Falling Into God

There is a Chinese Parable of the Farmer that seems extra relevant right now:

“Once there was a Chinese farmer who worked his poor farm together with his son and their horse. When the horse ran off one day, neighbors came to say, “How unfortunate for you!” The farmer replied, “Maybe.” When the horse returned, followed by a herd of wild horses, the neighbors gathered around and exclaimed, “What good luck for you!” The farmer stayed calm and replied, “Maybe.” While trying to tame one of the wild horses, the farmer’s son fell and broke his leg. He had to rest up and couldn’t help with the farm chores. “How sad for you,” the neighbors cried. “Maybe.” said the farmer. Shortly after that, a neighboring army threatened the farmer’s village. All the young men in the village were drafted to fight the invaders. Many died. But the farmer’s son had been left out of the fighting because of his broken leg. People said to the farmer, “What a good thing your son couldn’t fight!” “Maybe.” was all the farmer said.”

We’re living in very uncertain times, but it’s in God’s hands.

The first couple of months of 2020 provided me with plenty of practice for the stay-in-place. I started this year with major surgery and a tough recovery. I had a few days between my diagnoses and the scheduled surgery to update loved ones and hang out with friends. A common question I received was, “are you afraid?” I realized that in a situation that warranted fear, I found myself vacant of it. I thought about it a bit and realized that throughout my life, I had been fearful of less threatening things, including previous less invasive surgery. So what changed? 

Along my spiritual journey, the deep acknowledgment of two main principles really changed my relationship with fear. The first principle is well illustrated through the parable of the Chinese farmer told above. The human mind’s categorization of “good” and “bad” is limited. Only God knows whether something is “good” or “bad” from a holistic spiritual and physical point of view. In addition, regardless of the nature of the occurrence, God can use it for God’s will (Romans 8:28).  The second principle: God is Love (1 John 4:8,16). In the original Greek, God is “Agape,” unconditional love. The life of Jesus further reflects a deeply selfless love.

God’s knowledge is unlimited, power insurmountable, love intoxicating. At some point in recent years, I had decided to face my fears by trust falling into God. By the day of my surgery, I knew I had good reason to worry. But I couldn’t. God is bigger than human reasoning. When the operating room was ready, I laid my head on the surgical table and prepared to close my eyes and enter into a void of uncertainty. I didn’t know what I would wake up to, or would not wake up to. However, I knew deeply that regardless of the outcome, through God, all is well.

We’re living in very uncertain times right now, but someway, somehow, it is well.

-by Ayanna Seals, past volunteer

Simplicity is a Practice of Solidarity

A couple years ago I was on a climbing trip at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. My climbing partner and I were making an attempt to summit the iconic mountain. The hiking approach just to get to the saddle is a physical feat of its own and takes a good amount of time. For the first several miles of the hike, we were surrounded by tall trees and narrowly focused on the climb we were about to do. Then, in a blink of an eye, we broke the tree line and were surrounded by beautiful gneiss peaks. The sight literally stopped us in our tracks, and we were so overwhelmed by its beauty. I cried tears of joy. In moments like that, it is impossible to deny the presence of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. 

That experience is comparable to the feeling I got when I visited West Virginia for the first time or any of the times I did the hike to the top of the Nazareth Farm property or watched the gardens grow. It is a feeling of excitement and hope that ignites contemplation and peace. One morning, shortly after I moved to the Farm, I was standing in the parking lot waiting for our send off prayer before leaving for the worksite. There was fog on the ridges of the holler, and it looked like the mountains were breathing and had something to say. It reminded me of the Canticle of Daniel (Daniel 3:57-88), specifically the line: “Mountains and hills, bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all forever (Daniel 3:75).” When we have encounters with nature, we begin to realize that, “creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to Himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which His human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with His radiant presence (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ 100).”   

When we come to this realization we understand more fully the urgent need to protect and defend nature. This is increasingly important during a time of a climate crisis, environmental degradation, exploitation of land and low income communities, mountaintop removal, and fracking, just to name a few of the issues we face. These issues aren’t only concerning because of the effect they have on people and our climate, but it also puts the wild and wonderful places we love at risk. Exploitation of nature, is exploitation of people, and is exploitation of the beauty of God’s creation. Much of this exploitation is caused by destructive consumption habits. 

