Ascension Sunday and the Cloud

by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM                                        Ireland                                             09.05.2024

Next Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  In some countries it is celebrated today.   When I was a child, I believed in this in a factual way and would look up at the sky and imagine Jesus zooming up like a supersonic rocket. It was easy to believe this as the Acts of the Apostles says, “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight”.

Now that I am older, I wonder if the main point of this story is not, in fact, the cloud. In the Bible, the cloud often symbolised the divine presence. It was the pillar of cloud that guided Moses out of Egypt. It was a cloud that covered Mount Sinai when Moses went to speak with God. Even during the Transfiguration there was a bright cloud.

Clouds come and go, scatter, reform themselves, vary in intensity and yet their very essence is to cover over.  Maybe that is what is important in the Ascension Cloud.  It is telling us that we don’t know the whole story, things will still be uncovered, revealed, in God’s own time.
“It is not for you to know times and seasons.”  often we try to manipulate situations to suit our own ends, the cloud reminds us that God is in control, not us!

In the late 14th Century, an English mystic encouraged his pupils to run with the cloud metaphor as they tried to pray. Accept that God is fathomless mystery, he said, and enter ‘the cloud of your unknowing’!  There, even though you can’t see, you’ll have a better chance of glimpsing God.

What do we make of all this cloud-talk in context of our troubled world today?  That nameless author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ lived in uncertain times.  As well as war and social unrest, he lived in a time of pandemic.  In his youth, the Black Death had raged across England, killing maybe half its people. And it kept coming back. His response?  To long for God.  To turn to contemplative prayer in his ‘little soul-room’.  To accept the limitations of reason and embrace mystery.  To glimpse God lovingly waiting for him in the cloud of his unknowing.  It seems a perfect approach for Ascension Sunday. Perhaps for the wider times in which we live too?

Thank you, Susanna Gunner, for encouraging me to think of this!

by Nadia Ramoutar  MMM Communications Coordinator                      Ireland                            07.05.2024

Perhaps one of the hardest things about being human is overcoming the hurt and harm that other people create for us. Whether this is when we are children or when we adults, forgiveness is an essential part of being able to grow up and to move on with our lives. Sometimes we are looking at forgiving something minor and sometimes we are being asked to forgive something major. No matter the size, being willing to forgive can be a huge ask.

What is forgiveness really? According to the American Psychology association involves wilfully putting aside feelings of resentment toward someone who has committed a wrong, been unfair or hurtful, or otherwise harmed you in some way. Forgiveness is not merely accepting what happened or ceasing to be angry. Rather, it involves a voluntary transformation of your feelings, attitudes, and behaviour, so that you are no longer dominated by resentment and can express compassion, generosity, or the like toward the person who wronged you.

Simply put, forgiveness involved letting something go that hurt. Or you could say that forgiveness is about overlooking something that hurt but not forgetting it necessarily.

When we look at Jesus’ perspective on forgiveness, we see that we were not expected to forgive a person once or twice. No, a lot more is expected of us.

In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus tells Peter that he should forgive his brother who sinned against him, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Is this forgiving the same person that many times or multiple people seven times I hear myself asking for clarity. Basically, we are being asked not to keep the score.

We are asked to turn our cheek and to keep going. Not overcoming a hurt or way a person harmed us can be damaging not only to the relationship but to us too. Someone once told me that resentment is taking poison and thinking the other person is going to die. An inability to forgive works the same kind of way. We forgive at some point because not forgiving hurts us so much.

Research now indicates that there are significant benefits to forgiving someone. According to the Mayo Clinic there are many benefits.
• Healthier relationships
• Improved mental health.
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility.
• Fewer symptoms of depression.
• Lower blood pressure.
• A stronger immune system.
• Improved heart health.
• Improved self-esteem.
Some researchers are going as far as to say that the inability to forgive can create illness or disease for us which is literally a dis-ease, lack of ease. So, as we move through the world, perhaps we need to think who or what else we might need to forgive? It does not mean we have to reconnect with people or have to be close to them again, but it does mean that we let them off the hook, or seventy-seven hooks for that matter.
So let’s get unhooking!

