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For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven


On November 2nd, 2020, we wrote these words in our reflection for you:

»The pilgrims on the Camino called out to each other ‘Ultreja’. It means as much as ‘onward, forward!’. In this manner, the pilgrims cheered themselves on with a word that gave them courage.«

For over two years our word of courage and motivation has been »May you be sheltered«. We have it called it out to you many hundreds of times. We were determined not to leave people without inspiration, guidance, orientation and horizons of hope during the trying and troubling time of the pandemic. Only when the crisis eased and the need was not there, did we finally stop on June 9th, 2021.

Yet, like so many of the storms of life, the crisis returned with vigour and strength. So we resumed the reflections in November with the 25 Advent Reflections »And the almond tree blossomed: How religious images speak to us of God« and have continued to bring the comfort, wisdom and perspectives of the biblical stories to you, until today. We have kept faith with you.

Quieter days have now returned. The pandemic is easing, people can attend the many courses being offered again and it is easily possible to return to our churches to celebrate the liturgy. Travel, celebration and community gatherings are again possible, easing the isolation and loneliness of a great many people. We realise that the time has come to lay down the heavy burden of this task. Storytellers often refer to this as laying down the mantle, and remind us that it is important to know when the hour has come to do this. We believe that the time has come.

In his book, Night Train to Lisbon, Pascal Mercier writes telling words: »We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.« During these long months, we have left something of ourselves behind in the countless reflections we have written, something of our faith, something of our hope and assuredly something of our concern for the people entrusted to our care. Perhaps you will go back to the reflections every once in a while and like Pascal Mercier rediscover some things that can be found »only by going back there«.

We also know that a great uncertainty remains as to what the coming months will bring. Will we face another wave of the virus? Will lockdowns and restrictions be necessary again? It is difficult to plan ahead when we are never sure as to what the future will bring. Yet, there is at least one certainty you can rely on: Whatever the coming months may bring, we will be there for you. And if we see that it is necessary, we will once again pick up the mantle we lay down today, and once again the encouraging word will issue forth from our hearts and minds and voices: »May you be sheltered«.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn

Erik Riechers SAC

May 6th, 2022


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Overcoming limitations


My almost 6-year-old granddaughter recently told me about her friend and her fear of heights. She knows this from her big sister. »You know, Oma, Rosa is also afraid of heights. But she still went with us in the gondola, even though it wasn't easy for her. She overcomes her fear of heights. But I don't think Lena wants to overcome it. She doesn't even try.«

Her thoughts and her language have been haunting me ever since. Are we not like Lena far too often? A barrier arises - internally or coming from outside - that irritates us and often causes us to fearfully come to a stop. It can be frightening to walk along a narrow path on a steep slope when the ground is unsafe. It can be unsettling when familiar neighbours move away and now strangers come very close to me who may not even speak my language. Have we not often in our lives been faced with a task that seemed far too difficult and from which we wanted to slip away – and perhaps we did? We may not even have tried!

I was impressed by the word »overcome« in my granddaughter's story and how confidently she used it. It was clear to her that the gondola ride cost her sister an effort to overcome her fears. All the more admiring was the tone with which she spoke of her sister and all the greater was the lack of understanding for her friend.

Indeed, how we writhe until we have overcome a limit or a hurdle. In the high jump, the best technique for jumping as high as possible is the flop jump. Even the run-up is arched and in the take-off the jumper turns around his longitudinal axis. He winds up in the air to »clear« the bar. With practice, the bar can even be raised.

It is a constant exercise of our lives to embrace limitations, to accept things that cannot be changed. Yet there are so many barriers that we could and should courageously and patiently overcome in order to move towards more life. Sometimes we »only« have to overcome our complacency to do this, sometimes we have to recognise the questions in our fears and seek an answer. Again and again we need to discover our deep longings and re-prioritise. Often we need companions who help us, practise with us and also encourage us again and again to take the plunge.

The Easter weeks encourage us to do so. Death has been overcome so that we can live, also and especially beyond our limits. Perhaps then we can pray Psalm 18 in a whole new way: 

»Yea, by thee I can crush a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect;    the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? - the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. He made my feet like hinds’ feet, and set me secure on the heights.« (Ps 18, 29-33)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 2nd, 2022

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We must obey God rather than any human authority


When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, »We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.« But Peter and the apostles answered, »We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.«

Acts 5, 27-32


»We must obey God rather than any human authority«. This sentence of Peter in the face of the high priest's command to silence is a classic. However, as so often, we have only applied it selectively to our lives.

We often apply it when it comes to external issues. In politics, in society, in the economy, we are deeply aware that we should obey God more than human authority. In these areas, we clearly recognise the danger that comes from the High Councils of our time. Too often, the human authority wants to give us »strict orders not to teach in this name« so that they can do whatever they want. Political authorities love to employ this maneuver whenever the teaching of the Gospel interferes with the programs of political expediency. The people of God are often expected to keep their mouths shut on issues such as poverty, injustice, migration, corruption and discrimination and told to stick to »religious issues«. But that is not what God wants: if we listen more to human authority than to God, turn a blind eye and close our ears, then injustice, brutality, exploitation, globalised indifference will certainly arise.

However, does this Word of Sacred Scripture apply only in such situations? Does it have no other meaning for the life of God's people? I believe it does. One has to obey God more than human authority also in the more personal issues and encounters of a human life. After all, there is also a High Council trying to exert authority over us on a very personal and basic level of our lives. It consists of people, usually self-appointed, who like to impose their view of life, the world and of faith upon us. They constantly issue a stream of order to us, telling what is permissible and what we should be, so that the world can unfold as they see fit. The High Council of our daily lives are the people who feel the constant urge to pass judgement on us, our way of thinking and our way of living.

People tell us: you are useless and of no use. God says: »Because you are precious and valuable in my eyes and because I love you, I give people for you and whole nations for your life«. (Is 43:4) In view of messages that contradict each other, do we obey God more than people here.

People tell us: you are inferior and insignificant. The Psalmist says that God sees us as follows: »What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.« (Ps 8, 4-5) In God's eyes we have great worth, and enjoy God's esteem. When the voices that reach our ears contradict each other, are we obeying God more than human authority?

People tell us: your life is meaningless and you have nothing to contribute. God says our lives are so meaningful that he has an interest in us down to the smallest detail. »And even the hairs of your head are all counted.« (Mt 10:30) In this case, do we obey God more than human authority?

People tell us that we are not lovable, that we do not deserve to be loved, or that we cannot or will not be loved at all. God tells us: »I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.« (Jer 31:3) When our self-respect is at stake, do we obey God more than human authority?

People tell us that we are not wanted, that we are not gladly seen, that we are superfluous and that things could be done without us, perhaps even that things would go better, easier or faster if we were not in the way, not a burden. The psalmist notices how God looks at us and prays: »For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.« (Ps 139:13-14) In the eyes of the God who created us, we have worth, dignity and purpose and are desired, longed-for children. When the words of human beings conflict with the words of God, will we obey God than human authority?


Erik Riechers SAC

Werl, April 29th, 2022


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A Prayer for those who Doubt and Question


Lord Jesus, You smile gently as You pass through closed doors to find us.

You are the Lord of our longing for a life that is not yet tangible,

beyond our understanding and imagination.


Teach us Your respect for men and women like Thomas,

that we, too, might honour the questioning heart.


A question is an expression of desire.

Everything is set in motion as a result of a question.

The question is what arouses.


Even a querulous question, is better than no question,

because it pushes at the limits of the sort of silent conspiracy of the way things have to be.


Questioning is what really motivates,

and gives us the strong feeling that we don't know everything,

that there are things here that we should know.


And even if we do not get an immediate or satisfactory answer,

we know our questions will lead us to an encounter with You.


We have not always found You in the answers we have received and learned.

But You have always found us in the questions we cherish in our hearts,

even if at first we only dare to ask them behind closed doors.


Erik Riechers SAC, April 25th, 2022



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The Gift we Need for Faith to Blossom


I learned from a great master of biblical storytelling. One of the lessons I took most deeply to heart was his admonition that we must learn to cherish »the Bible for images more than for thought«. (Stories of Faith p.10) It is a conviction that I have cherished in my heart and honoured in my work for three decades. It is also a conviction for which I have paid a high price.

I held a Holy Thursday homily in which I unfolded the meaning of the change of garment. Like most times when I unveil the deeper meaning of the images of the Bible, it evoked very little response. It disappointed me, but it did not surprise me.

We are caught in a strange place on the faith journey. On the one hand so many people complain about dry and tedious teaching directives, abut theological language that is incomprehensible and fails to inspire. On the other hand, we cannot really deal with the images of Scripture either. The biblical images open great and wide spaces of the human heart, spaces that cannot be quickly traversed, briefly explained swiftly exhausted. These great images require a great effort of us, to listen and then interpret them on deep levels of our own human experience. And like all wide open spaces, they need to be navigated. Confronted with all that effort, we then actually prefer the short, terse explanation. In the battle between depth and convenience, convenience wins more often than it should.

We need only cast our gaze at the Easter stories of the Gospels to see the problem we are facing.  The stories of the resurrection appearances show us the same pattern over and over.

  1. No one is ever found in the act of praying.

You will find them visiting the tomb (Mt 28, 1), walking in the country (Mk 16, 12), fleeing Jerusalem for Emmaus (Lk 24, 13), at home (Jn 20, 2), or fishing the night away (Jn 21, 3). They fearfully hide behind locked doors (Jn 20, 19). But not one resurrection story ever speaks of them at prayer, seeking the conversation with God.

  1. None of them recognise him.

They do not know him on the roads he walked so often with them (Lk 24, 16). Mary Magdalen thinks he must be the gardener (Jn 20,14) and no one thinks to connect the stranger who has bread and fish with him on the shores of Lake Tiberias, with the Lord who shared bread and fish with them on the same shore and fed the multitudes (Jn 21,4).

  1. The first reaction is never delight.

For all of our triumphant Easter songs, no one broke out in choruses of Hallelujah in the resurrection appearances. There is doubt (Mt 28, 17, Lk 24, 41). They are startled and terrified (Lk 24, 37). Peter, upon hearing that it is the Lord, jumps into the sea rather than face an encounter and conversation with Jesus (Jn 21, 7)

However, when Jesus encounters these very diverse people after his resurrection, he never offers them a quick or clear explanation of what has happened, where he has been and what they need to do in order to come to overcome fear and doubt and come to faith and joy.

Instead, Jesus chooses a very different approach. He attempts to show himself to them as the Lord with whom they are familiar. To do this, he always chooses a rich image, a deep symbol. This image, metaphor or gesture is the way in which Jesus gives each person what he or she needs to journey deeper into the realms of faith.

He calls Mary of Magdala by name so that she recognises him by his voice. He eats with the disciples at Emmaus, and it is through his gesture of breaking bread that he reveals himself. Peter is given the gift of a conversation at the charcoal fire. To the disciples in Jerusalem he shows his hands and his feet and invites them to touch his flesh. To Thomas, on the other hand, he shows his wounds before he confesses his faith. The beloved disciple will be given a fishing net with 153 large fish before he says »It is the Lord«. When »in their joy they were disbelieving« (Lk 24, 41, he takes the time to eat broiled fish in their presence.

Jesus to each person what he or she needs to deal with the tumultuous inner confusion with which they are dealing. What he does not offer is a quick or quaint explanation that instantly drives all fear and confusion from their hearts. His is the gift of the symbol, the gesture, the metaphor and the image, and that has not changed. Because this is the wide and spacious world of God meeting the wide and spacious world of the human heart. The mystery into which we are immersed is rich and complicated and complex and multifaceted. There are no quick fixes in the world of genuine faith. Yet, if we are too convenient to interpret these gifts of Jesus, we are failing to unpack the gift. And no explanation in the world will be able to make up for what we will then lose.


Erik Riechers SAC, April 22nd, 2022


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The Walk to Emmaus


Easter stories tell of gradual understanding, of slowly grasping the previously unimaginable. They are honest. They do not deny fear or confusion and hopelessness, but they reveal to us the emotion of the heart.

Such a story stands over this day. For in our hardships and abysmal disappointments, we believe we are all alone. Often we only talk to ourselves and go round in circles.

We often don't realise that there are people by our side. They go along with us. They suffer with us. They understand us - perhaps they have gone through the same deep valleys.

And then there is HE, to whom nothing human is alien, beside us and always already ahead of us:


I ran away

all dazed

nailed to my pain

buried in myself in fatal sadness


oh you

I had not even noticed

that you are still here

the whole way already

if I want a piece of bread

actually I have

no appetite but

thank you


I'm growing warm all over

the whole way

you have been listening to my soliloquies


and not only you

from: Andreas Knapp, Höher als der Himmel


I wish you a blessed Easter journey.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, Easter Monday, April 18th, 2022

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What we cannot afford to ignore


Good Friday is a hard pill to swallow. It refuses to let us skip to the good part. It forces us to take a part of the mystery seriously, namely death and suffering, which we would rather pass over in order celebrate the resurrection.

This day teaches us a most basic lesson about our faith. The resurrection if not a placebo. It is also not an escape route that circumvents suffering and death. The resurrection is the power of God, but it unveils itself in a person who is free enough to willingly enter into the full experience of death and dying.

Easter unfolds in people who refuse to shy away from Good Friday. The priest-poet Andreas Knapp offers us the opportunity to stop and gaze upon a mystery we would rather ignore or even avoid altogether.


good friday


he crucifixated

so that we are completely detached


he exposed

so that we need not be ashamed


he, put on display

so that we can let ourselves be seen


he, our emergency nail

so that we do not fall


he, died a failure

so that we can live our fragility

 From: Andreas Knapp, Höher als der Himmel


I wish you a blessed and profound Good Friday.


Erik Riechers SAC

Good Friday, April 15th, 2022

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A good 30 years ago I sang in a choir in the parish church of Niederlana. It is famous for its beautiful winged altar by Hans Schnatterpeck. But at that time it was closed, the cross veiled - we were in Holy Week.

Since the early Middle Ages, crosses have been veiled during the Passion period and only unveiled for the veneration of the cross on Good Friday. Often these were magnificent triumphal crosses that spoke of victory over death rather than suffering. Concealing the triumphant was meant to help us focus on the Way of the Cross as a journey of suffering. Many of us still know the custom of veiling the cross to this day.

Placing a cover around something is usually done to protect what is to be concealed in a very pragmatic way: from dirt, from sunlight, from wrong use or from theft. But I also cover that which is sacred to me in order to withdraw it from the gaze of those who do not appreciate it, indeed who might degrade it. After all, the Holy of Holies of the Jews, the innermost room of the Jewish temple, was veiled all year round, a curtain separating it from the main hall. Only once a year, on the Feast of Atonement, was the High Priest allowed to enter. For everyone else, the Holy of Holies always remained veiled. 

When the cross of Jesus is veiled in many places during these days, it reminds me that the whole way of Jesus' suffering became a way of an increasing veiling. Especially the oldest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, shows the passion journey of Jesus as a journey in which the divine is increasingly hidden in its power. In Galilee, Jesus showed himself to be the powerful one: he healed and worked miracles, he preached, he gathered people around him and his good news of the Kingdom of God. In Jerusalem, his powerlessness became more and more evident. He was attacked, delivered up, tortured and finally executed in disgrace. People then - as today in the face of horrific suffering - ask: Where is God? Who can still see God here, in the maltreated, tortured and finally dying? But then, at the moment of his death, a cover is torn, namely the curtain of the temple that veils the Holy of Holies. And Mark lets a witness speak who discovers the Holy of Holies, namely God, under the »veil« of Jesus' catastrophe: »When the centurion who was facing Jesus saw him die in this way, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.« (Mk 15:39)

What was veiled is revealed in a way that is radically different from anything humans imagine.

We used to think that suffering and the cross covered God. Now we see: in the cross is God.

We thought we did not see God in the crosses of our day. But now we begin to suspect: He is in every tear, every bent back, every helping hand, and every open heart.

We used to believe the Holy of Holies is behind a veil. Now it becomes visible to those who pass through the cross.

Veiling and unveiling are close to one another in this week: Jesus' last meal with his disciples reveals the heart of God. The way Jesus goes through his last hours reveals again and again his greatness and the radicality, even divinity, of his love.

So veiled crosses can sharpen our gaze to what is revealed in suffering - even today. We see divinity in the midst of war in many compassionate hearts, hands ready for action, creative helpers, lived by old and young.

The cross may be »foolishness« (1 Cor 1:23) in the eyes of the world, but for us Christians God shows himself in this weakness.

So I wish us all an unveiling Holy Week.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 11th, 2022


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Mercy as the Initiative of God


A few weeks ago, I listened to a young priest give a homily during a weekday Mass for a group of elderly women religious. When he was finished, I was left with an uneasy feeling rising up inside my heart. The preacher had spent all his time emphasising humanity’s unworthiness, sin and ingratitude and only then, more as an afterthought than anything else, he briefly mentioned God's mercy.

Later on the same day, I gave my opening presentation for a retreat for the people who had attended Mass that morning. Afterwards, a number of the participants came to thank me, telling me that they felt strangely comforted and strengthened. One of the women told me, she was unsettled and unsure why my presentation had such a different effect on her than the homily of the morning. After all, she said, both the homily and my presentation had more or less the same topic, namely sin and mercy

Not really. In the morning sermon, sin was portrayed as the occasion of mercy. Sin is the trigger, and then God develops mercy as the strategy with which he responds to sin. In this sermon, sin is what takes the initiative. It sets everything in motion, including God.

Because we are such great sinners, mercy comes.

Because we live so ungratefully, mercy comes.

Because we act so unworthily, mercy comes.

It is very clearly emphasised that sin sets God in motion and that mercy is merely God's response to the initiative of sin.

But Jesus speaks of mercy in a very different fashion. I had spoken on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who has been beaten and left to die on the side of the road receives mercy. But mercy, in the form of the Samaritan, does not come to him because he was such a great sinner. The great sinners were the robbers who did this to him. Mercy does not come to him because he lived in ingratitude, nor does it come, because he acted in an unworthy or sinful manner. »But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.« (Lk 10,33) That is why mercy came to him. That is why mercy crossed the road.

Jesus emphasises that mercy is the initiative of God and that it comes first. Mercy comes before sin. It can deal with sin, and certainly comes when sin is involved. But mercy is older than any sin.

This deep revelation of the heart of God has great consequences for our human hearts, as became apparent by the very different effect the homily and my presentation had on the hearts that were listening. In the homily, we heard that sin was the defining moment. The role and power of sin was repeated so vehemently and so often that, in the end, the preacher took sin more seriously than the mercy of God.  If mercy is then mentioned at all, it is only in connection with sin.

This, however, is a repudiation of Paul’s deepest instinct: »But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more«. (Rom 5, 20) The phrase »abounded all the more« is a translation of the Greek word huperperisseo. The word conveys the experience of something that is exceeding all the old measures, that is stretching and expanding beyond old proportions and it speaks of something that is to be enjoyed and relished abundantly. It is like a giant river that is being flooded with waters from upstream.

And why is it important to know this? It matters, because we humans also need mercy when we have not sinned at all. Mercy is the divine love that takes the initiative, just as the Samaritan takes the initiative to cross over the road and offer help, assistance and relief. When the other person does not have the strength, courage or possibility to act lovingly, the mercy of God, on its own initiative, creates space of life for people. »The love of God was revealed among us in that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.« (1 John 4, 9)

We need this initiative love of God, this mercy, even when we have not sinned. When we are sick or anxious, we need mercy. In times when we are anxious or intimidated, lonely or depressed, we are in need of mercy. The hour of mercy has arrived when we are exhausted and discouraged, disappointed or simply listless. These are very common experiences of daily life and they all are moments when we need mercy. But not of these things are sins. Yet, all of them awaken the great desire of our God to come to us, seek us out, bring us healing.

These are the moments when I meet my God as the merciful one, as the God who always speaks the first word, makes the first gesture, and takes the initiative.


Erik Riechers SAC

Dorfen, April 8th 2022


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Discovering Life


The title of a book for young explorers awakened something in me: »Natur - entdecken, verstehen, mitmachen«. (Nature – discovering, understanding, participating). It was the word »discovering«. The dictionary calls it a weak verb and we use it a great deal.

We know names of people who discovered new regions of the earth or sea routes, of astronomers who discovered new stars, of biologists who decoded DNA sequences. Children discover new flowers in the garden, I discovered a new path in the forest or my love for the sea. Sometimes we discover new nooks in a city we know or completely new sides to a person we already know. Whether Marco Polo or my grandchildren, whether Galileo Galilei or myself - everything that is discovered was there before. It is as if the discoverer had pulled away a blanket. So he can see for the first time what has existed for a long time. He uncovers, he exposes and thus finds something previously unknown or hidden. It may be that he had been looking for it for a long time, or perhaps he had no idea.

Every spring in our latitudes can be an example of this for us. For weeks and months the earth looked brown and dead, covered with the increasingly dry autumn leaves. But as soon as I remove them in February or March, I discover the tips of tulip leaves, the shoots of peonies, and the first little leaves of day lilies. Sometimes we don't even know which plant is just emerging.

Don't we often look upon our lives like a blanket? We believe that what we see is already life, our life, and we do not suspect or do not even want to know what lies beneath this cover. The blanket that often lies protectively over our lives is called »That's how it's done« or »Others expect it of me« or »That looks good«. It may also be that we no longer recognise a pattern, that the blanket has become grey like run-of-the-mill asphalt. As we all know, it's easy to walk on it, but long walks on it do neither the feet nor the back any good. The ground is too hard. It is completely different to walk on natural ground, when our steps are cushioned and we can also see what ground we are walking on.

Let us be mindful and honest on our journey through life: every now and then something flashes up - a memory of an old longing, a feeling of warmth and desire. Is there a glow of life hidden under a layer of ashes? It needs to be kindled so that we can rediscover the life within us: add a little oxygen, pull away the blanket and see what emerges. Yes, such a discovery can become a real resurrection experience. There is more life in me, much more life that emerges. For me, it is a task and challenge of Lent to rediscover the life in me and to give it more and more space, to let it out, so to speak.

But we should think further, beyond ourselves, and see what life is hidden under the blanket of others. We sit opposite each other in open-plan offices or at screens, next to each other in trains and buses, in school classes or at our dining tables, and yet we only perceive the outer shell of each other. Sadness in the eyes, a smile around the lips, an uncertain look, drooping shoulders - all these could be gateways to discovering true life in the other. Of course, some people pull their blanket tightly around them and are relieved by the protection of anonymity. But others are waiting for us to discover what is really going on inside them and help them to be able and allowed to live it. We could stand by them in the fulfilment of a long-cherished wish, give them space and time, rejoice with them, but also share the hard with them. All this requires strength and effort, but has any explorer ever found life without effort? 

Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish intellectual executed in Auschwitz in 1943, prayed in July 1942: »... perhaps we can help to resurrect you in the tortured hearts of others.«

Wherever we discover life, we can help it »to its feet« and in the process find in ourselves and others God Himself, the Lover of Life.      

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 4th, 2022


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Moving from Ice to Fire


Several days ago I had the pleasure of listening to Navid Kermani read excerpts from this latest book. He spoke of faith in warm, rich language. He spoke of poetry and metaphors, of storytelling and the asking questions, as profound yet gentle experiences of religion. In the course of those two hours, I sighed several times, with pleasure, as well as with relief.

For quite some time, I have been unsettled by the growing penchant for using what I call the language of ice for the human experiences born of fire. This occurs when cold, analytical, heartless and bloodless language is employed to describe those things in a human life that should awaken the fire of passion, commitment, courage and adventure. It happens when we refer to the painful deaths of innocent children in a war zone as collateral damage. The ice of that language is purposefully chosen to dampen the fire of outrage and resistance that normally arises when injustice and barbaric cruelty confront our hearts. Yet, this also occurs when we use terminology like »faith communication« to replace the passionate, spirit-soaked language of the psalmist who says:

»But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day,

for their number is past my knowledge.

With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;

I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might

to another generation, your power to all those to come.«

(Psalm 7, 14-18)

Surely no one believes that using the language of ice to describe the experiences of fire will not do serious harm to the human heart.

I recently had such an unpleasant encounter during a teaching session. To illustrate a point, I used the example of a kiss. No one can explain precisely how a kiss works, but that has never stopped anyone from enjoying the effectiveness of kissing. At this point, a participant interrupted in order to contradict me. She pointed out that modern neurophysiological studies have given us a deeper understanding of the neuro-chemical processes that are in involved in kissing and can explain why we react as we do. I was, to put it mildly, unimpressed.

I do not deny that the modern sciences can explain many things to us, but that was not my point. Whether we understand what neuroscience can tell us about kissing or not, the kiss still works. And furthermore, if a kiss is nothing more than a chemical process in the brain, why do kisses have such different effects on different people? Why do kisses then depend on whom is kissing us? Why can kisses express so wide a range of emotion, from love to exasperation, from joy to grief? Knowing the basic rule of chemistry that the same chemical combination always creates the same chemical reaction (if you throw a match into a cup of gasoline, it will always explode) how can we then explain, that there are so many and so varied reactions to a kiss? Dogmatism is not just a fault of religion and theology. It is just as prevalent when science, philosophy or politics tries to claim a final and definitive explanation of the Mystery. Every attempt to define Mystery is an attempt to control and confine it. It is like to trying to hold and control the form and movement of fire. Such attempts are always arrogant, dangerous and doomed to failure.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brilliantly diagnoses the underlying problem in this encounter. »It has also been an age in which we have turned to scientists – geneticists, neurophysiologists and sociobiologists – to explain the human condition. Science is an immensely powerful tool in understanding nature, but a very weak instrument in understanding human nature. To put it more precisely, it systematically misunderstands who and what we are. Science speaks of causes, not purposes. It understands events caused by things in the past, but not acts and decisions motivated by a vision of the future. It is good at dealing with the body. It is out of its depth in dealing with the mind, or what an earlier age called the soul. It has little to say about the ideals that give meaning to a life.« (p. 3, Celebrating Life)

I have a deep and abiding appreciation of what science has done and continues to do for our world. But unlike the cross-examiner of my classroom, I will not be joining the ice-cold world where scientific analysis is king. That was the way of Athens, the city of the Greek philosophers. However, it was never the way of Jerusalem, of the city of the biblical storyteller. Jesus accompanied people and their lives with stories rather than explanations: »Jesus spoke all these things to the crowds in parables. He did not tell them anything without using a parable«. (Mt 13, 34) In the Gospels there are 37 parables and more than 220 questions. Jesus left people with questions, rather than merely giving them decisive answers.

I cannot but recommend to you the way of the story, the way that opens doors and breaks a path to the human heart. Analytical answers give us definitions, but stories point out untried possibilities and untrodden paths. Definitions come to conclusions. Stories invite us to carry on and explore further. On long dark nights, when their hearts are troubled, people gather around the fire to hear the stories. It is time to come in from the cold, to move from ice to fire.


Erik Riechers SAC, April 1rst, 2022


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Regarding the weight of life


Do you recognise this experience? Many things weigh you down, some things are unsolvable at the moment and can only be endured and borne, but at the same time there are also pearls in every day. However, we often do not hold them in our hands to look at them gratefully, but give our full attention to the heavy loads that are gaining more and more weight. We see the problems increasing and the hardships growing, in our immediate surroundings and far beyond. In the evening, we brood for a long time over so many things that still need to be done, and in the morning, the tasks and worries assail us again as soon as we wake up. It is no wonder that when we meet someone who asks us how we are, we cannot say »Good!« There are simply too many burdens!

Perhaps a small »pearl« will give us pause today. I recently found it in the form of a short story from an unknown source:

A young man came to an old sage.

»Master«, he spoke in a sluggish voice, »life is like a heavy burden on my shoulders. It presses me to the ground and I feel as if I am going to collapse under this weight.«

»My son,« said the old man with an affectionate smile, »life is light as a feather.«

»Master, with all due respect, but here you must be mistaken. For I feel my life weighing on me day by day like a burden that weighs a ton. Say, what can I do?«

»It is we ourselves who put burdens on our shoulders«, said the old man, still smiling.

»But...«, the young man wanted to object.

But the old man raised his hand, »That 'but', my son, alone weighs a ton.«


When asked how I am doing, I no longer want to moan and stammer: »It's going well - actually, but...!«.

I resolve to fast from my »but« and shed some excess weight.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 28th, 2022


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Hearing and Hoping


Our program »May you be Sheltered!« was born in the first days of the first lockdown in March 2020.

Now, for a good four weeks, we have been experiencing the frightening and inhuman war in Ukraine and many of us feel the shock of this looming every larger over the fears of the pandemic.

Today, as at the beginning of the pandemic, we are again in danger of succumbing to the overabundance of news, images and speculation, of losing ourselves in it, of losing our sense of scale and proportion. Once again we hoard, this time flour and oil, panic leads to hoarding and inner emptiness is pragmatically covered up.

But there is another way. The actions of the Good Samaritan, as Erik presented them to us, are a great incentive for us not to focus self-centredly on ourselves, but to see with the eyes of the heart and do exactly what we are able to do and what helps to alleviate need.

Another biblical companion for this time is the prayer leader of Psalm 85, who gives us a wise path through difficult times in his words:

»Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.«

The prayer leader teaches us to practise the basic attitude of the ancient »Sh'ma Israel«, the »Hear, O Israel«. He makes the conscious decision to do so, he wants to hear what God is saying, and so he hears: The Lord proclaims peace and warns against folly. Let us not lightly pass this by! For a very long time, a certain indulgence has taken hold of us. This can lead to a foolish way of life, when we have forgotten to distinguish the essential from the unessential, when we have smothered our true longing with external things, when we think we have everything in our hands and are no longer able to endure periods of thirst. Psalm 85, however, widens and deepens our view of what is truly sustaining, which we can experience in a living relationship with God:

»Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.«

Because we live in a more comprehensive, greater reality, it is necessary to open our hearts to the connection between heaven and earth, so that the grace of the Lord, His mercy, His kindness and our faithfulness can meet. This alone gives peace and salvation. If we can make these words of the Psalmist our own by reading them again and again and letting them sink deeply into us, then we will sense that they are words of hope, that they point to possibilities of life that cannot be done by us, but are given to us and want to be received - whatever burdens us. Then we can see signs of this reality every day.

It was the same for a young woman who went through the »hell« of leukaemia and its treatment with her 5-year-old son. She struggled again and again in faith for precisely this hope. Hope »is perhaps the strongest of the virtues, because in it dwells the love that gives up nothing and the faith that sees the day already in the dawn. « (Fulbert Steffensky)* So she practised hoping again and again, learning to act, even in the hardest times and sometimes in the smallest steps, as if salvation were possible, indeed that what she was doing made sense. And she succeeded not only in accompanying her son well, but in keeping for herself a loving, hopeful heart that became neither resigned nor cynical nor hard. »The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase« is her experience of the hardest years of her life. She experienced streaks of light and moments of happiness, recognised paths and providence. Her gratitude grew - and remained, as did the peace in her heart.

To keep a loving, hopeful heart like the young mother in her crisis, Pope Francis will today, with deep trust and great hope, entrust Russia and the Ukraine to Mary's heart in our crisis. This great woman has also walked a long road in which she kept a heart of hearing and hoping. 


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 25th,  2022

*  Quoted in: Katharina Weck, »Der Chemoritter am Küchentisch«, Neukirchen 2019


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Living like the Good Samaritan II


3. Cross over to touch a wounded life

In the parable, the Samaritan is the only one who understands what this situation, this hour, demands of him. »He went to him«. A Samaritan needs to move to the wounded side of life. This is the only way two such different worlds can meet. And if we look closely at the parable, the Samaritan is the only one in the story who changes from one side of the street to the other.

