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. 

Speaking Love and Life JMJ

We are all powerful beyond imagination. And this power that we possess, is the power of love, gentleness, patience, kindness, and compassion.

This is not a new idea. It is a concept that stretches back to the roots of Genesis, and we first see it when God gives Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are called to be stewards of this created Earth, and by the grace of God they begin to do that which we too have the opportunity and power to do in each of our lives: co-creating this world alongside our creator. This idea of our calling to be co-creators with God in the shaping of our lives and the lives of those around us is not something that I happened upon by accident. It is a lesson that God has taught me in the silence and gentleness and unrest and noise of my own heart since the day I was born. However, since moving to the Farm last May, I have had the privilege and blessing of being in a place where we live this truth deeply. Nazareth Farm has allowed me to find more words to understand and express this truth.

Co-creation is not an action in and of itself though it may include actions. It is not words or feelings. It is a disposition of the heart towards the love and unity offered through, and found only in, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Co-creation is life itself, but it is a life particularly ordered for and to the greater glory of God. All of these words are things we hear at mass or recognize as “church-talk” in our day-to-day lives, and it is so easy to brush them aside…but to dive deeper reveals how practical and impactful this idea can be. Co-creation is making the Kingdom of God present here on Earth; making Jesus present in our words and deeds and love. It is the gentle encouragement of a volunteer who is unfamiliar with swinging a hammer. It is seeking forgiveness when we wrong another and offering forgiveness for the same.

Think of a moment from the past week, day, hour when you had an opportunity to speak life and love into the heart of another in the smallest of ways. Perhaps you could have affirmed someone or offered a smile to a stranger. Perhaps you could have refrained from cursing at something inconsequential, or maybe you could have taken an extra minute to be patient with a friend or family member who simply needed someone to be present in their life. Two minutes. Imagine how many times you could say the words “I love you” in two minutes.

This is the power we have, this is co-creation. When we turn our wills towards building the Kingdom here on Earth in our own lives, we participate with God in this ongoing mystery that we call Creation. And there is no better time to recognize this gift that we have than Lent. Lent is a time for turning back to God, for ordering ourselves wholly to His will and using prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as ways to remind ourselves and our communities that Jesus Christ is at the center of all that we do.

As we go through this week let us ponder this idea, that in Sunday’s Gospel Jesus speaks life back into a dead man, his friend Lazarus. We too can speak life back into suffering souls and have life spoken into ours if we will allow it. And we are called to be constant invitations to the love of Christ Jesus through how we live our lives for those around us. We can do this only when we allow God to fill us to overflow with His own grace and love.

And to encourage us in that endeavor I refer to Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation:

Although God lives in the souls of men and women who are unconscious of Him, how can I say that I have found Him and found myself in Him if I never know Him or think of Him, never take any interest in Him or seek Him or desire His presence in my soul? What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give all my mind and all my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall short of Him?

[Lord] give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love.

John Buttner, current staff member at Nazareth Farm

God Is With Us

My Friends,

This is a time of uncertainty in our world.  We have been asked to stay in our homes and keep distance from each other.  We don’t know how long this is going to last.  We don’t know how many people will become infected with COVID-19.  We don’t know the long term effects of this crisis on our country or world.  Anxiety.  Stress.  Compromised physical, mental, and financial health.  It’s a lot.  Let’s take a minute to breathe together. 

Breathe in.

Hold it.

Breathe out.

God is with us.

This week, Sunday’s Gospel, the 9th Chapter of John, Christ heals the man blind from birth by wiping clay on his eyes and commanding the man to wash in a pool.  The man washes and is able to see. 

Can you imagine the revelations that the man has now being able to see?  Coming to understand colors, facial expressions, ease of movement and interaction, changes in light and shadow… so many intricacies unlocked by Christ’s act. 

God is at work in our lives, too.  Thursday prayer at Nazareth Farm invites reflection on where God is at work in our lives each week.  Lent is a time to look at our lives and reevaluate how we want to be living.  Thinking about the past 4 weeks, have you noticed any fruits of your additional fasting, almsgiving, or prayer?  Have you found spaces for quiet?  Space to breathe life into your everyday hurrying?  Where has God been at work?  Where have you been working with God?