 

by Sr. Helen McKenna MMM                                         Ireland/Tanzania                                     05.05.2024

Hammers and nails were so much a part of your life
The smell of sawdust greeted your nostrils every day
Often you’d have helped your father maybe with the plane or lathe
How did you manage the handsaw?
Did you delight in making a table or chair,
You who created the world?

As I sit here in Africa amidst the wood shavings
Enjoying the Sabbath, all is still.
And as I look at the carpenter’s bench
And homemade ladder, it strikes me …
Hammers and nails were so much part of your life
And yet they were the tools that put an end to it.

How the young lads love to carve their name on a piece of wood.
Jesus, the King of the Jews, they wrote.
The wood, they didn’t bother to prepare
No shaving or cutting, no planning
Just as it was, maybe still growing, they used it.

How often you’d enjoyed joining the wood together
At the bang of a hammer.
Here now it’s you that’s being joined – hands to wood – for me.
Mary was the carpenter’s wife but queen,
You were the carpenter’s son and Messiah.

by Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer MMM                         USA                                           03.05.2024

The summer vacation went quickly. At times we were overjoyed when visiting Drogheda to see the four students who had just qualified and left us, bustling around the hospital in their white coats, caring for the patients. It was a wonderful feeling to think it would be our turn next. Then we would realize it was a tremendous leap to be able to study and retain five years of knowledge which our examiners would expect from us. Our love for the people of Africa kept us focused and each day brought new challenges. Our studies became more interesting as we watched each other give medical and surgical presentations. All was beginning to click into place.

September came and with it was an assignment to spend two months in Holles Street Hospital to learn how to deliver babies. Martha Collins. Maura Lynch and I shared the same residence. It was exciting for all of us. We had a registrar who would give us lectures and show us the various departments. An obstetrician would ask us questions and demonstrate various procedures. I had asked to see a baby being born in the Maternity Hospital a few years before and was in awe of the mother working so hard to have her first baby and the incredible joy on her face after her safe delivery. It brought to mind the words of St. Paul,’ I am in Labor until Christ is formed in you.” Galatians 4:19 I prayed that I would not become a selfish old maid as a nun but spend myself for souls as OUR FOUNDRESS Mother Mary inspired us to do so.

Well, the blessed day came, September 8th, 1963, when it was my turn to deliver a baby under the midwife’s direction. John Paul Kelly was born, and I have been praying for him since. I was so filled with joy and so was his mother.

With every delivery we were each assigned a stage of labor. We even had a fourth stage which was called the cleanup stage and the one who did that had the privilege of taking the baby down the stairs to the mother who eagerly awaited him or her. I loved that stage too.
It was the first time to live outside the convent and we had some enjoyable night recreations playing table tennis with the other students. Sometimes we helped the women in the kitchen dry the dishes. They liked a chat and told us how we Medical Missionaries of Mary were so free that we could ride our bicycles all over town. It might have looked like being free but sometimes our legs got numb on the frigid days.
We could forgo lunch and travel to the Mater Hospital by bicycle to attend a Pediatric lecture. An apple and a chocolate bar would do.
There was a hostel nearby, Marie Auxiliatrix, where we could visit and pray. Marie Reparatrice Convent was nearby, too. They had Perpetual Adoration.

One night the male students decided to have a little fun and called all the women to go to the Labor ward at 1 AM to see Siamese Twins being born. Of course, we did not like the joke, but the men had a good laugh seeing all the curlers in our hair.

Of course, there is a sorrowful side of Obstetrics which we saw a few things go wrong. A beautiful young woman who had rheumatic heart disease delivered her baby very easily but, in the process, suffered a clot to her brain which made one side of her upper body paralyzed. Another died suddenly from an amniotic fluid embolism. One woman had severe hypertension and eclampsia. She had complete bed rest for several months and delivered her baby without any complications. She was incredibly happy to have a live child. We learned a lot about the swiftness of life and death and how to be attentive in decision making. and pray for a good outcome for mother and child.