Martin Luther King Jr., himself deeply versed in the way of the Good Samaritan, speaks eloquently to this moment. »Like the Good Samaritan, may we not be ashamed of touching the wounds of those who suffer, but try to heal them with concrete acts of love. A Good Samaritan is not simply one whose heart is touched in an immediate act of care and charity, but one who provides a system of sustained care.«

The good news of these days is for me the clear and decidedly under-reported reality, that there are many, many good Samaritans in the world providing that system of sustained care. In so many ways, in so many places, people have crossed over to touch the woundedness of life. They are giving of their time and money, opening their homes and letting the war-ravaged take a place among them. They are sorting clothes, welcoming refugees, transporting food, driving the lost to destinations of safety. We are also seeing the Church at her very best; close to the people, aiding others in every way possible with all the resources at her disposal, and unwilling to leave them behind. The Christian faithful, laity, religious and priests have all refused to seek safety, but are staying behind with their people, sharing their hunger and thirst, sharing their fear, anxiety and uncertainty. This is ever the way of Good Samaritans. You cannot touch a wounded life without paying a price.

In the parable, Jesus goes to great lengths to name the price of touching the wounded side of life. Oil, wine and money: this is what it costs the Samaritan, and these were resources for which he had other plans. Shelter, care, helpfulness: this is how the Samaritan reacts meaningfully to the situation of violence and cruelty. Loving action, accompaniment, sharing the journey to the place of healing and haven, and refusing to leave the beaten stranger’s side: all of this was part of the price the Samaritan paid so that the victim might live. It is a story being played out countless times by the Samaritans of our days.

4. A Samaritan never forgets, that he is deeply affected, but he is not the victim.

This is perhaps the greatest danger of the war for us. The scenes we have witness have left us troubled, worried, upset and distraught. But we are not the victims. We have been deeply affected, but we are not the victims of the bombs, the terror and the dislocation. It is wise and necessary to speak about what this war and this devastation is doing to us, but we must be ever vigilant that we do not end up making this about ourselves. This is a critical moment in which we must not turn in on ourselves. The Samaritan does not pause to tell us how exhausting and troubling all these efforts were for him. He is not the issue. The man left for dead is the issue. We are not the issue. The war ravaged, wounded, and assaulted people of the Ukraine are the issue.

To be a Good Samaritan is to live within the tension of helpfulness and helplessness. After all, this so active, helpful and dynamic character of the parable also has limits to what he can accomplish. He has neither the time nor the means to seek out the brigands, stop their evil-doing and bring them to justice. He does not have the power to secure the road and to make it safe for all future travellers. Nor does he bring to an end all violence and greed on the stretch between Jericho and Jerusalem. These are things that he is helpless to change. They lay beyond his power. They lay beyond his reach.

But the helplessness he feels on one level does not prevent him from being helpful in the places that lay well within the purview of his power to aid and assist. What he cannot do does not deter him from doing what is possible within the given circumstances.

And there is no greater gift the Samaritan has to offer than this. Our real enemy in this war is resignation. Every war achieves its aim when it can breed resignation in us. Then we are filled with the sense of futility that nothing that we say or do can make a difference. That futility, in turn, cements in us a sense of inevitability that leads us to believe there is no point in offering any resistance. Then war rolls over us, and takes possession not only of our lands and institutions, but over our souls. Once you break the spirit of a people, beating their armies is child’s play. 

The people of the Ukraine, the protesters in Russia, live the way of the Good Samaritan before our eyes. They refuse to let their spirits be broken. They resist on every level available to them. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk speaks comfort and courage to his people every day. President Zelensky never ceases to cajole, plead, intervene, encourage and negotiate.  Men and women find ways to do what is possible under these dreadful conditions to make life possible for one another. If the direct victims of this unjust war refuse to give way to resignation, then surely we, who are affected, but in no way the victims of this crime against humanity,  can do no less.

To be in the position of being able to help and heal is a privileged place to be. We are not helpless.  We have everything that so many of our brothers and sisters have had brutally taken from them: opportunity, resources, shelter to share and haven to offer. Steadily viewing what we cannot directly change or influence will not save one life, shelter one refugee, nourish one starving child, stop one bomb from falling or one gun from being fired. That not how we live like a Good Samaritan. That entails crossing the road. 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 21rst, 2022


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Living like the Good Samaritan I


Since the beginning of the war in the Ukraine, many people have found themselves struggling with the impact this war is having on them. Naturally, this is to be expected in times that trouble us deeply and leave us with abiding uncertainties. However, there are also deeply unhealthy and dangerous reactions. Too many people spend far too much time consuming every bit of news offered on the very latest developments. To be interested and well informed is valuable and laudable, but that is not what they are doing. They are becoming spectators of a war, and consumers of news about that war. This, however, does not make them men and women of solidarity. It merely leaves them with an ever deeper sense of helplessness, paralysis and resignation.

Fortunately, we have a story for this very problem. Jesus tells it to us in the Gospel of Luke. It is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Normally we refer to this parable in order to say, that we should be Good Samaritans, but we pay little or no attention to what exactly this way of living entails. This very famous story has vitally important things to say about how to respond in a healthy way to the grief, pain and violence we encounter on the roads of life.

1. We must see what is happening on the other side of the road

This is not self-evident. On the other side of the street is a life markedly different from our own. Like the Samaritan, who comes across the man who lies half beaten to death   on the other side of the road, we must not forget, that we begin this story by standing on the safe side. We are suddenly confronted with violence, aggression and death through this war, but we are encountering it from the safe side of life, where we are well cared for, secure and comfortable. It is very easy to let our side of life blind us to the reality that other people are forced to live. Just as in the parable, we are suddenly in contact with a world that has been foreign to us until the images of news broadcasts and social media brought them into our world. Now, like the Samaritan, we are confronted by a world of greed and violence. We can clearly see a world marked by blood, self-serving decisions, and terrible injuries. Hardships and injustice are no longer vague concepts, but hard realities. And there are people lying half dead on the ground.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls this the gift of religious vision. He says: »(Religious vision) does not show you something new. It shows you the things you have seen all along but never noticed… Our culture has given us a very selective vision, one that renders invisible much of what is around us.« (Celebrating life, p. 3). The lives we have lived have rendered invisible what is now unfolding before our eyes. Although there have been wars raging in the world for years (we need only to think of Syria) they have been cleanly and clearly separated from the world we shape and form. The Samaritan is confronted with a world in which a man, until now a complete stranger, is lying on the ground as his life is bleeding out. On our side of the road, we are accustomed to talking about faith, love, justice, care, salvation and healing. But it is on the other side of the road where they have become for us a living, existential necessity. And now the faith, love, justice, care, salvation and healing we speak of so lightly have become an existential challenge.

2. We must allow what we see to affect us.

Although we must see what is happing on the other side of the road, seeing is not enough. Luke makes this point more than once in the parable. The Gospel storyteller twice states that although people saw what was happening on the other side of the road, it did not prevent them from simply moving on. »Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side«.

Seeing and passing by is a great temptation. We can watch the news and then simply pass by move on to our preferred pastimes and pleasures. What we see need not affect us, slow us down or change our course.

To live from the wellsprings of the Samaritan is to break this cycle of seeing and passing by. »But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, we was moved with pity«. He allows what he has witnessed to move him, to affect him.

We need to pause for a moment and take note of a detail on this story that is off great significance. No one in this story heads out into the world to seek out suffering, injustice, brutality and victims of violence. No one goes out with the intention of seeking out this encounter. Luke points out that it is by chance that the priest sees him. The Samaritan is traveling, his destination and route were certainly determined by other considerations. But he allows something to interrupt the smooth flow of his life. The same is true of us in this moment. None of us was planning to confront a war, let alone went out looking for one. But now that it is happening, we are faced with the question of all surprises in life: will we allow it to interrupt the smooth flow of our plans and the routes we would normally take, or are we merely annoyed that it is unsettling the otherwise unquestioned comfort of our lives?

To be continued.


Erik Riechers SAC, Vallendar, March 18th, 2022


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In these weeks of horror, which has broken in on Ukraine and is becoming ever more terrible, the images of mothers and grandmothers shake us daily. They tear our hearts apart just looking at them, how much more these women suffer in the existential distress that has come upon them and their children.

Then I found this drawing by Käthe Kollwitz about »Mothers«, created shortly after the First World War. To protect, carry, shelter, and even to hold close - all this flows from the hearts of these mothers. Need and fear are great, there is no reason to smile, for anyone.


Later she discarded this page and printed another version:



The mothers now form a fortress, so to speak, their bodies unite to form a protective wall for their children, who should live and not be sacrificed.

In her diary she wrote:

»I am working on the ›Mothers‹. [...]Yesterday I decided to try to rework the war sheets in lithography. [...]I have drawn the mother who embraces her children, it is me with my own children born in the flesh, my Hans and my little Peter. And I have been able to do it well.«  - Käthe Kollwitz, Tagebücher, 6. Februar 1919    (Bilder und Zitat: www.kollwitz.de)

That day was Peter's birthday; he had voluntarily answered the Kaiser's call to war service at the age of 18, against her will, and had already fallen in Belgium in October 1914. It was five years after his death, before she was able to tackle it at all, before it was possible in her lasting grief to »do (it) well«.

She became a pacifist, designed the famous poster »Never again war!« in 1924, and processed her pain over the years in the sculptures »Mourning Parents«. This couple became a monument at the military cemetery near Dixmuiden in Belgium.

For me, Käthe Kollwitz embodies the strength of suffering, but also the endurance and expressiveness of a mother who neither denies nor steels her mother's heart, but lives with that heart, however hard it is. 

Jesus' way of the cross is lined with such women. Andreas Knapp has written sensitive poems about these encounters. I recommend one of them to you:


Jesus encounters his mother


long since weaned

and yet remains forever

flesh of her flesh


Transfusion of pain

for the transmission

less than a glance suffices



the reach

of maternal love

                        from: Mit Pauke und Salböl, Gedichte zu Frauen der Bibel

                                 (With tambourine and anointing oil: Poems on Women of the Bible       


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 21rst, 2022


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The Two Friends


Today I give you a short story. At a time when so much terrible and hurtful things are happening, it is important to ask what we will hold on to.


Two good friends were once walking together by the sea. They got into an argument about something, and soon they didn't even know why. But in the course of the argument, one of them made a remark that deeply hurt his friend. Saddened, but without saying another word, the latter took a stick and wrote with it in the sand: »My best friend hurt me today.« For quite a while they sat in silence, looking out from their dune onto the water. Wind had risen and began to sweep across the sand dunes, slowly but surely blowing away the writing. When even the last trace had blown away, the scribe slowly undressed to go for a swim in the sea.

Suddenly he was caught by a strong current. Desperately, he swam against the undertow, but he did not manage to get out on his own. Then his friend plunged into the water without thinking, fought his way to him and was able to save him with the last of his strength. Breathing heavily, they both lay on the beach. After some time, the rescued man rose with the little strength he had left and began to hew into the rock: »Today my best friend saved my life.«

His friend watched him and asked in amazement, »When I hurt you, you wrote it in the sand and now you carve it in stone, why?« »When painful things happen to me,« his friend replied, »I want to write this in the sand so that the winds of forgiveness and the waves of understanding can unfold a new story. But when I experience love and friendship, I want to engrave it in stone so that it may live on for all time, blown by the wind, washed by the water.«


When we look back upon these weeks and months: What will we write in the sand? What will we chisel into the stone?


Erik Riechers SAC, 11. März 2022


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»Strength and honour are her garments; she mocks the threatening future.« (Proverbs 31, 25):

The way of the upright woman - confident and beautiful


How many women are currently fleeing the inhuman war in Ukraine! They have to leave their husbands behind and try to save their children, the elderly and themselves by going to the West. The pictures of those arriving in Berlin and elsewhere bring tears to my eyes and at the same time make me admire them. Even though many are bent, there is so much strength in them. Bravely and courageously, they seize the only opportunity they see to survive.  

For over 100 years, March 8th has been International Women's Day. In 1975, the United Nations made it a »Day for Women's Rights and World Peace«. Always and everywhere, it is women in particular who, in their concern for life, are especially weighed down by wars. They bear the cross many times over: in families they lose their husbands to war and try to make shelter and life possible for their children somewhere and somehow. What a burden!

Luke also tells us about a depressed, even bent woman. She caught Jesus' eye and heart in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He saw that she could no longer walk upright. »When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability.’  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.« (Lk 13, 12 f) Now this woman can celebrate the Sabbath. Upright and self-aware, she can praise and extol the God of life. We humans are called to walk upright. God wants us confidently standing on our feet. He wants us all to shape the earth as his partners. From this, many are drawing strength right now to set out and trust in helping hearts and hands in foreign lands. They show us their dignity in their setting forth toward life.

Recently I saw an article about the Mexican peninsula of Yucatan, which recounted the tale of women who try in all simplicity to live in harmony with nature, especially while preserving the culture of their ancestors, the Maya. One of these women is barely 30 years old. She designs and sews lingerie from recycled fabrics that she dyes in a natural way. She then presents them in her online shop with ordinary women from her surroundings, not professional models. When asked about this, she talked about how small and insignificant she felt for a long time and how transformative it was for her to realise that her own self-confidence is elemental to her way of living. She had to practise it and now she imparts it to the women she photographs herself on the beach for her shop. Because, she says: »There is no more beautiful woman than a confident woman.«


Hilde Domin once quoted the Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola: » Holding one's head high is the mark of being human.«* We don't have to hold it up under strain, with clenched teeth and always in resistance. In a way, we can hold it up easily and naturally because we are aware of our belovedness and our dignity. Looked at by God, we can look at each other and perceive ourselves in our beauty. In this way we can meet each other with dignity - in everyday life and at the borders!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 7th, 2022

* Hilde Domin: Gesammelte Gedichte, S. 225


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»Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?«


Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you. For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.

(Ps 143)

War has drawn close to us.

It rages in our vicinity and also affects many families who live with us.

It shakes us all and changes us.

Standards are shifting, priorities are being set anew. And something new is on the move in the land and within human hearts. It reminds me of the words of the Prophet Isaiah: »Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?«

So we experience that people rise spontaneously in worship when a prayer for the people in Ukraine is announced. No one has to ask them to do so - they rise up to God and pray for peace in an upright posture. They are aware of the urgency and of what they can and cannot do themselves.

We see Pope Francis calling believers and non-believers to pray together for peace on Ash Wednesday:  »And now I would like to appeal to everyone, believers and non-believers. Jesus taught us that the diabolical senselessness of violence is answered with the weapons of God, with prayer and fasting. I invite everyone to make next March 2nd, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace.« (www.vaticannews.va)

Solidarity and closeness of heart are shown in many ways in these days of abandonment and terror of innocent people before brutal violence.

They are also shown in turning to the true Lord of life, to whom we so often wanted to elevate ourselves. Never have I read so often in comments on Instagram about praying. Perhaps we only suspect a trace of God - but we follow this trace that rises from the depths of our hearts. Then ancient prayers take on new meaning, they give us a language that is often missing in this great crisis. The Psalms of David, who knew threat and war, also give voice to our prayers and hopes.

So let us pray for the people of Ukraine and for all of us with the great hope in our hearts that God will do what we cannot.

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

(Psalm 138)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 4th, 2022

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A Hill of Crosses


Since the day of the invasion of the Ukraine and the suffering, pain, destruction and death it has wrought, I have done two things. First, I have turned to a beloved passage from the prophet Isaiah.

For You have been a refuge for the poor, a stronghold for the needy in distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like rain against a wall, like heat in a dry land. You subdue the uproar of foreigners. As the shade of a cloud cools the heat, so the song of the ruthless is silenced.

Is 25, 4-5

The reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah speaks of one of God’s deepest desires for his people. He wants to restore unto us what has been taken or lost, be it shelter, security, or comfort.

As I read these words and then prayed with them, they resurrected a story in my heart. For many years I accompanied an elderly man named Vitus until his death. Every Friday afternoon I would visit him and he would, sooner or later, tell me the stories of his homeland.

Vitus was a son of Lithuania, a small Baltic country that lost its independence in the Second World War. The country was terrorised by Nazi tyranny and later Soviet terror. On June 14-15, 1941 the Russians loaded 38,000 Lithuanian leaders, intellectuals and peasants in cattle cars deported them to Siberia. Over the next ten years one in every ten Lithuanians was sent to Siberia. The Church was viciously persecuted in a country that was 85% Catholic. The bishops were all imprisoned or killed. Half the churches were destroyed, closed or desecrated. Half the clergy were killed, imprisoned or exiled. All religious orders, publications, and institutions were suppressed. It was a radical subjugation of a people, their culture, their language and their faith.

Yet, Vitus and his countrymen and women had a remarkable response to this decade’s long terror campaign. They shared the heart of God and yearned for restoration. They hoped that freedom would be returned, that religion would be set free, and the nation restored. Most impressively, they brought that deep hope for restoration to expression in the form of the cross.

In the north of the country, the hill of crosses was born. It is an almost unimaginable sight. 55,000 crosses of every size and style were erected upon this hill, covering every square centimetre of it as a memorial to all that was lost, and as a plea for restoration. In the spring of 1961 the Soviet government bulldozed the whole thing down, burned the wooden crosses, melted down the iron ones, and buried the stone ones. Overnight there were new crosses. The Soviets tried everything, even flooding the field around it and blocking all the roads, and still new crosses came. Finally they gave up in 1985, and shortly thereafter Lithuania was restored to freedom and democracy.

When I look at the faces of the Ukrainian people on the news, I remember Vitus. A new chapter of suffering has been opened and a new generation of believers will now struggle to live the story born of faith, of hope, of courage and of perseverance. Yet, most importantly, I see in these men and women the influence of a heart that was moulded to yearn for restoration.

Throughout our lives, we know the ache for restoration. Like every human being, we have choices to make in the face of the trials and tribulations which life brings with it. We face disappointments. We know unsatisfied hungers of the heart.  Upon the landscapes of our lives, we will also need to erect our own hill of crosses. Over and over again, we need to set a sign of faith in the restoration of all that is momentarily lost to us. Over and over again, we need to wager on a God who would restore unto us all that was beautiful, true and good, but also lost for a short time.

The hill of crosses in Lithuania was a powerful sign to the authorities that the present moment does not make up the meaning of the future. The faith of this hour is a clear and potent sign to the power of death that this present hour of grief and sorrow, loss and sadness, does not constitute the meaning of all our tomorrows. Beyond the hill of crosses, there was freedom.  Beyond the hill of crosses there was restoration. Beyond these days of loss there will be restoration.

Deep at the heart of our faith, lies the desire to have all that is life-giving restored to us from the grasping claws of death. Even deeper at the heart of faith lies a greater mystery yet. It is that wonderful and awe-inspiring revelation that the reason why God restores us from death to life, is because he wants life restored as badly as we do. The words of the prophet Isaiah led us into this reflection. Allow his sparkling words to lead us out. “And in that day it will be said, »Surely this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He has saved us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.« (Is 25, 9)


Erik Riechers SAC, February 28th, 2022


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»Where are you staying?«


I was ordained by Archbishop Joseph MacNeil. He was for me a model of what the biblical stories expect a shepherd to be, kind, unassuming, generous with his time, close to the people and genuinely happy to meet the people entrusted to his care. In the years after my ordination, I crossed paths with him often. On occasion it was in the parish when he came to confirm the children. But most often, we encountered each other in hospitals and nursing homes. And every time we met there, he took the time to say to me, »I am always glad to meet a priest in a place like this.«

Unfortunately, I never thought to return the compliment. I wish from the deepest recesses of my heart that I would have said to him, »I am always glad to meet a bishop in a place like this!« I have been a priest for nearly 33 years, but he is the only bishop I have ever met in nursing homes, hospitals, soup kitchens and even a prison.

In John’s Gospel, two disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus the question, »Where are you staying?« The place where Jesus stays is not a geographic location, but a place of conviction. The places where Jesus stays, where he lingers and perseveres, the place he refuses to leave, is the rock-solid conviction that everything necessary for the life of those who are called by God is already given and is within us.  He knows what is in us and he names it: »The kingdom of God is within you« (Lk 17:21). This conviction is the place where Jesus stays, because it is the place where our God always stays. Our God steadfastly holds that we are loved and wanted, that our lives have value, dignity and meaning. We humans often doubt this, but God stands by it. Jesus sees blessedness, salt and light (cf.  Mt 5) in the weak, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden and the broken. Thus, he stays with them, so that they might liberate the power of blessedness, salt and light which they carry within themselves, develop these gifts as a contribution to the life of the world and then risk living it out for the sake of faith, love and hope.

I recently was fascinated by a passage in a book by Marco Garzonio, an Italian journalist, psychologist, essayist and academic, as well as the president of the Ambrosianeum Cultural Foundation in Milan. He pointed out that the tradition of the Church in Milan always held, that the head of the Ambrosian Church is poor. This was considered so important, that the archbishop of Milan does not have a church to himself. Not even the Duomo, the cathedral. In fact, the cathedral belongs to the Veneranda Fabbrica (Venerable Factory of the Duomo of Milan), an autonomous association, jealous of its statutes and of the independence it has enjoyed for centuries. It is even independent of the Holy See.

But if the archbishop does not own the splendour of the spires, the furnishings, the works and the treasures of the Duomo, he does enjoys an ancient privilege: he is the parish priest of the Ospedale Maggiore, the General Hospital. It is referred to as the Casa Grande, the great 'house', which receives and shelters the city's sick. This is the place where the people expected their archbishop to be staying, and thus, the place where they expected him to be found. This was the place where they expected him to live like a shepherded, in the midst of the most vulnerable part of the flock, in the citadel of suffering and pain. Or, to turn it around, this way of answering the question »where are you staying« would mean, if you can find the places where the vulnerable dwell, the hospitals, old people's homes, institutions for the handicapped, suburban ghettos and prisons, you will find the where the archbishop can be found.

This was a way in which the Milanese translated the Gospel into a concrete manner of living. They understood their shepherd as one called to genuine and existential service and clearly recognised the precise nature of his responsibilities. The shepherd was like Jesus, the good shepherd, who lived in a covenant, a grand relationship of dialogue and partnership. He lived in this relationship with those who are weak and afflicted, but who know because of their shepherd that they can count on the strength of the intercession and presence of someone who brings relief and comfort.

I do not believe that this biblical instinct of the people of God is confined to the good citizens of Milan. Everywhere in the world the people of God are aching for good shepherds, and they know where they would like to find them. They know the place where their shepherds should be staying. But often, far too often, they do not find them there. It leaves them sad and alone, and later that turns to anger and rejection when they realise where their shepherds are staying and how they spend their time.

And that is why I continue to regret that I never told Archbishop MacNeil in those hospitals, nursing homes, soup kitchens and in that prison, »I am always glad to meet a bishop in a place like this!«


Erik Riechers SAC, February 25th, 2022


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Living with Tensions


Many years ago, a woman, who was very sure of herself, told me that her brother never comes to see her parents when she is there because he knows what she would hold against him about his way of life. His »fault«? He is divorced. In her conservative Catholic worldview, that was bad and simply could not be. She believed she knew exactly what was good and bad and she seemed very content with her way of dealing with it.

We know similar behaviour when we write ourselves off after a failure or a wrong decision and just dismiss it as being too stupid or something of that kind.

Why is it so difficult for us to endure tensions? This is a question that arises again and again. We tend to seek and prefer black-and-white solutions, but this does not do justice to reality with all its shades of grey. We are quickly exhausted by the realities of life and tend to complain. We find it difficult to accept the various and often very different facets of our lives and to endure that there are burdensome, difficult areas and at the same time beautiful and light sides. We struggle to accept that everything is contained within our own lives in its full spectrum.

Isn't tension a principle of life? We are stretched into a tension between birth and death. We are within tensions within relationships, in tasks and duties.

Without the tension of our physical forces and mental abilities, we would not be able to achieve anything. We practise tensing our muscles from the very beginning. We turn to the world by being curious about what is coming, how something will develop or look, whether something will happen.

Without the tensions of life, there would be no stories at all!

Tension is something elastic, alive and lives from the alternation between tensing up and relaxation. If you are always tense, you will be in pain. We all know this physically. Muscles that are tense for too long become hard and stiff. And if our worries, our ambition or our perfectionism always keep us tense - we also say: »tightly held« - we also become immobile and lopsided. It's as if we take on blinkers and block out whole dimensions of our lives.

On the other hand, those who prefer to keep everything nice and relaxed, light and easy, fluffy, so to speak, will hardly mature because they try to avoid the challenges.

The biblical messages, on the other hand, not only withstand life's many and varied arcs of tension, they also tell us that our God can be experienced precisely in them. That is why Gotthard Fuchs can write:

»Authentic spirituality does not slice reality in half and also takes the bitterness of the everyday as an invitation to transformation and growth.« He points out that maturation, »renouncing cherry-picking and perceiving the whole of reality«. (from: »Mut-Proben«, Patmos 2021, pp. 108-109)

Between the one-sided, harsh judgements of others or ourselves and childish ideas of pampering lies the fullness of our lives. Let us enter it wisely and courageously. And let us become gentle, just as I would have wished it for the woman toward her brother at that time. In order to grow and mature in balance between rigidity and relaxation, we need gentleness, that »highly powerful, tension-strong attitude«. (loc.cit., p. 81) 


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 21rst, 2022


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A Path of Renewal


I recently witnessed a liturgy in which pompous grandiosity was front and center. From the start, the focus of attention was not the Word and not the community at prayer, but the celebrant. At one point, a server actually lifted up and carried the cope of the celebrant as he walked around the altar to incense it.

Immediately a biblical word sprang to mind. »And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.«  (Mt 6, 5) The self-referential world which Jesus so feared can also be found among us today.

I asked myself, where Jesus would ever act in such a manner. Where would he have another person tip toe around him as he walked, reducing and demeaning the other to the role of servant, if not a slave? The Jesus of the Gospel pages strips himself of garments, girds himself for service, kneels on floors, and washes feet.

In John’s Gospel, the evangelist lets us in on Jesus secret: »Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.« (John 13, 3)

Jesus knew that he enjoyed the trust of his Father, because he placed all things into his hands. Jesus knew who he was, before God and before others. He knew where he came from and where he was going. That is the secret, because then there is no need for pomposity and self-aggrandizement. These are always the instruments of a heart that wishes to camouflage its shallowness and emptiness. Such hearts, because they do not really know who they are, where they come from and where they are going, resort to grandiosity and pomp, because they need to disguise the fact, that they are hollow.

Lip service to the Gospel will not save us in the hour of crisis. The path of renewal will demand more than putting on a better show. The call of these days is as old as the biblical story. We must move from a Christianity of habit and custom to a Christianity of conviction, reflection, choice, and decision.

Conviction is more than custom. It is born of the inner processes of the deep heart, that struggles through real life until it comes to a conclusion with which it can live. You can always tell when conviction is born. It is the moment when we are not merely touched by what we see, experience and encounter, but are moved by it. If we are not moved to some action, and be it ever so small, it is not a conviction.

Reflection is the moment when we go deep, when we ask about the meaning and purpose of what we are doing. Unlike habit, which simply maintains the status quo through mindless repetition, reflection poses questions as to the true significance of what is taking place.

Choice is an inevitable part of authentic faith. We have grown accustomed to the process of simply taking on the faith handed on to us by the generation before us, without really making it a choice. We have relied on the concept of inheritance, rather than personal choice. This process has broken down. An authentic use of the word “tradition” means we would use it as a verb, rather than a noun. Tradition is the act of passing on and giving people a reason to choose what we hold precious and dear. We have been very insistent that people should believe, but what reason do we give for making this choice? What stories do we tell about how we came to choose the path of Jesus, the way of the Gospel? Among all the opportunities and possibilities offered to people in the world, the way of faith is one choice we can make. It is not inevitable. The days in which social pressure will keep our churches full are long gone. It people come, it will only be because they choose to come.

Decision is the moment when we actually make the choice that will guide and direct our lives, our actions, and our behaviour. It is not about mood and emotion, but about taking a stance.  

The result of all this is found in the precious line of John’s Gospel: »Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.« (John 13, 3)  For Jesus, faith was about conviction, reflection, choice, and decision. That could be the path of our renewal as well.


Erik Riechers SAC, February 18th, 2022


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Words carry life


These weeks I have been reading Hilde Domin's biography on and off. It makes me realise how much life she had already lived before the words of her incomparable poetry began to grow out of her. I am not only thinking of her lifetime; no, her life was unbelievably dense due to external and personal circumstances in a wide range from the enjoyment of life and love to flight, losses, homelessness and deep pain.

She perceived everything sensitively and intensively and gave it a language, especially in letters. But when everything seemed to break away from her, new words found their way, poems literally burst out of her. She later wrote to her brother about this time: » That was when I the poems were given to me. I put my foot in the air and it bore me.« (Marion Tauschwitz; Hilde Domin. Biografie, S. 229)

This makes me think. Don't we all suffer - consciously or unconsciously - from too many empty words? Whining about not finally being able to live like we used to, ever more inundating gibberish, talking about nothing! What would happen if we kept more silence Perhaps this could lead to the source of new words and we would move tentatively towards true exchanges about the depths of our souls and he real treasures of our lives. We could practise genuine living and listening and waiting for what grows and matures within us. We could discover how little of all that we hold as ever so important is really necessary. And perhaps we could slowly understand and at some point tune into what Hilde Domin, who knew exile and return and homelessness, put into words like this:


With light baggage


Don't get used to it.

You mustn't get used to it.

A rose is a rose.

But a home

is not a home.


Say no to the lapdog object

that wags at you

from the shop windows.

It is mistaken. You

do not smell of staying.


One spoon is better than two.

Hang it around your neck,

you may have one,

for with the hand

it's too hard to scoop the hot stuff.


Sugar would run through your fingers,

like comfort,

like the wish,

on the day

when it becomes yours.


You may have a spoon,

a rose,

maybe a heart

and, perhaps,

a grave.            

             (From: Hilde Domin, Sämtliche Gedichte, 2009)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 14th, 2022


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Stand where you can see the horizon: Sentinels of the Morning II



In the book of the Prophet Isaiah, there is a very brief story about the relationship between a sentinel of the morning and the people.

 One is calling to me from Seir,

»Watchman, what of the night?

Watchman, what of the night?«

The watchman says:

»The morning comes, and night as well.

If you would ask, do ask,

turn back, come.«

Isaiah 21,11-12

If you like, this is akin to a job description for sentinels of the morning.

The people approach with a question: »Watchman, what of the night?« It is not the same as asking the time of day. When people inquire as to the length of the night, it is a question about fear and insecurity. They want to know how much longer they will have to endure the darkness and how long they need to wait unto the light returns to their world.

Yet, why ask the sentinel? This has to do with the way in which a sentinel works and where he or she does that work. The sentinel can be found upon the walls of the city. They stand there, because it is the vantage point from that allows them to see what is approaching the city they guard. Therefore, they can also see the horizon, which is indispensable if you wish to tell time by the motion of the stars and the moon. It is also the place the sentinel looks to in order to ascertain the first stirrings of light on the fringes of darkness. The first hint of morning is always found on the horizon.

In this first part of the story, we see a basic approach to life with which every sentinel of the morning must contend. It has to do with the walls and the advantages and disadvantages they bring to our lives.

The obvious advantage of a wall, is that it offers us protection. The walls we build shelter us and keep what is threatening and frightening outside and away from us. We feel safe and secure behind the walls we build.

Yet those same walls come with a price. The disadvantage of walls is that they while they protect us, they also block our view of the world around us. In particular, they severely limit our far-sightedness. When we hide behind walls, we cannot see the distant scene and, above all, we can no longer see the horizon. And as I have already noted, then we cannot see the stirrings of the new day. That means, we do not have the ability to know how the night is progressing, hence the question of the people: »Watchman, what of the night?« It also means, that even after the first sings of light and hope appear on the horizon, the people behind the walls will have no idea that it is coming. They will live in darkness without knowing that there are already clear signs that it is coming to an end.