Breathe in.

Hold it.

Breathe out.

Sometimes I like to imagine sitting on the front porch swing at the Farm.  Watching the creek go by, waving to the occasional car on the road, swinging slowly.  I can inhabit this space and consciously relax into prayer.  Do you have a calm place to imagine in stressful moments? 

Breathe in.

Hold it.

Breathe out.

Jesus opened the man’s eyes to something new in his life.  Let us look with the eyes that God gave us.  Let us remember to breathe and Expect a Miracle.

By Susan (Newman) Hollis, previous staff member at Nazareth Farm

Prayer, Almsgiving, & Fasting

Each year I focus on the three practices of Lent, prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.  Needless to say, because I will be preaching on one or all throughout the season but also the challenge, they offer me to practice what I preach.  I have listed them here in the order of easiest to hardest, what enriches me, to what tests me.

Each morning my day begins with the liturgical hours and silence.  In Lent I focus on maybe my parish’s theme or a need I just encountered.  When, not if, I fail to start my day this way, it is evident to me, as if I had not had my morning coffee.  I cannot focus or am able to prioritize as to how my response in faith to whatever is before is not my first thought, and I am stymied in finding a faith-filled answer.  Throughout Lent I find that each day I need to be silent a little longer, listening more intently, and becoming more hopeful.

Almsgiving often takes the effort to make a decision.  What time do I have to offer to another, it is a busier time; what my need is rather than my want and how do I truly serve, rather than work.  Patience especially with myself is confronted, and when in doubt, my response needs to be simply put the other person first. Paying attention to another’s need rather than my tasks is the effort, but throughout Lent it seems more purposeful.

Fasting.  I am pleasantly plump, and have worked hard to get into this shape, round. I also have serious dietary issues; unfortunately, I have developed the pattern of eating what and when I can, as if in this first-world-nation I do not know when my next meal will be available.  I relish, often with relish, what I do eat. I often fail to make a good sacrifice, and that is exactly what I have asked people to do this year. Give up nothing! Instead, choose what sacrifice you are going to make. I struggle, until I put it into that exact context. I am old enough now that fasting is not required, which to me is making the sacrifice that much more rewarding.  Next to me at this moment I have a bag of Hershey Nuggets.  It is nice not to open them.

Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting or prayer, simplicity, community, and service.  I guess the Lenten practices have never been foreign to me. All call each of us to a greater understanding of our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.  Silence refreshes me, knowing the difference between want and need is a daily decision, putting the needs of others before my own is what community is about, as well as serving one another.  We make sacrifices in our lives and are asked to be aware how those sacrifices are about others, not “what do I get of it.”  

Although I have never been to the Farm for Holy week, I have experienced numerous holy weeks there, many even during Lent.  Be it Lent or late August I am reminded, the way I live my life is a response of faith. Prayer, almsgiving, fasting; prayer, simplicity, community and service each is an important aspect to the journey we take.

Written 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.

Feeling Renewed at the Farm

“Renewal” is one of the aspects of Lent that always causes me to pause and reflect. When you look back over the past year since last Easter, are you pleased with everything you did or did not accomplish? I know I have too many things that did not happen as I had hoped, and there are many things that I did, that I wish had not. However, that is life, and our greatest challenge is to embrace it all while striving to always have the love of God as our guiding force. This Lent has a much deeper meaning for me this year, but I still face the same challenges of opening my heart and finding the light of the season to guide me.  One of the ways that I have found to be most effective to help me open my heart is spending time at Nazareth Farm.

One of these years, I will pray through Holy Week at the Farm, but otherwise I have enjoyed the Farm at most every other season of the year on more than one occasion. Each time I experience the Farm, it is different, and my faith experience grows because of that difference. With each season there are new plants and views which trigger different memories of past visits, joyous moments, or sad reflections.  Almost every year the staff members are different, and those interactions generate memories during conversation where thoughts and life experiences are shared with one another which then in turn causes other internal reflections guiding my faith renewal. During times when volunteers are around, those interactions are, of course, different and add another reflection opportunity to my Farm “renewal.” I like to think of my time at the Farm as my faith recharge, and it is certainly very much what Lent is, but can be during most any time of the year at the Farm.  