Today, May 24, 2020, is the 5th Anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, his letter about our current ecological crisis and the plight of the poor and vulnerable, the people who are most affected by environmental degradation. In it he highlights our need to resist the throw-away culture, not unlike Nazareth Farm’s decades-old call to simplicity. Living simply, as many people who have visited the Farm know, has many personal benefits like increased gratitude, less clutter, more time to focus on relationships, etc., but there is a deeper, communal aspect of it as well. When we live a life of simplicity we uphold the common good, resist the destruction of ecosystems, and protect the earth and people. Simplicity is a practice of solidarity.

-by Kayla Jacobs, past staff member at Nazareth Farm

Empowered Helpers

We’re big fans of Mister Rogers in our house. We’ll often watch an episode as a family to wind down at the end of the day. So, in these uncertain and stress-filled times, where everything seems to be a mess, his voice has become a calming sound in the midst of all the noise. One of his most famous quotes speaks well to this moment: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Of course I love this quote, and it is a great quote to use with my five year old when discussing why so many people are walking around with masks on. It would be a mistake however to apply this to adults. It is a great challenge to recognize in times of chaos, we get to choose – choose to be a helper.

This week’s readings challenge us to recognize that we are called to be empowered helpers. If grace is favor, free under-served help that God gives us to respond and cooperate in the divine nature; these readings speak to those in the early church responding. In the first reading we hear of crowds in Samaria responding to Philip and the message he preached and signs he was doing. In the second reading we are encouraged to be ready to share why we have hope, and to do it with “gentleness and reverence.” In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that God will give them an Advocate to journey with them and they will not be left alone. In all these readings there is the message that we are called to be empowered. Called to respond to God’s grace. Called to serve.

As I have reflected on how all this applies to Nazareth Farm, I am struck and moved by my experience of the Farm. By living out the cornerstones, the Farm seeks to be an empowered helper. To not leave people alone, but to listen to their need and serve them. To not give in to a “throwaway” culture, but to live in simplicity and leave a good footprint. To intentionally live in community, and to strengthen community, and after forty years there is great proof of this. And to take time in giving thanks in prayer and inviting the Advocate to constantly be known through shared prayer. Nazareth Farm and the people connected to it have responded to be empowered helpers.

I often find myself reflecting on the experiences that I have had at the Farm and am blown away at all of the moments where disciples responded to grace. I think of fixing a roof on an extremely hot day and being astounded by the young men who carried heavy shingles up and down ladders without complaint (it was an all-male group that day, ladies can definitely do the same!) I think of all the homeowners I have encountered and how so often they served me by sharing a story, lunch, or a cold juice while we were there to serve them. I think of the joy of seeing the community and coming around that bend and being “welcomed home.” Nazareth Farm is a great blueprint and witness of how to live life as a helper. It isn’t that bucket showers are radical, in fact the opposite, but it is in the response and cooperation with grace that the Farm has been able to radically live out its mission to be a helper. As we move towards Pentecost, how can we respond and cooperate with grace to embrace the blueprint and witness that the Farm has provided, and live our daily life as empowered helpers?

By Michael O’Connell, current board member and chaperone

The Way, the Only Way, is Love

“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

In this week’s Gospel, the disciples seem very confused, even distraught, when Jesus says he will be leaving to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. They do not understand, and how are we to blame them, when Jesus enigmatically speaks of being “the way and the truth and the life.” At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus is moving towards the Cross and Resurrection, and he wants to prepare his closest friends, his disciples, for this new reality. And here, near the end, we can hear Jesus’ frustration as Thomas and Philip question him. We hear his exasperation: “How do you NOT know who I am by now? I have been showing you the way for so long.”

The disciples, however, do not want talk of the way, they want Jesus. They want the feeling of when they were called on the seashore, dropping their nets to follow him, to know life and joy and love. Jesus is talking of leaving, and they are lost and afraid.

We identify so much with the disciples in our time of loss and uncertainty. Our world has been turned upside down, upended, and we are afraid. Deaths from COVID-19 grow each day and millions have lost their jobs. We know people who work in healthcare, our friends and family who have seen up close the effects of this pandemic. They hug their children goodbye and go off to fight this disease, only to return home worried that they might infect their family. Our parents are aging, and if this terrible disease would come for them, would we be able to go to them, to hold and comfort them? We are half-way through an Easter without a Resurrection and Jesus, the Christ, seems to have left.

But is Christ really so far from us? The way that Jesus speaks of is very close and simple. We need but look within, believe that God is now here in every moment, and remember. We all can remember back to those moments in our lives when this reality was present to us.  

