Welcome To a Conversation!

July 15th, 2015

Do you enjoy the insights of others who take the Gospel seriously? We’ll share ours and invite yours.

Are you pondering contemporary reality? Maybe our consecrated life in the world will offer a fresh perspective.

Are you seeking a wise guide for your own spiritual life? That might be Angela Merici. Through the centuries many women and men have benefitted from her counsel, not only her daughters.

You can participate through commenting below, including suggesting future topics.

Whether you come as an occasional visitor, a regular reader, or a partner in conversation, we hope you’ll enjoy your time here. Look for new posts about once a month and for comments and exchanges in between.

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January 16th, 2024

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Tough Words

December 1st, 2021

Luke 14:25-32

My grandmother displayed several pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in her home. These portrayals of our Lord often brought me consolation, especially through periods of uncertainty. A meditative gaze into these portraits led me to Jesus, who, with his shepherd’s crook, lovingly and wisely led me through valleys and into light and life.  

Yet Luke’s passage portrays a very different Jesus. He has put his crook down for a few moments to speak about the cost of discipleship. The heavy cost.  

He does not mince words. Far from the tender shepherd who carries lambs across his shoulders over rough terrain, Jesus says it plainly: get ready for division, friction, and sacrifice. 

In this reading, we encounter images and words we may not be used to hearing from Jesus: carry your own cross, renounce all your possessions, and, perhaps the toughest one to negotiate: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother…cannot be my disciple.” Is this the same Jesus who shepherded us through those dark periods of life? 

Of course, Jesus’ sayings are not literally about hate, for God is love, and we as his disciples are called to perpetuate that love, not enmity. But he does demand that we have our priorities straight: God is first, and always should be. 

Jesus’ words are tough but necessary. And although my grandma had no images of this Jesus on her walls, I know that meditating on this aspect of our Lord is just as integral to our spiritual lives as is meeting the Good Shepherd in our prayers.   


If Only You Knew

December 1st, 2021

As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace…

Luke 19:41-44l

In this short passage of Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. His lament immediately follows his triumphant entry into the city. He looks out at the sweeping vista and predicts total destruction. 

Jesus is filled with emotion over the city he loves so dearly. He foretells that enemies of Jerusalem will encircle the city and that not a single stone will be left in its place. Indeed, in 70 CE, Roman troops “hemmed” Jerusalem “on all sides” before besieging and devastating the city and razing the Temple to the ground. The only stones to survive were those of the western retaining wall; everything else was gone.  

Jesus weeps because Jerusalem missed her chance for peace. Earlier in Luke, Jesus expressed his unfulfilled hopes for the city: “How many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling” (13:34). Our Lord truly longed to protect Jerusalem, to care for it, to nurture it as a devoted parent. But…Jerusalem did not recognize the time of the Lord’s visitation. 

Yet Jesus’ visitation—and invitation—are not limited to a single point in time. Today, He gazes at each of us, upon our parishes and communities, our cities and nations, longing to gather it all into his arms.  

Our Lord visits us in innumerable ways. Will we recognize him? He visits during the Mass, via the Sacraments, and as the Word of God is spoken from the ambo into our hearts. He is present at the Table as we gather there to receive him. As we sing praises, pray the Our Father, and reflect on the messages of the homily, we open the door of our hearts to him. Jesus himself “hems us in” from all sides in order to offer life. From every angle, material and immaterial, he reaches out to us and years to stay within us permanently.  

Let us accept Jesus’ gaze of love and gather together as a brood under his wings.   


Chances are, you are quite familiar with the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany in the Gospel of Luke (10:39-42). In this domestic scene, Mary listens and worships at Jesus’ feet. In contrast, Martha serves and worries. Martha then complains that her sister isn’t helping. And as a soft rebuke, Jesus tells her that Mary has “chosen the better part.”

Poor Martha! Generations have considered Martha’s role as less than ideal. She gets a bad rap. Or, more specifically, her serving and worrying do.