Not all of my visits are as much of a faith recharge as others, some are just quick stops, but the visuals while there always spark the faith memories I need at that point in my life. Sometimes a short walk to the grotto for some contemplative prayer helps to focus my thoughts and open my heart to Jesus for guidance. Other times, it is with a cup of coffee sitting on the porch swing while day is breaking. One of the most constant is during group prayer, whether the group is large or small, the faith sharing experience is always rejuvenating. Occasionally it is during a home repair project where you witness the strength of love in the form of another person putting all of their effort into building, fixing, or improving whatever the project requires. It can be during community night when you have the opportunity to interact with the local friends of Nazareth Farm, by listening to their life journeys and sharing yours with them.  Those are some examples of how one can experience “renewal” at Nazareth Farm, and there are many, many more, always changing, always there. I’ll let you in on a little secret -I have not yet had a faith “renewal” experience during a bucket shower!

If you have not yet been to the Farm, I encourage you to connect during an appropriate time for a retreat experience.  If you have not been in some time, reconnect during one of the adult, college, or family times during the year. The beauty of faith renewal at Nazareth Farm is constant for those who open their hearts to the cornerstones of Community, Simplicity, Prayer, and Service.  

By Rick Lewis, current Board of Directors Treasurer and past volunteer

How Can You Love This Lent?

In the two Sunday’s prior to the start of Lent, Jesus has been lecturing his disciples regarding the teachings of the Law. As we enter into this season of Lent there seems to be a clear connection between these Gospel readings and the shadow of the Cross that looms large on the horizon. God’s law is the law of LOVE. Love that sends Jesus to teach, to be an example, and ultimately to die with the weight of human failings on his shoulders. This love is not the love of fairy tales or movies. It’s not the love we see in magazines or newspapers. No, to paraphrase Dorothy Day, the love of God is beautiful, but it is also a difficult and dreadful thing.

The love of God requires more of us. More than just not killing another, but we must not even kill others’ spirit or joy. How easy is it to say one thing, one small side comment, one disapproving look to break somebody’s spirit and take away their joy? Love demands reconciliation. Jesus literally tells his disciples if you are angry with another, go and make peace with that person before you do anything else. He tells us in plain words to, “leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled… (Mt 5:24).” Before even thinking about doing anything else, even before offering anything up to GOD – go and make peace, go and love! This love is a challenge to give freely to others without thinking of one’s self. Jesus tells us to give the clothes off of our back to others, to give more than is even asked of us.

In reflecting on this love, the love that compels us to act for others, my mind skipped ahead a few chapters to the scene at the foot of the cross. Jesus, as he is dying for us, gives his mother Mary to John, one of the 12 apostles, and John to Mary. In this act of love, Jesus gives Mary and John to the world, to the generation of the day and to all future generations. In doing so, we too are given to our sisters and brothers across the world. If we believe that God is love, and that God dwells within each of us no matter our race, creed or customs, then love dwells within each and every human being. We live by God alone who is love. 

Here on the Farm, we strive to live that self-sacrificial love through the cornerstones– PRAYER, SIMPLICITY, SERVICE, and COMMUNITY, and believe me it’s not an easy thing to do. The love that God lavishes on us calls us to live a life of prayer, to allow God in our lives daily, to make our lives a constant prayer, seeking to do the will of God and letting our selfish desires fade away. The goal of prayer is to see the world through the eyes of the Gospel– which is with eyes of radical love. I may not want to always turn the compost or wash somebody else’s dishes, but when I take a moment to reflect, how could I NOT do those seemingly gross and mundane chores?! If I am intertwined with every other human being on this Earth, then it is a joy to serve in this little corner of the world to work to repair homes and to foster communities of compassionate accompaniment. 