Nazareth Farm is that moment, that place where the way seems evident and clear, and Christ is vividly present. We walk the misty road in the morning watching the creek meander out of the holler and the white church standing vigilantly on the hill. We hear laughter and song echo out of the O’Connor room windows at night as we walk back to the staff house satisfied with the day. Christ is present here. Christ is present in our community friends, homeowners, neighbors, and volunteers. Christ is present in the long drives, the food shared, and the conversations taken. We know Christ here. We know Christ in the long sips of tea on Mary Sandora’s front porch drinking in her wisdom and in the warm embraces of a welcome home hug.

Why then do we question the way? Why is it that we forget the clarity and connection we know at Nazareth Farm? This week let us remember. Let us remember, in our troubles and sorrow, doubts and fears, that the way is simple, rooted in us, and we can walk it with surety. The way, the only way, is Love. 

Readings: http://cms.usccb.org/bible/readings/051020.cfm

By Angie Moloney and Bill Alt, past director, staff member, and board member

Gestures of Care, Affection, and Prayer

 As my world finally slowed down this Easter season after the sudden sickness of my grandmother to myself being in a car accident, I had much to reflect on. I realized more than ever the sorrow and pain I held so close to the surface, but also of the power the resurrection has to bring in eternal hope and love. I recently remembered a prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part,” and how having my community at the Farm during everything humbled me towards God even more. 

A line in Pope Francis’ Easter vigil summarized what I was privileged to be gifted in recognizing in my own life, “He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.” This is because I know God gives me the strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears. Also, that hope is not as far as I might think, I merely have to turn to God once more and offer it up. While this is something easier said than done at times, nevertheless it is something God challenges us to do. We need to work more fully and have God ever more present in our lives in the happiness and struggles. It’s okay to ask, ask again, and keep asking God until we see a change.

I am glad and thankful to have the privilege to work in a place I have called home for almost a year now, if only to make the most of this isolation. It’s in moments of getting to deep clean the places far down on my list to getting the chicken coop ready for our new chickens, it has been a blessing. Just the chance to slow down, be more present with one another, and to find creative ways to entertain ourselves without too much repetition. I can’t help but feel the honor and joy to be with all these wonderful people who make God so clear to see both in actions and the things unsaid. I will say it is entertaining to find different ways to live out both our mission and cornerstones in isolation. And realizing we enjoy cookies so much that if we could, we would definitely eat them all in a day. Just finding these small gestures of care, affection, and prayer for each other brings me joy.

So my hope is that care, affection, and prayer find everyone in small or big ways. And that you do them to those next to you. That God’s love and eternal hope be discovered or found again in beautifully surprising ways everyday. May we continually be persistent in prayer, simplicity, community, and service.

  • by Diana Campos Loera, current staff member at Nazareth Farm 

Expect. A. Miracle.

A few years ago I was a Catholic Worker for the summer. One day I realized we were out of pillows for new guests, so I asked my director what we should do. She bluntly told me, “Pray for pillows.” Admittedly, I thought she was being a bit ridiculous, but I walked out into our entrance and said a half-hearted prayer that sounded something like this: “Hey God. I don’t know what kind of prayers should be said for pillows, but we need pillows. So, if we could get some, that’d be great.” I closed with a Hail Mary and went on to sorting donations. 

About an hour later, there was a ring at the door. By the time I answered it, no one was there, but a bag full of pillows sat at the door. I was shocked, I ran into the office proclaiming, “LOUISE! SOMEONE DROPPED A BAG OF PILLOWS AT THE DOOR!” She smiled, laughed for a moment, then said, “Well I told you to pray for them, what did you expect?” I wondered at her ability to ask God for exactly what she needed – and her expectation that God really would answer. 

The following summer I found myself at Nazareth Farm for the first time as a summer sojourner. I learned about a little phrase that we say a lot around here, “Expect a miracle.” 

This Easter season, I’ve returned to that phrase as I contemplate the risen Lord. In this season, we rejoice because Christ is risen as He said! We are an Easter people, and if we believe in Him who rose from the dead, then we believe in miracles. We can pray with the confidence that God hears us, and we can expect that God will answer. Sometimes God answers us with the big and supernatural, but I’ve found that miracles are often extraordinarily precise in their ordinariness, like an extra bag of pillows at the door.