Honestly, don’t you elevate Mary a bit above Martha? Just a teeny tiny bit? It’s okay; you’re not alone.

Martha is a woman of tremendous faith after all, as described in John’s Gospel (11:17-27). She approaches Jesus four days after the death of her brother Lazarus and says sadly, “If you’d been here, he wouldn’t have died.” We might pause here and think, “Yep, a typical Martha move.”

Yet Jesus reassures her that Lazarus will rise again. She believes him. Instantly. Like Peter’s profession that Jesus is the Christ (MT 16:16), her faith is made possible because of what God the Father is stirring in her heart. God chooses Martha for this moment.

Jesus then asserts, “Whoever believes in me shall never die.” He asks her if she believes this. And without hesitation, she proclaims, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who is to come into the world.”

Martha’s profession enables us to see her as a disciple marked by action and faith. She affirms Jesus as the Christ, and she is a woman declaring these words in a milieu dominated by men. Martha, and only Martha, speaks here in one of the most important passages in the New Testament: Jesus is identified as the Son of God.

Now I no longer see Martha as a mere kitchen maid, fretting with dirty dishes, whose faith is diminished in the light of her sister’s. Today Martha inspires me to profess once again, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into this world!”

Thank you, Martha. You rock!


Hardships and Hope

April 6th, 2020

Angela as Prophet (Mericianum, Desenzano)

Were epidemics and/or pandemics part of St. Angela Merici’s experience?

The pandemic “Black Death” scourged Europe from 1346 to 1353. When Angela was born (1474), plague was periodic and local. Milan suffered an epidemic in the 1490s and Brescia in 1524, during her time there. People trembled before their vulnerability to disease.

There is no evidence of why Angela’s sister and parents died when she was in her teens (not all at once).  Agostino Gallo testified that Angela had episodes of illness but did not generally respond well to medications, preferring “onions, leeks, and similar things.” Her chosen therapy was washing her hair. In Cremona, she was on the threshold of death, eager for heaven, and angry when she realized that she would survive.

How did she think about life-shortening illnesses – one of life’s hardships?

Angela shows the whole picture: our earthly trials and our heavenly destination. She puts them in sharp relief: “this miserable and treacherous world” and heaven’s “celestial joys and treasures” and “everlasting triumphs.” She warns us against making achievements, possessions, or comforts in this world the treasures of our hearts, things which are passing and vulnerable to life’s vicissitudes: “…and henceforward abandon totally all love for this miserable and treacherous world, where there is never either rest or any true contentment, but only empty dreams, or bitter hardships, and every kind of misery and wretchedness.

The world’s treasures pass, but so do its inevitable sorrows. Angela hopes and trusts in God: not that nothing will go wrong, not that we will be spared suffering, but a trust that God will not abandon us and will lead us into Paradise. “Although at times they will have troubles or anxie­ties, nevertheless this will soon pass away and be turned into gladness and joy. And then, the suffering of this world is nothing in comparison with the blessings which are in Paradise. Also, let them hold this as most certain: that they will never be abandoned in their needs. God will provide for them wonderfully. They must not lose hope.

Angela faced hardships and sorrows, was bereaved, and now abides in the joy that we too will enter. “Also, tell them that now I am more alive than when they saw me in the flesh, and that now I see them and know them better. And can and want to help them more.

Her promise lifts our hearts.

Fasting from the Eucharist?

Who knew this would be our Lenten fast in 2020, the pinch of this hunger?

The corona virus has shifted our Eucharistic life online. An invisible community around our separate screens replaces – expands – the tangible community around the altar.

Not all bad, for a time, to sense the invisible but very real spiritual bonds that unite us, always, with the entire Body of Christ. Not bad to be reminded, as our Marie Chantal reminded me, that daily Mass is an impossibility in many places, including her homeland, Congo.

I welcome that expansion and that solidarity, among the varied lessons we are learning from the corona virus.

