, we unite ourselves with Christ and pray to the Father, "Lord, take this cup from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done." With faith and loving acceptance we follow in the footsteps of Christ, in obedience to our Father, knowing we are participating in a mysterious way in the pouring out of God's salvific and merciful love upon the world.

So let us go forward reflecting often upon the words of Scripture and the Stations of the Cross that we my be strengthened and inspired by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, especially when we or those we love are faced with the mystery of suffering that we may truly live, that we may truly love without limits as Christ and his Blessed Mother.

May the Lord grant abundant blessings to all those who participated in making the great devotion of the Stations of the Cross part of the pilgrimage of World Youth Day 2008.

Sr. Mariea Dolorosa, S.V.

Grace Abounds

Pope Benedict XVI left Sydney this morning but the grace released here is still very present and at work! I have asked some of the Sisters in the next few days to post some stories of grace for all of you to share in the many signs of God's love, presence and activity in the lives of those that we have met here. Now I know what Saint John meant at the end of his Gospel when he said if he were to record all of the stories of Jesus' life and teaching, it would take more than all the books in the world could hold.

The theme for this WYD was from Acts 1: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses." Be encouraged! 200,000+ pilgrims have over these past 5 days had the fire of the Holy Spirit ignited within them anew, have been stregthned in their faith through the presence of the Pope and one another, and are now returning to the four corners of the earth to be His witnesses.

To view a video clip of our site or to download the talks given visit:
Two of the talks are currently avaialble and the rest will be posted asap.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth, SV

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Finale of Eucharistic Grace

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, presided over a moving Eucharistic Healing liturgy as the final activity at the Love and Life Site.

Pilgrims had an opportunity to, one at a time, reverence the Lord Jesus truly present in the Eucharist.

(Photos/Stephen Feiler)