But the sentinels of the morning know. It is not an accident that they are the first to know. It is the direct result of a choice they have made. They have chosen to leave behind the security of the walls in order to gain the advantage of taking a wide and encompassing look at the world beyond them. It is a risky business. After all, the first people susceptible to attack are those who can be seen, who stand exposed. These are the sentinels of the morning. Yet, they are willing to take that risk in order to see what is coming toward them, be it an approaching enemy of the first rays of dawn. They refuse to hide behind walls. Instead they want to see the horizon. Their reward is that they will always be the first to know that the light is rising and the night has started to die. They are, of course, the first messengers of hope for the people cowering behind the walls. Yet in Psalm 30,5 we can encounter the spirit that suffuses the sentinels of the morning: »weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.« They are the first eye witnesses of dawning light, and therefore, the »joy that cometh in the morning« will touch them first. 

To be a sentinel of the morning is to make a fundamental choice about where we will stand in the world, about the place from which we would forge and fashion our lives. We see it all around us, people barricading themselves behind walls of anger, hoping somehow that their indignation at the corruption and abuse of the world will somehow shield their hearts from more pain. People build high walls with conspiracy theories, hoping that if they can explain the world as they wish to understand it, they will be protected from the anxiety of uncertainty and from the confusion of the world around them. Walls can be erected with the stones of indifference, making us believe that if we do not care, we cannot be hurt. Yet, in this cold-hearted calculation they never include the terrible price of isolation and loneliness which they not only create for others, but which they suffer themselves.

No matter how we build these walls, they will not allow us to see the signs of a new brightness, warmth and life that is arising in the world. Sooner or later we will feel the question arsing in our hearts: »Watchman, what of the night?« Yet, if everyone is behind the walls, there will be no one left to answer the question.

That is why I prefer to live like a sentinel of the morning. I like it atop the walls. It is my place, my chosen place, from which I would view the world. I would not live in ignorance of the coming of the morning. I am willing to take the risk of being more exposed, and less protected, of living with more intensity and having to undertake the arduous and straining task of scouring the horizon, because I always want to be among the first who are touched by the joy that cometh in the morning.

And I am willing to be a sentinel of the morning, because I feel that there must always be someone who is able to answer the question born of darkness and weighing heavily on walled in hearts: »Watchman, what of the night?« They need sentinels of the morning, because without them, the biblical story of hope will not be heard: »The morning comes, and night as well. If you would ask, do ask, turn back, come.«


Erik Riechers SAC, February 11th, 2022

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»Encouragement in sorrow and suffering«

Under the blessed wish »May you be sheltered!« we have long encountered one another here. In March 2020, we did not know how our lives would develop and change under Covid19, what consequences we would have to deal with, what this »story would do to all of us.

However, we were sure, that we would remain protected in all the uncertainties and dangers that God's loving gaze would watch over us that He is greater than all our worries and troubles and greater than anything that may happen.

Even without the threat of a virus, we all know the concern for people who are dear to us and entrusted to us.  

Almost 30 years ago, I was impressed by a grandmother who told me about her many years of worry about her grandson who had slipped into the drug scene and seemed to get lost again and again in his addiction. It was shocking to hear what this woman had endured in her love for this boy, how deep and also well-founded her concern was and how seemingly unbearable her helplessness was. But her heart's desire would not let her give up. She used different words then, but she always wished him, the grandson, salvation, blessing and protection. Everything she had experienced and learned in those difficult years, she later passed on so that others could benefit from it, even live from it. She wrote books and gave lectures.

When we worry about specific people, we usually cannot stop thinking about them. We hope that nothing bad will happen to them and perhaps - as my mother did for her children and later her grandchildren - we keep a candle burning as a sign of solidarity and as an expression of the request for protection for the loved ones.  

But sometimes we also undergo times of anxious fear. Our possibilities to help are limited, we may not be able to do anything at all for our beloved. Then the worry can really »eat us up«.  Many a person has become ill in such times of anxiety-inducing worry.

Then we need help. Someone has to help us find the right balance again between myself and the one I care about, between my life and his life, and finally between my possibilities, which are always limited, and God's possibilities, which are inexhaustible.

We need people who can see more in what we tell than we ourselves can in our dimmed vision. If they see the signs of God in it, they can help us to let go of those we are afraid for and entrust them to God's heart and hands. Then we learn to say: »Stay sheltered!« and experience that this is also a blessing for us. Then, what we can do ourselves will be enough and the confidence will grow that God is doing His part. We learn to entrust our loved ones to Him and also ourselves. We don't drop out, but we change our view.

We need people at our side with a wise heart.

It is not for nothing that the Bible dedicates an entire book to wisdom, this »breath of God’s power« (Wis 7, 25) It is said of her that she leads us to the virtues. »For she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these. And if anyone longs for wide experience, she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come; she understands turns of speech and the solutions of riddles; she has foreknowledge of signs and wonders and of the outcome of seasons and times. Therefore I determined to take her to live with me, knowing that she would give me good counsel and encouragement in cares and grief.« (Wis 8, 7-9)

We gain a wise heart gradually, through companionship and through practice. Let us practise accepting God as the sheltering guardian of all our loved ones. In this way, we can walk through sorrowful, worrying times together.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 7th, 2022

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Sentinels of the Morning

In Psalm 130 there is an image that easily slips away from us if we do not pause and ponder. »My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.« Here the prayer insists that the soul has a desire for the coming of the Lord into its life that is even greater than the desire a sentinel has for the coming of the morning. The image is powerful, but only if we can answer one question: how powerful is the longing of a sentinel for the coming of the morning? How important is the arrival of new light into the world for a person who keeps watch throughout the night?

The weight of waiting through long nights is hardly news to us. At the moment, the news overflows with that story. People are longing for the long night of Corona to come to an end and are worn and desperate when there is still no clear end in sight. The headlines are full of the stories of yet more discoveries of abuse in the Church, together with the chorus of horror, anger, and indignation that always follows upon such reports. This long night of shame, helplessness and fury has lasted for so long, and there is no end in sight yet. The political problems of the land go on unabated, even as governments change. The extremes are on the rise, antisemitism is resurfacing everywhere, civil discourse has given way to tirades and vitriolic attacks, and the care for the common good is being unravelled in the face of an unrelenting and unfettered individualism. The dark hours of the night are long and wearisome.

But the biblical storyteller of Psalm 130 is not joining the chorus of those who lament the length of the night. Instead, he places himself into the role of a sentinel, a person who is ever alert to the coming of the morning. It is the role of a person, who refuses to succumb to the despairing role of bemoaning what ails the human soul. Instead, this person is on the lookout for hope, for a new perspective on the horizon, for signs of light that is aching to come back into the world.

This encounter with the biblical story raises a question in me. What role do I wish to play in the great drama of salvation as it is unfolding in the world? The temptation is to join the litany and chorus of despair, to sing from the song sheets of the night. It is a temptation that is all around us. Every single day I encounter it in the people I encounter. They are fragile, tired, and, as the result of many and varied experiences, unmotivated. All too often, they are surrounded by people who will join them in bemoaning the sorry state of the world and their personal part in it.

But that is not consolation. No hope can ever be born that way. That is merely misery enjoying company. There is no perspective in this scenario. From this place of despair and resignation there is no place to go.

The sentinel of the morning chooses a different tack and, thereby, takes a radically different approach to life and its long nights. The sentinel of the morning consciously is on the watch for signs of hope. The sentinel of the morning is trying to discern God's plan for the future, to try to understand the priorities for the future of the People of God, to walk the new paths and follow the untrodden ways.

That can only happen if there is a conviction left deep within the heart of the sentinel, namely, that there is more to the story than what we have experienced. It is an old biblical call of our God, reminding us to stay alert, because there is more to come, and it will bring us divine goodness and light. That is the experience we call faith. The storyteller of the Letter to the Hebrews says it this way: »Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.« (Heb 11,1). Paul reminds us that a sentinel of the morning believes God’s promise during the dark nights before we see it fulfilled. »For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see?« (Romans 8, 24)

For my part, I refuse to join the litany of despair, even while I feel the sting of it in my bones. I am no more immune to what long nights do to the human heart than anyone else. I feel the weariness and the sadness as keenly as everyone else. The disappointment and the betrayal of trust is as disheartening to me as to all my brothers and sisters. But I refuse to have this conversation without God. I refuse to spend all my time talking about the night or, even worse, to the night. So I mount the walls and keep watch for the coming of the day. I do it every time I sit down to write another encouraging word. I do it each time I still down to accompany a person through the troubled waters of their lives. I keep watch for the morning in every homily I write and preach. »My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.«

When I pray, I take up the image of Isaiah: “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest. (Isaiah 62, 6)

I pray for more sentinels of the morning. But that is another story altogether. I will gladly tell it to you next week in my next reflection.


Erik Riechers SAC, Vallendar, February 4th, 2022

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What comes so easily . . .

Almost 30 years ago, a father wrote in his 10-year-old daughter's poetry album: »The best thing we can do in the world is to do good, be happy and let the sparrows whistle.« The girl loved this sentence and she liked to write it herself in other albums. Probably all of us know it and because it comes so easily, we tend to dismiss it as childish, a pious postcard saying or simply trite.

The author of this saying is celebrated and honoured today in the monastery of Benediktbeuern and everywhere where the Salesians of Don Bosco live and work, namely Don Bosco. Today is the 144th anniversary of the death of this northern Italian priest, gifted educator, youth pastor and founder of the order, and I pause today at this sentence and look for its supporting foundation.

Don Bosco had the clarity and the courage to declare something as the »best thing« we can do. That no longer passes our lips very often in our world of indifference, egalitarianism, and the motto »everything is allowed – everything is good«. We often no longer dare to name the qualitative differences of what we can do, together with the possible consequences, which can be beneficial and supportive or deadening and harmful.

As one such »best thing«, Don Bosco fist recommends doing good. This is a call to action and this in turn leads us right into the message of the Bible and into the life teachings of Jesus.

»Do this, and you will live«, say Jesus to the lawyer who wishes to inherit eternal life and who knows the words written in the law: »You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.« (Lk 10,27-28) Jesus say that life is acquired through doing. At the end of his conversation with Nicodemus, who visits him at night, he say: »But whoever does what is true comes to the light«. (Jn 3, 21) How we live in action shows whose spiritual child we are. As images and partners of God, we are created with the ability and the mission to act well and thus to preserve and shape life for ourselves, for others, for the creation entrusted to us. If in the story of creation God repeatedly says that he »saw that it was good«, our work can and should also be creative, constructive, creating new worlds and lovingly caring.

Don Bosco then counts being cheerful as one of the best things we can do. Of course, this has nothing to do with being funny or even silly. Rather, it is about a basic attitude that the little book of Nehemiah already recommends to the people of God who have returned from the Babylonian exile to the destroyed city of Jerusalem. With great effort they rebuild the walls and, moved to tears, listen to the instruction of the Lord, the Torah, which Ezra recites to them. When he sees their tears, he tells them: »And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.« (Neh 8, 10) - and then they celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles as in ancient times. Being joyful has to do with this joy in the Lord. For this is the message that runs through the Bible from beginning to end: God is with his people, he is faithful, he shows ways and gives strength, he is in us and around us. So rejoicing in HIM has substance and may always gain the upper hand in our lives.

And finally, Giovanni Bosco advises to let the sparrows whistle. Let them be – is what I hear here - don't scare them away or be bothered by them. Rather, they can be a reminder to you: »Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.« (Mt 10, 29-31) With these words, Jesus encourages his disciples as they are sent out, painting a picture of God's inexhaustible care for us that is both memorable and expressive.

         So the more I think about the thought from the poetry album, the clearer it becomes to me: what comes across as so easy only has this lightness because it is deeply founded.

But what happened to the ten-year-old who grew up with this sentence? It is never on her lips. But for a long time now, I have noticed how she is able to tackle things instead of ranting, how she gets involved when it matters. How often family, friends or colleagues were amazed at how creatively she looked for solutions and how nothing was too much for her in an »emergency«. At the same time, she is carried by a deeply hopeful and positive attitude. She has a certain cheerfulness that is good for herself and the people around her. She is probably not even aware of how much she lives from the words her father once wrote down for her. She simply fills them with her life.

So in these unstable times, I greet you today with Don Bosco's advice: »Stand with your feet on earth and dwell with your heart in heaven.«

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 31rst, 2022

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What happens when God sets us free?

In the turmoil and conflict of the Corona crisis, there has been a great deal of talk about the freedom of the individual. An often heard statement is: Freedom means that no one can tell me what to do. In so many cases, the case is made for a freedom from any and every obligation that does not suit us. But there is nary a word about a freedom for something, be it for a just cause, the common good or for service to the weakest and most afflicted in our ranks. It is a troubling and dangerous development.

The stories of God offer us an alternative, because once he sets us free, he tells us exactly what to do with that new found freedom.

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, »Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.« And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

In this powerful and dramatic story from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5, 17-21), we encounter a story of liberation. Prison doors are opened by an angel. People who are incarcerated are led out of prison by the messenger of God. Who does not dream of being liberated when they experience the narrow walls of their own prisons? Some of these prisons are built on the outside, made of stone and steel. Others are erected on the inside, forged of fear, self-doubt and the lingering sense of inferiority. Relationships can become prisons, as can families and communities. Either way, these are places that suffocate hope and breed resignation and despair.

Prisons always play two roles. On the one hand, they lock people up to punish them by depriving them of their liberty. On the other hand, they protect the people who are outside in the free world from those who are inside. To the people on the outside, a prison is a place where they safe lock away those people who either disturb or threaten our order and peace. Prisons are also complicated in that way, because they are used by just societies to punish criminals and protect society, but they are also used by tyrants and dictators to silence their opposition and intimidate the dissidents of their countries.

Normally, when a person is released from person, society has become convinced that they no longer pose a threat to others. Convinced that they will no longer disturb the peace and quiet of the people, they are finally allowed to live in freedom again.

That makes this story all the more interesting and challenging, because it shatters that pattern. »Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.« The story makes it perfectly clear that God has  sent  the messenger to open the gates, lead out his imprisoned friends and release them back into the cut and thrust of life to do exactly the opposite. God breaks them out of prison in order that they will stand out, not to blend into the faceless and nameless masses. He sets them free to that will be active proclaimers of disturbing stories. The people whom God sets free are not to disappear inconspicuously into the crowd and go into hiding, but to go into the temple (Jerusalem's most public place) and »and speak to the people all the words of this Life«.

This is not about a freedom so that we can hide, but a freedom to show up. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once said, »To be free is nothing, to become free is everything!« Here prison gates are opened for us to walk into the heart of life. We should stand up for what is in us, what has formed and shaped us, and what makes us live. After all, if we cannot do that, are we not in a prison?

This experience is not foreign to us. At some point, and probably more than once, we have been freed from prisons.  Messengers of God have opened to us the gates to life which we were unable to open for ourselves. They have shown us the paths to freedom and accompanied us to the threshold of life.

But as liberated people, we have to go to the temple. We have to go to the centre of life and proclaim »all the words of this life«. All the words of this life means, we have to proclaim the name of the God who opens prison gates for us, who has carried us through bondage, and who has walked us through the maze of prison passages back into life. And proclaiming all the words of this life means that we also proclaim the purpose for which we have been set free. Our lives have not been set free so that we might return to our private little fiefdoms, but so that we may appear in the temple and become a messenger of God to others. And so it starts again, for when we show up like this, we will be the ones who start to liberate another set of prisoners.


Erik Riechers SAC

Paderborn, January 28th,  2022


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»Blessed by all things«


Our understanding and perceptions of the world that surrounds us are sober and emphasised by reason. Unlike people in earlier times, we know where thunder comes from and how a volcanic eruption in the southern Pacific can trigger a tsunami in Peru. We can make snow slopes ourselves. We all use highly complex things that people have thought up, developed and manufactured. We deal with them quite pragmatically and discard them when new developments produce better things.

That's fine, but such an approach can shape and define us in such a way that it affects the way we perceive everything in life: technically, utilitarian and mechanistic.

Everything has to be useful, serve a purpose, we want to understand it and it should work. But next to it, behind it, sometimes in it, there are experiences of life that elude utility

What is at play when our breathing stops? Or when it goes faster? Is it not a miracle - breathing?

Don't we sometimes marvel at something that is whispered to us - perhaps marvel at the trust that is being placed in us right then? Or our own voice becomes a whisper in the face of an overwhelming experience.

Why do tears sometimes come to our eyes at the sight of a landscape, a picture or a face? Or why do we exult at what is happening right before our eyes.

Can't the touch and closeness of a person turn a dull day into a day of joy?

How do we feel when a long-suffering person opens his heart before us and entrusts us with his inner treasures? All of a sudden we get an inkling of the depth and eternity of the soul.

Don't we know the urging of thoughts when we look for solutions and help for loved ones? It can be astonishing what our thinking is capable of.

Do we pause now and then, looking back, because we realise that it was not we di not carry ourselves through a difficult time? There was a power dwelling in us that points beyond us.

Everything we encounter can be a blessing. Everything we experience and absorb can unfold a blessing power.

That is why I love John O'Donohue's Morning Prayer, in which he says, raising himself up:

 »I arise today

Blessed by all things,

Wings of breath,

Delight of eyes,

Wonder of whisper,

Intimacy of touch,

Eternity of soul,

Urgency of thought,

Miracle of health,

Embrace of God.«

We can sensitise ourselves to perceive and absorb a deeper dimension of life. And we can speak of them in retrospect.

Even if we don't notice it, we are permitted to trust: in every second there are more blessings woven in us and around us than we can imagine. Is this »carpet« not a solid ground on which we can stand and walk?

It is my wish for all of us.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 24th, 2022


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To Bless one another


Today I ask a little question that has grown in my heart - especially in the aftermath of Erik's impulse on Corona fatigue: Can't we simply and consciously bless one another again and again? In Latin, to bless is benedicere, and it means to speak well. Without denying what burdens us, without pretending that the pandemic with all its limitations and risks does not exist, I want to change my point of view.  I want to say good things to the other. To do this, I have to perceive (again). I have to see and hear them and then think about what is good for them and what increase in life I specifically wish for them. I look for words and images that express this, move them in my heart and bless a person with them.

When my grandson was born, a friend gave me the lyrics of a song by Reinhard Mey.

The whole song is a grandfather's blessing at his grandson's cradle. In one verse it says:

»Always a lucky penny in one of your pockets,

Always a serene breath at the finish line,

Always full of trust, yet immersed in all waters,

Always a hand's breadth of it under your keel.

That through all perils a guardian angel may accompany you,

That a beacon may guide you with a sure light.

Always a best friend be by your side

I would like to be the oldest of them all.« *


Is that not beautiful? Breath and trust, the protection of heaven, guiding light, friendship and happiness are the gifts he wishes for the human child, and he is ready to cooperate. 

To whom could we sing a few verses of this song? When we seek opportunities to bless one another, we change our minds and widen our hearts.

And the blessing will be upon us all.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 21st,  2022

* from R. Mey, »Fahr dein Schiffchen durch ein Meer von Kerzen«

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Corona Fatigue

At the moment we are all very tired from the long days of the pandemic and the many, often confusing sets of rules and regulations that come with it. This pervasive weariness has been dubbed »corona fatigue«.

This is not the first time in the long history of salvation that the People of God suffered through such moments. When they arose, the Prophets spoke of hope to them, reminding them that such days will pass and the People of God will experience new and more delightful moments. The prophet Jeremiah does precisely this when we speaks these words to God’s people in crisis.

Thus says the Lord: »The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit.« (Jeremiah 31:2-5).

The opening lines of Vatican II’s constitution on the Church in the Modern world begins with a powerful reminder. »The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.« It reminds us that, as the People of God, we are not exempt from the griefs and anxieties of life. But we will also not excluded from the story of joy and hope.

To phrase it like Jeremiah, we are a people who will survive the sword of this virus and its many implications. We will find the presence of God (grace) in the midst of this wild and untamed experience. Rest will be found again as well as the time for our pleasures and pursuits. We will be rebuilt as well as rebuild what was broken. Will have the time and the opportunity to create new things in the days after the crisis. In many ways we are already returning the places and times of the merrymakers. Most assuredly, we will plant and reap. We shall enjoy the fruitfulness of life on our tables and in our cups.

But at the moment we are still deeply immersed in the long days of the pandemic and the many, often confusing sets of rules and regulations that come with it. And while we are still experiencing Corona fatigue, we could already pose a question for the future. Will we remember what this fatigue did to us, how it made us feel and how it evolved out of the long hard journey of moving through a dry and barren experience of life?

I do not pose the question as an exercise of historical memory, but as a practice of the memory of the heart. It is a very old exercise. Just ask Moses and the House of Israel. What is one of the most frequent exercises that Moses places upon their hearts? He calls upon them not to forget what it was like to live and move through the days of the longest crisis, the time of slavery in Egypt.

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.  (Deuteronomy 24:17-22)

The task is to remember what we went through and then to make sure we do not forget, that there are many who continue to endure the same things. We are in a privileged place, because we know their pain and loss from the inside, having endured it ourselves. In the great story of God, the Lord reminds us to consider what we must leave for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widows, because the experience of having our hunger and need forgotten is not foreign to us. Not only is God not inclined to let us become selective in what we remember, he also does not indulge us by letting us chose whom we remember.

The days of restoration are coming. I will be as relieved as everyone else when the worst of it is behind us. But I do not pray that I will then forget it all and leave it in the past. That would be a waste of a perfectly good crisis. It is a dangerous thing to use the good life as a a sedative. This Corona fatigue can be a spur, something that drives us to greater sensibility and compassion, to seek a greater justice. For our fatigue will pass and fade, but that will not be true for everyone. The refugees are still left to languish the hellish places like the refugee camp Moriah on the island of Lesbos. The homeless still shiver on our streets, the poor still have no access to clean drinking water and the foreigners are still locked down in quarantines of rejection, exclusion and discrimination. Racism still infects scores of people and its spread can be as infectious as the virus. Every day new hot spots of antisemitism explode onto the scene, making it unsafe for our Jewish sisters and brothers to attend a religious service without armed policemen to guard and protect them.

It will be so easy to forget our Corona fatigue and say »That is not our problem«. But while we are enveloped in this fatigue, while we hate the feel of it, the suffocating isolation it creates and the chains of limitation it lays upon us, we should maintain a living memory of the heart. This was once our problem and we should recall the constantly repeated reminder of our God: Remember the vulnerable ones, because we were once them.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 17th, 2022

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The Legend of the Evergreen

Let me tell you a story of the Cherokee tradition entitled: Why Some Trees are Ever Green


When the plants and the trees were first made, the Great Mystery gave a gift to each species. But first he set up a contest to see which gift would be most useful to whom.

»I want you to stay awake and keep watch over the earth for seven nights«, the Great Mystery told them.

The young trees and plants were so excited to be trusted with such an important job that the first night they would have found it difficult not to stay awake. However, the second night was not so easy, and juts before dawn a few fell asleep. On the third night the trees and plants whispered among themselves in the wind trying to keep from dropping off, but it was too much work for some of them. Even more fell asleep on the fourth night.

By the time the seventh night came, the only trees and plants still awake were the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the fir, the holly and the laurel.

»What wonderful endurance you have!«, exclaimed the Great Mystery. »You shall be given the gift or remaining green forever. You will be the guardians of the forest. Even in the seeming dead of winter our brother and sister creatures will find life protected in your branches.«

Ever since then all the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter, while the evergreens stay awake.


The story addresses something that has been lost in our observance of life, but which is very much alive in the biblical stories. When everyone else is losing their watchfulness and vitality, we must exercise the defiance of the evergreens.  Like these trees, we need to defy the cold and darkness that threatens to strip us bare or lures us into deep sleep.  

We have our own version of this legend of the Cherokee. In the first Letter of John we hear the author tell a story that is born of watchfulness and fruitfulness.

»That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.« (1 John 1, 1-4)

But how was the community of the beloved disciple able to write these words about the word of life? They had to practice what the evergreen trees did. If we want to speak about what happened to the word of life from the beginning, then we have to be attentive from the very start. We cannot tune in at a later date and hope to know anything about the origins and wellsprings of our experiences with this word. We cannot be latecomers to the depths of spiritual life. If we would recount what our ears have heard, then we must resist the urge to fall asleep, because only those who stay awake hear the whole of the story this word of life has to tell. If we would tell a tale of what our eyes have seen, then we must defy all the things that extinguish attentiveness and make us blind for the essential, the real and the genuine. It is impossible to tell a story about what our hands have touched, if we have not appeared and been present to the touching places. For the word of life took on flesh and bone, had a name and a face, and could be touched in Jesus Christ. The word of life, can be touched if we show up in the places where flesh and bone need care and healing, guidance and comfort. The biblical stories were told in one generation, but they are lived in every generation with the names and faces we encounter and confront on a daily basis.

The legend of the Cherokee ends with these words: »Ever since then all the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter, while the evergreens stay awake.«

While we are facing the long winter of the crisis, I prefer to stay awake, because I there are wonders to be experienced in this wintry season. I would not miss them.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 14th, 2022

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A heart that trusts

A telephone conversation at the turn of the year with a friend, with whom I have been connected across all external distances for decades, left a mark on me, in my thinking and in my heart. Over many years, her great subject has become the human heart, and not just the organ. She is a storyteller of the heart, which we should leave in charge, of the heart in which God dwells and which is much wider and bigger than we can imagine. We like to emphasise what we think we have within our grasp, what we think we can penetrate and master with our minds. My friend practices daily to listen to her heart and to trust it. Her voice sounded calm, loving and joyful - a sound of trust, I thought to myself. We did not avoid our heavy and burdensome issues in this hour and kept returning to trust in our heart, in the divine within us.

A person of this kind once expressed his thoughts on this in this way:

»If the trust of the heart were the beginning of all things ..., if it preceded every small or great undertaking ..., you would go far, very far. . . .

If the trust of the heart were the beginning of all things - who would then still say: Why am I on earth at all?

Sometimes the trust deep within us is swept away by shocking events. Every human being experiences fear in his or her own body. Listen, wherever you are, to the whisper of Christ within you: 'Trust of the heart ... rest in peace with God alone. Are you afraid? I am here.«

It was Brother Roger and I found his words in my files. Trusting the heart as the place of the divine in us is lined to the confidence that grows in the heart. We could then dare, trust, look confidently at our projects and begin. 

But Roger Schutz also knew - as we do - our hesitations and our barriers. He does not conceal them and counters our emerging inner resistance:

»But - you will say - the environment in which I work, the doubt prevailing in all my surroundings, an entire past pull me infinitely far away from faith in God.

Faith is not a theory. Even if God remains the incomprehensible one - it is important to put your trust in him.

To entrust yourself to the Holy Spirit at every moment and, if you have forgotten, to abandon yourself to him anew. In the silence of your heart and even in your deserts, the Holy Spirit speaks to you, sometimes with a single word.

Should you let yourself be overcome by discouragement and doubt when you are disappointed in your expectation? The Risen One is there. Recognised or unrecognised, he lights a fire in your darkness that never goes out. ...

If you could fathom a heart, you would be amazed to discover the silent expectation of love in its deepest depths..«     

(from »Vertrauen wie Feuer«, 1984)

At the end of our conversation, my friend spoke of this deep, infinitely wide love that accompanies the other and lets them go their way, under whose  »heaven«  we can look back and lovingly leave behind what was, and which makes it possible to have such a heart-to-heart exchange.

I found a pearl in the evening hour of December 30th, which I carry into the new year.

Thank you so much, dear friend!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 10th, 2022

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The Magi are still on the Move II

  1. Discern the truth. The Magi find truth in the Scribes, but they are also fed lies by King Herod. Learn to listen and discern. What we hear is not all truth, just as it is not all lies. They are mixed together often and it is the task of genuine and mature God seekers to constantly work at telling them apart, rather than to expect the world around us to do it for us.
  2. Reconnect to the guiding star. »And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.« When things become a little clearer and you can see a path opening before you, a way forward, do not hesitate to reconnect with your original inspiration. The wisdom, direction and guidance of the Scribes does not replace the star. It enhances their journey. But their original inspiration, the star, guides them to their destination.
  3. Let yourself be overwhelmed with joy at the gift of progress. »When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.« Celebrate a journey well-travelled, adventures endured, travails overcome, and the hard work of coming safe thus far. The story is not nearly over at this point, but we need to celebrate milestones and not just final accomplishments. Celebrate the small victories, the small improvements and the simple steps you have attained. Otherwise we will miss out the fullest joy of this journey.
  4. Enter the house. The danger of so much of our lives is that we love to maintain the neutral role of the observer. The Magi did not walk over to the windows and take a peek at what was happening in the house. Don’t think for a moment you can stay outside the deep experience. Be a part of what is happening, enter into the swirl of conversation and encounter. We do not learn to swim at the side of the pool. We need to wade into the waters
  5. Pay homage. »And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.« When we stand before the mystery we have sought and have yearned to encounter, we will be faced with a basic challenge. Have I found the One in my life who is so precious and of such value and that I would bend my knee before him? It is a telling moment, because it is filled with the recognition that we stand before someone greater than ourselves, and at the same time we know that this relationship will not diminish us. When we bend the knee and pay homage to the child, we are not debasing ourselves. We are showing that there is a relationship to God in which we are not afraid to be smaller than someone else, and can be entirely assured and comfortable even when we feel overwhelmed, deeply touched and authentically moved.
  6. Open your treasure chests and leave something of yourself behind. »Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.« Generosity is a basic and foundational response to discovering the mystery of God. In a world in which we frequently ask »What is in it for me?«, the encounter with the living God will also be recognised in the moment that awakens the question »How can I make a contribution?«. And religion is not exempt from this temptation. Poorly lived and falsely understood religion often produces people who only come to ask God for favours, healing, direction, relief or blessing. A deep and abiding spiritual life will always include opening our treasures and offering God something of ours.
  7. Return home by another road. Avoid the old pitfalls. Do not simply return to business as usual. Be cautious about returning home via Jerusalem, because there is always a King Herod who will be willing to turn our new found hope to ashes, to tear down what so recently kindled love in our lives and to kill that, which gave birth to generosity and awe in your hearts. New experiences of God should lead us to new paths through life.


Many years later, a young woman who attended that evening wrote me to tell me she had gotten married and she had just given birth to their first child.  She was writing, because she really wanted me to know that she had never forgotten that evening. She named her first born daughter Stella. That is the Latin word for star.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 7th, 2022

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The Magi are still on the Move I

Nearly 25 years ago, I was asked by group of young people whether I would be willing to spend an evening with them to answer their questions about faith, God and the Church. So we met on the evening of January 6th in one of their homes. At one point, I was asked about how biblical stories could touch, inform and guide our lives. Thinking of the feast of Epiphany that falls on that day, they used as an example the tale of the coming of the Magi. The young people of the group asked me if I saw any relevance of the story of the Magi to what they termed as »the ordinary and real life of people«. These were sincere people their inquiry was earnest. And yet, to their ears, this story sounded more like a fairy tale for children than a help for Christian living.

I could easily understand their puzzlement and even uncertainty as to what to make of this story. If we take it seriously, we will discover a treasure trove of spiritual wisdom that will enrich our daily, practical spiritual life in manifold ways. But I must warn you as I warned them; taking the story seriously is not the same thing as taking it literally. It is a story filled with metaphors and images that wish to speak to us of God. Yet, they need to be interpreted, not just read. This is the serious and hard work of encountering a biblical story. The text will always remain silent until a serious reader appears, and the seriousness is always found in the willingness to interpret the text.

So I would share with you what I shared with those young people on that cold winter night so many years ago. Here are a series of simple lessons for life that I gleaned from years of immersion in this story of the Magi. Perhaps they will be as helpful to you as they have been to me.