As I finished up a home repair project with some staff members last summer, we found ourselves in need of just one more piece of siding to finish the project. In the scrap pile laid a piece that was just big enough. Expect a miracle

The sun rose over the ridge on Easter morning, the birds awoke with soft chirps and songs, and the trees rustled in the breeze. I found a quiet hope in the steady rhythm of the web of life here in the hollow, even as the rest of the world feels chaotic. Expect a miracle

My school changed the grading policy for the semester, and it’s now impossible for me to fail the course I was so worried about. Expect a miracle

 We find ourselves in a scary place and time, but the son of God is free among the dead, and He is with us! In Christ, we can expect miracles. As we navigate a world of doubt and uncertainty, let us return to the hope of Easter by renewing our belief in that little phrase: Expect A Miracle.

-Killeen McCans, Nazareth Farm Sojourner and soon to be senior at Notre Dame University

God Is Truly Alive

To say this year’s Lent has been difficult and different is an understatement. We all feel the realities of this global pandemic, especially the strain on relationships. My husband and I constantly remind ourselves that even though we were away from our families for Easter, missed a baptism of a beautiful baby girl, had two weddings postponed, could not celebrate other achievements with friends, and will miss a few concerts, we are so fortunate to have stable jobs, a place to live, and to be surrounded by a vibrant community at Nazareth Farm. I can think of few other places where I’d rather be stuck at home; we have 100+ acres to explore, daily laughs around the dinner table, and neighbors who walk by to chat across the creek. God is truly alive here. 

However, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and fear at times. That even as a resurrection people, we have to go through the waiting and uncertainty before the new day. It is not always a resounding joy with a clear look ahead. Just this past week I made the heartbreaking decision to cancel our June service retreats and only tentatively plan on hosting the second half of the summer. Summer service retreats at Nazareth Farm are such a life-giving, holy time for all of us, and we are going to miss the opportunity to grow with each other. However, God provides comfort and strength during these times of isolation and adaptation.  

For instance, typically Holy Week is a bright, familiar celebration at the Farm; handfuls of old friends visit, we drop off Easter baskets at neighbors, so many voices reflect passionately on Good Friday, and we get to hear how God is moving in the lives of our friends. This year we participated in the Paschal Triduum as a community of 8 instead of 25+. While the communal prayers and support were different, we still journeyed with Jesus towards the Cross. By feeling my own isolation and the struggle to stay vigilant, I felt a deeper understanding of His journey and those of the disciples. Adoration in the O’Connor Room, connected to Farmers all over the country, was one of the pivotal moments of Holy Week for me. Jesus and the waiting for the Cross brought us all together; we could sit, forgetting the uncertainty in the world, and be fully enamored with our God. I allowed that love from my Holy Hour to spill into the rest of Holy Week, into our 11 mile Good Friday Hike, to a quiet moment venerating the Cross, and finally to a joy filled Easter Service with my community. God is truly alive here!

While we all wait for our chance to hug our friends again and sit on Ronnie’s couch watching a movie, I need the joy of Easter. I need the Divine Mercy of Jesus to show me grace and love each day in my routines. I need to allow myself to be present to those around me, in-person and virtually, instead of walking in fear of sickness. I need to remind myself that God is alive, and that God is with me. As we continue the Easter season, know that we’re praying for you, enthusiastically waiting for the day we can all be together in the holler again.

-by Allyson Petry, executive director of Nazareth Farm

Waiting for Another Resurrection

The world changed when Jesus’s tomb was tossed open, when Mary Magdalene, carrying her spices to anoint his body, found herself rushing to find the apostles, when Thomas’s denials were refuted by the resurrected Jesus. Today may be Easter, but it can feel like we are still in Lent because another resurrection is yet to come. 

Today, I am waiting in anticipation to throw open the tomb that is my house. I cannot wait for the moment to host my friends and family for a barbecue. I am excited to receive communion again and sing in Mass, and yes, I want to go to work. While this time is difficult, I have to say that I have seen this before. As a chaperone for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, I have been blessed to take students to the Farm. On day two of their week of service, they always talk about how they want their phones, their families, and their friends. After a week of deep reflection, prayer, and service, my students always run back home to Chicago eager to tell the world about what they saw and felt at the Farm; they are eager to share their own resurrection story. 

We are in an impossible situation when we tell others about the farm. Often, our audience does not connect the right details because our first time telling the story is so full of excitement. How many times have we heard, “but what do bucket showers have to do with service?” Frequently, I see my students filled with frustration as they go home to Thomas’s doubt. 