Soon our two-month experience ended, and we were back to Earlsfort Terrace, attending lectures. We would soon be taking our Final Exams in Obstetrics and Pediatrics.at the end of November. Thank God we all passed and looked forward to celebrating Christmas in Rosemount and the return for our Final Semester but that is another story.

by Sr. Jo Anne Kelly MMM                                                    Ireland                                                01.05.2024

When I was a child it was traditional for every house to have a May Altar in the month of May. It was the month dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. My mother had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary so it was special for all of us. There was great excitement about preparing the May Altar. In country houses like ours some families had the altar in the kitchen but ours was in a bedroom. A special white starched linen cloth covered the top of a chest of drawers. In the centre was the Statue of our Lady on either side of which was a candlestick with candle and tall glass vases. The flowers for the first days were always what we called May flowers and Gilly flowers. These were found in a marshy field which we called Maggie’s field. Maggie was my grandfather’s old farm horse, now more or less retired who spent a lot of time there.

The May flowers were big bright Golden blooms which I later learned may have been wild marsh marigolds and the Gilly flowers were delicate and slender with small pale lilac flowers. We prepared that altar with such care. Each night before going to bed we said our night prayers there. Since we did not have electricity, the candlelight made it special, a little sacred space. Sometimes we had the whole Rosary but not always. I think my mother decided how long she could keep us awake.

Editor’s Note: Our May Altar was at school. My favourite job was to go into the neighbouring patch of woodland near home and gather wildflowers for the Altar. For me it was primroses, if they were still around, but more usually bluebells. The bluebells became a rather sad offering. By the time they were picked on an afternoon, clutch in small arms to be brought home, stored in a bucket outside and carried into school by bus the next day, they were sadly drooped! But my teacher was great and they were given to Mary as a great honour!

by Mary Essiet                                                            Nigeria                  29.04.2024     

As I sat on the pews of the church that day listening to the words of the final commendation said by the priest, I could not help but reflect once again on how I would love my death to be.

For me, an ideal death would be one where I am surrounded by loved ones, drinking coffee and sharing laughter and stories of our beautiful memories. I imagine looking through the window from my bed to admire the dark and deep sky adorned with glittering stars and appreciating God’s creative works. But this may turn out to be just a beautiful vision and not what my death will be because the Lord gives and takes and decides what is ideal for everyone. Which is why, regardless of when or how, I want my loved ones to receive the news of my death with joy too.

No! I do not mean to police their emotions. They can express their sadness but I hope that their joy is even greater, for death is really just another natural part of life-a gift from God.

I love to think about my death from time to time. I do not find discussions about death taboo; rather, reflecting on it helps in shaping my life in many ways. For if I want the news of my death received not just with sadness but joy too, then I must live well.

I believe and agree with Rabinderanath Tagore that “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come”. Oh, how much it will please me to have my loved ones see my death from this light! Yeah, I want them to find comfort in the kind of life I lived. That of love, purpose and meaning. I wish that they find solace in the memories we created and are pushed to do even more when my dawn comes. I hope that it avails them of another opportunity to reflect on their own lives and what death means to them.

Overall, I hope that I die with a smile on my face, knowing that the heavens are proud of how much I loved myself and extended the same to my neighbors. When I die, Ii envision it to be a celebration of a life well lived.

Mary Essiet is a native of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, and a medical student who heals through writing.

 

by Nadia Ramoutar  MMM Communications Coordinator             Ireland                   27.04.2024 

Sitting recently with some MMM Sisters we were discussing world events. The news of even more warfare in the world can be so discouraging. The images of injured children and demolished homes do not get easier to view.

It seems that the human world’s history is stuck in a repeat loop. Haven’t we been in such dark time before? Aren’t we scared of what world leaders will do next or not do next? What can we do to make thing better or easier for people in such dire situations?

The sense of being overwhelmed is very real. So what can we do to change things when we are upset and discouraged about world affairs? The idea that the answer to this is to be calm and to go within seems erroneous, but when things get stressful and fear starts to infiltrate, this really is the critical point for activating faith.