  1. Look up, not just around. The Magi are willing to keep an eye on the things of heaven, not just to observe what is happening around them. We tend to look around, look right through people, and look right past others. Look up and wonder at the stars. Look for words and gestures and signs that are born of heaven rather than the prevailing currents of wisdom swirling all around you. Look for the signs that come from above, instead of the ones we simply give ourselves.
  2. Follow the star. When we find something that comes from above, that inspires us from a place greater than ourselves and the world in which we move, follow it. Let it set us in motion. See where it leads us. The greatest danger of the spiritual life is to believe that star-moments of revelation are giving for personal viewing pleasure and nothing else. If it does not get you off the couch and onto the road, then it only touched you. But God is moving through our world to set us in motion.
  3. Move beyond home. Go beyond the familiar places, encounters, conversations and faces that normally surround you and fashion your experience. Enter into unfamiliar experiences. Venture into undiscovered country. The home-experience can only confirm what you already know. The lands beyond the familiar can show you horizons of hope that can challenge you to grow deeper.
  4. In life, as with the star, do not lose hope just because you briefly lose sight of what you are following. The Magi briefly lose their way and ask for directions in Jerusalem. But the minute they set out in the general direction revealed to them by the scribes, lo and behold, they see the star again and entrust themselves to its guidance. That happens in life. We become distracted, are overwhelmed by other matters or are caught unawares by unforeseen developments which then consume all our time, our strength and our attention. We never lose the star. On occasion, we merely lose sight of the star.
  5. Do not be afraid to ask for guidance. The Magi first ask King Herod how to find the child, and then are passed on to the scribes of Jerusalem. There is neither shame in being lost nor in asking for directions. It is a dreadful shame to be stuck in a moment of lostness and disorientation merely because we are too stubborn or arrogant to ask for a little help to find the way.
  6. Listen to wisdom, even if it is not home-grown. The answer of the scribes is born of the great revelation of the stories of the First Testament. These are unfamiliar stories to the Magi, strange to their ears and unknown to their minds and hearts. But they are full of wisdom and direction to friend and stranger alike. Like the Magi, most of the grand biblical stories are not home-grown for us. But they will speak to us as directly as they did to the Magi, if you give them a chance.

To be continued.

Erik Riechers SAC, January 5th, 2022

Nächster Abschnitt

When images lead into the depths – what the search for images taught me

I want to look for real pictures.

No glossy photos.

No advertising photos.

Nothing posed.

Nothing perfect.

They should be real,

make me wonder,

make me linger,

make me think,

touch me - perhaps move me.

They should be real.

Are we not blinded by so much pretence,

that stays outside,

on the surface,

that doesn't nourish us?

Such images do not keep

what they promise.

I want to see real pictures.


Advent has revealed this desire, this longing to me.

Day after day I searched for an image for the respective biblical metaphor in our Advent series » And the almond tree blossomed «. First I let myself be guided by the metaphoric image of the day and usually I quickly found a large number of pictures to go with it. But only a few were meaningfully expressive. Most were vacuous and merely reflected the surface of what I was looking for. Then I delved into the whole Bible passage and looked at the metaphor in its context. This changed my searching and I found images with a deeper meaning. I saved the strongest of them - but I wasn't finished yet. For now Erik's text came to me. I read it attentively, contemplated it and then let my pre-selection of images take effect on me. Only then did that, which was truly appropriate and fitting crystallise. Sometimes it was immediately clear, other times I wavered between one image and another. And now and then I had to » drill « deeper and bring in everything that had already unfolded in order to find an image worthy of the biblical image.

How many gates I saw, windows, clothes, pictures of feasts, tents and lamps. But they spoke nothing of God. They merely wanted to entice people to buy something or demonstrate what someone had afforded. They seemed empty, like a husk.

But when pictures show something of the darkness made bearable by a lamp, of clothes that tell of mourning and rejoicing, of tents that can be expanded at any time, then they train our eye for the deeper truth of reality. Then they speak of authentic, real life that is worth gazing at - long, lovingly, and attentively.

The biblical image made it impossible for me to be satisfied with superficial images.

I want to look for real images!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 3rd, 2022

Nächster Abschnitt

A New Time


Take the new time

into prayer

it needs it


By no means are

the prevailing idols

more human than the

old God of Sinai.


At least HE

-  in only 10 words –

told us where the path lies. And

when HE sees injustice

HE does not look away


When I think of Lady WISDOM

I hate

my indifference

and the chatter

of the constraints

of the markets


Before the medial lies

I read HIS

oft-unheard WORD

about solidarity

with the hungry

And ask for insight

and the bread ration


those for this day


W. Bruners

Nächster Abschnitt

Open Invitation


The eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche

on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

captures Christmas.

It has over 200 figures,

including 41 items of food and drink.

The usual crèche suspects

are woven into the bustle of the city.

The baby Jesus gestures to the King of Naples.

The wise men are next to the bartenders,

shepherds mingle with merchants,

and the sheep share pasture

with horses, cattle, chickens, dogs and cats.

Jesus is born among people,

busy with the duties and pleasures

of the earth.


So take a lesson.

Invite company

into your crèche.

Put in a picture of Uncle Fred.

(I know he doesn’t deserve it!)

Find the crystal turkey you were given

for always hosting Thanksgiving

and nuzzle it against Mary’s side.

Put a photo of little Jack and baby Peter in the manger –

a selfie with Jesus.

St. Joseph will look better

if he is back-grounded

by that family picnic picture –

the one with little Isabel picking her nose.

The sheep, the ox, and the donkey

will welcome your pets.


Get everyone in.

Incarnation means

the sacred can surprise us

through the people and events

of our ordinary life,

a life always more than we know.


John Shea

Nächster Abschnitt
Nächster Abschnitt

And the almond tree blossomed: How religious images speak to us of God



December 24th, 2021


Darkness: Sister, speak to me of God.


Through the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Lk 1, 78-79  


The image of darkness may strike you as a strange way to end out Advent series. Yet it, too, speaks to us of God. The problem is not the image, but the one-sided relationship we have to it. Let us begin with the negative experience of darkness. There are two basic experiences we have with darkness.

First, humanity is imbued with a fear of the dark, because darkness magnifies our basic fears. When we are within its grasp we often feel that it will never end. Thus it is when crisis casts its dark spectre over our lives in the form of illness, accident, loneliness, or separation from people we love. What we find tough is not the darkness itself, but its seemingly endless duration. Anyone who has had to wait through a night in a hospital or next to the phone knows that the darkness can slow time to a crawl.

That is because darkness shrouds things in ambiguity. And when we are unsure, we tend to the worst case scenario. An otherwise harmless pain that plagues us during the day, awakens fears of cancer in the waking hours of the night. According to our age, it is either monsters or burglars who prowl outside our homes and scratch at the window in the wee hours of the night. Yet, in the brightness if dawn we are reminded not to leave the cat out all night, or to finally trim the tree whose branches tap against the house when the wind stirs. Darkness magnifies fear.

Secondly, darkness masks true dangers and makes them look harmless. The moment it grows dark, we no longer can easily estimate how dangerous things are. The path looks clear and safe, but that is because the darkness hides the curves and holes in the road. In the dark you look out on the wide open fields, but you do not see the barb-wire fences and ditches.  If darkness magnifies fear in the first instance, then it makes true dangers appear harmless in the second.

Yet, the biblical view of darkness is more nuanced than we think. The biblical stories do not demonise the darkness. Of course, this darkness is dangerous, but is just as surely a sign of God's presence as is the light. Or may God not be present throughout the perils and dangers of life?

Darkness brings the demons out of hiding. When the luminous distractions of the day are over, we suddenly see what we repress. With the coming of the night, slower, quieter and more disturbing processes come to light. In the darkness doors are opened that remain closed during the day. Behind these doors are certainly very frightening things, but also very amazing things. In time we learn that these doors all lead to the same room of encounter with God. »I create the light and make the darkness, I bring about salvation and create disaster.« (Is 45:7)

When we speak of light and darkness, one would think that two different gods had created them. To be an authentic human being means that we live in sunshine and moonlight, with sorrow and with joy. To want a life with only half of these things is to want half a life. The fullness of life includes the experience of darkness.

If we turn away from darkness on principle, and do everything we can to avoid it, because we never know what might be in it, there is a danger that what we are running away from God. Abraham has a critical experience of God in the darkness. Abraham is in the dark about his own future. He tells God that he has not delivered on a key promise: You have given me no offspring. God does not argue with him but leads him out into the night and lets him look at the night sky. (Gen 15:1-5) Then he tells him to count the stars. This, however, could never be done in broad daylight. Darkness plays an important role in Abraham's decision to rely on God.

Later, God comes to Abraham's grandson Jacob in the middle of the night after he has fled from the family he had betrayed. When he could go no longer, he lay down on the ground in the middle of the land and fell asleep, dreaming a dream that came like a vision.(Gen 28:10-22) The night vision plays a key role in Jacob's decision to believe in God.

If we start noticing the many important things that happen at night in the Bible, the list grows. Jacob wrestles with an angel in the night and comes to a limp, a blessing and a new name. His son Joseph dreams such dreams in the night that he attracts Pharaoh's attention and moves from the dungeon to the palace. The Exodus from Egypt happens at night. God parts the Red Sea by night. Manna falls from heaven on the desert at night.

Most importantly, the deeply beloved story of the birth of Jesus Christ is a story of the night. The prophet Isaiah tells us that »the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.« (Is 9,2) But what will we be missing, if we never walk in darkness and dwell in lands of deep darkness? The shepherds out in the field were keeping watch over their flock by night when the angel of the Lord pays them a visit and they are enveloped in the glory of the Lord. The Gloria of the angels is a night serenade. The fist decision to go and see the child is made at night. Perhaps now we can hear what the prophet Isaiah says about God and darkness: »I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.« (Is 45,3)

The darkness of biblical storytelling is both dangerous and divine, but it contains the presence of God. There is even a special word for this darkness coined for it in Hebrew, a word used exclusively for God: araphel. This heavy darkness reveals the living presence of God and at the same time veils it, just as the luminous glory of God does. Both are signs of his mercy: darkness and light are partners in the work of revelation. This is what the singer of Psalm 139 realises: »If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.«

Darkness, where are you taking me?

On the last day of Advent, let us pray with Gertrud v. Le Fort.

»Not only the bright day, but also the night has its wonders. There are flowers that only grow only in the wilderness, stars that only appear on the horizon of the desert. There are experiences of divine love that only come to us in the utmost abandonment, even on the brink of even on the brink of despair.«



Erik Riechers SAC

December 24th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The heart: Sister, speak to me of God.



And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

 Mal 4, 6 



In the imagery of the biblical narrative, the heart is the place where divine love and human frailty meet. The heart is the point of relationship, the point of contact and the point of encounter between the God of love and the human being with his wounds. The heart is the place where the human being (»as I am from God«) and God (as he really is and not as I imagine him to be) meet.

That is why encounter, touch and relationship are the three ingredients that make up the heart.

Anatomically, the heart is hidden in the cage of the ribs, and this cage is again covered by muscle and skin. The heart cannot be seen; but it pumps blood (the life principle in the Bible) and is the source of life. If the heart is injured in any way, then the whole person is affected.

The heart is the metaphor for the relationship with God, and this relationship is the invisible centre of the person. This relationship cannot be seen; but it pumps blood (the principle of life in the Bible) and it is the source of life. If this relationship is damaged in any way, then the whole person is affected. When this relationship is suitably ordered and formed, then spiritual life flows. If, on the other hand, it is not well ordered, then the result is death (the loss of what constitutes life).

This relationship (the heart) is the ultimate relationship and the pervasive context of every other relationship (with creation, with neighbour and with myself). That is why the whole person is affected when it is not right.

That is why it is so important in biblical stories that we tend to the heart. If I do not appear at this place of encounter, touch and relationship between human frailty and divine love, then I am turned in on myself. Malachi speaks of the hearts of fathers tuning to their children and the hearts of children turning to their fathers. But that never happens when fathers and children no longer show up at the places of relationship. I have met fathers so obsessed with the perks and privileges of their lives that they were no longer able to distinguish what is coherent and authentic from that which is insignificant and perhaps even meaningless in their relationships to their children. Or consider poor Eve. Before her unfortunate conversation with the serpent, she is not even hungry and has no need to eat from the tree. She allows herself to be persuaded and talked into it something she originally neither desires or needs. But because she does not show up at the place where her human frailty meets the divine love of her Creator, she has no interlocutor in God who can also question, explore and test what she has been told.

Because neither Adam nor Eve appear at the place of encounter, touch and relationship with God, they cannot clarify anything. This leads them to disguise themselves and hide, because they believe they are no longer allowed to be as they are from God, and they avoid the encounter. And yet again that leads to them not showing up when God comes.

God is very concerned about the heart (the relationship) because his first question after the episode with the tree is: Where are you? This question carries the longing for encounter, touch and relationship.

After the Adam and Eve narrative, the Bible makes it clear to us that the heart (the relationship) is the special care and concern of God. But the heart is also what God is willing to fight and struggle for.

If we avoid the heart as a place of encounter, touch and relationship, then the heart will become hard or stony; then the heart of the fathers will never turn to the sons and the heart of the sons will not turn to their fathers. But if we appear in the place of the heart, then the heart will be of flesh, soft and receptive.

And there is an iron rule: the only deadly sin against the heart, the place where divine love and human frailty meet, is not to appear.

Heart, where are you taking me?

The heart is the place where divine love and human frailty meet.

»Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.« (1 Cor 4:5) God knows the hidden heart. Will we appear at the place where invisible but existing issues are discussed with God?

»And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit ...« (Rom 8:27) Will we appear to search the heart (relationship)? Do we want to know what our relationship is really like? 

»God who tests our hearts«, is how Paul describes him in 1 Thes 2, 4. God tests the heart, because he is never indifferent to what happens to our relationship. Can I say the same about myself?

»This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me« (Mk 7:6) Do I want an authentic relationship with God or is a superficial version enough for me?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 23rd, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

One reclaimed: Sister, speak to me of God.





'Therefore I will allow him to be reclaimed by the Lord.

As long as he lives, he shall be one reclaimed by the Lord.'


And he worshiped the Lord there.

1 Sam 1, 28





There is a lot of talk about the community today. All manner of people are telling us about the needs of the family, the problems of the society and the struggles to maintain the common good. What all of them have in common is the firm belief that the community is important, and that we must do something to alter the steady course of deterioration from which our communality seems to suffer.

But, if community is as important as we say it is, then why are we so hard pressed to answer a simple question: WHY? Why is the community so important? Why should we preserve it at all costs? Why should we fight off the forces that threaten to destroy it?

In today's image there is a basic lesson about the members of the community. As far as God is concerned, we are not the possessions of one another. We are the one to be reclaimed. We are on loan to one another and God has entrusted us to one another for safekeeping. People, and the relationships we have with them, are not our possessions to do with as we please.

This safekeeping is God's cure for two forms of negligence and sloppiness in our relationships. Imagine that parents entrust their child to you for a time. Knowing that they will return to reclaim the child makes you more cautious and more reverent in your attitudes, because you know that the life entrusted to you is precious in their eyes.

First or all, you will be sure not to ignore or neglect the child. In that moment you will ensure that this life is not condemned to loneliness: »It is not good that the man should be alone« (Genesis 2,18). Loneliness is bad for the human heart. Cut off from others, we cannot know our unique talents and gifts, we cannot find affirmation for that which is good and strong in us, and we cannot find correction and healing for those things that fester in our soul.

In loneliness we come to the place where we are convinced that we must do it ourselves, make it happen on our own, and bring up from our own depths every courage and strength that is needed.

Loneliness is therefore a place of despair, because it is also the place where we realize that we cannot do it by ourselves, make it happen on our own, or find the necessary courage and strength    that is needed in our weariness and desperation.

The community that knows we are entrusted to one another for safekeeping, that we are on loan to one another by a gracious God, shatters the curse of loneliness by being the place where we are not alone, where we can share, where we can be together, where we can lean on one another, and learn from one another.

To know that the child in my care will be reclaimed by its parents is like knowing that all the relationship of my life will be reclaimed by God. It moves us to live with a greater awareness of responsibility. What is on loan, what is not my possession, is always treated with a certain caution and care, because I know that I will be held to account on the day, when it is reclaimed.

Secondly, once someone is entrusted to my care we do not simply go separate ways. The child left in our care is not let alone in the basement while we go off to a party. Today we venerate the idea that everyone should go their own way. But if all are going their own way, then no one is left to go together. It is fine and good to find our own way in the world: the child must look for his/ her niche in the society, the spouse must still find a personal and unique way of loving the other in the marriage, and the parents must find their place and role in the world when the children leave home. But nowhere does it stand written that we must do these things alone, apart and away from one another.

When we live under the awareness that each person in our lives is one to be reclaimed by God, then the community is the place where we seek together, where the many seekers help each other find the way, where the unique needs of each person are part of a common cause. When God comes to reclaim the lives entrusted to our care, we will desire to return them to him in the best possible state. They were loaned to us for a time, but never ours to keep. And it should be a deep desire of our hearts to return them to God in as good a condition, if not better, than the moment he places them in our safekeeping.

Therefore, God’s desire to loan and reclaim his beloved people should make of us a community in many ways and on many levels. This common experience of being people who will be reclaimed by the Lord, should be blessing on all our houses. Therefore, we must step cautiously with the lives entrusted to our care. When the Lord come to reclaim his ow, we do not wish to be known as the architects of loneliness, exclusion and separate development for others. We must never fail to recall the essential blessing at the heart of the community: God has given us to one another for safekeeping.

One reclaimed, where are you taking me?

How aware am I of the privilege of my relationships, of the fact that they are all on loan to me and will be reclaimed by the God of all life?

How aware am I of my responsibility for the people who are entrusted to my care by the God who wants them back unscarred, unbroken and well-loved on the day he reclaims them?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 22nd, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The window: Sister, speak to me of God.






My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.

Look! There he stands behind our wall,

gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.

Song of Songs 2, 9 









Many years ago, while I was a university student, the news reports were filled with stories about a brand new school that had just been opened. For reasons I no longer remember, the architect had created a school, a place of learning, with no windows. The school authorities gave many press conferences explaining the concept of the building, primarily emphasising the idea, that the lack of windows would prevent outside distractions and thus enhance the learning of the students. The students gave their own answer to their new school building. They spray painted window frames on the walls and took photographs of themselves posing by them as if they were looking into the building.

This school without windows reminds us of a basic insight. Windows are inseparable from walls. To understand what they wish to say to us, we must first reflect on what our walls signify.

Walls are built when we have spaces of our lives which we want to protect. The walls of our houses protect our living space from wind and weather, as well as from predators, those of the four legged kind and those of the two legged variety. The walls also protect us from prying eyes, keeping our privacy safe.

Windows are openings set in walls. The minute we place a window in the wall, two things happen.

  1. They open the closed spaces of our lives to the outside world, giving us more access to the world we normally shut out with our walls.
  2. The utter safety the wall offers is diminished, because now the world beyond our walls has easier access to our closed spaces of life and can more easily look into the world we normally shield with our walls. It is considerably easier to break a window and enter a house than it is to break through a wall.

Windows are a privileged place of encounter. They are a place of exchange between the two worlds of the outside and the inside.  The minute we put a window in a wall, three things occur.

First they let in light. The very image of a windowless room speaks to us of a place without sunlight.  Secondly they let in fresh air.  They give us a greater view of the world, more access to the movement, sound and colour of the world.

Thirdly, they let things out. We open windows to let the hot, stuffy and stale air out, so that we can breathe easier. Unpleasant smells are dissipated, making the space in which we live far more comfortable.

In the Song of Songs, the image of the window emphasises in a special way, this privileged place of encounter. The window allows the lover a glimpse of what is happening within the home of the beloved.

It becomes a symbol of the accessible heart, the heart that is willing to give another person a glimpse of what is happening within it. Just as we can construct a windowless room, we can also build a windowless heart. Most of us have known this experience of the windowless heart in people who have, for whatever reason, shut their hearts off entirely from the outside world. None ever knows that is going on inside them and they never grant a hint or a glimpse of their inner life.

Windows are places of tension. There is the person on the outside looking in through the window, as well as the person on the inside looking out at the world. This is the image of the window of the heart so beautifully employed in the Song of Songs. For the person on the inside, windows take away a little of their security, because they breach the solid unbreakable wall. As soon as we give a person a view of our inner life, we are more vulnerable. They see more than the outward show we put on and which we control. A window into the heart is always linked to a loss of that perfect control. But it is also a place of surprise, something we should not so readily overlook or forget. Once the person on the outside is granted a window into our heart, they can also be surprised by unsuspected depths and beauty found in us. They can see a tenderness that is not hinted at in our exterior gruffness. They can discover our passion that is not apparent on the outside and a loving kindness that is otherwise shielded. Equally surprising for those who glimpse through the window of the beloved, is to discover how much pain we bear, how much sadness and grief are to be found behind our walls. A glimpse through the window of hearts, can make the person on the outside more understanding, more compassionate, more caring and less judgemental.

The other side of this tension lays in the fact that windows give us a glimpse of a world larger than the space we are protecting, allowing that space to be blessed and enhanced by what comes from the world outside. When windows of the heart are opened, the person on the inside allows things to enter in that can bring new and wider perspectives. Once the person on the inside opens a window in the wall, they can also be surprised to discover that they eyes that now see them as they are really are not filled with condescension, rejection or contempt. The person who opens the window to the lover on the outside, can make the breathtaking experience that they are loved and understood. The lover who finally gets a glimpse of what is happening inside the house may have compassion and care shining in their eyes. The window is a privileged place of encounter between us.

Window, where are you taking me?

The image of the window in this tiny excerpt from the Song of Songs is trying to speak to us of God. He is the the lover waiting to look into our hearts.

Where will we place windows where until now there has only been a wall between us?

However, our God is also the beloved who opens His heart to give us a glimpse of what is throbbing within His heart.

Where will we be the lovers of our God and glimpse through the window to see what is happening within His great heart?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 21st, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Treasuring in the heart: Sister, speak to me of God.






But Mary treasured up

all these things,

pondering them in her heart.

 Lk 2, 19








Sometimes people tell me about powerful experiences in their lives, impressions that have made a deep impression on them, inner enlightenment that has surprised them. However, if they do not treasure these experiences in their hearts, they very quickly lose their power, become »heartless«, so to speak.

The image of the Bible that works against this is found in the way Mary lives: »But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.«

Treasuring and pondering the things of life in the heart consists of three steps:

  1. We need to absorb and take in life experiences instead of letting them pass us by without a trace. When we do this, we prevent ourselves from becoming mere consumers of life, trying to taste everything without really enjoying any of it.
  2. We must hold these multiple experiences in tension and endure these tensions (sometimes agonising tensions).
  3. Finally, we need to carry our life experiences until they can be transformed into something that is not heartless. To live like Mary is to take these experiences of life into ourselves and shape them through compassion.

When we treasure and ponder our life experiences in our hearts, we discover that the dream we have for ourselves is often not being lived. Each of us carries within us a dream of fullness. Maybe we are aware of it, maybe not, but this dream belongs to us.

Again and again we need to stop and check the state of this life dream of fullness. How do we actually live in the face of our dream? What are we willing to do in fact to turn this longing for fullness into reality? And then we need to undertake the necessary changes. Inevitably, this will lead us to let go of some things and embrace others.

That is exactly what Mary does. She looks back on the experience of her last year, keeps everything that happened in her heart and reflects on it. We almost always assume that she looks back on these last months of her life with a light, joyful heart. For my part, I can only say that I cannot believe that. For what experiences did Mary have to keep united in her heart?  An unexpected pregnancy; a relationship crisis with Joseph; the suspicion and mistrust of family and friends; her favourite cousin Elizabeth's husband being struck dumb for months; a forced journey to Bethlehem, far from home and kin; the experience of being shut out, excluded from warmth and dignity while giving birth; the fact that strangers instead of friends come to visit; and the painful reality that she has nothing but dirt, cold and poverty to offer her child when he comes into the world.

Mary treasured all this in her heart. And I can well imagine that she longed for more fullness. For this human drama of renewing life and dreams (whether Mary's or ours) is God-woven and Spirit-soaked. Our heart connection to the God who wants to multiply our lives creates this dream. The longing for the fullness that guides and directs us is nourished by God's love for us, for he cannot readily accept when his people languish without fullness.

To treasure and ponder in the heart means, that our Advent project must always be to actualise this longing for fullness. The longing within us that makes us restless, hungry, thirsty and longing must become flesh. We must not kill it with indifference and superficiality. We must not suffocate it consumerism and ceaseless entertainment. We must not dull it or anesthetize ourselves against it with thoughtless and mindless pursuits. Whenever we experience the moments that startle us, unsettle our self-assured living, shatter our peace of mind, tickle our fancy or trouble our souls, we must treasure and ponder them in our hearts.

Treasuring in the heart, where are you taking me?

If we treasure our life experiences in our hearts, whole new questions can awaken in us:

Is what I am filling myself with really what I long for?

Where do I really stand in the drama of faith that unfolds in the biblical stories?

What is a biblical story allowed to unleash in me?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 20th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The woman in labor: Sister, speak to me of God.



Therefore shall He give them over

till the time the woman in labour bears her child.

 Micha 5, 2 


Recently I was privy to a gentle conversation between a mother and her daughter. Her daughter was beginning to consider having a second child. Nearly a year had passed since the birth of her firstborn, and every experience of being the mother to her son was filled with warmth, delight and blessing. What had caused her to hesitate for a time was the memory of giving birth.

The experience of the woman in labour has played a role from the earliest moments of the grand biblical narrative. In Genesis, Eve is warned by God, that part of the new and different life beyond the Garden of Eden would be her painful experience of child birth. »I will terribly sharpen your birth pangs, in pain shall you bear children.« (Gen 3, 16). We are accustomed to thinking of this banishment from the garden as a punishment, and therefore we consider these sharpening of the birth pangs to be part and parcel of the comeuppance for the misadventures of the first earthlings with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But the story is not about revenge or punishment. It is about education. It is about God helping his children to grow into maturity.

The problem for Adam and Eve in the garden is that they have known life from only one side, namely as a gift. Everything in that garden has been prepared by God and graciously, generously, ungrudgingly given to them. Then as now, this brings a problem with it. Because they have never been directly involved in the task of bringing life into the world, they do not come to a deep appreciation of the value of the gift of this life. Adam and Eve are like children who ask their parents for money to buy something. For a long time, the parents will foot the bills. Yet, at some point, these parents will tell their children to earn the money they want. This is not a punishment of their children. This is not because they have stopped loving their children or no longer wish to share their wealth with them. It is what parents do in order to teach their children the real value of money. Once they go out and earn some money, they learn what Adam learned: »By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.«(Gen 3, 19) Until now, the bread they eat, the life they enjoy, has been earned by the sweat of their parent’s brow. But once they laboured for it, it changes their appreciation of what money means.

From the depths of this story, the image of a woman in labour speaks to us of God. It is about the pain and cost and value of bringing life into the world. It is wonderful but easy to hold and cradle the life another has brought into the world for us. But what price are we willing to pay in order to bring life into the world? Biologically this is a price only women have to pay. But spiritually, it is question aimed at the heart of every human heart. Will we be willing to give birth to new life, even when it is painful and laborious?

Micha says that we are given over till the time the woman in labour bears her child. It is a poetic way of telling us, that we will be lost souls, lost to the deepest meaning and purpose of life, until the day we ourselves are willing to learn the real cost and value of participating in the work of bringing life into the world. The poetry of the image should not deafen us to the hard truth it speaks. It is about a fundamental posture toward life.

Too often that posture has been skewered. Far too many people have only a sense of personal entitlement. They believe that life is owed to them, whether by God, the state, their family, their neighbours or their friends. At the same time, they make no contribution of their own to the life of the world. While expecting everyone else to make their lives easier, richer and freer, they do not lift a finger to enrich, ease or liberate anyone else’s life.

 In spiritual direction I come across this frequently. People tell me that they asked God for something and are now annoyed that he did not fulfil their request. Here a confusion of roles has taken place. They talk about God, but describe Santa Claus. Santa Claus is the person to whom you hand over a wish list and then expect to deliver. God is not a wish fulfilment fantasy. God offers us partnership and wishes us to participate with Him in the boldest and most beautiful of his works, namely, bringing new life into the world. The people who complain bitterly, that the life they want is not served to them on a silver platter, are the same people who are unwilling to make painful choices, meet painful challenges, and take on painful labours in order to bring that life into the world. A confrere of rich pastoral experience and tremendous wit once warned me about such people while teaching me the craft of spiritual direction. »They will always stretch out their hands, but you will never find any stretch marks on the hearts of those people.«

Jesus himself takes up this image: »When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.« (John 16, 21) Jesus knows the experience, because he knows the cost and value of bringing life into the world. He, too, was filled with sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane when his hour came. But after his resurrection, he was filled with joy and peace and flooded the world with what his suffering, death and resurrection had brought into the world.

The young mother considering a second child has come to this place of awe and wonder. Reveling in the gift of her beloved son, she is filled with reverence at the blessing he brings to the heart of his parents and all their clan. But that reverence is born of the pain of bringing new life into the world, a pain not so easily forgotten. Because of it, she knows the deepest and truest value of the life of her son. She has stretch marks on her heart.

Woman in labor, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day, what life will I bring into the world?

What painful forms of growth am I avoiding?

Which painful experiences of growth am I willing to embrace?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 19th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Giving a name: Sister, speak to me of God.






And this is the name

by which he will be called:

‘The Lord is our righteousness.'

 Jer, 5, 8 








When I celebrate a baptism, I always have to pause at the beginning. It begins with the question: What name have you given your child? Before we inquire about faith, God, and the readiness for baptism, we inquire about the naming. No one enters the church without a name, because no one can enter into a relationship with God or with his people without a name. Everyone has a name before God. Anonymity in the house of God is impossible.

This image of naming plays a big role in biblical narratives. It is part of God's great enterprise and is simply part of it if we want to become true human beings. Because as soon as we give someone a name, we lay the foundations for building a relationship. We know this power of naming when children find a stray dog and bring it home. If the parents don't want to keep the dog, then they try to do everything they can to avoid the children naming the dog. Because once the dog has a name, the children have already established a relationship with the animal.

 As adults, we also know this connection between relationship and naming. If we work in the company for a long time but no one on the executive floor knows our name, then we know where we stand. The person who refuses to ever call me by my name makes it clear enough to me that no relationship is desired here.

This great desire to build a relationship is a heartfelt desire of our God. When we read the great creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis, we see a constantly recurring rhythm: as soon as God creates something new, the naming follows. After God separates the light from the darkness it says: »And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.« (Gen 1:5) After God calls forth the dry from the water it says: »And God called the dry Earth, and the gathering of the water he called Sea.« (Gen 1:10). By naming, God establishes a relationship with his creation.

God shares this desire to build relationships with his people. For no sooner has he created Adam than he introduces him to the art of naming. »Then the LORD God formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and just as the man as a living being would call them, so they were to be called. And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to all the beasts of the field.« (Gen 2:19-20)

Later there will be many stories in which people's names are changed. Abram will be called Abraham, Sarai will be changed to Sarah and Saul will later be named Paul. This always happens when a person's mission changes. When the mission changes, it is because God entrusts more responsibility to his people. The greater responsibility is always a sign of the deepened and broadened trust that God places in his people, and that, in turn, is a sign that the relationship has changed. And that calls for a new name.

This image of naming speaks to us of God, because naming is part of bringing something into being. As soon as a name is given, we know that this person should play a bigger role and participate more in our life.

Naming is also a big theme of Advent. When God gives a name to something, we should not rename it easily.

