A gallery of modern art is very close to our home in Poznań. A small one, with the name of only one artist. I passed by many times, seeing pictures in the window. As usual in modern art, the interpretation of a few strokes on canvas can probably be very different, but the only thing that mostly came to my mind were naked women. The rounded figures were very characteristic, and although I have no idea what the images were supposed to represent, they rather made me feel uneasy than delighted by art.
One day, however, something caught my attention. Among the brightly coloured works filling the space of the gallery, on a wooden easel, there she was. Pneumatophora. The icon of Our Lady carrying the Holy Spirit, freshly started, outlined only with a black line. I was definitely not expecting this. Not there! There were three of us that day, walking on a winter evening and each of us looked through the glass like she saw a ghost.
The story continued, because each week the icon was being filled with colours. Blue, red and gold contrasted with the plastic colours of other paintings and brought a special atmosphere into the room. I have no idea how Pneumatophora found herself in this suspicious gallery, but for me it became an inspiration before this time of Lent. Jesus came into the world, died and resurrected, so that everything could be filled with the purity of the Holy Spirit. Not in those places where everyone puts their hands together to prayer and acts impeccably, but precisely in those that seem most distant from holy. If during Lent we are to focus on our conversion, that is changing our thinking, is it not the point to see that God is the Lord of everything? He is in all the places where we see only suffering, evil and sin. He is crying with us there.
Maybe we only need one thing? To find a place where we least expect God and see that there is a whole lot of Him there.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with my Sisters from Europe in Budapest. At the prayer on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, we were to present graphically what in the last year in our opinion contributed to building peace. I drew a smile, because I am convinced that it is just ordinary human kindness that allows us to overcome our difficulties on a daily basis, which otherwise become unbearable. I am convinced that the way in which we treat a person is more important than whether we can directly respond to his needs. Ultimately, this will be the greatest need of everyone – to be treated with respect and dignity.
A few days ago I came across a video showing how treating children at school affects their well-being and development. Having the experience of working in middle school, I know how much it costs to not get upset in the seventh hour, when the students are doing everything apart from paying attention. At the same time, I am aware that the teacher’s reactions might be crutial in building the attitude a young person will have towards the world and what kind of a society we will all create.
Now I am on my way to Poznań after visiting our community in Tarnów. Many of our Sisters are involved in the kindergarten and school run by the Society, but many more are lay people. It gave me real joy to watched the care and kindness with which everyone approaches the children. This very clearly translates into the satisfaction of them and their parents. Certainly, after graduating from school, it will not be most important if little John was able to solve the equation well and write an essay, but the fact that he was heard and understood.
Sometimes I have the impression that we are so absorbed by the professionalism of our doings and the size of the tasks we undertake, that we lose joy and lightness. Then we no longer have the strength for the most important – kindness that changes the world.
Everyone who works with children, especially in any role at school (teacher, bus driver, lunch room, etc.) needs to see this. I love it!
This Advent, although short, has already been exceptional. During these three weeks, a friend, who I knew during my studies in Warsaw, died of cancer; during mass with a great crowd of people, I remembered Fr. Jan Góra, a very famous Dominican on the second anniversary of his death; and above all, with my whole Society, I experienced the death of Mariola Vera, who has been struggling with leukaemia these recent months. The way she lived through her illness shows how united she was with Jesus, who was close to her up to the last days. On the Spanish website you will find a letter that she wrote to the her Province a few days before her death.
All these things reminded me of the symbolism often used while writing icons. In the Nativity scene, little Jesus is wrapped in the way in which the dead were formerly buried, or is even lying in something resembling a coffin or grave. This should show that Jesus was born to die, and he died so that we could have life. These two mysteries – life and death – meet and complement each other. It is a paradox that accompanies the entire Incarnation, because when the Almighty God becomes a defenceless child, we feel that it goes beyond our human understanding of reality.
These days, I remind myself that “memento mori” are not words that should fill us with fear of eternal hell, but which should put our lives in the right light. St. Ignatius, as one of the methods of making decisions, proposes to imagine yourself at the moment of death and ask yourself if it would be the best choice from this perspective. Maybe it would be good to look at the coming days from the perspective of eternity. Will it still be important that there will be good food and clean curtains? Or maybe something else will emerge from our priorities then?
This is a very polish custom to meet with everyone during Christmas and exchange wishes, but I think this might be useful for everyone 🙂 Welcome to the Reality full of God #2
(if you don’t see the subtitles turn them on in the lower left hand corner)
During the days of my studies, when many things absorbed me up to late at night, I always use to say, that I will finally get some sleep after I die. Although in the meantime I have significantly changed my lifestyle, the motto is still valid, because the number of hours sleeping seems to have little effect on whether I will be yawning during the day. This also effects my prayer.