But… not sharing in the Lord’s Supper! That “fasting” I will not accept, will not accept as normal. I will remain hungry.

In St. Angela Merici’s day the laity did not typically partake of the Body of Christ, of the Blood of Christ. Angela left three clues to her persistent hunger.

  • The desire to receive more frequently as a member of the Third Order drew her to become a Secular Franciscan in young adulthood, as she later recounted to friends.
  • “A communion of the spirit” is the aspiration she recommended to her daughters, whose Eucharist could not include Communion. She wanted them/us to experience deep interior union with Christ, though sacramental reception was impossible.
  • Angela directed the Company’s leaders to arrange for a monthly Communion service, a highly unusual privilege.

Fasting…. feasting. By a linguistic accident in English, only one letter differentiates these two words: E. In this time of fasting from Eucharist, I want to stay hungry for the sacrament. If I accept the fast as normal, when it ends I won’t be hungry enough to FEAST.


Fourteenth-century illumination of a French manuscript

Fourteenth-century illumination of a French manuscript



Dear Kathleen

February 17th, 2018

Dear Kathleen,

You have been gone for ten years. February 19 was a Tuesday in 2008. That afternoon your breathing stopped quietly, simply, almost unnoticed. You had gone home, as you had joyfully anticipated from the time of your stroke four months earlier. You had joined your Spouse, your parents, your beloved Madre Angela.

Together below the statue of St. Angela in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

I still miss you. When we were starting this new Company in the USA, we conferred constantly by phone and in visits between Cincinnati and San Francisco. Your astute insight and your humor were invaluable. Your prayer was deep and scriptural. Your faith was solid. No wonder your gifts in counseling and spiritual direction left such a deep impression in retreat centers in Montana and Juvenile Services in San Francisco! Do you hear me calling on you now, when I face a challenge or prepare for a formation conversation with one of our new members?

Yes, new members! You did not live to see our expansion, but maybe you hear me complaining to you about how gradual it is. In your last weeks, we used to joke that you would be in charge of our heavenly “recruitment desk.”

Consecration, January 27, 2008

We were still new members of the Company of Canada when you made your consecration during Mass in your living room on the feast of St. Angela. It was the last time you were up and dressed. Each evening thereafter, we drew on our shared Irish heritage with a Celtic night prayer. It ended with a pause to recall the day‘s reasons for gratitude. “What are you grateful for today?” I would ask.

“Everything,” you said, literally on your deathbed. “Everything!”

In your many-layered legacy to our Group of the USA, the richest treasure may be your spirit of gratitude.

Thank you, Kathleen, for “everything”!

Love from your sister in Christ,

Times and Circumstances

March 30th, 2017

“If, according to times and circumstances, the need arises to make new rules or do something differently, do it prudently and with good advice…,” St. Angela told the Company’s leaders in her last Legacy. Her words ring in my
21st-century ears.

Angela modified her plans in response to a need that had arisen. On March 19, 1537, she gathered 59 daughters in her kitchen (really, really crowded!). Her friend Girolamo Patengola had recently died and left them a bequest. But the new Company’s Rule did not provide for anyone who could legally represent them to receive it. Angela must have realized that further needs for a designated representative would also arise.

Read more »

Not for St. Angela Merici in 1535, when she founded the Company of St. Ursula. She spoke (in Italian) of the “secolo”: the ordinary circumstances of lay life.

Not for Pope Pius XII on February 2, 1947, when he issued the document that gave “secular institutes” this title and recognized their place in the Church as a form of consecrated life.

Read more »

Incarnation – Word and Mystery

December 28th, 2016

Through the Christmas cards and the baking and the wrapping paper, “Incarnation” wove a great question mark. What does it really mean? Scripture offers some avenues:

“The Word was made flesh…”
“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…”
“An infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger…”

But what does Incarnation mean now? For me?

My Advent began in Nairobi with our first Kenyan members, a new little sprout on the Company of St. Ursula. Read more »