Zechariah's neighbours and relatives want to do just that: they want to name the newborn life in their midst as they know and understand life, as it fits in the usual and expected ways. »There is no one in the kin who is called that!« By this they are saying, »We don't name children in our family that way. It was never like that! It's not a tradition with us.« In other words, everything should remain as we named it a long time ago. We don't let our naming be changed easily.

Zacharias then (finally) provides clarity: his name is John. He, who himself had a fixed name and place for everything and even did not want to let messengers of God interfere, makes it clear to his relatives that God is bringing about something new here, and the new needs a new name.

God also gives us new names for the life we carry within us to the world. But as soon as we feel that He is bringing about something new in us, weaving and shaping it deep within us, then we want to name it in old images, with old language and with old names.

Because we are afraid of the kinship and its judgement. We notice that there is something new in us, but we don't dare say it. We are afraid to step out of line. But if we don't give the new in us a name, then we don't dare to have a new relationship with what is in us.

Name giving, where are you taking me?

Where are people and relationships in my life that I have not yet given a name?

Where will I give the new realities growing in me (feelings, impulses, ideas, desire) a name so that it can live?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 18th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The lamp: Sister, speak to me of God.




John was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

Jn 5, 35 





Late one evening, a storyteller appeared in the local pub. After telling the crowd a riveting story, the pub owner ushered him to the table closest to the fire and served him a fine meal together with a glass filled generously with a fine drop from the fruit of the barley.

While the storyteller ate, a rather heated conversation began between a young man and his mother. The young man, freshly back from the university and his medical studies, was informing his mother that he had broken with the Church, given up the faith and no longer would be going to Mass with her. The mother was insistent and kept telling her son, that she would light her lamp and pray for him. Each time she told him this, his tone grew more aggressive and his words more condescending. He began to ridicule the faith of his mother, informing her in haughty tones that he had thoroughly studied this faith and found it was something only peasants can believe, something for people without intellectual acumen. Every word struck his mother, and often she recoiled from the pain of his harsh and wounding statements. But each time she leaned forward and said; »I am going to light my lamp and pray for you.« Her intellectually superior son scoffed at these words and said, »You and that idiotic lamp. As if lighting that lamp or one of your candles had anything to do with it. I am a man of science, and not of silly superstitions.«

The storyteller rose from his warming place by the hearth and walked over to the table where he pulled out a chair and sat down. The sad eyes of the mother welcomed him while the angry eyes of the son challenged him. »Can I help you?«, he asked.

»No«, replied the storyteller, »but I can help you. There was a man who was a lamp. He name was John. And he was as wonderfully stubborn as your sweet mother.«

The young man groaned. »This is none of your business, old man. And no one invited you to take a seat. So just shut your mouth and shove off!«

The pub owner overheard these words and was at the table in a flash. »Pay your tab and get out. This man is a seanchaí, one of our storytellers. You will not speak to him that way in my pub. You are no longer welcome here.«

But the storyteller laid his hand on the arm of the fiercely enraged pub owner and said, »Forgive him for my sake. Being superior to everyone else in the world is exhausting work and it has frazzled his nerves and addled his mind a little. There is no harm done.«

The other patrons of the pub began to laugh, for indeed every eye in the place was now trained on that table. The storyteller gave a sly smile and then turned in his chair to look back into the pub.

»My friends, let me tell you a story about lamps that was told to me by a friend, who heard it from a friend who told him that the angel Gabriel himself told it to him.

One day, while God was admiring the beauty of his people, the angels returned from one of their regular tours of the earth. Ah yes, He does love to keep an eye on us. They spoke of all the trouble they had seen, the tears of loss and grief, the pain of so many broken lives, and minds and hearts. It seemed to the good angels, that great darkness lay heavy on the hearts of God’s people.

God look at his earnest messengers and his eyes shone with the light that gave birth to the stars. ‘Bring them lamps. Make sure each of them has a lamp to light, a lamp to carry with them through very darkness they traverse.’

One of the angels said, ‘Lord, would it not be more helpful if you just turned the sun on all the time.  Never let the sun go down on them. Banish the darkness permanently and let them have perpetual light.’

‘Herald, do as He says!’ The voice of the speaker was loud, booming, a voice that could be heard even in the wilderness. The speaker was dressed in a lovely flowing camel hair robe that shone like gold in the light of heaven.

The eyes of God wrinkled with pleasure and delight at seeing the man his Gospel writing namesake once called a burning, shining lamp. ‘Would you care to explain to my messengers, why they should bring our people lamps, my old friend?’

And the voice that lived in the desert, speaking softly to the lost while shaking the walls of great cities and the hearts of arrogant kings, echoed in the silence of their listening.

‘Listen to the Lord. He has always given lamps to every person struggling through the dark places. Lamps are a special kind of light, more precious than the light of the sun. For the light of the lamp can be borne to places where the light of the sun will never reach. Even when the sun shines, its light cannot touch the windowless places. It cannot penetrate the caves, the underground caverns, the dungeon cells deep in the bowels of the earth. But lamps can carry light to all these places. Darkness fears lamps, for they bring light to places it normally claims only for itself.

Lamps do not banish darkness. But they bring light enough to push back the shadows. Then the night can be navigated, paths can be found and followed. People can live in darkness if they can move through it, and that is why they need the lamps. That is the moment when hope is restored, long before the solution is found and the goal is reached. You can live in hope in any darkness, if you know you can find your way through it. And you can do it if you light a lamp.

I know this truth, because I lived this truth. I lived it in the desert. I lived it in Herod’s dungeons, where the light of the sun never comes and prisoners forget what the face of the sun looks like. And because I knew the secret of the lamp, I became one.’«

Back in the pub the storyteller paused. »There was a man who was a lamp. He name was John. And because he was a lamp, he knew the secret of the light it brings.«

Then he turned to the young university student and said: »John was a bright and shining lamp. So is your mother. She listened to your haranguing caustic tones, and yet she still desires to bring light to dark places your learning has never illuminated. When she lights her lamp for you, she is simply telling you that she loves you enough, not to give you up to the darkness.«

He rose to return to his table. Then he turned once more to the young man and said. »There was a man who was a lamp. What kind of man are you?«

 Lamp, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day, where will I be a lamp and bring light where it otherwise does not reach?

Where will I be a lamp, a light that helps others navigate their darkness?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 17th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The enlarged tent: Sister, speak to me of God.


Spread wide the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your dwelling be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.

Is. 54, 2 


I have had the good fortune to know a man who spread wide the place of his tent. He started out by raising a tent on his farm for large family gatherings and events. It was the place where his clan held their picnics, birthday celebrations and family reunions. At all other times, it was available to his children as a place to play.

This tent was a work in progress. It kept growing over the years. When I asked Daniel about it, he told me: »When we had more children, I made more space. Our family gatherings started growing with all the marriages and births. So we had more spouses, more nieces and nephews coming for our celebrations, so I made more space. Then my children started going to school and joining sports teams, and they made a lot more friends, so I made more space. And my wife and I have met many people and made many more friends, so I made more space.«

He looked at the large tent and smiled. »When I look at that tent, it reminds me that I am blessed. I have been given the honour of having enough people in my life who want to be with me as much as I want to be with them. I have the privilege of being able to hold a gathering. But once I knew I was blessed, Father, I had to stay flexible and to make the space.«

His wife Annie later told me, what she saw when she look at their tent. »I see my husband’s heart.« When I asked her about this this lovely association, she simply replied: »Like the tent, it’s always growing, Father, it’s always growing.«

It is my sincere hope that by telling you this story, you have already come to the conclusion that this is an extraordinary man. If he were not, he would not have spread wide the place of his tent.

It is not a common experience. We buy tents, ready-made. If we want or need bigger tent, then we buy a larger one. But the nomadic people who populate the pages of the grand biblical narrative always knew, that tents were not ready made, but tailor made. They were provisional and adapted to constantly changing circumstance of the people who lived within them.

I often encounter people who decide to renovate their homes. Usually they do so in order to gain more space for their possessions. They create more storage space, build more cupboards and larger closets and expand the garage so that two cars can park there.

But this image of spreading wide the place of your tent is about making space for more room for people, of opening up a place for guests, of creating the possibilities for a greater hospitality and a wider encounter. When the image speaks to us of God, it asks us: Will we make space for more life?

To enlarge the tent we have to do four things.

  1. We have to think about what kind of space we are willing to create. Are we making space for one more or ten more? And once we know who else will enter our tent, how much space are we willing to grant each person within it? Cramming everyone together in a corner will require less room than a spacious and gracious welcome
  2. We have to invest to make the space of our tent wide. We have to spend more, knowing that our cords will have to be longer and that we will need considerable more tent clothe. Without that investment we cannot have the space we want and need. Making space is always a matter of investment, especially in terms of my time and my strength, the ultimate resources of a human life.
  3. We need to let the curtains of our habitations be stretched out. Of us it must be said: »Like the tent, their hearts are always growing.« Before we are willing to create bigger tents, we have to expand and widen and stretch our hearts. Working within the old parameters is not what this image is talking about. It requires us to do more than manage the previously available space more efficiently. It is about making space for more life to happen, flourish and thrive. And the warning of God is: »Do not hold back!«
  4. We need to strengthen our stakes. The space we create for others needs to be fastened down that it will hold. Holding a garden party simply means making a temporary provision. We move a few pieces of furniture to make it happen and then restore everything to its original state when the party is over. But this image asks us to create something lasting, dependable and reliable. This is more than momentary. This is the space we must be able to return to over and over again.

Enlarged tent, where are you taking me?

Where will I create a little more space for life and love in my life?

How will I maintain the flexibility and adaptability of a tent, so that there is a space in my life for the surprising, growing and ever-changing possibilities and gifts of God?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 16th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Heavens that shower down: Sister, speak to me of God.


Shower, O heavens, from above,

and let the clouds rain down righteousness.

 Is. 45, 8 


The heavens are out of reach, out of our immediate control. We do not command them, form them or fashion them like we do the soil of the earth. With the things of the earth we are used to playing an active and vital role of partnership: plowing sowing reaping. But when we look to the heavens, we are looking toward the place where different rules apply. Because in the heavenly experience there are things that cannot be seized, controlled and grasped. They can only be given and we can only receive them.

The image of the heavens being asked to shower down righteousness is one of great tension. We are not merely creatures of the earth staring up to heaven. That is a gross oversimplification. The story of Genesis 1-3 tells us that we are born of the earth, but that we stand between the heavens and the earth. There are things placed entirely into our hands (all the trees of the garden, including the tree of life) and there are things we need to wait for until they are given to us (the fruit of the tree of good and evil).

We have lived in that tension until this day. We tend to define everything by our achievement and the accumulation of things. This, in turn, leads to a mentality that invites us to claim our rights and suggests that »God helps those who help themselves«. The problem is obvious. What happens in the moment when we cannot help ourselves? The image of the heavens raining down justice is therefore radically counter-cultural. It reminds us that there are times when we must patiently wait for life to be given to us, even when we are parched. It reminds us that we need to be receptive to gift rather than obsessed with seizing whatever we want. What the heavens give us is good, but it is a gift and we need to learn to respect it as such.

The image of the heavens that shower us with life from above leads us back to this healthy and necessary tension between active participation and waiting receptivity. The people who request the heavens to open are standing between the heavens and the earth. The heavens are swollen with promise and life. We ask the heavens to open up and share with us. It is an image of gift and an image of release. We ask because we are on the earth and this is a place that is not always swollen with promise and life. We ask the heavens to open when we are in places that are dried up, barren and with very little hint of promise.

Therefore, it is not surprising that from the earliest days of our Christian faith and storytelling, we saw and loved in this image what we saw and loved in the birth of Jesus. As people of faith, we experience in Christ’s coming as an opening of the heavens. This experience is carried through all of the Gospel stories. People approach Jesus and ask that the heavens rain down healing, aid, comfort and sustenance. To paraphrase John the Evangelist: If we have seen Jesus, we have seen what open heavens look like. And since Jesus, we know our father and his loves to open the heavens to us.

In the person of Jesus, the heavens rained down righteousness. In him we given a glimpse of who this God is, what he loves more than anything else (that would be us) and what drives him (infinite love and mercy).

But this opening of the heavens also gives us the first and formative impression God has of us. When the heavens open and gifts shower down, this God reveals that we are his beloved by birth and creation, not by achievement and moral perfection. All our work, success stories and accomplishments cannot teach us this. They have taught us that we are loveable only when we can provide some evidence that we are worth loving. Love because I am beautiful. Love me because I am successful. Love me because I am upright.

But when the heavens open and shower down righteousness, they so not because we are beautiful, successful or upright, but because we are loved. When the heavens open we are stripped of the illusion that we can provide everything for ourselves, but at the same time are blessed with the revelation, that out lives have value, dignity in the eyes of God. That is why the heavens open.

This is the righteousness that showers down. This is the righteous that we need, because this is the relationship that does justice to our relationship with God and God’s love for us within that relationship. To be righteous is to do justice to all our relationships. That means, we must do justice to our relationship to God, to our neighbour, to creation and to ourselves. It is precisely because we do not receive gifts that our lives become hard, we dominate each other, and we cannot relate well. And part of doing justice to all of these relationships is to wait in trust until life is given to us as a gift.

Heavens that shower down, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day, will I exercise the first and most important religious virtue of all, the sense that everything is gift, that nothing is ours by right?

How will I practice receptivity that waits and reduce my impatience that seizes? 


Erik Riechers SAC

December 15th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Clean lips: Sister, speak to me of God.




Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Zef 3, 9






I assume that, like myself, you spend very little time thinking about lips. Like many important elements of life, they simply are there and serve their purpose without fuss or bother. That, however, does not mean that they are insignificant, but merely taken for granted.

In biblical storytelling, lips represent speech or language. Together with the images of »mouth« and »tongue«, they are part of a series of images that speak to us about our ability to speak. But not all language is verbal. Not everything we say is articulated in words. There is also our body language, and it speaks volumes.

Lips are doorways to revelation. Think of a person showing a thin-lipped smile. If purse your lips, you are expressing a different emotion that when you are chewing or biting on your lips. Quivering lips speak of overwhelming emotion, while lips that are tightly pressed together demonstrate an unwillingness to reveal anything of that is happening within a person. The ways in which lips move or form themselves can reveal if we are genuinely happy, angry, sad, disgusted, surprised, scared, or contemptuous. Try expressing a range of emotions without moving your lips. Try smiling without moving your lips.

When it comes to the spoken word, our lips are the chief instrument of speech. Lips help us to formulate our words, to pronounce the clarity and sharpness of sound. Try speaking without moving your lips. Even more telling is to watch a person who is without hearing reading the lips of another and to realise that lips well used can open a world of communication.

Deeply situated in the biblical imagination, lips are also seen as special place of this process of communication and revelation. They are like a doorway, a gate. All healthy human life flows from the inside to the outside. That includes our speech. Before a word is ever spoken, it is forged in the deep and hidden places of the heart. But in order to reach even one human ear, those lips must pass by our lips. Thus, the lips are a critical last checkpoint before the revelation of the heart enters into the world, the last place before the interior life of a human being passes into the world. Thus, the lips are the place where decisions must be made.

There is good reason why the Psalmist prays: »Set a sentinel at the door of my lips«. (Ps 141, 3). We need a sentinel to watch over what is sent into the world. Very serious decisions are made at the door of our lips, because here we choose which words are sent out and which are not. Yet, words create worlds. When the Psalmist writes in Ps. 16,4: »The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips«, he is making the decision not to support ways of living that cannot lead to life, because they lead away from God.

The plea »Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!« (Ps 17,1) makes it clear that what is allowed to pass my lips is trustworthy, open and genuine, and therefore can be relied upon. This opens up the possibility of real relationships.

In Psalm 40,9 the story states: »I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.« Here the lips become the gateway at which we decide not to hold back the truth we know, the life we have within us that we need to share with the world.

But if we set no guard at our lips, words can pass which we later come to deeply regret. »They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.« (Ps 106, 32-33) Here Moses allows the bitterness that has formed in his heart (inner life) to flow past his lips into a world, where their rashness causes him even more grief. Indeed, words create worlds.

Clean lips produce cleansing, purifying results. Isaiah tells a story about God in which these words appear. »I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,« says the Lord, »and I will heal him.« (Is 57,19) Clean lips are the place where God creates the fruit that can bring peace to a people, near and far, and offer healing to their lives. The words that pass our lips create worlds, but not just for others. We too live in those worlds. Clean lips will create a world in which we can live without all the clutter and refuse with which we often fill the space between us. During the days of this pandemic, we have suffered more than enough from the consequences of this dangerous Corona virus. But so much of what has passed by the doors of human lips, has intensified our suffering, shattered the bonds of the common good, deepened our fear and insecurity, induced panic and incited people to folly and even violence. Because these are the fruits of unclean lips, they are not the fruits of the spirit of the living God. Let our lips be clean, and then encouragement, consolation, help, support, hope, kindness and healing will pass through their gates into a waiting world.

Clean Lips, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day, let us take to heart the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians:

»Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.« (Eph 4, 29)


Erik Riechers SAC

December 14th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Plowshare: Sister, speak to me of God.





He shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords

into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Is 2, 4






Outside the United Nations in New York there is a bronze statue by the Russian sculptor, Evgeniy Vuchetich. Now a greenish-blue through years of oxidation, the statue depicts a large man with a hammer in his right hand. He is swinging the hammer above his head and is about to bring it down upon a sword he is holding in his left hand. The already curves blade of the sword makes it fairly clear that he is transforming the sword into a plowshare. It serves as an image of the desire of the United Nations to transform war efforts into peace making.

Many viewers of the statue will not realise that the statue is based on a word of the prophet Isaiah. »And they shall beat their swords into plowshares.« An instrument meant to wage war is transformed into an instrument meant for farming. An instrument that is used to end lives, is now an instrument that is used to feed lives. An instrument of violence is reshaped into a tool of service.

It is an image of transformation rather than of replacement. The iron of the sword that is hard and unbending is still needed for the plowshare, otherwise it cannot create furrows in hard earth. The sharpness of the sword’s blade is not dulled, but reemployed, given a new purpose. A dull blade on a plowshare makes the instrument utterly useless.

The image of the plowshare speaks to us of God. When God looks at what is at the disposal of his people, he sees life-giving possibilities where we often see death-dealing ones. A plowshare opens the earth up, makes it receptive for seed, and prepares it for sowing. A plowshare makes the rich soil accessible, that good earth which carries life-bearing and life-sustaining potential beneath the hardened and crusty surface that covers it. It gives the rain a greater chance of gently permeating the rich depths instead of streaming away across the impenetrable hardness of the surface. Unlike a sword that seeks to damage, destroy and inflict pain, plowshare do not seek to damage the soil, but to unfold its possibilities. They do not seek to destroy the fields, but to prepare them for a purpose that will bring forth life. They do not seek to inflict pain on the soil, but to break through the hard parts to unleash its truest meaning and purpose.

If we cast a cautious glance at the sword, we see the same material and the same sharpness of which the plowshare is forged. But when do we reach for a sword? When the death-dealing possibilities seem more viable than the life-giving ones. We take up swords, when we harden ourselves to the outside world. We use them to enforce solutions that we cannot otherwise entice from people whose hearts we deem to be closed, inaccessible and unreceptive to any other logic than violence and brute strength.

The image of the sword being beaten into a plowshare is an image of transformation. It symbolises the desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all the human family. But as Isaiah very gently reminds us, it is not God who beats swords into plowshares, but human beings. If you look at the statue outside the United Nations, you will not see any sign of God. And yet, Isaiah insists that this is not merely a human endeavour. It is the result of a partnership with God.

The prophet starts by telling us something that God will do before this transformation takes place: »He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples.« First God will come and render judgement, give verdicts and resolve disputes. And when this happens, it will awaken in human hearts a mighty transforming desire.

This would not be our instinctive reaction to judgement. That is due to the fact, that we see judgment exclusively as the moment when God seeks retribution for our misdemeanors and wrong-doing. Judgement for us is about shaming, about giving others their come-uppance.

But God does not judge that way. His judgement is not about seeking our humiliation, not about shaming us, but about seeking our untried possibilities and our untested potential. A people who have the ingenuity and strength to bend metal until it creates death, also carry in themselves the ingenuity and strength to bend metal until is releases avenues to life.

The image of the plowshare speaks to us of God. It tells us that whenever we feel the urge to forge a sword into a plowshare, God is already at work within us. The statue in front of the United Nations shows the man, the hammer, the sword being reshaped. What is invisible to the eye is the heart of the man. That is the place where God works. The heart is ultimately the place where everything is decided.

In the 2. Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation we pray with our sister the plowshare: »Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together. By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect.«

Plowshare, where are you taking me?

God sees more potential in us than our anger, violence, cruelty and hardness suggest. Will we let ourselves we moved to transform the instruments of anger, violence, cruelty and hardness into instruments of forgiveness, healing, kindness and gentleness?

If my tongue was like a sharpened sword, will I forge it into a plowshare that opens hearts and minds with thoughtful, understanding, and supportive words?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 13th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

In our midst: Sister, speak to me of God.



The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: »Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save.«

 Zef 3, 15-17 



Twice in this short passage, the prophet Zefania employs a simple but potent image: God desires to be in our midst. This is relatively straightforward language, but often and easily altered to say something other than what the image which to tell us about God.

God prefers to be in our midst. The image does not say, he wishes to be at the center of to be the central focus. It is not God’s desire to be the middle around which everything is built. He desires to be in our midst. The image speaks to us of God and it is a surprising conversation. Because we as a people, as a community of believers, are the reference point. The place where God wishes to dwell cannot be found until you find his people, and then penetrate to the very midst of their communal living.

To be in our midst to be in the thick of things, the central, throbbing, pulsing middle of our shared life. If God lives in our midst, he comes to the place where everything in our daily life is happening. In our midst there is turbulence, panic, negotiation, barter, love, commitment, hectic, chaos and engagement. In our midst you will find the very best of what we are, the very worst of what we are, and everything in between. To be in our midst to immerse yourself into the teeming mixture of what constitutes us as a people of God.

What is not to be found in our midst you are the places of privilege. These are always cleanly separated from the place where the majority of simple folk live and work. To be in our midst is to discover the place where there is no tidy segregation. In our midst we are all jumbled together. This is the place of the people, nor merely of the elites.

The midst of our people is also not a well-settled and stable place. It is constantly in motion, constantly in flow and, therefore, constantly changing. That is due to the fact that the matters which occupy us and with which we choose to deal are constantly in flux. A God who wants to be in our midst must be mobile, flexible and adaptable.

It is an ancient desire of our God in our midst. Unlike the God’s of the ancient world, he did not want to live on a mountain top or in a special temple. During the long hard journey of the Exodus, he chose to dwell in our midst, and since we were in the middle of the desert, that is where he went. And he pitched his tent in the middle of the camp.

Yet, God’s desire to dwell in our midst was not always shared by his people. Kings wanted to build God a house, to erect a temple high on a mountain. Although they wanted to build a house of splendour and grant it a place of honour within the city, it still was a place of isolation. A cage is still a cage even if it is gilded. The God of everyday life, who once lived at the very heart of his people, was now banished to a hilltop, far from the daily hustle and bustle of the common, ordinary living. In an extraordinary place people came to do unusual und uncommon things. But the God who loved being in our midst, wanted to make justice, goodness, service, love, mercy and reconciliation the things of everyday life. No matter how often we speak of these moments in a temple, they never actually take place there. Justice, goodness, service, love, mercy and reconciliation take place in the midst of his people. That is where they are needed, that is where they are lived out in flesh and blood.

In John's prologue we find this image again. The translation reads: »And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us«. Literally translated it says: »And the Word became flesh and camped in our midst«. While it is often easier to keep God at the margins of our life, the image speaks to us of a God who is never satisfied until he is the midst of our life. Distance always opens an easy excuse for us. But closeness changes us. A God who is far off, distant and remote is a God also easily ignored in the throes of ordinary life. But a God who dwells in our midst, is a presence that challenges us and accompanies us where we spend the greatest part of our lives, namely, in the ordinary.

God in our midst, where are you taking me?

Where do I try to keep God on the margins of my life instead of welcoming him to the very midst of the life I share with others?

Will I welcome the justice, goodness, service, love, mercy and reconciliation of God in our midst and allow them to take on a greater role and a wider space in my daily life?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 12th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The ears of the deaf: Sister, speak to me of God.


Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

 Is 35, 5


The ears of the deaf is an image with which we are very familiar. People who are hard of hearing are commonplace and we have many forms of interaction with them.

This image speaks to us of God in a diagnostic fashion. God has a heartfelt desire. He wishes to cure the ears of the deaf. To have deaf ears to be unreceptive. Yet, in biblical storytelling, it has a still deeper meaning. It speaks of the fact that we are unreceptive to that which is not yet ours, that which is strange, unfamiliar or unknown.

We have our own experiences of having deaf ears. When someone talks about our favourite topic, our hearts desires, or our pet peeves, our ears perk up. It becomes even easier to hear what is being said, when the speaker is telling us what we want to hear. When the message suits us.  Then we are readily receptive to what is already in us, what confirms our opinion, strengthens our position and supports our bias.

The resistance of deaf ears comes up when we should open ourselves and receive a message, thought or opinion that seems strange, unfamiliar and unknown to us. Unlike the merely physical ailment of deafness, which occurs whether we like it or not, this is a form over which we exert real control. We choose to whom and what we will be receptive and offer a listening ear. When my father was quite old, he needed a hearing aid. He finally bought one which was quite advanced. It even had a small remote control with which he could raise the volume or change the settings of the hearing aid for special services, like hearing the television, or listening on the telephone. This hearing aid helped my father overcome his physical ailment of deaf ears. But his use of the hearing aid also took on the biblical meaning of deaf ears, because whenever my father’s hand slipped into his jacket, we knew he was using the remote control to turn off or tune out whatever or whomever he did not want to hear. We all have a remote control like that. It is called the human heart. It is the place where receptivity is decided in the end.

There are several reasons why people are deaf in the biblical stories as well as in the human narratives. Sometimes our ears are blocked. Something stops us from being open, hinders us from being receptive. Perhaps there are old stories of wound and scar which do not permit us to hear beyond old pains. Traumatic experience, unresolved conflict, and pain that has simmered beneath the surface are ways that our ears become stopped. This image speaks to us of God, because God wants to unstop the ears of the deaf. He does not want a life like that for his people.

Sometime we develop or foster the ears of the deaf through distraction. There are so many things going on, so many voices, all talking at once, so much background noise, that we cannot hear anything distinctly. We can drown out what we do not want to hear. Small children sometimes do this when they do not want to hear a message from their parents like »It is time to go to bed«. They start to hum or sing or chatter out loud, simply to drown out the voice they would rather not heed. Adults are only slightly more sophisticated. They turn up the television or the radio, raise the volumes on the earphones, or attend loud parties and gatherings. I once accompanied a woman on a personal directed retreat. After every session she would leave the house, go to her car and turn on the radio as loud as possible. When I realised what she was doing, I approached her and gently asked her why she was doing this. I have never forgotten her answer. »Noise keeps the demons at bay!« She was distracting herself from the painful but necessary impulses that were arising out of the biblical stories. They were never demons, but she was so afraid of the voice of God telling her to face what she wanted to avoid, she used noise as an anesthetic. God does not want a life like that for his people, because in this case the ears of the deaf are a sign of a people on the run, of frightened hearts in flight.

At other times, the ears of the deaf arise when we are resistant. Sometimes we simply do not want to hear something, and then we turn off our receptivity. Perhaps we are too exhausted or drained to deal with it. Perhaps we are overburdened and simply cannot bear the thought of yet another problem or issue demanding our attention. God unstops the ears of the deaf, because he does not want a life like that for his people. When we exercise deafness as resistance, we are working on assumptions. We resist, because we assume that being open and receptive will do us no god, bring us ill tidings and new burdens. But how often have we been wrong. How often have we need surprised to discover that the message also brought light, relief, deeper perspective and even healing.

The ears of the deaf will be unstopped by our God, because he does not want an unreceptive life for his people. Deaf ears means we are unable to be part of the conversation. It creates a world of exclusion and a loss of connection. Then we are outside of the loop and isolated from others. It is a common experience with our elderly confreres who are hard of hearing. It is hard work to keep them a part of the conversation, to repeat what has been said, to speak in unpleasantly loud tones and to remind them to wear their hearing aids. But we do it, because otherwise they cannot participate in our conversations and deliberations and then they are no longer part of our living community life. In those moments, we share the desire of God. We do what is necessary to unstop their ears, because we do not want a life like that for our beloved brothers.

Ears of the deaf, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day, where will I deliberately exercise a new receptivity by reading a new book by an unknown author, listen to a conversation about matters that I usually drown out or open myself to a topic or theme I would rather ignore?

Where will I help to unstop the ears of the deaf in others, so that they are not shut out and excluded from the flow and life of our conversation?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 11th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The River: Sister, speak to me of God.



Oh that you had paid attention

to my commandments!

Then your peace would have been like a river,

and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

 Is. 48, 18 




The language of the images, symbols and metaphors of the biblical stories do not come easy to us, because we are a society of technical and therapeutic language. We have immersed ourselves so thoroughly in the realm of declarative and explanatory language that we have become symbolic illiterates. But since images, symbols and metaphors are language of the soul, we are also rapidly become religious illiterates.

In the struggle to rescue and resuscitate the language of the soul, we have natural allies, and these are the poets. They suffer as deeply as the biblical storytellers, because poetry is suffused with images that try to speak to the soul.

My friend, John O’Donohue, was that most remarkable mixture of poet, philosopher and theologian. If you want to understand what the image of the river means, all you really need is this line he wrote.

»I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.«

Isaiah would smile in recognition of a fellow poet if he read these words. The image of the river speak to us of God, by reminding us if we live according to the rich life instructions of God, our lives will unfold unto surprising experiences.

Rivers unfold. They start small and grow into their magnificence, strength, breadth, depth and length. Opening ourselves to the life instructions is the beginning of our personal unfolding. A river cannot unfold if it is not open to tributaries. It has to welcome the contributions of small streams and unassuming creeks. A life cannot unfold unless it opens itself up to all the tributaries carrying living water. We need to take up the deep religious wisdom of mentors, masters, teachers and friends. We need to open ourselves to the experience that stretch us unto growth and deepen us unto loving kindness. We need to take in the stories of God and the stories of faith, and, of course, we must welcome the storytellers who bear them to us. Paying attention to the commandments of God means paying attention to all these people and places and possibilities. And then our lives will grow in their magnificence, strength, breadth, depth and length.

As a river grows through its openness to receiving more life-giving waters from many sources, this leads to a new surprise of unfolding. Because a river then discovers that it is not merely a recipient of new life, but the bearer of new life. It takes that life into itself and carries it on to new places and people who are thirsting for that life. If today we heed His voice, we will be just as surprised to discover that we are the bearers of more life. The wisdom we graciously receive, the love we weave into our blood and bones, the justice we integrate into our lives and the mercy we absorb into our very being, carry life to others. Everywhere we go, everywhere we flow, people will come in contact with the life we carry within ourselves. In ourselves we will carry to them goodness that can touch hearts hardened by pain, truth that sets free from illusion and self-deception, hope that opens horizons long forgotten or never known.

A river is not stagnant. It moves and goes places far beyond its origins, while never being separated from the spring from which it starts. When we live like a river, this too becomes a surprise, an unfolding that astonishes us. Because if we live life according to the wisdom of our loving creator, our lives will not just grow, but they will take us places far from our starting point, but never sever the tie to our origins. We will tell the stories of God to the next generation without forgetting the generation that told them to us. We will meet new people without forgetting the people who brought us safe thus far. We will come to new places, encounters and experiences, without losing contact to our roots, to the places that formed our hearts, the encounters that accompanied us unto greater fullness and the experiences that made us authentic.

