Franciscan Sisters TOR, prodigal son, mercy, parables, Year of mercy
art by Lisa Andrews, original in Father of Mercy Chapel
The Gospel from today's liturgy is a popular Gospel narrative that is usually a hot-topic for discussion. It is "The Prodigal Son", also called "The Parable of the Lost Son" (Luke 15:11-32). Some say this narrative should be titled "The Merciful Father" because the father's love in the story is that same type of "crazy love" (what some may deem foolish)  as the Love of God, our Father. And doesn't He have that same type of crazy, foolish love for each one of us?

There are two sons in the parable: the prodigal son and the older son. It seems that some tend to favor the older brother and feel sorry for him. When praying with this parable and listening to the voice of God, we may come to see that at different times in all of our lives or seasons of life, we can associate with each son and at times, even the Father. 

"The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation." (Luke 15:12-13)

The younger son wanders from his Father's love until he returns home to him, destitute and repentant. And he says to his father, "‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son." 

"Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him." (Luke 15:25-28)

The older son stays home with his father, but does he love? He says to his father, "‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders" (Luke 15:29) 

But, is he just focused on what he is doing and not who he is  and who he is called to love? 

The older son appears legalistic and unmerciful in his response to his brother's return and his father's embrace. 

He refused to join the party because he felt the power to judge not only his younger brother for his wayward actions but also his father's love and mercy!

When we question the Lord, when we attempt to force our will upon Him, we are not too different from the older brother. We may be doing very good and holy things (like attending Mass, praying regularly, fasting etc.) but are we always looking down at His hands to see what He has to give us in return, or are we looking into the loving and merciful gaze of Christ?

Do we believe that God's love is earned and weighed by what we do? 

Or do we trust in who we are and whose we are called to be?

God is Love!! We cannot change who God is and what He does. He loves us if we wander or stay right at home. 

When we get caught in the "older brother syndrome", and we want to chastise the Father for what He hasn't done for us, how prudent it would be to pray and evaluate our lives, thank the Lord for His mercy and not compare our life to another. (Easier said than done, right?). 

Our vision is impaired for we do not see like God. "...Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,..God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart." (1Samuel 16:7). We are all brothers (and sisters) and we have one Father, our Father, a Father whose love and mercy makes no sense to us because we are human, sinful, and weak; we are not God.

Like the younger brother we may have wandered away from "home" and squandered the Lord's mercy and love, only to find out that no matter how many things we hold on to, we are still empty without accepting the Father's invitation to love - both God and neighbor.

ring, Franciscan SIsters, profession ring, TOR Sisters, mercy
In spite of our younger brother/older brother tendencies, the Father is always waiting for us. God our Father is always waiting for us to return to Him; He is calling us, watching for us. Run to Him, into His merciful embrace. "While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20). 

Let Him place a ring of covenantal love on your finger and the robe of mercy on your shoulders. Step into His embrace, join the party and "Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

"No matter how low we fall, the marks of our sins, the irons and the shackles that entrapped us, can be changed through the grace of the merciful Love into the jewels of the covenant. And out of our very scars, God creates our beauty. The sin is not only forgotten or "blotted out" as people say at times; it is forgiven, i.e., it becomes a theme of celebration of merciful love." 
(The Cantana of Love by Blaise Arminjon, S.J.)

Join us in Consecrating Yourself to Divine Mercy

Now is the Time of Mercy! (Not the most original title for a blog post I know, being the Jubilee Year of Mercy and all). But isn't it always the time for mercy? Hasn't it always been the time?  In the life of St. Francis of Assisi St. Bonaventure tells a story of St. Francis and Divine Mercy:

Another time, a noble woman, devoted to God, came to the saint to explain her trouble to him and ask for help. She had a very cruel husband who opposed her serving Christ. So she begged the saint to pray for him so that God in His goodness would soften his heart. When [St. Francis] heard this he said to her: "Go in peace, and without any doubt be assured that your husband will soon be a comfort to you." And he added: "Tell him on God's part and on my own, that now is the time of mercy, and afterwards of justice." After receiving a blessing, the woman went home, found her husband and delivered the message. The Holy Spirit came upon him (Acts 10:44) making him a new man and inducing him to answer with gentleness: "My lady, let us serve the lord and save our souls." At the suggestion of his holy wife, they lived a celibate life for many years, and both passed away to the Lord on the same day. (chapter 11, section 6):

Did you catch that? Some 800+ years ago St. Francis of Assisi said, "Tell him on God's part and on my own, that now is the time of mercy." It’s the year of mercy yes, but it's never stopped being the time for mercy! 