God’s love necessitates simplicity. Simplicity not only to declutter our lives and allow us the ability to focus on things and people about whom we care, but also to allow us to recognize the injustices in the world. If we truly want to be called Christians and be known by our love, we would not simply give food to the hungry – we would instead  ask, “Why are people starving and hungry?” And then work, I mean really work, toward answers and solutions. Love calls us to deny ourselves, to think about what we are eating, buying, where we are sleeping, and where we go. To love is to be poor, to give of the excess we have so others may have enough. And in all of this we are called to live lives of service. We are called to see the face of Christ in our sisters and brothers, even those sisters and brothers who annoy us, irk us, and those who we think we cannot even bear to spend any time with, and to LOVE them. 

Fortunately, we have the greatest teacher and example ever, Jesus. Jesus had nothing, he roamed around loving, really loving everyone who came to him. He resisted the temptations in this Sunday’s Gospel reading of money, power, prestige, and creature comforts. I might have been tempted and even given in to the temptation of worldly power as a way to right the societal wrongs that are rampant across the globe. Who among us would turn down riches if we knew that we could provide for our families and friends with ease?! But Jesus turned all these down; God’s love is greater than all the worldly desires. 

Yes, to love is a difficult arduous task, but it’s really the only thing that matters. How can the cornerstones of the Farm help you to grow in love?

January 6th – Christmas at the Farm

December 14th saw the staff of Nazareth Farm host its annual community Christmas Party at the Doddridge County Park! There was music, crafts, games, food, and good cheer aplenty. However, perhaps most notable was the appearance of Santa Claus, yes that’s correct, Ol’ Saint Nick, Mrs. Claus, and an elf made the long trek down from the North Pole to Doddridge County, West Virginia, to share in the joy and love of the season. Each child that came received a new book and a gift from Santa, not to mention the plethora of hats, gloves, scarves, and gently used books from which to choose. None of this, however, would have been possible without the help of 18, yes 18, Friends of the Farm who volunteered their time and talents at the Park that Saturday to ensure everyone felt welcomed, cared for, and loved during a season of the year, in which it is so very easy to get caught up in doing, that the people next to us, our neighbors, can be forgotten altogether. 

    At the party everyone has a role to play, some served food and cookies to the partygoers, others facilitated games and crafts for those wanting to exercise creative energy, still others engaged those in attendance and assisted them in picking out books, hats, gloves and other items to best suit them, and of course there was the North Pole contingent who spent quality time with each and every child, and those who captured the precious moments with Santa for the families to commemorate this particular Christmas season. 

    How incredibly absurd to have a party for over 150 strangers on a cold, rainy day in North Central West Virginia! Although, how incredibly absurd is it that we should find ourselves sharing an experience, our human existence with our God, our Savior and Creator?! Jesus forced God back into the story of humanity at Christmas even though we tried our darndest, and still do from time to time, to push God out. Yet, we encounter Christ everyday; some old book tells us that humans were created in the IMAGE and LIKENESS of God. God dwells within each of us, and that divine spark is always burning inside us. So how could we not host a party? How could we not connect people from across the country who couldn’t physically be present to Christ in the faces and stories of those at the party, so they purchased, books, toys, games, and clothing to share? How could we not cook food and bake cookies to share with those who came to the party to provide nourishment to Christ? How could we not take the time out of our full lives in the middle of December, to not spend it at a store, not glued to a screen, but rather with children and adults in wonderful West Virginia, with Christ among us? So, there we were, playing out modern day interpretations of the Magi who offered fruits of their treasure with the baby Christ; like the Shepherds who dropped what they were doing so they could see and visit with their Creator Incarnate and offer their time to their God made flesh. Frankly, that is what Jesus throughout the entirety of the new testament did. He spent time with the other, recognizing God in them, sharing of his time, which was limited, of his talent and his treasure — the love and compassion of God. How could we not make room in our hearts to live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved? 

    Thank you to all who came to the Party and all who volunteered for being beautiful reminder of the empathetic compassion of Christ. Dorothy Day reminds us that “there is always room for one more..”, and if each of us is Christ living and moving and having our being in the world today, how could there not be room? Merry Christmas, and may the peace and blessings of Jesus, God incarnate, be with you and your loved ones this season and always.