Finally, rivers fashion landscapes. They do not just pass by, but they form the landscape they pass through. A life well lived in God, will surprise us in this manner as well. We do not just pass by. We shape the worlds through which we move. We have an impact on the human landscapes we touch. A life that truly unfolds according to the design of God unfolds into a surprising, life altering effectiveness.  

It was that way with John O’Donohue. After every encounter, people simply felt better about themselves, more secure in their own skin. It is that way with John Shea. After an encounter with him, people felt stronger, better equipped to deal with the daunting part of their life. It was that way with my mother. I never left her presence without feeling more loved. And it can be this way with us. Do not underestimate yourselves, my friends.


River, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day I will pray: »I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.«

Like a river, I will listen and take in the stories of God in all things, in myself, in the other, in the whole of creation and in all of Scripture, so that I might hear and head every story God wishes to tell.


Erik Riechers SAC

December 10th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt


Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them.     Is 41, 15-16


Today we come to an image that is no longer a part of our daily life. But when Isaiah spoke these words, the image instantly sprang to life in the hearts of the listeners, because a threshing sledge was part of their common experience. It was a series of large wooden planks that were fastened together. Holes were made on the underside and then sharp rocks were wedged into these holes. The harvested wheat would be brought to the threshing floor and these boards were dragged over the wheat. The sharp rocks would gouge and twist the stalk, separating the grain kernels from the rest of the stalk.

The image speaks to us to a process of separation. The threshing sledge separates that which is truly life-giving from the chaff. The image speaks to us of the ability to distinguish that which gives nourishment and true sustenance from the useless and the superfluous things that make no contribution to satisfying our hungry hearts. And this image speaks to us of God, because it tells us what God would like to make of us. He wants to make us people who can differentiate between what is genuinely essential and what holds no life in it. This is no insignificant ability.  Put simply, without a threshing sledge we would starve. If we are unable to separate the wheat from the stalk, then we cannot grind it in flour and bake our bread. And if we are unable to separate wheat from chaff, then we will keep being attached to the wrong thing, the element that cannot feed and strengthen us. The gift of being a threshing sledge is the gift of being able to win that which gives life from the midst of everything else that does not.

Isaiah makes it clear that this is a task of some considerable weight and scope. Mountains and hills of experiences need to be winnowed. This ability to separate the life-giving from the superfluous will be needed over and over, because the amount of confusing and mixed experiences are as high as the mountains and as plentiful as the hills. It is not something we do once and then can afford to leave behind. This is a momentous task.

When God makes us into a threshing sledge, he is turning us into a people of discernment. We would love to simply take everything at face value. But we constantly need to separate what is true, beautiful and good from the mountains of shallow proposals, advertising and lifestyles that cannot lead us to them. This is no easy task. Like a threshing sledge, we need to go over the things laid before us over and over to discover the kernel of life that we need.

The days of the pandemic have made this practice of the threshing sledge all the more urgent. While making serious decisions about the common good and the health of nation and its citizens, we are forced to ask the question: If we cannot have it all (which we have become so accustomed to that we think it is our birth right) then what is essential. There is a clamour for Christmas markets, sporting events and large social gatherings at our favourite watering holes. The urge to travel and take exotic vacations remains uncommonly strong. But are these things the essentials? Are these the things that carry the kernel of life in them? More importantly, why is the protection of our fellow human beings not the core conversation in our society? Why is the care for the well-being of others not the central issue? Individual rights and personal freedoms are trumpeted from the roof tops, but there is little talk of personal responsibility and the obligation to care for the common good.

As pleasant as our entertainments and distractions are, they are not essential. When we speak of going to the movies or travelling to the sunny south as if they were as important as life-support for dying patients, we have lost this gift of being a threshing sledge, a gift God considers to be of vital importance. When we do not discern, then we become enraged by the loss of our toys and games, while others are left without bread, lodging and dignity.

It cannot hurt to be reminded of the rich counsel of Vatican II. »It is imperative that no one...indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one's means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.« (Gaudium et Spes, Art.30) If we are going to be the sons and daughters of Vatican II, then we need to be threshing sledges. Otherwise we will become the kind of people what Oscar Wilde wrote about in his novel »The Picture of Dorian Gray«:  »Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.«


Threshing sledge, where are you taking me?

Will I take the time to thresh through the many suggestions being made and separate what is truly important for my life from the rest?

How will I keep in mind what is genuine essential?

How will I form a focused heart in myself that that is not mindlessly distracted by the peripheral?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 9th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Eagle’s Wings: Sister, speak to me of God.



But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.    Is 40,31




The biblical stories have a great fondness for the image of the eagle. When Isaiah uses the image of the eagle's wings, he makes it speak to us of God in two ways. First, it speaks to us of God's strength. Secondly, it speaks to us of what God uses that strength for.

Of course, this is an image of strength. When Isaiah sees the symbol of eagles' wings, he sees the strength of God given to those who have lost their own. »But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint« (Isaiah 40:31).

Isaiah is part of a great conversation in which the image of eagles' wings speaks to us of God. By far the greatest part of the image is the experience being carried. It is a sign of strength and able to bear much weight, as Moses wrote, »You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself« (Ex 19:4). This is further symbolized when Moses said of God »Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions« (Duet 32:11). The eagle can bear up the young eaglets on its pinions, which are the outer wings. This is basically what God did when He brought Israel out of captivity from Egypt and continued to bear her up in her wanderings in the wilderness.

Because the eagle could fly higher than any other bird, it could fly out of reach of the hunter’s arrows. But the image is deeper than this. If you are sitting on the pinions, the back of the eagle’s wings, then you are sitting in a place out of sight of the hunter, out of range of the arrow that could harm you. Should any hunter have an arm strong enough to shoot that high, the arrow could not touch you without going through the heart of the eagle. If you are on the wings of the eagle, then the eagle places itself between you and what can harm you.

It raises a deep question within us. We are so accustomed to thinking of our won strength and what we need it for, that we seldom ponder what would happen if our strength failed us. What would happen if our strength cannot carry us where we need to go? What happens when our strength cannot overcome the obstacles before us, cannot hurtle over the barriers in our way, cannot lift us off the ground when he have fallen?  Especially hard to face is the question: Who will protect me from harm when I cannot do it for myself?

Recently I fell. To put it more honestly, I was felled by a bicyclist. Cutting a corner at great speed, he hit me so hard that it threw me to the ground, bruised knees, a black eye, scrapped hands and scratched glasses. The young man on the bike was luckier, because he landed in the hedge and was scratched but otherwise unharmed.

While lying on the ground I found I could not get up on my won. The palms of my hands where bruised and bleeding, so I could not put any weight on them. My pants were torn and my knees scrapped raw, so I could not kneel on them to help myself up. The young man was groaning over his mangled bike. A group of people praying at the nearby shrine briefly looked around the corner but then carried on with their prayers. But a group of young people who were attending a course in our house immediately came to my aid. They were the furthest from the site of the accident, but the first to come to my help.

It was in that moment that I experienced the deep meaning of this image of the eagle’s wings. Because two of them placed their shoulders under my arms and lifted me off the ground. I was surprised by their strength and how easily they lifted me up. I also remember the sense of relief washing over me and how the feeling of helplessness washed away.

The experience and the feeling of being lifted up stayed with me for weeks afterward. The memory has not left me since that day. But more importantly for me, it triggered an old story in me. I had given a retreat to a large group of Ukrainian Catholics in Canada. I was a small house of the grounds in which I lived and held the private conversations with those who wanted them between the spiritual reflections. It was a very hot summer and the people would wait for me outdoors, sitting on the grass of the rolling hills all around the little cottage. It was late in the afternoon and I came out to call in the last person before our evening prayer. She was sitting awkwardly on the lowest part of the hill, so I extend my arm to her and then pulled her to her feet. Then we had our conversation.

Weeks later I received a letter from this person. She wanted to thank me for the retreat because it had given her an experience that deeply touched her heart. But it was not about my talks, the liturgies or even the conversation we had enjoyed. It was about my helping her up off the ground. She wrote me that she was the youngest of three sisters. Her other two sisters were always the lovely attractive girls who were fused over by the boys and aggressively courted by them. They opened car doors for them, pulled out chairs for them to sit on, and were always attentive, courteous and hovering in the vicinity. She never experienced any of that. So when I extended my arm and lifted her to her feet, she was thrilled, surprised, touched and puzzled all at once. To be honest, I could not even remember the incident until she recounted it in her letter.

But I still have the letter. In one line she wrote: »Father, you raised me up. And for days I hummed or sang the hymn, ‘And he will lift me up on eagle’s wings.’ I do not really understand what you did for me in that moment, but I do know this: you raised me up. And I have been up ever since.«


Eagle’s wings, where are you taking me?

Whom will I lift up on this Advent day, past harm and helplessness?

Where have I been lifted out of harm’s way? Was I grateful for being lifted up and did I acknowledge the experience of God within the moment?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 8th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

Clearing a way: Sister, speak to me of God.

A voice cries: »Clear a way for the Lord’s road, level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.«

Is 40, 3-5


This most famous of the Advent images speaks to us about one the deepest longing and most heartfelt desires of our God. Clearing a way and levelling a highway speaks of the insatiable hunger of our God to find a path to his people. There is no need to break a path until you have a place you wish to be. The old paths, the already existing ways, have also lead us to places we wanted to visit and see, but these places die not lead to the unfolding of a new encounter, a new conversation and a new experience of God.

A new path is not needed until we are tired of the old locations. A new path need not be cleared as long as we are satisfied with the old ones and the places where they have taken us. Yet, who among us has not known the hunger and drive of which this image speaks? After being more or less content with our loves, relationships and work, we suddenly have a desire for more than what we have and what we have been living. We start to question the meaning and the importance of the way we are living. We experience a rising discontent, a sense that what we are doing is devoid of any deeper significance. Nagging questions no longer leave us in peace. »Is this all there is to my life? Does anything I do make a real difference?« We keep on going on the tried and well-trodden paths of the past, but they leave us feeling empty. They do not satisfy our hungry hearts.

This is a very unpleasant and unsettling moment. This image of clearing a road then speaks to us an astonishing truth, a liberating revelation. Help is on the way, because God is on the move toward us. It is not the common response to this moment in our lives. How often have we had the painful experience, that when our lives suffer a crisis of meaning, when we have serious doubts about ourselves and are questioning the most basic assumptions on which we have built these lives, that people turn away and head in the opposite direction. There is often a deep fear of these questions, because if we face them in others, they might suddenly cause us to apply them to ourselves. I painfully recount such a moment not so long ago. A good friend of mine was suffering from a great personal tragedy in her family. All the old paths were falling apart, no longer useful or helpful and clearing a new way was proving laborious, exhausting and painful. One day she overheard a remark made by a colleague of hers. The colleague remarked to a third party that she could not listen to my friend’s story for very long, because it troubled her heart too much. This experience makes me grit my teeth until this very day. My poor friend carried all the burden of that story, but she was unafraid of telling others about the clearing of a new way through a life that was falling apart and collapsing in tragedy and sorrow. It was the other woman who was afraid. She lacked the courage to face a story she was in no way forced to live. But the mere mention of clearing a way troubled her settled, sated and unquestioned life and posed a threat to her own peace and quiet.

My friends, help is on the way, because God is on the move and he is not heading in the opposite direction. He is heading straight toward us, to this uncomfortable place in which we find ourselves. He is not afraid to visit this place, to touch us here. It is the desire of his heart to be present to us in this moment of uncertainly and turmoil so that he can share it with us and change it with us.

Clearing a way and levelling a highway for God is the way in which we start to remove whatever obstacles are preventing this meeting with the God of our salvation. All of us carry within ourselves tired ways of thinking, unquestioned assumptions about life, and inherited interpretations about what is important and what is not; these are the old paths. They have brought us to the desert.

Help is on the way, because God is on the move. But if God is on the move, then change is on the way. Because clearing new paths and levelling highways always means that we have to alter landscapes, including the inner landscapes of the heart.


Clearing a way, where are you taking me?

As I clear a way for my God will I start to entertain new ways of looking at things?

Will I face my uncritical assumptions about life? Will I re-evaluate my priorities?

On this Advent day, will I level a highway by listening to the stories of God which do not affirm my every bias, which do not automatically approbate my lifestyle and way of thinking, and which even dare to call into question whether I am as happy and satisfied as I claim to be?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 7th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Stretcher: Sister, speak to me of God.



And behold, some men were bringing on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his stretcher through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

Lk 5, 17-18



Years ago, Bishop Reinhold Stecher wrote a beautiful book. It is called: »Werte im Wellengang: Ungewöhnliche Interviews« (Values in the Waves: Unusual Interviews). In the preface he writes: »I have chosen a few interviewees - not the easiest ones - with whom I have wanted to deal for a long time«. He then interviews expansiveness, music, wisdom, humour, light, etc.

Today I take my inspiration from this extraordinary shepherd and conduct an interview with the stretcher of the biblical narrative.

Me: I would like to welcome you to our series »And the Almond Tree Blossomed: How Religious Images Speak to Us of God«. I'm sure our readers will enjoy getting to know you a little better.

Stretcher: Thank you very much, Fr Erik. It is an extraordinary honour and admittedly a great surprise that you would like to do this interview with me. I am rather used to playing my role in the background. Normally I am hardly noticed.

Me: Yet you play an important role and even a recurring role in the biblical narratives.

Stretcher: (smiling wearily) Thank you for your words of appreciation. Indeed, without false modesty, I was touched by the hands of Jesus at the gates of Nain. But no less significant for me were the four admirable friends who took me in hand.

Me: I like the way you describe these people. Can you elaborate a bit on what role they played in their story?

Stretcher: Well, I have always understood my role as a privilege. In my extended family there are wheelbarrows, carts, and even some trolleys. It's in our blood to be load carriers. But I have always had the honour of carrying a special load. My relatives are there to transport goods. But I was chosen by God to carry the lives of his people when they are so burdened that they can no longer walk on their own.

Me: Not exactly an easy task.

Stretcher: (smiling) Indeed. But what I have always enjoyed most about my job is that I could only do it in collaboration and cooperation. I carry the burden of a person who can no longer walk, but others carry me so that this person's story becomes ongoing. Without this partnership, nothing works.

Me: An interesting perspective.

Stretcher: Oh, you gain that perspective quickly enough when you stay as close to people and their paralyses as I do. This experience made me more humble and respectful. And then I felt what an honour it is to share in such people's life experiences.

Me: When you say that, it immediately reminds me of Pope Francis. He very often calls us to stay close to people, especially the poor and the weak.

Stretcher: Yes, this man is such a biblical man, and very beloved among us stretchers. He likes to talk about the church as a field hospital and, as you know, a field hospital without stretchers is unthinkable.

Me: That's a wonderful thought. Now these men have taken you in hand and brought your paralysed companion to the house where Jesus stayed. Was that stressful for you?

Stretcher: It was burdensome and joyful at the same time. After all, the paralytic was allowed to rest on me and to feel that he was not falling, but was instead being caught and carried. When a person can accept that from me, it is one of the most beautiful feelings.

Me: Those men who carried you and their friend will probably best understand this feeling. In this story, you and your partners then come to the door of the house, but you can't get into the house.

Stretcher: That's right. The entrance is blocked by people who are fascinated by Jesus but at the same time stand in the way of the weakened person who wants to get to Jesus. So we climb up on the roof and uncover the tiles.

Me: That is quite adventurous and, to put it mildly, unconventional. The roof is not normally the place of entrance. Quite the opposite. The roof is built to keep out rain, wind and sun and other natural elements, not to admit paralytics. Finally, the paralytic lies in the middle of the room, right in front of Jesus.

Stretcher: (grinning) Not only the paralysed man. Me too. He was still lying on top of me. I was also in the middle of the room, right in front of Jesus.

Me: What was that like for you?

Stretcher: I was actually most impressed by the fact that he didn't look at this paralysed man first, but up to the men on the roof. He saw their faith. (Pause while stretcher's voice breaks with emotion).

Me: I just noticed how moved you are.

Stretcher: There was so much recognition in that look. His appreciation was not for the architect who designed the house. His praise was not for those who built the house. His recognition is for those who have the courage to change the house so that life can come into it. At that moment, a frail human being became the centre of attention. To this day, I feel it is the greatest tribute to my role and the role of all who are stretcher bearers. Because for us, this frail person was the focus all the time.

Me: And then your work was done?

Stretcher: Not quite. Jesus told the man, »Get up, take your stretcher and go home!« And that touched me most deeply. Because to Jesus, I was not insignificant. He should take me home with him, because he should never forget the role I played in his life and in his healing. 


Stretcher, where are you taking me?

Me: In conclusion, could you give our readers something to take with them on their journeys through Advent?

Stretcher: I would love to. I take many forms. I am the word that carries the burdens of a person that sustains them when they are at a loss. But I need my partners, the people who boldly speak this word. Otherwise there is no saving story. I am the sustain gesture that allows a person to rest when their own strength fails and bears them up. But I always need my partners, the people who dare to make such gestures, even at unconventional times and in unconventional ways. I would simply like to urge your readers: Be my partners.

Me: Thank you very much for your time and this interview.


Erik Riechers SAC

December 6th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Garment: Sister, speak to me of God.


Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting!

Bar 5, 1–2



The language of this image has become difficult to understand in today’s world. Unlike the days of the biblical stories, men and women of our time wear garments to express two things: individual identity and personality. Fashion, as we express it today, played no role in the time when garments first took on a symbolic meaning. For the ancient peoples, clothes served a very practical function. Our garments protect us from the weather, be it cold, rain or searing heat. Unlike animals, we have no natural protection against the elements, so garments do for us what fur and feathers do for animals.

When garments appear in biblical stories, they speak to us of many things. The garments we wear can, of course, reveal our status in the society. Kings do not usually dress like beggars.

When Baruch uses the language of the garment, he is pointing out a less obvious statement which clothing makes. The language of the garment in this story tries to reveal the state in which our hearts find themselves. The garments we don can conceal or disguise what is happening within us. For example, we can dress in in the same uniform as everyone else, while we distance ourselves from them on the inside, because we no longer identity with the group or its interests. How many children have worn the clothes like their peers so that they could fit in and belong? Yet, deep in their hearts, they know that they are still outsiders, that they are not genuinely accepted or wanted. On the other hand, garments can also reveal the deep and hidden realities of our hearts. When we wear black after the loss of the beloved, the colour we wear says something about the state of our heart.

Baruch knows the state of the heart of the people to whom he is writing. They are dressed in garments of sorrow and affliction. Grieving widows wear garments of sorrow when they mourn the loves and lives they have lost (Gen 38:14, 19). When people were deeply sorrowful for the wrongs they had committed and wished to express their regret, remorse and repentance, they wore sackcloth as a garment. (Gen 37:34; 1 Kings 20:31; Esther 4:1-2; Ps 69:11; Is 37:1). Affliction also had its garments, such as garments worn by lepers (Lev 13:45), which showed the wearers to be outcast.

But Baruch is suggesting that is it time to wear a festive garment. Like the wedding garment in Matt 22:11-22, this shows a willingness to enter into celebration where life and love is being feted.  In the language of this image, a change of clothes denotes a change in the inner life. We should be making the move from desolation to joy, from brokenness to dignity.

This is an Advent practice. Garments speak to us of a God who asks us to exercise this practice. In our dominant culture, we are easily caught in cycles of negativity, nastiness and complaint. I have met a fair number of people who consider it extremely stylish to be hyper-critical about everything they experience. It is nearly always combined with a thinly veiled contempt for those who put on a garment of righteousness and celebration. The hypercritical consider them naïve, while they perceive their own smug criticisms to be a sign of sophistication.

I remember one such encounter in Belize. A group of villagers came to church to celebrate Sunday Mass. They travelled on foot to Punta Gorda and when they arrived, they disappeared behind the trees and bushes. Then the changed out of their dusty daily working clothes into beautiful, richly coloured garments of Sunday celebration, which they had carried on their backs. Only then did they enter the Church to celebrate the Eucharist. I deeply admired this exchange of garments every Sunday. An American tourist also witnessed this and commented to me. »They are only happy because they are too ignorant to know how badly off they are!« Here was a man with everything that life has to offer, but he was unable to take off the garment of sorrow and affliction. He, who had all the luxuries, could not celebrate the simple joys of the people around him. His world was filled with rich people who try to impress each other by the fact that nothing could impress them. The one person in the Church who had no great sorrow or affliction was unable to do what those who were marked by sorrow and affliction every day did with joy: they changed the garment to celebrate what was given and to rejoice in the expectation of what is yet to come.

The garment of this story speaks to us of God: It is time to celebrate what is given. It is time to rejoice that more life is coming, that new life is coming, instead of complaining that it took too long, it came too late, it is not enough, or that this new life should have come in another form.

Garment, where are you taking me?

On this Advent day, where will I take off the garment of complaint and put on the garment of celebration and gratitude for all to see?

How will I outwardly show my pleasure and delight in the gifts I have been given?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 5th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Harvest: Sister, speak to me of God.




Then Jesus said to his disciples,

»The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;

therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest

to send out laborers into his harvest.«

Mt 9, 37-38





When we look out at the harvest, we tend to think of fruitfulness and plenty. That is why we usually thank God for the harvest every fall. 


But this image is much more subtle than we imagine and if we do not listen carefully, we can miss what God is trying to say to us. This is an image where God speaks to us of potential and possibility.

When the harvest is standing in the fields, and it is plentiful, we see what has grown. However, it is never an accident if there is a harvest. They so not spontaneously appear. They grow under the guidance and care of people who invest a great deal of time and energy to ensure that there will be a harvest.

When Jesus looks up and sees a plentiful harvest, he does not erupt in jubilation but offers instead a warning. Where there is a plentiful harvest, there must also be labourers to bring it in. No one can live from a harvest if there is no harvesting, no labourers to reap those fruits of the field and bring them to places of safety for our future use. A harvest that is not brought in rots in the fields. Harvests do n not fill barns, larders or stomachs. Harvesters do that. No hunger has ever been stilled by looking at a field ripe for the harvest.

As a son of the Canadian prairie, the time of harvesting has had an indelible effect on my soul. Every fall I experienced how farmers were worried about bringing in the harvest. It was a time of hard work, making use of every day of good weather, working with great headlights to use even the night hours to harvest the wheat, and the constant race to finish before the winter snows arrived. Deep in my soul I learned a lesson that opens the language of this image of the biblical stories speak to me of God. These sons and daughters of the soil were worried and driven, because they knew that having a harvest does not mean that you cannot lose it through neglect and laziness. Harvest labourers know the wisdom of Jesus in their bones.

The image speak to us of God, because God has the desire that we will not only notice that there is potential and possibility in the fields of life, in the fields of our hearts, but that we will be the labourers who bring that potential and those possibilities in. Otherwise they will be wasted.

We need to hold on to what is ours, to that for which we have laboured. We have earned it and we should want to make the most of it. This is the wisdom of the Gospel because it is the wisdom of God. Do not waste your opportunities. The man or woman of the Gospel has a claim on their harvest. That means we should hold on to all our potential. We hold on to our knowledge, our experience, our talents, but also to our structures, customs and traditions that serve us and others well.

Yet, the image of the harvest is richer even than this perspective. For as soon as we have brought the harvest in, it poses a second question to us. How will we deal with our fullness, the fullness that is in our faith, in our Church, and especially the fullness that is in us? With whom will we share it? Will we, like the farmer in Luke 12, 13-21, bring it in and lock it in barns, or will we also set a table for others? If the first danger is to neglect the potential and possibilities that we should harvest, then the second danger is always the preservation of our possessions, of what is mine, no matter what form it takes.

The reason for this? The fear. In what does this fear lie? In that we believe we must hold on to everything because there will not be bread and life enough for all. And this fear makes us petty and narrow, narrow in our thinking, narrow in our interests, narrow in our actions and narrow in our hearts. Incessantly, then, we are driven by two questions of all barn-builders. How can I keep it to myself? How can I contain it from others?

We do not have to live like this. Jesus offers us an alternative. Instead of building bigger barns to hold it all back, set a table and invite everyone. Instead of hiding and defending our abundance, we can set a table richly from that abundance, we can trustingly share with others and care for them.

The life God has given us is full of potential and possibility. We should not waste it by neglecting to do the hard work of harvesting. But we should also not waste it by hoarding it, locking it away where only a privileged few can live from it.


Harvest, where are you taking me?

Where is there a fullness within me that I am not harvesting?

Whom will I share the fullness I have harvested on this Advent day?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 4th, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Stump of Jesse: Sister, speak to me of God.


There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

                                Is 11, 1


The stump of Jesse is one of the most famous images of the Advent season. It resounds from our hymns like »Lo, er a rose is blooming« and shines forth in many works of art depicting a family tree that leads from David to Jesus. Since the Middle Ages there has been the tradition of the Jesse tree, in which the bare branches of a tree are adorned each day of December with an ornament depicting the great biblical story that unfolds from the creation of the world until the birth of Jesus Christ. But what is God trying to say to us in a stump?

Contemplation in biblical stories means that we are willing to take a long loving look at the real.  Let us begin our Advent day by contemplating a tree, by taking a long loving look at its reality. Think of its grandeur as it stands there is all is magnificence. Note its beauty and its size as its branches spread. Look at those branches, the leaves they carry and perhaps the blossoms they bear. Then there is the shade it casts. There are people who seek refuge from the rain and heat under its boughs. There are birds that find shelter and a home in the branches of the tree.

Now contemplate what happens when that tree is reduced to a stump. This is the image that speaks to us of a great and significant loss. A stump is a tree stripped of its glory. The breathtaking grandeur is lost, the beauty ended. The space it once filled has been cut down to a fraction of its former size. Its branches are gone, so there is nothing left to uphold leaves, blossoms and fruitfulness. There is no shade left and the stump itself is now ever exposed. The people who once sought refuge under the arms of the tree are now left unprotected and exposed to the elements. The birds have lost their place of refuge and their home. The tree is no longer a place of consolation.

It is always sad to see a tree wither and die, but that is what nature eventually makes of trees.  A stump is what humans make of trees. We cut them down. We reduce them to a shell of their former glory.

Now deeply immersed in the language of the stump, we can hear what God is trying to tell us. Left like this, the image would speak of a devastating, hopeless loss of so much that makes life worth living. But in the story of God, that image takes on a much different shape. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Isaiah takes this image of devastation and speaks to us of hope. It is a lesson for the deep heart, reminding us that God can speak to us of hope in places where we expect to find only loss and destruction.

The stump of Jesse speaks to us of God, because it sets a tiny but powerful sign. Whenever we reduce the fullness of our lives to a stump, whenever we cut our lives down, it cannot extinguish the power of life that flows from our God, the breath of life that he has been blowing into us since the dawning of creation. The power of God to bring forth life cannot be broken, even when we are the ones who reduce trees to stumps.

This is also an image of defiance that unveils a God who refuses to let even massive loss and devastation to have the final word. The stump of Jesse is God language, because wherever we find those stumps, we will encounter God in the insistent, stubborn, resilient drive to break through into life.

Every summer I see people cleaning their sidewalks and driveways from the weeds and grass that sprouts through the cracks and the fissures of the paving stones. I see them kneeling there with knives cutting deep to scratch out the roots. I see some using small flamethrowers to burn them to ashes while others pour weed killer into the cracks. Do you know what I also see? I see those same people facing the same task one year later, and the year after that, and the year after that.

We can be brutal agents of destruction at times when life appears where we do not want it or where it does not suit us. That is also true of the life inside of ourselves. There are places of the inner life (longings, desires, and talents) that we have reduced to a stump, have destroyed because we thought them inappropriate or no longer necessary. There we will discover a shoot of hope and life breaking through, a branch stretching forth to bear a new fruitfulness. When you see it, you will encounter the mischievous grin that lights up the face of God as he effortlessly lets life resume where HE wants it. Advent is about the coming of God. Well, the stump of Jesse tells us about one of the most powerful ways in which he comes.

Stump of Jesse, where are you taking me?

Where have I cut down the fullness of life until only a stump was left?

Where have I experienced life beyond loss, a fruitful future beyond devastation?

When the shoots appear and the branches sprout in my life, I will reach out and stroke the face of God?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 3rd, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Gates: Sister, speak to me of God.



In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: »We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and ramparts.Open the gates that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.«

          Is 26, 1-2



When gates or doors appear in a biblical narrative, they speak to us about the way we exercise control in our lives. And where the need for control is awakened in us, trust is the question. The greater the trust, the less we exercise control. But the less trust we have, the more we exercise control.

The gates are an instance of control. It is where people decide who and whether someone is let in. Gates are the place where we decide who we will exclude and not allow entry. Where do we put locks and bolts if not our doors? It is about control.

This exercise of access and exclusion happens every day. Open doors signal a willingness to be approached. The open door offers people space and time for encounters. In contrast, closed doors signal that we don't have time, that we don't want to be disturbed or that we don't feel like talking or meeting.

Here, however, the doors should be opened to allow access. The language of the image tells us that our God does not want to exclude us, but to invite us. He wants us to come in. Here is the God who creates space and time for his people. We are not seen by him as an annoying nuisance, but as longed-for visitors, guests and friends.

The people of Judah sing: »We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and ramparts.« When we are afraid and feel insecure, we need control. Walls and ramparts give us protection. And God is ready to give us that protection. After all, he built us walls and ramparts. At the same time, these walls and ramparts take something away from us, namely breadth of vision and openness. If farsightedness and openness are lacking, then in the long run we only become more and more fearful and narrow, because we close ourselves off in our little suffocating world of protection. That is why God built gates in the walls and now he insists that they be opened. Otherwise we become the prisoners of our need for security.

In the days of lockdowns and contact restrictions, we talk too little about open gates. We need protection in a pandemic, but God never forgets the other side of the experience. What we do to protect health, personally and for others, should not make us prisoners of fear. Even at this time, we should seek ways to open the gates and give the sign to others that we are open to conversation and to their concerns.

Finally, the gates speak to us of an element of Advent that we easily forget. We speak incessantly of the God who is to come. But the image of the gates warns us that the God who is to come is far greater than what we are preparing for. In Psalm 24 we sing, »Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!« When we build our gates and doors, we think of what should pass through them. If we have a person with a wheelchair in the house, we make the doors a little wider. If we need the company's delivery hall doors to allow access to large shipping crates, we make the gates much higher. The psalmist's point is that in preparing for the King of glory we have underestimated his greatness. The one who is to come is greater than our imagination, greater than our narrow-mindedness, greater than our fearfulness and greater than what we were originally prepared to receive. If ever there was an important task in Advent, this is it: We need to expand our welcome, our openness and accessibility to God.

Ye gates, where are you taking me?

Which door will I open today so that God's people can approach me?

Which door will I leave open?

To whom do I signal my willingness to talk and meet today?

Where do I have to go further and adjust to a God who is surprisingly bigger than I imagined in my images of God?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 2nd, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Feast: Sister, speak to me of God.



On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

Is 25, 6

The image of a feast is inseparable from a richly laid table. A feast does not take place at a snack bar, nor is it a picnic. It is an image of generosity, because a richly laid table only comes into being when a person is prepared to give to others what he already possesses. A feast is about generosity that is not afraid to share, because what belongs to the giver he places at the disposal of all the guests. That which could nourish him alone is offered to everyone as food and satiety. That which he alone could enjoy, all can now savour and feast upon. No one holds a banquet who is afraid that others might take too much from him.

The image of the banquet speaks to us of a God who is not at all afraid to touch his people and their hunger. Here the image speaks to us of God, and it tells us: People, where I appear in a story, I speak of a God of gracious giving. This God happily grants you life.