In Pope Francis' Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy he wrote "I asked that this season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God's mercy."

Are you seeking ways to live this time of mercy more intensely during the Lenten season? What about consecrating yourself to Divine Mercy? We began the Jubilee Year of Mercy on December 8th by consecrating ourselves to Jesus through Mary by praying the Marian Consecration: 33 Days to Morning Glory. How many fruits have been born from this consecration and Jubilee Year of Mercy? We may never know here on earth - but one day in heaven we will!

Well Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC has done it again, written another book; 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy! His book follows the same 33 day retreat format as 33 Days to Morning Glory. (St. Therese of Lisieux will be pleasantly surprised)! Begin the consecration to Divine Mercy with us on March 1st for the consecration day - April 3rd - Divine Mercy Sunday! On Divine Mercy Sunday at noon there will be a live EWTN broadcast from the national Shrine of the Divine Mercy.

Divine Mercy, Franciscan Sisters TOR,  Mercy, Year of Mercy, Fr. Michael Gaitley
Sisters with the Book 33 Days to Merciful Love

Order a Free book online (just pay shipping) by February 21st. 

Read more about the story behind the writing of 33 Days to Merciful Love!

"I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people. Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart." (St. Faustina's Diary, 1588)

Now is the time of messengers of Mercy!

one of the hermitages on our property

Franciscan Sisters Hermitage Reflections

For two weeks after Christmas, Sr. Agnes Thérèse and Sr. Teresa spent time in prayer and solitude in what we call a hermitage experience. This time apart enabled them to work and pray in intercession for the world and their specific intentions. Enjoy their reflections!

A Return to Nazareth

Hermitage, prayer, Sr. Agnes Therese, Franciscan Sisters
The two weeks I spent as a hermit this Christmas praying for peace were an amazing gift. I felt in many ways that it was what Pope Paul VI writes about in the Office of Readings for the feast of the Holy Family (celebrated the Sunday after Christmas): “How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths.”

As I accomplished simple jobs, prayed, and lived in silent community with Sr. Teresa, I felt very close to Mary, and did learn again about the true meaning of life. It is this simple: God loves me, created me, and takes care of me. Everything else is a footnote.

The Generosity of God’s Mercy

Franciscan Sisters TOR prayerJust after Christmas I entered into a hermitage experience to be even more given to prayer, silence, and sacrifice, doing work that was contemplative in nature and offering it all up for a particular intention. I thought my hermitage experience would be a time of offering up difficult experiences as a form of intercession. Instead, since the Lord cannot be outdone in generosity, it was a time of being immersed in His merciful love for me.

That experience was very fitting, because I offered up the time for those who do not know or believe in God’s mercy. I offered it for those who have separated themselves from God, and in not knowing His unconditional, tender, all-powerful love for them feel empty, alone, sad, abandoned. I also offered it for those for whom God’s heart breaks, that by the merits of Christ’s Passion, the Gospel truth would pierce and transform their hearts and bring them to know and glorify the generosity of God’s mercy.

Today ends the year of Consecrated Life in the Church (November 30, 2014-February 2, 2016).  It has been a year of many graces and beautiful opportunities.  As consecrated religious, we were invited by Pope Francis to focus on three things during this year:

to look to the past with gratitude, live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.

Throughout the year we reflected on our past by having Days of Renewal dedicated to prayer on specific themes relating to our charisms and the vows.