In Luke 14:27 we are remind that God’s peace is available to us. Jesus says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We are not being offered a life free of any trouble or heartbreak, but the peace exists for us, despite the world’s trouble. This peace comes to us even when the circumstances of life can disturb us.

When life is going our way it is easy to be faithful. When we are getting our prayers answered we seem to be in the flow of things. But, what about the times when things seem unfair, challenging or even unbearable? What then? The truth is that having faith in dark times requires courage, which comes from the French word for heart. Despite the darkness we must have courage to believe in our hearts regardless what our mind knows.

In Victor Frankl’s famous book (that I have read several times) about the Holocaust, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he describes the moment in which he stepped out in courage and literally saved his own life.

“Dr. Mengele turned my shoulders not to the right, that is to the survivors, but to the left, to those destined for the gas chamber. Since I couldn’t make out anyone I know who was sent left, but recognised a few colleagues who were directed to the right, I walked behind Dr. Mengele’s back to the right. God knows where the idea came from and how I had the courage.”

While Frankl’s mother, father, brother and all wife were killed in the gas chambers he somehow managed to survive. He said that it was love that comforted him in the darkest hours of his time there. Frankl lived to be 92 years old and used his life to bring much wisdom and compassion to generations of people.

As we face the week ahead may we have the courage to make the right turns.

by Jo Doyle                                                    Ireland                              25.04.2024

In today’s society we have become comfortable with the need to de-stress.  Words such as mindfulness, focusing, surely are familiar vocabulary.  There is a certain acceptance for a need to debrief ourselves from juggling so many aspects of our lives.  I never did mindfulness although I have meditated.

Recently my life took a gentle turn, a prodding into a natural slowing down, finding stillness and creativity.  During Covid, I started looking into my own ancestry.  It was a great way to spend time.  It was wonderful.  I was an Edinburgh lass now living in Kildare, Ireland, and not only did I find exactly where my father’s grandmother was born and bred, but most of my long-lost cousins were still in the exact area of Cloyne, County Cork.

Then I found the other side of my family in County Laois.  All of our lives, my own Nana had presumed that her mother was from Queenstown, County Cork, but through my ancestry investigation I found that she was born in 1863 in Modubeagh, Queens County, modern day Laois.  My great grandmother was born just 20 minutes from where I live now, and her granny was born in Mountmellick.

I decided it was time to storytell.  I looked at the history of Mountmellick at the time, and it was known as Little Manchester because it was the center of industry, twenty-seven industries in all from textiles, dyes, wools, tanneries and breweries.  The canals were the most convenient form of transport up and down to Dublin.  The mining industry was huge in Laois with large seams of coal running all the way to Kilkenny.  Then there was the craft work.

Mountmellick work, or Mountmellick lace as it was originally locally known as, is white upon white embroidery, with its invention by Johanna Carter, a teacher, and the Quakers adopted her skills.  This is where my story begins.  I was fascinated by this unique skill of white matt threads on white cotton satin material.  Its inspiration grew from the beauty of the nature that is all around Mountmellick, the dog rose, oak, shamrock, fern and many more.  Birds were plentiful, the linnet, cuckoo, the unusual corn crake, blackbird and robin.  So, I started to weave my own story into this handicraft.  My three times great grandmother was born and bred in Mountmellick, so I used her to tell the story of this bold and beautiful embroidery.  There are thirty or more different stitches, all white upon white.  The edging of all the embroidery is buttonhole edging, with fringing that looks so delicately like lace in nature.  It is a true Irish craft, born, bred and valued in Mountmellick.  Within my story my great great great grandmother passed on this skill to her children’s children.  I was hooked by my own storytelling and felt such a desire to learn this ancient art.

Lo and behold, what I saw on the internet was marvelous.  In the 1970s, a Sister Teresa Margaret McCarthy had revived it and there was a beautiful museum showing off its vital history.  Not only this, but Dolores Dempsey, a student of Sister Teresa Margaret’s, was now giving classes.  I toddled down there and started to learn.  I hadn’t stitched since primary school and was surrounded by creative wise women who had fashioned beauty over their years of living in Mountmellick.  I learned about 10 new stitches and have stitched one small creation of charm so far.