When this time of isolation ends, the world will be different. There will be questions about how to live our lives. This Easter, I would like to humbly remind us all that the Farm has answers to those questions; thus, when we get the chance to connect with our communities again and celebrate a different kind of resurrection, let’s live those lives of community, simplicity, prayer, and service just like it was the end of our first week at the Farm. 

-By Rex Ovalle, longtime chaperone and current board of director member

The Simplicity of Hospitality

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”

A creek winds down a quiet West Virginia hollow on a hot summer afternoon. I sit on an old porch beside a worn out trailer sipping a cup of cheap coffee and snacking on some home canned sausage and peppers. I am a guest here of an elderly woman whose name I have forgotten. We talk of simple things, like the best way to trellis tomatoes and how proud she is of her granddaughter. I have come to fix the old porch, and there is part of me that wants to get back to work. However, she insists that I rest awhile and get out of the heat. There is nothing elaborate about our time together;  there are periods of silence broken only by a bee buzzing past. We simply take sips of coffee and exhale deeply. What I didn’t realize at the time is that she is teaching me what hospitality is, and how it is a critical way that we experience God in one another. 

 Scripture is bursting with examples of hospitality. We see perfect examples from Abraham as well as Martha and Mary. Hospitality at its core is the desire to enter into relationship, to open up our lives and provide comfort to one another on the journey. This mirrors the way in which God desires deep relationship with us, opens himself to us, and provides us a place of rest and comfort when we are weary. One of the key lessons that I learned on that porch in West Virginia is the same one that Jesus helps Martha see. Hospitality is not measured by what we can give but rather whether we are willing to make ourselves present to one another. Without a doubt Abraham did all he could to provide for his guest, but he also makes a point to go join them in their meal. Mary gets the nod of approval from Jesus because she stops preparing and focuses on participating. God gives greatly to us, but what really matters is that when he welcomes us into his embrace, he is completely present to us. It is those moments when we can humble ourselves to be served and fully participate that we can see God in front of us. I pray for the grace to do the same.    

By Danny Patton, former staff member and current board member of Nazareth Farm

Things Can’t Change That Much in One Week

I have always questioned the timeline of Holy Week. The triumphant entry to crowds shouting; to them proclaiming, “Crucify Him,” to the empty tomb, all in one week; especially since there was no social media. Attitudes and beliefs cannot change that dramatically in one week, or can they?

Apostles practiced social distancing, the crowds, clearly did not. Previous contributions recommended sitting alone in silence, little did we know at that time that is what this season has become, alone, not so much the silence. Having hosted a Zoom social amongst friends, the need to see and be with people resulted in 12 people all taking at once. People who had resisted social media, three of which were looking on with spouses because their flip phones do not have the capacity, are recognizing the need in this distancing to have contact in some way with others. Did the Apostles?

The Apostles gathered when things were good, they celebrated the Passover feast. They ran and hid when things were not so good; and then locked themselves away when things were at the worst. They sensed, witnessed, and experienced the mood change. They saw the arrest and heard the rooster crow. They listened to one another and understood the doubts. They eventually expanded their circle to other witnesses, slowly at first. Their fear subsided when they began to understand and have faith. Are we capable of that?

When our circle expands what will be our message? Are we capable of proclaiming through action and then word as the Apostles did, the love, compassion, and mercy of Christ? Or, will we resort to the social distancing we practiced prior to the virus through our busy-ness, alienation due to difference of opinions, apathy of neighbors needs, and pursuit of our own goals without thought of others?  

There is a civility present now which has not been seen in sometime. People are calling their elderly neighbors. Families are sharing meals. Children are playing outside. People are saying with great sincerity, thank you. I have always believed in a statement that we are familiar with, “Expect a Miracle.”  Of course, the miracle is not the way people are responding, but will be if we maintain these behaviors.

Community, Simplicity, Service, and Prayer, a miracle. Do you believe and faith as the Apostles did? Yes, you do believe, as your actions and attitudes, not just the crowds, have undergone numerous changes. The constant in our lives, is change. Which change will reflect what you truly believe.

May this Holy Week be a blessed and peaceful time.  Wash your hands!

By Rev. John P. Donovan. JCL, “JD”.  A priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, volunteer since pre-1979, former staff, and an ex officio board member.