In Psalm 23, the psalmist sings: »You set a table before me in the sight of my enemies«. In biblical narrative, the enemy is always recognisable by an attitude: the enemy is the person who does not grant life to others. But our God sets a table before us in the sight of those who would begrudge us all of it. He provides us with everything we need to sustain and enjoy life. He does this before the eyes of our enemies, that is, he publically shows his support for us and makes no secret of the fact that he is an open, giving and gracious God towards us.

At this banquet, the very best is also put on the table. God brings out the finest, the noblest that he has to offer and makes it available to us. It is »a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined«. He does not offer us cheap snacks. He does not set the table with that which costs him the least. The best, finest food is not fast food. In the film Go Trabbie Go, the family from the former East Germany comes to visit their relatives in the West. The relatives see who is standing in front of the door and the father says to his son, »Alphons, clear the table!« And immediately the richly laid coffee table is cleared away. The cake disappears into a cupboard. On the table come a pair of nuts and a bowl of shrivelled apples. The rich hosts are only afraid that the guests will take too much from them. Even worse, if they like it, they might want to stay longer.

In order to arrange a feast in this way, God shows a special love for us, because everything he offers requires a longer time to cook, more preparation and clearly more effort. When God sets the table, he is telling us that it is worth it for him to spend time, preparation, effort and great toil for our sake. And he hopes that it tastes good, because he doesn't want to get rid of us again as quickly as possible.

How does John Shea put it so beautifully and tenderly?

To Jesus

every person was a guest.

An invitation had gone out

from the heart of all life

to every heart within life

for does rain discriminate

or the sun play favourites?

His voice was the music of welcome

in the ears of rejection;

his presence a silver setting in the slum

with linen napkins on the laps of lepers

and delicate china cups

cradled in calluses,

their thin rims pressed between lips

thick and blistered with thirst.


Feast, where are you taking me?

Where and with whom will we practice a spirituality of generous and gracious giving?

On this Advent day, whom will make an offer in which it becomes clear that we are ready to make what is ours available to others?

For whom will we give the best of ourselves and not what is just enough?


Erik Riechers SAC

December 1st, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

And the almond tree blossomed: How religious images speak to us of God



In his book, Report to Greco, Nikos Kazantzakis, recounts a very simply and short story. »I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God.' And the almond tree blossomed.«

In his book Stories of Faith, John Shea wrote that Narrative Theology »watches the subtle moves of religious language in the formation of personality and community, cherishes the Bible for images more than thought«. But we will never really cherish the images of the biblical stories until we deeply believe that they speak to us of God.

But how do you cherish an image more than a thought? Rabbi Hisba once wrote: »A dream uninterpreted is like a letter (from God) unopened.« Since the stories of God and the stories of faith are rife with images, they are part and parcel of our conversation with God. But the conversation always begins when we start to interpret what God is saying to us in the images with which he graces our lives. Thus, an image that is not interpreted is like a conversation with God in which we are unwilling to engage.

Scripture is the deepest language of the soul. It is full of archetypes, metaphors and universal images. That is why a literal interpretation of scripture is extremely impoverishing. Decades ago, Joseph Campbell already saw this problem in his book, Thou art that. »Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.«

To leave the rich variety of images of the biblical stories without interpretation is to miss out on a gorgeous, lush and delightful part of the conversation with God. Our daily experience teaches us this. If a person says that they will watch out for us, we are pleased and comforted. But if a person says, »I will set myself as a watchman upon the walls of your heart«, this moves us into soul language and opens emotions and experiences that are deeper, warmer and more powerful than declarative language can ever be.

Religious language must awaken what is already within us, must reach our soul. The mystics have described it this way: When God places the soul in the body, the last thing he does is kiss the soul. For eternity the soul unconsciously remembers this kiss. And it cherishes everything (goodness, truth, love, beauty) through the dark memory of that kiss.

The days of Advent are rife with biblical images. That is because God seeks to draw us into a conversation of greater depth, warmth and comfort with him. Instead of leaving unopened letter laying around, we will open up an image every day, interpret it, discover layers of meaning and then open ourselves to the daily Advent encounters in our loves to which the image seeks to lure us. Of each image we will make the request: 'Sister, speak to me of God'. And when the images blossom, perhaps we will be reminded of this kiss of God and learn to appreciate again all that is good, true, loving and beautiful to be found in life.


Erik Riechers SAC

Vallendar, November 30th, 2021

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Good Bye!

»May you be sheltered!« we called out to you for 16 months. So for 68 weeks we tried to stay in touch with you and with each other, sharing words of encouragement and reflection. All 300+ impulses are still available to you here.

So we ourselves are amazed and grateful how rich this time, so poor in personal encounters, was for all of us. This strengthens us in the faithful confidence that it is always worthwhile to courageously and creatively search for possibilities, even if everything seems so impossible at first.

With this in mind, we move on - joined with the encouraging wish: »May you be sheltered!«


Vallendar, July 14th, 2021

Rosemarie Monnerjahn und Erik Riechers SAC



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A song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.


In Psalm 121 the word »shamar« is used six times in eight verses. The word is multilayered and means to shelter, protect and observe (honour) someone or something.

Shaken by the crisis of the Corona virus, many people are yearning to be shelter, protect and observed (seen). We take up this desire in the title »May you be sheltered«. Not just as something we wish to have for ourselves, but also as something we are willing to serve. In 1908 a group was formed in Palestine under the name »HaShomer«.This group served their neighbours as guardians and keepers of the Jewish settlements that were just being founded. They honoured them and protected them from attacks from those around them who did not wish to share the land with them.

Already in the first days of this crisis we have heard tales of panic buying and Corona Parties. In some people there is the dominant impulse of »every man or woman for him or herself« and »save yourself if you can«. As people of faith and the People of God we must set a sign against this mentality. »May you be sheltered!« should be our call in this time. Let us protect and keep one another. That is what this column wishes to serve.

As God asked Cain, »Where is Abel your brother?« He said, »I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper (shamar)?« (Gen 4,9) Our answer should be that we will be »HaShomer« for our brothers and sisters.

May you be sheltered!


Vallendar, March 21rst, 2020

Erik Riechers SAC

Rosemarie Monnerjahn


* Under November 2nd, you will find our further thoughts regarding »Breath for the long march«.

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»May you be sheltered«: There and back again


In March of 2020 as the pandemic struck us, we in Siebenquell knew that we could not leave this moment unaccompanied. So we began the series of reflections »May you be sheltered«. Little did we imagine that we would still be working at it 16 months later.

We have been asking ourselves for some time, when the appropriate moment would be to end this accompaniment. With the gradual abating of the crisis, we think that the time has come to wind down this long and adventurous path.

When we look back we are struck by how our common journey has interesting and frequent parallels to a book we have often turned to in our work, namely, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The often forgotten subtitle of the book is telling: There and back again.

Like Gandalf knocking on Bilbo Baggins door, an adventure came knocking on our door, unexpected, uninvited and unwelcome. Our response was similar to Bilbo’s: »We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them.« 

But this adventure, like all genuine adventures, came looking for us. We had grown accustomed to thinking of adventure as something we choose, something we want and select, according to our desire and need. The biblical narrative, on the other hand, understands adventure as something that chooses (or even haunts) us. The true adventures of life break into our smooth stories.

As Tolkien so aptly puts it later in his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: »It's a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.«  This is an experience that has hardly been foreign to us during these long months of Corona.

And these 16 months of »May you be sheltered«: have been an intense time of learning what it truly means not to live in genuine companionship. Tolkien had an almost pathological aversion to heroic images of the lone warrior. In his life, everything heroic he ever experienced he experienced in the community of companions. In the First World War he learned that people do not survive adventures as lone fighters. War propaganda always showed images of the heroic lone fighter, but in battle it was camaraderie that counted. Thus, Tolkien’s ever present rallying cry: Not without companions! There are no heroes in his books who go off without companions. And Tolkien tells stories again and again where they need, complement and enrich each other. There are no adventures in life that we can successfully accomplish without companions on the journey.

We have told this story, indeed, lived this story. Reaching out to you hundreds of times was never just a task we performed to keep you strong and resilient, but also to keep ourselves focussed, motivated and vital. We wanted nothing more fervently than to keep connected with our people. And we were good companions to each other as well, as we wrote and reflected and published during days that were dark, but would have grown too dark if we had attempted to manage them alone. The emails, the words of encouragement, the words of acknowledgment  and gratitude we wrote to you, as well as the ones we received from you, were manifest examples of the deep biblical imperative: Not without companions.

In the course of his grand tale, Tolkien gave Bilbo and his companions their own proverbs and parables, as well as the words of sages and riddles. Throughout the book there are poems and songs. Often they are quoted as verses from an ancient and revered tradition, as what has been passed down by the storytellers from generation to generation. Tolkien is never concerned with hidden wisdom or secret knowledge attainable only by a select and privileged few. He always speak of what has long been revealed and known, but then was so easily forgotten.

This, too, has been our experience. We have repeatedly named and addressed the truly important issues that are all well known, if we but honestly look at and evaluate what is within our hearts. Yet, they are also so easily forgotten in the course of mindless daily living. We have striven to touch on the essential matters of the human heart in the midst of crisis. Therefore, we told the stories that encourage, remind and awaken. Like Bilbo and his companions, we shared the songs that strengthen our hearts and gave new courage for the next stage of this long journey. We shared our favourite poems, hoping that what encouraged us would suffuse you with courage as well. We have learned a deep biblical truth that Tolkien expresses this way: »Where there's life there's hope.« 

Yet, when Tolkien comes to the end of his story, a strange thing happens. Throughout the story, Bilbo is often filled with a homesickness for his quiet shire, where everything is comfortable, familiar and peaceful. On multiple occasions he makes it abundantly clear that he cannot wait to go home and take up his old life again.

Yet, when the adventure is over and he actually is back in his beloved shire, his relief is short-lived. Once all is back to »normal«, he discovers that »normal«, has lost its charm. One of the lessons of »there and back again«, is that once you have been »there«, you cannot come »back again«, as the same person who set out. The adventure changed him. The experiences not only challenged him, they also moulded him. A new homesickness fills him, especially for the companions of his journey. The people around him share his lifestyle, his comforts and his pleasures. But his companions shared his struggles and his doubts, they carried him beyond his short-comings, urged him to move beyond his self-doubt and wept with him at common loses and celebrated with him the achievements they attained together. What he misses, is the common cause.

We have been there and back again. It is our wish for you all, that we might find rest and find relief from the arduous months we have behind us. It is equally our hope, that we will miss the best this journey has brought out in us, that we will not sink back into life the way it was, but feel the restlessness that reminds us that there are greater things than our comfort and security.

Of course, a master storyteller like Tolkien is well versed in the true nature of adventure. We never know when the next one will come knocking on our door. Should the pandemic, or any other crisis, come back with greater danger or vigour, you will find in us willing, ready and able companions.

We would leave you with the last song of The Hobbit.  Bilbo has come to the end of his journey back to the Shire. Coming to the top of a rise he sees his home in the distance, and stops and sings:

»Roads go ever ever on,

Over rock and under tree,

By caves where never sun has shone,

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown,

And through the merry flowers of June,

Over grass and over stone,

And under mountains in the moon.


Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.«


On good days, and on bad ones, and on every day in between, may you be sheltered.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn

Erik Riechers SAC

June 11th, 2021



And, of course, a story


A small cautionary tale may help us garner a sense of the importance of Sabbath for us in rebuilding our world after the pandemic.

A serious minded young girl named Anastasia was determined to live a full and rich spiritual life. Mediocrity in prayer, worship and religious practices were no longer good enough for her. So she left the city in which she grew up and sought out a great spiritual teacher named Ambrose. Pleading her case before him, she poured out her heartfelt desire to be a disciple of deep faith and profound prayer. Yet, the old man was extremely reluctant to accept the responsibility of guiding her to the life she claimed to desire. She promised him commitment and obedience, zeal and dedication, but nothing would sway the old master. Finally he asked her, »All that you promise is fine and good, but I have only one question for you. Will you listen to wisdom when it holds no natural charm for your soul?« Assuring Ambrose that she would always listen to wise counsel, even when unpleasant and unappealing, she was delighted when he accepted her as his student.

The next year of her life was very demanding and a constant challenge, but Anastasia loved it. She loved everything about the life of a spiritual seeker, the long hours of prayer and meditation, the simple labours of the day, the glory of worship and the startling beauty of mysteries unveiled in the classes and the books. She loved it all.

One day Ambrose summoned her and began to question her on the development and depth of her prayer life. She described to him the rich variety of prayer that sustained her, especially the prayer of the psalms. The master listened silently and attentively, and then gave her a new instruction. From that day on, she was to pray the Jesus Prayer, a simple, constant repetition of the name of Jesus. Nothing could have displeased Anastasia more. She grudgingly began to pray as instructed. Yet, every chance she got, she complained of Ambrose’s direction and secretly followed her own counsel. After all, she argued to herself, this simple prayer was ridiculously easy and lacked every challenge for a person as committed to and advanced in the spiritual life as she was.

Several weeks passed, and finally Ambrose summoned the young woman again. This time he walked with her through the orchards, under the trees and finally paused at the bank of the river. Throughout the walk he carried a large sack, slung over his right shoulder. At the bank of the river, he finally handed the sack to Anastasia and told her it was a gift for her. Inside was astonishingly beautiful coat, hand woven of the finest wool and exquisitely warm. The woman was stunned by the lavish gift, unsure what to make of it. Then Ambrose spoke.

»Child«, he said, »the coat is yours under one condition. You must put it on and then swim to the other bank of the river«.

Puzzled at the seemingly silly condition, Anastasia pulled the warm coat on and began to swim across the river. She could not help but smile to herself, because the warm, rich wool kept the chilling cold of the water from her.

Yet, as she swam the coat began to absorb the water and it grew heavier with every stroke of her arms. Her strength began to flag, as the leaden weight of the coat dragged her down to the bottom of the river. In desperation she tore open the buttons and let the beautiful coat sink into the river’s churning black depths. Struggling to get back to the shore, she finally managed to drag herself out of the water, panting and wheezing with exertion.

Ambrose looked down silently at her. »Do you now understand?«, he asked. Shaking her head, he sighed and knelt next to the shivering student. «The lesson is essential, child. We must learn to cling to what is life-giving, not to that which is merely comfortable.«

There it is; the spiritual challenge of Sabbath-keepers flung into the midst of the bustling crowd. Will we cling to what is merely comfortable or will we strip away some of those comforts in order to cling to the life-giving? This is no simple question, for the human desire to cling to the comfortable is far stronger than we dare admit. Yet every genuine hope for a new life, a richer life, a Sabbath life, is inextricably connected to how we answer this question.

I need to add a clarifying word here about Sabbath. While the word is usually identified with a specific day, Sabbath is more than that. In its deepest, broadest meaning it is the recipe for the proper balance of work and leisure required for a healthy human life. Sabbath-keeping is a practice that can and must go well beyond whether or not we go to Church on Sunday. It is about reserving space for the soul to breathe and flourish. It is about realigning priorities so that one facet of life (productivity) does not suffocate the rest of what it takes to be fully alive.

It is my deepest hope, that in the days beyond the pandemic, we will walk the road of faith together with the balance of Sabbath in our veins. In the end it will not be enough to say we found the wisdom to know the good, or even the courage to choose the good. In the end it will only be enough if we have the strength to make this recognised and chosen good endure. Join the resistance! Become a Sabbath-keeper!


Erik Riechers SAC, July 9th, 2021



The Conversation we are not having


Sabbath living is not the religious equivalent of stress management. The Christian spiritual tradition adds an important ingredient to the mix, namely a rich metaphorical language that links commitment and spiritual growth at the hip.

Jesus does not merely reveal to us that there are seeds of fruitfulness for every mortal life. He goes into the frustrating details of the sowing that yields rather varied results, including a startling number of fruitless failures. An invitation to reap in fields that are white for the harvest is still a summons to back breaking labour. There is talk about waiting for growth and of weeding when the time is right. Christian spirituality is not about the way we think of certain things, but the way we respond to them. Indescribable is the dental damage brought upon me by the teeth-grinding chatter about life improvement with nary a word about personal investment or commitment.

 A woman once told me of her frustration after attending a workshop on life management skills and stress reduction. At first she was enthusiastic about being told to slow down, smell the roses, enjoy life, simplify her lifestyle, downsize her expectations and get in contact with her inner child. She returned home with a fiery determination to turn a new leaf.  Her first week back confronted her with a home whose every room created a unique challenge to good housekeeping. Her office had been cleverly redecorated in a new style best described as »wind strewn«. Her husband, whose every sage pronouncement had been met of late by contortionist facial movements and the rolling of their adolescent daughter’s eyes, wandered through the house muttering darkly about adoption agencies. By the end of the week her fresh resolve to »manage« her life and stress had dissolved completely. Her words still ring in my mind. »After dealing with my life, how will I find the time to do all the stuff they talked about in the course?«

She may well have received sound advice at her workshop, but none of it actually happens without commitment. The Sabbath approach to the hassle of modern living will insist on a vigorous sifting of our priorities and some very hard, concrete choices to change them. The harried lady had the genuine desire to improve her life, but she did not have the will to make the difficult choices that make it possible.

A further reason for taking a specifically faith filled approach to the struggle with contemporary living is that it weans us from the crippling dependency on pleasure and self-satisfaction. Several years ago, while on a lengthy transatlantic flight, the man in the seat next to me began to extol the virtues of the self-help book in which he was engrossed (but sadly not deeply enough to spare his hapless seatmate). He could not praise the author highly enough. Every word in the book resonated with him and it was as if the author had read his mind. He could find nothing in the book with which he disagreed. To quote his words, »I just love it!«

Such conversations leave Sabbath-keepers uneasy and restless. The book certainly met with the talkative traveller’s approval, but that is hardly the issue if we are seeking a way out of our spiritual crisis. He answered the question, »Is it enjoyable?« But what about, »Is it helpful?« Lest there be any doubt, those two questions are not the same nor do they result in the same conclusions. Enjoyable counsel does not mean it can help us. In the spiritual life we need to look at realities that are not pleasurable and often very intimidating. The topography of the soul requires a visit to the hard and barren places of the heart. We have to work with dry bones, draw water from rock and gather bread from the sun-baked desert floor. More often than not, what we discover in those places is that our indiscriminate craving for satisfaction has lead to our deepest dissatisfaction, distress and dejection.


Erik Riechers SAC, July 7th, 2021



Sabbath and the Pandemic


We are slowly emerging from a long and very tiresome period of our lives. We are looking at ways to ease back into life, especially community life. We, too, are preparing to end the long accompaniment of »May you be sheltered«. It is time to move back into more conventional ways of being Church with and for each other.

But we should be cautious about the way we return to »normal«. As tiring as these months have been, our restlessness should not drive us to mindlessly return to our previous bad habits. Among the very worst of them is our hectic, work-driven, stress-filled way of living.

The picture is not uncommon. A person is walking briskly to work. He or she has a headset attached to the MP3 player resting in their pocket while they furiously work on the IPhone. There you have it: the modern paragon of efficiency. Exercise, entertainment and business are all tightly wrapped together in order to maximise the use of their time.

It is expected that the passers-by will be filled with rapturous admiration for these power-walking, wireless wonder. After all, they are the embodiment of the person who can juggle everything life throws at them and still make it all come together. This is the aspiration of millions of people, namely, to find a way to squeeze everything they want or need to do within an ever-shrinking window of opportunity. Welcome to the empire of efficiency, where productivity is High King and time is money.

Forewarned by wise storytellers, we once again rush to take our busy place in this dreary world. We should have known better. The demands of life keep us constantly on the run, on call and on the move. Our burgeoning calendars bristle with appointments, which we consider a badge of honour and a mark of obvious success. We are defiantly proud of the fact that we can manage it all, keep it all running and that we are in demand. Despite concerned and loving warnings about the need for rest and rejuvenation, we are convinced that we are living full out, no holding back. When we are firing on all cylinders it has an almost intoxicating effect on us.

If anything retains the power to unsettle us, it is the encounter with people who move against this grain. With an alarming sense of ease they blend intense working lives with times of refreshing rest. Like resistance fighters, they refuse to submit to the tyranny of the contemporary rat race. Unabashedly and without apology, they step out of the constant drive to produce. These irritatingly well-balanced people lack even the good grace to be embarrassed by their apparent waste of time. They seem merrily unperturbed by the fact that they could be labelled as lazy, ineffective and lacking all proper motivation. They are active people, but not always on the run. Time is not money for them, but a precious gift to be savoured. There are people who openly proclaim these seditious leanings in the midst of the culture of non-stop productivity. These are subversives, undermining the unquestioned premise of the rest of the society with a languid sauciness.

Beneath the bustling, productive world of politics, family, entertainment, religion and work this spiritual resistance movement has burrowed a modern set of catacombs. Their caverns and corridors are filled with Sabbath-keepers.

Like every generation before us, we must grapple with a spiritual struggle particular to our time. Today we, too, have demons to face and exorcise, but they are a particularly wily brand of devil. They work their wickedness among us under the unassuming names of speed, efficiency and productivity. Nothing more clearly defines our spiritual crisis in the western world than the addiction to never-ending productivity and the harrowing debilitation that it wreaks in every facet of our lives. While we proudly trumpet what we have accomplished, created and manufactured, we are reluctant to admit that we do not really know how to live with the side effects. This manic, ceaselessly driven lifestyle is the breeding ground of the exhausted soul. It is also the moment of spiritual rebirth for the one grace that might save our lives, namely, Sabbath time.

          Sabbath-keepers have their work cut out for them. Exhausted souls are legion and they are famished for spiritual solace for their harried, if highly efficient, lives. Yet, who is left to speak comfort to them? Fine and good is the challenge to set out on a faith journey, but this is a crowd that has been given precious little advice on what to pack for the trip. They are constantly reminded and encouraged to gear down their consumerist and materialist overdrive, but are dragged helpless and often involuntarily back into the sucking whirlpool of modern living. With remarkable flippancy all blame for the exhausted soul is uncritically blamed on rampant consumerism and unfettered materialism. Yet, in reality they are only the symptoms of the deeper and more dangerous problem of the suppression the Sabbath rhythms of life. Having been banished from our spiritual practice for so long, Sabbath was first forced into the catacombs by the creeping culture of productivity, and then left to slumber beneath a blanket of collective amnesia.

          It could be argued that there is no need after the »enforced Sabbath« of the pandemic to speak about the strain of modern living. I obviously disagree. If it affects human life, it is a topic for spiritual reflection and guidance. There is no task more central to the work of spirituality than to touch the mystery of God to the flesh and blood of the people he loved from the beginning. It is an oft forgotten truth of the faith, but if something matters to human beings, it matters to God. Everything that makes us ache or laugh, weep or dance, writhe in agony or rock with passion interests the God of Infinite Love and Mercy. Our God, who cares about the lilies of the field, the birds of the air and the hairs on our heads, is unlikely to adopt a sudden disinterest in the exhausted soul.


Erik Riechers SAC, July 5th, 2021



Turning Light into Darkness


14. Sunday B 2021                       Mk 6, 1b-6


The opening scene of this story always reminds me, that a story can take very unexpected and dark turns. After all, the beginning hardly prepares us for what comes afterwards. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and we are told that »many who heard him were astounded.« Normally, it is a wonderful thing when people experience astonishment and this moment of surprise and wonder can lead us to wonderful places. We can seek more, inquire deeper, and discover a passion hitherto unsuspected in the depths of our souls.

In fact, the people of astonishment start to ask deeper questions. »Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!« All of these questions demonstrate, that their astonishment is unleashing new processes in them, setting their hearts and minds in motion that is looking for the source of this power that has overwhelmed them.

Then the story takes a dark turn. »Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.« When astonishment turns to dismissiveness, then offence is born. And what is the source of this dismissiveness? The mere fact that they know him, his family and his origins. Here light is turned to darkness.

We have in English the telling proverb: Familiarity breeds contempt. But before familiarity breeds contempt, it breeds assumptions. We become so accustomed to people and their ways, that we simply assume that we have a clear oversight of all that they are and of all of which they are capable. These assumptions breed a deep laziness in us which convinces us that we no longer need to think, ponder and evaluate what we are experiencing in the people we have come to take for granted. In many ways, we are no longer encountering them in any real sense of the word. We are working out of the caricatures we have created about them. We assume that we have seen it all while we are not even bothering to look openly at them anymore. We are sure that we know the end of the story without reading the rest of the chapters.

This contempt, born of lazy, unquestioned assumptions, is a terrible thing. It takes our astonishment and all its potential and turns it into a shabby and offensive derision. What a terrible thing we do to others when we find our variation of »Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?«

What can sound like a relatively harmless question contains within it a destructive and deliberating force that destroys wonder and inquisitiveness, and eventually our relationships. This is the moment when we say to others: »Your life is not worthy of reverence. Your life is too plain, too commonplace and too shallow to be deemed worthy of being treated as a mystery, as something that has yet to be unveiled in all its glory, all its beauty and all its depth. Nothing you can say or do can surprise us. Thus, we will not take of our sandals and tread carefully, because we do not consider your life to be holy ground.«

»Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?« When we employ our variation of this question, we come to the moment when we say to others: »You cannot grow beyond what we have already seen and what we have known of you. We would bind you to the smallness, brokenness and poverty we have experienced and encountered in you and preserved you in it forever.«

When we dismissively say that we know people, their clan and their heritage, then we say to them: »You cannot develop into something more, something greater, than that which you have been to date. You cannot acquire a greater wisdom, maturity, or thoughtfulness than what we have already experienced.«

That is why this is such a dark turn in the story. In every place that this scenario is played out the past experiences of a person are no longer building blocks of which a future is made. The past is transformed, into a prison, where we hold a person captive, fettered to one stage of life, to some immaturity and inadequacy that we have found in them, their family or their story

This is a fundamental sin against hope. Hope is the openness toward the future and its unknown possibilities. And to use this language which destroys astonishment and replaces it with derision and dismissiveness, is to firmly shut the doors to hope. William Shakespeare so aptly described the future as »the undiscovered country«. The people in the synagogue act as if the possibilities Jesus brings are as common as a walk through a well-known, oft traversed neighbourhood.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote: »The only task worthy of our efforts is to construct the future.« We usually think of this in terms of the future of the country, the state or the church. But it is equally true of the future of each individual person, of every life we encounter that has the power to astonish us. In those moments we could open the door to a future of healing and new life. We should be in the business of turning darkness into light, not the other way around. Or it can end like this story: »And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.«

Let’s face it. If we can do this to Jesus, we can do it to anybody.


Erik Riechers SAC, July 4th, 2021



Exercising Reverence


What do we (still) revere?

The older ones among us strongly hear the fear and remember small-minded educational methods and catechesis. Younger people usually can't do a thing with this word anymore.

But how do we live without reverence?

We live without the dimension of the sacred in our lives. Everything we perceive and consider significant falls short. We worship treasures that pass away. We are in danger of withering away in our humanity.


It can be a blessing to meet people who, in some way, become a key for us to this world of the sacred and can show us what reverence really means. Such a person was Bishop Reinhold Stecher. His keys were word and image.



What he writes about water can change the way we look out at the world:


» In order to value water, that is, to consider it a treasure, more is needed than just an appraisal 

in the material sense.

Water deserves reverence. It is the first thing mentioned of creation in Scripture.

Gen 1, 2: ‚God’s spirit hovered over the waters...‘

And so the praise of the springs and fountains, of the streams and rivers, of the lakes and the sea,

of the rain and the dew, and of the trees that stand on the shore,

 and never wither,  splashes and gurgles and rustles

through all the songs of the Bible as well as the Holy Scriptures of the nations,

and always the water is a symbol of something greater, deeper, more joyful.« *


* Text and picture from  R. Stecher Bildkalender 2018


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 2nd, 2021



Nächster Abschnitt

»Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.«


I was recently told that idolatry was no longer a relevant topic for modern men and women. While I wholeheartedly disagree with that assessment, I can understand the reason for it. Whenever the biblical stories speak of idolatry, our minds are filled with stereotypical images that are more caricature than reality. This over simplification causes modern men and women to struggle with the concept of idolatry, if they do not dismiss it out of hand. It is perceived to be a problem of an ancient world, but not one as modern, advanced and civilised as our own.

Indeed, the idolaters of the biblical stories created a great many idols. They worshipped the sun, the stars, and the forces of nature as gods. But rather more succinctly, and definitely more ominously, they also worshipped power and, of course, those who wielded it, such as kings and potentates.

The biblical storytellers all knew that God was never merely a powerful part of nature, and not even the sum of all the powers in nature. God was always more, always greater, always beyond.

It is worth noting what idolaters choose to worship. The forces of nature are impersonal, as is power. This raises a deep concern, even alarm, in the stories of God. If we raise the impersonal to the status of divinity, we will start to worship the impersonal. But as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks never tired of pointing out, those who worship the impersonal will eventually lose their humanity.

The story of Psalm 115 is a fitting warning of this movement toward inhumanity. There it is written:

Their idols are silver and gold,

    the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;

    eyes, but do not see.

 They have ears, but do not hear;

    noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;

    feet, but do not walk;

    they make no sound in their throats.

Those who make them are like them;

    so are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115, 4-8)

We are not particularly inclined to worship the sun, the stars, and the forces of nature as divine beings. But we have not lost our penchant for worshipping power or those who bear it. The culture of celebrity is such an example. We also worship money, consumption, luxury, and entertainment, as is evidenced by the fact that we are willing to sacrifice nearly everything else to get to them. But these are impersonal forces. They have no name and no face. They have no voice with which to speak to us. They have no eyes that could see our hopes and our despair, our griefs and our aspirations. They have no ears that could attentively listen to our sorrow and lamentation and pleading. They, like all idols, demand constant and unquestioning sacrifices if we would enjoy their beneficence. But they are not present to any who cannot pay the piper.

We cannot worship impersonal forces and remain true human beings. For to be a genuine human being, means we are compassionate, humane, generous, and forgiving. In these waning days of the pandemic, we are returning to the idols that could not avert the crisis, could not alleviate the crisis and could not guide us through it. They will amuse us, distract us, and even satisfy us for a time, but they will not guide us to the Promised Land. What they will most certainly do, is rob us of our humanity. And that is why idolatry is always a relevant topic.


Erik Riechers SAC, June 30th, 2021



Life – a balancing act?


As a child, and for a long time thereafter, I loved to balance on garden walls or tree trunks laying on the ground. Highly concentrated and focused, I put one foot in front of the other. Allowing myself to be distracted was always risky, and I often stumbled and had trouble staying on top. A noise from the side, a laugh from friends, a digression from attentiveness - and already the balance was lost and the stability gone.

Why does this come to mind now, you may ask. I am reflecting on what has happened to us that we are increasingly, it seems, losing our stability on our life's journey. The past 16 months brought it clearly to light: we walked for a stretch well balanced and with firm step, but then we stared at the rates of infection, listened to the words of politicians and experts - and everything started to waver. We were content and even amazed at how well we could live with less diversion and consumption, but then travel opportunities flashed up here and there and we became restless, unbalanced and dissatisfied.

How often have we cleared things up in our lives, in our relationships, and made good decisions - and yet we always get off again inside or get so irritated by little remarks that we really fall down into old patterns.

While in the mountains, I had conversations now and then with old mountain farmers. Their eyes lit up with life when they told me about themselves and their families. The stories were very different. What they had in common was their constancy, a certain inner peace and equilibrium. They also told of loss, death and hard work, but I gained the impression of a great stability. It was within them. This unshakable interiority radiated from their eyes and characterized the way they told their stories. They told of their very own lives, how they had accepted and shaped them, and not of »what if«. I was impressed by their contentment, their presence, their clarity.