I am hooked, hooked by the elegance we create, hooked by the enjoyment of these women embroiders company, hooked by the mystery of ancestry calling us to recreate, hooked by the mindfulness, natural mindfulness it generates, hooked by the grace of this beautiful white on white work.  Thank you Mointeach Milic, the bog by the land bordering the river.

Jo Wardhaugh Doyle is farming in Kildare with her husband Matt. She has worked in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, but more recently has worked with Sr Rita Kelly MMM doing the REAP programme in the Irish Missionary Union (IMU).

by Vera Grant AMMM                                            Ireland                                23.04.2024

I don’t like it when my neighbours go away. I don’t like the automatic lights that invisibly switch themselves on at a set time. I know they are not there and I feel alone, isolated and a sense of abandonment.

It’s as if I have lost my connection with people…..people I know, talk to, recognise and share similar interests. It’s not a new phenomena for me.

How many windows have I looked out and found myself alone?

In China where I had gone to teach for a year, I will never forget standing at my bedroom window and seeing nothing but concrete buildings stretching across what seemed like miles of flat ground, no hills, no mountains just flatness.
If anything should happen to me, I thought, I will never be found in this concrete jungle. For the first time in my life I understood the saying, ‘we are smaller than a grain of sand.’ It was a desolate moment.

to a smaller house in more recent years and after all the helpers had left I found myself once again gazing out of a window, a small pane of glass in the front door. This is my home now, I said to myself, and I don’t know anybody, and no-one knows me.

And yes that has long since changed and I am no longer the newcomer but when my neighbours recently went to Australia for six weeks the old familiar thoughts started to unfold. I was aware that this is a real disconnect in my life so was glad of the Lenten retreat in March, ‘Hope begins when I stand in the dark looking out at the light.’

I can change how I perceive these situations and this ability to shift my perception was enhanced further in the MMM Lenten online retreat on the value of Interconnectedness where ‘everything exists in communion with everything else.’
I am not alone, I have my faith, I am a child of God, I have family and friends who love me and I love them, I have the garden, my books, bridge, Pilates and the list goes on….I have an abundance.

Turning away from the window I smile at my fortitude, in looking back I lift my eyes and see other lights shining in houses, not far way with people in them. I am not alone.

by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM                       Ireland                         21.04.2024

Last September I found myself in a large garden waiting for a visitor to the house. It was a warm, sunny day, always welcome at that time of year. I sat on a garden bench and had the time just to feel the heat of the sun, hear the breeze as it swayed the small branches of the nearby tree and to notice a bunch of daisies at my feet.

We don’t notice daisies much. We walk across the lawn and step on them. At best we ignore them and at worst we treat them as a pest that need to be destroyed. I remember once a visiting Sister from Nigeria was horrified that we were mowing the lawn and cutting down all the lovely flowers! I laughed at the time, but she was right. Each flower is perfect in its simplicity and grace. It lifts it face to the sun each morning, stretches out its petals, welcomes insects and simply says “Here I am!”

In my life there are many people that I treat like daisies. I am ashamed to say this but it is true. I must acknowledge it. I have nothing against them, particularly, but our lives don’t intersect much, or if they do, I don’t notice them much. Why? Mainly because I am caught up in my own plans and concerns. I don’t stop and give the time to see people as they really are. Flawed and imperfect human beings like myself, yes, but also each one is unique and each one shows his/her own beauty in the world. My ignoring of people is the root of so much prejudice and racism that flourishes in our society. If I don’t notice people, I can ignore them or tread upon them like I do the daisies.

So today I make a promise to myself. Respect the ordinary. See the ordinary for what it is – extraordinary in some way or in some other place and time. The ordinary fire fighter becomes a hero at times of crisis. Delivery drivers, cooks and cleaners become “essential workers” as we learnt during the pandemic. I don’t ever want to forget that “ordinary people” are very special people. After all, I too am a daisy in someone else’s life!

 

USA