Apparently (though I can not find it) Saint Teresa of Lisieux once said that if the surgeon wants to perform an operation on the heart, he must first put the patient to sleep. Maybe I should not be surprised that after entering the chapel, I sleep best – maybe my heart requires constant operations!
For several years, with varying intensity, I have been trying to practice prayer in motion, taking Jesus for a walk. My legs, walking several kilometers, significantly reduce the risk of falling asleep and, in addition, make me stay fit. Of course, the noises of the surrounding world can effectively disrupt my encounter with God, but they can also become the basis for a prayer of mindfulness, which will bring my thoughts “here and now” without wandering to the past and future. A walk is also a perfect moment to say the rosary, entrust to God people passed on the street or to make a summary of the day in His presense. Fortunately, he did not shut Himself in the church or our homes and every place can become the Holy Land of encounter with the Almighty.
It happens often, that I leave my prayer disappointed that I slept again most of the time. But maybe I have it wrong? Maybe it’s just an invitation for a walk …
What seems to be important today, is knowing how to choose wisely from what the world gives us. I still remember the times in Poland when a good present was anything you managed to get for dollars in a Pewex shop. Today, for people who have everything, nothing seems to be a good gift. Maybe that is why hand-made things are getting more popular. It’s something that cannot be bought – the spent time and given heart are worth more than shopping in an expensive store.
These lat years, there have been a lot of retreats and inspirations for Advent and Lent. These are usually very valuable initiatives and we would like to try everything, listen to everything, be everywhere and not lose anything. Unfortunately Advent is so short – this year exceptionally. I think that the words of Jesus spoken to Marta are valuable at this moment: “There is need of only one thing”. They say, that plenty is no plague, but I think it can be a big one.
Joseph became my “one thing” this year, thanks to a retreat at the jesuits in Poznań. The guardian of Jesus, as the patron of the spiritual warfare (sorry Ignatius, he was first 😉), is an excellent helper for everyday choices. He, at the crucial moment of the history of salvation, wanted to secretly escape from Mary, having the best intentions. But this was not God’s plan, and Joseph, when he recognized it, changed his mind. He is a man who, though hidden in the background, played a key role, teaching God himself…
There is need of only one thing. Let’s find our unique path, an Advent niche, which will be ours – hand made. With no noise at the shopping center, no hurry, no more ideas. Just us and the one chosen space where we can meet God. This is probably the biggest challenge at this time of waiting for Christmas.
Recently, looking for images in the internet for the word “holy”, I found something very interesting – this shoe! It’s a shoe that has a heel and has no heel at the same time.
I am full of admiration for the designer who was able to look at footwear in such a brilliant way, and although it may look like its only connection with sainthood is the name “Saint Laurent”, I am convinced that it tells us a lot about holiness.
Saints are ordinary people like me and you, but they can see more in life. They are those who walk in the world, but they are not from this world, because they loved God and their neighbour so much, that it affected all their decisions. Like the creative shoe, they have a strong foundation – so they firmly step on the ground and look upwards at the same time, but they do not need a heel to connect them with the world.
In order to wear such an elegant boot, we not only need lots of money (almost 1000 €), but also a decent dose of trust. The lack of a visible heel makes it not easy to believe that the narrow base will be enough to hold our weight. But if we trust, we can do great things. If I had to choose one characteristic of someone who could count on being pronounced a saint, I would have no doubt. A saint does not have to be perfect and sinless, nor does he have to do miracles and great works, but he must trust in the power of God, who can overcome all sin and weakness.
Who knows, maybe in Heaven we will be walking in such shoes? 😉
Yesterday, we buried Sister Maria Kosińska in the cemetery in Warsaw. Around the time of her death, I experienced a number of graces, which are for me a smile of the Lord. I wanted to see her before she died, because lately I did not have time to say hello, and it happened that I managed to visit her at the hospital on Thursday and she died on Friday morning. Jesus knew exactly when to take her with Him – On October 20 we celebrated the feast of Mater Admirabilis, and during the weekend we held meetings of various working groups in Warsaw and our meeting of PTVs. There were many sisters, friends and family. Adding to all this, one of the general councillors visited us and also Isabelle from France could attend the last farewell. The ceremony was beautiful and inspiring!
Sister Maria was warm and smiling. In the last months of her life there was little contact with her, but there was smile constantly on her face despite the suffering she was experiencing. She laughed a lot. Probably not hearing much, she reacted with laughter in situations that were not funny at all. It is very possible that the stroke that led to her death was the result of her laughing too much!
On Sunday we were together with Ala in a student chaplaincy in Warsaw and met with young people who were looking for their way of life. Today I would tell them one important thing. Find such a place in the world where you will laugh to death.