One of the ways we embraced the future was by attending the National Symposium hosted by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) where we heard speakers present on "Religious Life as a Prophetic Witness".  There were over 500 women religious in attendance from all over the country. Religious life is alive and growing in the Church!

But what about "living the present with passion"?  Pope Francis asked us to ask ourselves this question:

 "Is Jesus really our first and only love?" 

This is a question that I was able to reflect on in a profound way by professing perpetual vows in July of 2015, during the year of Consecrated Life.

Sr. Sophia Grace (right) during her perpetual vow ceremony
As I was preparing, I was led to reflect on my preparation before professing my vows for the 1st time, nearly 5 years ago.  Our motherhouse complex and Father of Mercy Chapel was nearing the end of construction.  The building was scheduled to be completed in June but as we moved into July we were still having work parties to help clean, paint, and clean some more!

July happened to be when my classmates and I began a more intentional reflection on each of the vows, praying with one of them each week.

The first vow we took was chastity.  It happened to be the week that I would walk through the cloister and see men, young attractive men, right outside my bedroom window as they were re-siding the existing house.

It made me stop and think.  

For almost a year our property had been bustling with all kinds of carpenters, masons, plumbers, and electricians (a good portion of them men) and I never experienced any major temptations against the vow of chastity.

 Why?  Because THE Man, Jesus Christ, had wooed my heart and I desired to belong only to him!

The next week we began cleaning and setting up bedrooms on the new side of the house so they could be part of the tour on the day of the Chapel dedication.  It was a bit of a sneak peek for our guests before we started living in the rooms and they became part of the cloister (where only sisters are allowed to go).

That particular week a sister came to me with a plea, "Sister, we don't have enough bed spreads for the rooms.  Can I use yours?"  To which I responded, "Sure, why not." It was shortly after this exchange that I recalled we were reflecting on poverty that week!  The Lord is so good in helping me concretely live it out and, at least in this instance, be more attached to Him than to things!

Week #3.  Obedience.  Hearing the will of God through my superiors.

My assignment at the time was co-coordinating the kitchen, which during the month of July became a small catering business as we provided lunch for the volunteers who came to help us at our work parties.  I began experiencing the busyness and stress of it all during this final stretch of preparation and finishing the building.

I was trying to do what was asked of me in the kitchen but I didn't feel like I could fully enter into my preparation for 1st vows with all of the chaos that was happening around me.  I went to my formator in tears and she encouraged me that my human emotions were normal and expected.  She gave me tips to help with the demands and encouraged me to see God in the midst of it.

What was God saying in all of this?  What was his will?

The revelation of His particular love for me!  In preparation for vows I was also praying with the ancient Jewish wedding feast, basically what a proposal, engagement, and marriage celebration would have looked like in Jesus' time.

Our chapel under construction
Part of the process is that after the bridegroom and bride are engaged the bridegroom went back to his father's house and began to build the bridal chamber.  Meanwhile, the bride prepared herself and waited for the bridegroom's return, which was when the bridal chamber was complete, and always at an unknown hour.  Then the marriage would take place.

The day before first profession, as we were just beginning the rehearsal in our new chapel, a sister came through excitedly waving a paper in her hand.  "It's official!  We just got the final permit!  We can move in!"  The building had passed all necessary inspections.

As I stood there listening to her words what I experienced the Lord saying to me was, "The bridal chamber is complete and now I am coming for you at this unexpected hour, to be married the following day."

In Our Lord's providence and passionate love for me, He allowed me to experience my own preparation to give myself to Him alongside His building the bridal chamber, our new chapel.

Yes!  Jesus is my first love!  And in the ups and downs of the last five years the Lord has taken me deeper into his passionate love.  In professing perpetual vows I freely gave my heart to him and desire Him even more to be my ONLY love!

I pray that this passion between the Lord and I leads and guides my interactions with each person, as I desire everyone to experience that same depth of love in their lives!
-Sr. Sophia Grace Huschka, T.O.R.
Sr. Sophia Grace recieving commnion during her perpetual vow ceremony

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