Today more than back then, Jesus' words come to my mind: »Do not let your hearts be troubled.«

Indeed, confusion makes us waver and become unstable. The disciples are in exactly this danger, because the threat is growing and Jesus prepares them for departure with this word. And he immediately adds what is essential: »Believe in God and believe in me!« (Jn 14, 1) Before that, Jesus celebrated the last meal with his friends and before that he had washed their feet. It is said in John's Gospel that he knew »he had come from God and was going to God« (Jn 13, 3).

Can we say the same for ourselves? Perhaps we have lost this great arc of our lives. If so, let us return to it. Do we belong in the many little places that are offered to us from the outside and sometimes make us almost dizzy? Or do we belong to God, from the beginning to eternity? How does this work? The disciples' questions are also ours, Jesus' answer is also for us: »I am the way and the truth and the life«. (Jn 14, 6)

We are at the mercy of so many voices that try to penetrate our hearts through so many channels. They drown out the One who dwells in our hearts from the beginning. Let us decide to leave many things at the door and encounter God in us again and again. Jesus promises his disciples that through the Spirit they will know, »I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you«. (Jn14, 20)

A woman who had lost everything grew into this relationship and, when I visited her, was able to say with a clear voice and shining eyes: »I am well. I am filled with deep love.«

 I wish this deep inner stability for all of us.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 27th, 2021



Please walk me through this story


13. Sunday B 2021                       Mk 5, 21-43


I had a cherished friend whom I was forced to watch die in stages. The cancer which eventually would claim her life, first took her tongue. And from one moment to the next, the easy conversations of a lifetime became difficult. But we never gave up.

When I would visit her, she would often open her Bible, point to a story and write a note. »Please walk me through this story.« Unable to leave her bed or the hospital room, I guided her through the worlds created by the biblical words. 

Today I would offer my services as a guide through the biblical story populated with a variety of characters. It is a story of a budding young life and a depleted old life, of suffering and hope, of voices of resignation and voices of faith. If you would come, I will gladly guide you.

The blood of two people plays a major role in this story. Blood is the principle of life in the biblical narrative. When we often read that contact with blood makes a person impure, it is not because blood is impure. The impurity comes because when we come into contact with blood, it no longer flows where it can serve life.

In the woman »who had had a flow of blood for twelve years« the blood, the life principle is steadily draining away. Mark tells us that as far as life is concerned, she is bleeding out. She »had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.« Here Jesus wants to put a stop to a life that is bleeding out and draining away.

In the veins of the daughter the blood has come to a standstill, a very profound image for death. When the blood, the life principle, comes to a standstill, then we are dead. Here Jesus wants to bring life back into motion.

At this point, we have two people who need salvation and life. We also have Jesus who wants to give salvation and life. In order for this story, like our story, to be a salvation story, the woman and Jairus need to know where salvation and life can be found, and then go there, come what may. Knowing that Jesus can help will not be enough. If there is no encounter, there is no healing.

Pause with me a moment at this juncture. It is worthwhile to note how two forms of salvation are presented here side by side. The woman makes contact with Jesus herself. If we are adults, then we must also have this ability that we ourselves take the initiative, walk paths, dare to touch and learn to risk encounters. But Jairus shows us that there is also a second way. He represents the interests of his daughter, because she is already too ravaged and weakened to take the initiative and go her own way. Sometimes, we need to open paths to salvation for people who have lost the ability to seek them for themselves. Furthermore, when we take our turn among the weakened ones, we should also be ready to allow others to perform this service for us.

Let us return to the woman and the child. In the narrative, they are connected by the number 12. The woman suffers twelve years of loss of life. Here, the number twelve is the symbol of a suffering that has that has taken too long. The girl dies at the age of 12 and thus the number becomes a symbol of a life that has been ended all too early. These are the plagues we know as human beings. There is suffering that we have to bear for too long, which then wears us down and drains us. But there is also suffering that takes away the beautiful and beloved part of life too soon. 12 is also our number, because in the course of our days, we suffer both the fate of the woman and the child.

I would now like to look at the stations in the story of Jairus, because they are important points of reference for us when we longingly seek a way of salvation for those who are dear to us.


  1. State your request, clearly, distinctly and urgently.

Jairus does not just say he needs help. He says, »My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live!« In saying this, he names the one for whom he needs help (his little daughter), why she needs his help (she is dying), what help he is asking Jesus to give (come and touch her), and what he hopes will happen (that she may experience healing and life).

This is a great art and we should not underestimate it. We are accustomed to complaining about what ails us in very vague tones. Thus, we will say »I am not well« without naming what ails us and stating what we need concretely right now. 


  1. Choose the voice you will heed.

With the message »Your daughter is dead« comes the hour of shock. But at this very moment, like Jairus, we must choose which voice we will listen to. There are those who say, »Why trouble the Teacher any further?« Here is the voice of resignation. It tells us that it's too late, that there's no point in going on, and that it won't do us any good anyway. But there is also the voice of Jesus that says, »Do not fear, only believe!« Here we decide whether and how quickly we write off and give up our longing and heart's desire.


  1. Do not let the crowd determine your course of action.

Jesus enters the house and wants to comfort the weeping, complaining crowd. He wants to give them a perspective of hope. »The child is not dead but sleeping.« His reward for this act of kindness is that the people in the room laugh at him.

Being laughed at is a startlingly painful form of rejection. When people says to us, that they refuse our request, we are disappointed and perhaps discouraged. But when people laugh at our words, they not only reject our request, but makes it clear to us that our longing is not even worthy of serious consideration. It is a bitter way of discovering that in their eyes what is dear to our hearts is ridiculous and laughable. Then we feel not only disappointed and discouraged, but humiliated and degraded.


  1. Take only companions with you who support your heart's desire.

Jesus does not grit his teeth and try to change these people's minds or convince them. At the same time, he does not defend or justify himself. His attitude is admirable. If the others do not share his heart's desire, he leaves them be and takes with him those who are willing to take this path with him. So he takes Jairus, his wife and the three disciples with him.

How often we complain about the people who do not share our concerns and do not carry them! But when we do so, they gain a great power over us. While we are busy trying to convince or persuade them, our heart’s desire is neglected and those willing to journey with us are left waiting in the wings, but do not get the go-ahead.


  1. Take the life that is threatened in your hand. Touch it.

We can easily freeze when a part of our life lies rigid and cold in front of us. Again and again I experience people telling me about the parts of their lives they deem to be threatened, be it in their relationships or in the shaping of their freedom. But they do nothing. They do not move. They do not dare anything. They take no steps and explore none of the possibilities that are present. We need to touch these parts of our lives, address them as Jesus does. Otherwise we will only have conversations with corpses.


  1. When life is restored, do not be paralyzed with wonder, but serve life.

Mark tells us the reaction of the people. »They were immediately overcome with amazement.« Jesus, on the other hand, takes a very pragmatic approach and says to give the girl something to eat. When we finally regain the life we once lost, we should look to serve, nourish, nurture and protect that life. It would be very tragic to bring the child back to life and then let her wither away from hunger.

But the danger is there. Do we not know such moments when we have sworn that when this pandemic is over, we will never again take this or that for granted? Have we not known moments of suffering that made us long to be health, fit and able again, only to neglect those very gifts when they are restored to us?


I had a cherished friend whom I was forced to watch die in stages. I watched her life bleed away slowly. But she wanted to touch the hem of his garment and she was grateful for every journey through a biblical story I accompanied her on. In her beat the courageous and bold heart of the bleeding woman. In her flowed the seeking spirit of Jairus. May that heart beat in us and that spirit course through our veins, so that we too may never fail to ask: »Please walk me through this story.«

Erik Riechers SAC, June 27th, 2021



Walk humbly with your God


A Prayer:

Merciful and just God!

We have been instructed to walk our paths humbly with You.

You know that this is often difficult for us. How we like to be in the right. How often we want to attribute blame.

Self-righteously we judge. Self-centered, we avoid lovingly putting ourselves in another's shoes. Self-absorbed, we lose ourselves.

If only we could sense the ground on which we all stand! Then we would be grounded and would not try to rise above each other. And we would walk upright and be able to look each other in the eye. Thus, we could walk with each other - and with You, as Your people!

In Your great love You take care of us - from the beginning unto eternity. You walk with us and show yourself to us. Help us to be attentive, sensitive and awake on our way through life - towards ourselves, towards others, towards the whole creation - and to discover YOU in all this. When we then sense and discover evermore Your justice and Your mercy, let us try to live and love them, so that Your kingdom may come.

»He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.«



Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 25th, 2021



Love Goodness


As we already know, the prophet Micah saw the grievances among his people, named them clearly and knew what to do: »He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God.« (Micha 6, 6-8)

Today we turn to the second task: to love goodness!

Goodness is also often translated as mercy. This can help us if we look at this word in Hebrew, where it has the same root as »womb«. Then we will get a deeper insight into the essence of mercy. It comes from the depths and is life-giving. It has existentially in mind the good of the other. To show mercy means to enter into the life of the other with all its chaos. God himself says to Moses at Sinai in passing: »The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. «. (Ex 34, 6)

It is precisely in this sense that Jesus says to the opinionated and heartless Pharisees: »But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice!« (Mt 9,13) They sacrifice people in order to formally fulfill the law; Jesus, however, mercifully turns to the tax collectors and sinners and celebrates fellowship with them. Elsewhere he says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, in the spirit of God who gave it. Mercy, goodness, is the pulsating heart of the Gospel. How often it is said of Jesus that he had mercy on the people he met - the sick, the suffering, the many who seemed to him like sheep without a shepherd, even, in the end, on his executioners. His heart cannot but love and live mercy.

This is exactly how the heart of the father of the two sons is in one of the most famous parables of Jesus that Luke tells us. When the prodigal returns home, it says: »But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.« (Lk 15,20)  His kindness, his mercy literally flow out of him and in the same way his heart turns to his eldest: »My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.« (V. 31)

Goodness, mercy, cannot be formally fulfilled according to certain rules and commandments. That is why Micah calls us to love them. Then our heart becomes wide and we become creative. We act like a mother, from the ground of our being, for life and its fullness.

In the Gospel of Matthew, written for a Jewish Christian community, justice and mercy play a major role. At the beginning we are introduced to a man who lives and combines both according to God's instruction: Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth. He is called a tzaddik, a righteous man, and he shows what kind of righteousness he has: he interprets the law of the Torah mercifully after he learns that his fiancée Mary is pregnant, and decides to release her quietly and not to stone her to death, as strict teachers of the law demanded. That would have been right!

In a dream he learns from whom the child is and chooses life again. From now on, he shares the life of Mary and the child. 

Doing right and loving goodness go hand in hand in the kingdom of God.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 23rd, 2021



Act Justly


A few years ago, I encountered a life teaching so succinct that I haven't forgotten it since. I read it in English at the time and it stuck with me: »Act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.«

That sounds short and sweet: Act justly, love mercy and be humble on the way with your God!

It is approximately 2700 years old and the simple advice of the prophet Micah. We Christians know Micah from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. The scribes quote him when the Magi come to Jerusalem: »But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.« (Mt 2, 6) Already this verse breathes the basic tone of the prophet and it breathes it until this day, because the topics are highly pertinent.

This small book of the prophets - similar to the book of the prophet Amos - denounces above all the antisocial way of life of the ruling class with its tendency to corruption, selfishness and exploitation. The little people do not count. This situation back then in this small and limited environment is no different today on the global scale, and the last few months in particular have brought it to light again: many are using the crisis for personal enrichment; whether and when the poorest can get vaccinated is hardly in mind - the main thing is that we can finally live our luxuries again. The ego is the director.

Indeed, there is lots of talk and promises made and grand shows produced - Micah already knew this as well in the days of ancient Israel. Why else would he have said: » With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. « (Micah 6, 6-8)

This week, let us consider what the prophet so simply urges us to do, namely, a way of life that God expects of us because it is good for us.

Doing right, acting justly is the first task.

Children complain that it's not fair if not everyone gets exactly the same number of gummy bears in their hands. Adults are no different. Decades ago, an eldest unmarried brother died and left behind a savings book with about 10,000 DM. One of his sisters, widowed at an early age and getting by on a small pension, had taken care of him the most. But the well-off siblings thought it fair to divide the money by 6. I remember well the sister's disappointment, even shock, that no one appreciated all she had done for her brother and that her siblings were indifferent to the difficult conditions under which she had to make a living. She felt it was unfair what the others considered to be purely mathematically fair.

When Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount: »But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.« (Mt 6,33), then he wants to lead us to the justice of God, which has the life of all in mind and wants to give everyone what they need for life. He calls us to this. However, this sounds easier than it often is for us. We tend to act in the manner of the five brothers and sisters. This is exactly why Jesus tells us the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20): Five times a vineyard owner goes out and recruits workers for the day's work in his vineyard. With the first in the early hour he agrees on a denarius. To the second at the third hour he says: I will pay you whatever is right. Then other laborers are hired at the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours. At the end of the day, the payment begins with the last ones and they receive a denarius. This arouses covetousness in the first ones. True, they had been hired for a daily wage of one denarius. But this, they think, would not be fair now, since they have worked much longer. But it remains for them with one denarius. To their grumbling the landowner answers: »Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?«

With one denarius, a family could live for a day, and this is exactly what the lord of the manor made possible for anyone who worked for him. Our petty accountants' souls would likely calculate the »fair« shares and casually take into account that families do not get enough. But it is different with the kingdom of God. Like the landowner, people who seek God’s kingdom and its justice act so that all can live.

»He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly …«


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 21st, 2021



Battered, frustrated and exhausted


12. Sunday B 2021                       Mk 4, 35-41


Storms come up quickly in life, and not just on lakes. They can also surprise us and catch us off guard with astonishing swiftness in our relationships. In nature, storms brew when the right circumstances and conditions are present. The same holds true in our relationships, and the perfect conditions for the storms of the heart are when we are battered, frustrated and exhausted. This is seldom our finest hour. We have enough to do to cope reasonably well with the struggle of everyday relationships, because they bring with them enough emotional, mental, physical and spiritual storms to navigate. Yet, when we are caught in the storm, the stress and strain it brings usually ensures that we do not attain the highest culture of conversation. The sparks and the accusations fly. When we are buffeted and threatened, we are seldom especially mindful of being thoughtful and attentive listeners to others.

That is what is happening in this boat. For the story of chapter four of Mark’s Gospel is the story of one day, and the story of that day describes how friends and companions can end up flinging accusations at people they normally love, cherish, respect and revere. Even before the storm, the passengers of this boat have been drained of much strength because the story of this day begins in this manner:

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching. (Mt 4, 1-2)

For Jesus, this is a very exhausting way to work. Spending a whole day like that, straining to be loud enough for his word to reach their ear and creative enough for his word to reach their heart was certainly very draining. It was certainly the same for the disciples as well, because when the crowd leaves, it's not the end of the day for them, but the second round where they still had very long, focused and challenging conversations with Jesus.

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables… With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mk 4, 10, 33-34)

We are latecomers to this day and its story, which is a warning unto itself. It is always difficult and dangerous to judge what is unfolding before our eyes, if we do not know the oft winding story that preceded it. We begin at the end of the day when evening draws near. And Mark makes a small but telling remark we should not overhear. »And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.«

They take him with them just as he was: tired, worn out, and spent. They have barely begun to set out for the other shore, and already he is sleeping. If we pause the story here and simply look at Jesus, we quickly and without hesitation have deep understanding for him. We know what a day he has had and then we treat our exhausted friend to a good restful sleep and a soft pillow.

But our goodwill can change quickly when we ourselves are stricken. It is much harder to graciously give other people what we ourselves are lacking. Therefore, we should take a look at the apprentices of Jesus. The day was not so easy for them either, but they have to continue working and struggling while he is sleeping. They now have to go through states of anxiety that Jesus unsuspectingly sleeps through for moment. They are not inexperienced, unstable weaklings who fold at the first hint of a problem. It's not the first storm they've weathered in their lives. But they were already tired and weary when they set out. Most likely, they are feeling a sense of abandonment, having been left alone with this struggle to fend for themselves and see how they manage to cope. Such moments and such feelings are certainly not completely foreign to us.

At some point, it all boils over. Battered, frustrated and exhausted, they accuse Jesus of a lack of care for them. »Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?« Here we must be careful not to romanticize or sanitize the story. These are human reactions that we all have to deal with, just as we have to learn to navigate a storm. Storms don't go away if we ignore them, not even the inner storms of the heart. The only thing that will go away if you ignore it is your teeth.

The disciples do what we often do when we are battered, frustrated, and exhausted: they reproach Jesus. They woke him up, but not to ask for help or succor. They seek conversation, but not to ask for advice or prayer. No, they make a harsh accusation, namely that he more or less doesn't care if they live or die.

And this reproach arises in a way that we also know. The concerned fellow travelers see and experience something they cannot interpret and draw their conclusions as to what it means, but without giving Jesus a chance to explain.

What Jesus does then is important, and we should pay attention to the way he does it.

  1. First he quiets the storm: Literally he says to the storm »I muzzle you«. Only when it becomes quiet again, does he clarify the reproach with his people. It is not wise to hold clarification talks in the middle of the storm, when everything is still raging and unsettling us. We need a space and a time of silence. Otherwise, only the storm, the crisis, the frustration and the fear in which people find themselves will speak, but not the people themselves.
  1. Then he poses questions.

»Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?«

By asking questions, Jesus gives his apprentices a chance to think about what is happening and give a response. Unlike his apprentices, who interpret the situation without giving Jesus a chance to respond, he does not reply in kind. Questions assume that there is still a need for clarification, that not all motives are known, that there are still things that should be addressed. Statements don't do that. Statements come at the end of the process. (Of course, only if the question is sincere and not a grammatically veiled accusation. After all, a question is only a question if you care about the answer.)

That is why Jesus asked about their trust, their faith. Did his apprentices really experience Jesus as a person who abandons them? Did they really experience that he does not care about the fate of his people? Where and when did they experience something like that with him?

This happens to us humans when we are battered, frustrated and exhausted. When we feel uncomfortable, threatened or overwhelmed, when we have experienced such hurt from others in the past, we find it difficult to have a conversation with a compassionate heart. When we can listen deeply and compassionately, we encourage and enable a person to speak from the heart and take the time to understand the broader context and emotions present.  If we speak at the level of our defenses that we have built up to protect our emotions and core being, then our wounds and our frustration will speak.

We are all in this boat at one time or another in the course of a lifetime. All the people in this story are tired and frustrated. But they are also people who are connected to each other, dare to walk paths together and love each other. And yet the frustration overflows and then they lash out with their words. We are very vulnerable beings, especially when our strength is waning.

It can't hurt us to heed Jesus' order in the text when storms batter our relationships, friendships and loves.

  1. Ask questions instead of making conclusive statements.
  2. Move gently into the question of trust. Look at the big story of togetherness. Don't interpret an episode of uncertainty and misunderstanding outside the context of a larger, richer, more diverse story of a shared journey.

Misunderstandings come up very quickly in the storms of life. But we can also learn to navigate and manage the misunderstandings of life. If we practice a little at listening well, if we ask open and honest questions instead of levelling accusations, and if we trust that goodness, mercy and reliability are present even in such stormy hours, even if we cannot perceive them at first, then we all carry within us the potential to calm a storm.

Erik Riechers SAC, June 20th, 2021



Love, Pray and Mature III: The way of moving from infancy to adulthood.


Thus, my third point. There is a way to avoid the terrible fate of eternal immaturity in love. We must apprentice ourselves to the Spirit Master Let Jesus be our path to adult love. In his person, we find the melding of the very best that love has to offer, together with the very most it is sent to give.

If we permit Jesus to teach us, then we will be embraced into the household of love, but also sent into its vineyards to be labourers for the harvest. The Spirit Master will show us a love that is willing to sacrifice everything for our sakes, even death on the cross. Then he will call us to take up our own crosses and follow him, so that others might live because of our love. In Jesus will meet the one who loves us as a suffering servant, and who will promptly invite us to suffer in service to others. The Lord and Master of us all will show us a love that is willing to empty itself, so that the king of all kings and lord of all lords is willing to become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Then he will invite us to do likewise.

The first great experience of love consists of ‘self’. It is the discovery that we are cared for and loved, nourished and guided. The culmination of love is found in the moment when we transcend our ‘self’.  We will know we are walking with Jesus when we can appreciate in fathomless gratitude what love has done for you, and be consumed with passion to do it for others. When we ache with gratitude for all our parents did for us and throb with the desire to love our children with the same fervour, the kingdom of God is very near to us. When we thrill to the memories of teachers who showed us the way, and tremble with the desire to show others that path, Christ is not far from us. When we find ourselves thinking of how we can enrich the loves of our lives; when we ponder how we can bless the beloved in our arms; when we ache to heal the wounds in those who are the apple of our eyes, and never count the cost; then you are indeed growing to full stature in Christ, then we are growing up in love.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem to his son about what it means to become a mature human being. May these words be true of us as well.


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;


If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;

If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools;


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!


»When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child: when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways«.

 Let it be so. O Lord. Let it be so.


Erik Riechers SAC, June 18th, 2021



Love, Pray and Mature II: An adult's way of loving


Which now raises the great question: What does adult love have to look like? As I said, the way love is experienced by a child is not a problem as long as we are speaking about children. However, what is cute in 3 year olds, is horrific in adults.

To become an adult in the work of love is to move well beyond a mere fulfilment of one’s own wants and desires. The mature man or woman knows that love is not just a matter of the other person doing what I want, when I want it, as I want it. If an adult asks us for a favour and we refuse, there is a clear-cut expectation that they will not turn around and say, »Don’t you love me?«

          To be an adult in God’s eyes is to participate in the saving work of love. Children demand service of love. Adults allow themselves to be taken into its service. To grow up as a Christian means that we must not just tell every person who seeks baptism how he or she will be loved by Christ, but how his love will impel us into a world of loving care, mercy and concern for others. If we are fully alive in Christ, fully grown in the Spirit, our view of the world, of relationship and of community radically change. A sure and certain sign of spiritual immaturity is found in the moment when we think the world is made only for our pleasure, that relationships are only there to meet our desires, and that community always owes us something. 

          The state declares us to be adults when we reach the age of 18. All kinds of rights automatically are conferred upon us once we attain the age of majority. We can frequent a bar, buy cigarettes, cast a vote, or run for office. Yet, there is no automatic conferral of responsibility. Eighteen years upon the planet do not guarantee that you will drink with moderation, consider the hazards to our health, choose wisely in a political process, or be willing to offer public service.

          So, too, in the world of love. Christ grants us the freedom to live like sons and daughters of his father, but we do not have to grow up. There are men and women whose entire experience of love is childish. They want to be coddled and cared for, while preserving every egotistical impulse they ever had. They demand to be loved, cherished and respected, but never feel driven to do likewise. It is one of the sad mysteries of life. Mature bodies can easily house immature hearts and souls.

(To be continued)


Erik Riechers SAC, June 16th, 2021



Love, Pray and Mature I: A child’s way of loving


In Rosemarie’s reflection of June 4th, 2021 »For what shall we pray?« she raises serious and vitally important questions about the issues we carry in our hearts and whether we are praying as mature Christians.

Several years ago Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a bestselling semi-autobiographical novel entitled »Eat Pray Love«. If I were to write a book about my prayer life, I would entitle it »Love, Pray and Mature«.

The topic of maturity and prayer has come up often during these days of the pandemic. Sometimes people have grown into a deeper and richer prayer life because of this crisis.  Others have found it a time of distress, as childish prayer habits suddenly come to light and unveil themselves as utterly incapable to supporting and sustain us through arduous times.

Once young people reach a certain age, they unleash a constant complaint upon their elders. They do not want to be treated like children. When they think that their parents or teachers are reluctant to fully trust them, and remain cautiously protective, they rebel with vigour and hormone-driven rage. The young always wish that their elders would acknowledge that they are growing up.

          In the First letter to the Corinthians Paul speaks about growing up as well. Aptly enough, we can take our cue from the apostle and ask ourselves whether we are growing up as believing and faithful people of the Church. Thus, three thoughts guide this journey to a mature prayer life: (1) A child’s way of loving, (2) an adult’s way of loving, and (3) the way of moving from infancy to adulthood.

          St. Paul speaks a stunning word to us in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He states, »When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child: when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways«. (1 Cor 13,11) While this is the way of all human maturation, Paul applies it particularly to the issue of being a child that needs to grow up when it comes to loving, and thus to praying.

          A child’s perception of love is based on a very limited perception of its wants and desires. If you give it what it asks for, the action is considered loving. Just try refusing a child! Among the first words out of his or her mouth will be »Don’t you love me?«

          Naturally, this view of love from a child’s point of view is based on an incomplete picture of the world, of relationship and of community. A child believes that mother and father are present precisely to meet their needs. It is a one way street. There is little if any consideration of responsibility or reciprocity. Children do not automatically understand that there are more people that need us than just them, and find it painful to comprehend how we could pursue other interests when they want our attention, time and energy.

          Nothing about this is sinful, evil or inadequate, as long as we are speaking of children. It is the prerogative of the children to know a love that shields them completely and without cost. It is the birthright of children to know a love that revolves around them, meets their needs, soothes their worries, salves their bruises of skin and spirit, and wipes tears from their cheeks. It is the very essence of being a child to grow in the knowledge of a love to which you can flee before every terror of the night. They are supposed to relish a love into which you can cuddle until sorrow has ebbed. They are entitled to a love which you can cling to when the world seems much too large a place for those of the midget variety.

          This is the first and critical stage of learning love. We must be children. It is the way we learn love from Jesus himself. In Jesus we learn of a Father (Abba) who cares for every hair on our head, who sustains us with daily bread, who welcomes our deepest fear into his loving embrace and wipes the tears from our eyes. When men and women enter into deeper conversion in their lives, they need to experience this phase of love very keenly. They need to know themselves loved beyond performance, like beloved children, like Jesus in the Jordan before his Father. »This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased«.

(To be continued)


Erik Riechers SAC, June 14th, 2021



God sees more in us than we see in ourselves


11. Sunday B 2021                       Mk 4, 26–34


The text that precedes these two parables speak of 4 forms of earth and how they bear fruit, or not. 

The earth is the image of the human heart and Jesus addresses the four forms of receptivity to found in that heart.

Hard earth means no receptivity.

Rocky earth represents blocked receptivity.

Thorny earth is the image of stifled receptivity.

Good earth symbolizes healthy receptivity.

What gets a little lost in all of this is the good earth. It is not commented on in a particularly satisfying way. »On good soil the word is sown among those who hear it and receive it and bear fruit thirtyfold, even sixtyfold and a hundredfold.« (Mk 4:20)

When we ponder the three forms of unresponsiveness in the human heart, there are clear strategies of the spirit to deal with them.

If your heart is hard, soften it.

If your heart is blocked, go beneath the surface, seek out, sift out and remove the blockages that hinder life from unfolding.

If your heart is stifled, remove by the roots whatever is strangling and suffocating the new life that is trying to develop within you.

But what should we do with the good earth? 

The answer of today's parables is simple: nothing. Leave the good earth, the receptive heart alone. Just let it do its work.

We need to take a deep breath and relax for a moment. When remove hardness, blockage and suffocating elements, we always make a simple but beautiful discovery: what remains is always the food earth. When it comes to a good and receptive heart, it is never about creating one, but about freeing it from all that is preventing it from being what is was created to be. We are not in the business to creating good earth. We are simple freeing it up. 

Here Jesus explains how the good earth works, how a receptive heart is developed and maintained in us.

In the first parable he suggests that we learn to trust the natural growth process of the heart. When contact is made between the seed (the word) and the good earth (the receptive heart), a process of development will begin. But this process is more mysterious than we think and we should not interfere with it hastily.

The sower sleeps and »rises again, it becomes night and becomes day, the seed germinates and grows and the man does not know how«. The sower's interference will add nothing to the growth process. There is a pattern in the growth that happens when seed and soil (word and heart) work well together. This pattern shows us that a multiplication of life unfolds gradually. The seed and the earth produce, »first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.«  Eventually there will be maturity and harvest, and the seed will then become bread. 

If interference in the process is already discouraged, then cooperation with the process consists of attentiveness. We need to perceive the mysterious growth. We want the greater for the people, that they have more faith, life and joy. But the greater is contained in the lesser and will emerge from it. Here we need to be more attentive.

In other words, the whole process cannot be recognized at once. The full grain is in the ear, and the ear is in the stalk. The hundredfold is in the sixtyfold, and the sixtyfold is in the thirtyfold.

This teaching of Jesus is meant as a consolation. It is all there. Let it grow. For this, God gives us time and space. Becoming good earth that produces fruitful life is what we certainly all want. But that doesn't mean we have to personally direct and manage all the growth. It does not even mean that we have to understand it. 

The process of growth requires trust and cooperation from us.

People need

- our patience, (space and time) so that life has a chance to unfold in the way that is right for them.

- our attention, so that we also lovingly notice what is growing in them and encourage them.

- our tender accompaniment.

What we most assuredly do not need is panic: After the seed is sown in us, we will learn about the stalk. When the stalk appears we will discover the ear; when the ear is known then the full grain will emerge.

God sees more in us than we see in ourselves. Knowing how he created us, he has deep and abiding trust that everything that we need is already there. And it is precisely this confidence that we often do not have in ourselves, in our lives and in our own hearts. It is easy to think of ourselves as a mustard seed, small and insignificant. What takes a little more work, and some getting used to, is the experience of and encounter with a God who already sees the protective, sprawling tree of life that is in our mustard see hearts and just waiting to unfold.

Psalm 92 states:

For with your work, YOU, you have made me glad,

I rejoice in the deeds of your hands.

How great are your deeds, YOU!

how deep are your plans!

How many of us have applied these words to ourselves? God certainly does.

So, don't panic! Everything we need is already here. Let's take our time, because we are allowed to grow and become greater than what we are at the present moment. Trust in the good earth of your hearts.


Erik Riechers SAC, June 13th, 2021



Where is our longing going?


We are careless with this word. We require rest or wish for more ease. We hope to become healthy or to stay healthy. We have a desire for a vacation or a desire for a delicious meal. We desire to embrace our friends again. Indeed, is there anything for which human beings cannot long?

For our longings are manifold and probably we have become much more aware of them in these times than ever before.

New and strange for many of us was the fact, that we had to wait and still have to wait, that many things cannot be satisfied as quickly as we are used to and even often claim as our right.

Therein lies a great opportunity: we can ask ourselves what lies deeper than all the needs we so quickly have on the tip of our tongue. What are we really longing for? A seriously ill woman, who has had much taken away from her, said the other day, with shining eyes, that her own long period of suffering showed her what was truly essential to her.

Let's be honest: when the wishing and the fulfilling was still easy, we were often left empty and wandered about searching for more. Let us take our deep longing gently into our hands and hold it up. Let us consider what is stirring in our hearts. Let us take our restlessness seriously, even if it is still quite diffuse. Let us endure it and dare to take a new look.

Andreas Knapp has had his experiences with this and shares it with us in this way:

from god's viewpoint


is our searching for god

perhaps the way he keeps us on track

and our hunger for him the means

by which he nourishes our life


is our wandering pilgrimage

the tent in which god is a guest

and our waiting for him

his patient knocking


is our longing for god

the flame of his presence

and our doubt the space

in which god believes in us

(from: Andreas Knapp, Höher als der Himmel 2018)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 11th,  2021



What is your life worth to you?


To all those who say: But I'm allowed to criticize a little bit, aren't I?

A parable.


The man sat down in the chair with a thud. His companion raised his eyebrows at this rather dour arrival and responded with graciousness. »Welcome. It is good to see you again. Please feel free to order whatever you wish from the menu. You are my guest today.«

But the glowering guest seemed impervious to the graciousness of his host. He snapped at the waitress: »Bring me a cappuccino!«, tossed the menu at her, and waved her off dismissively. It is really quit astonishing how mortals can develop an immunity to kindness.

Having cocked an eyebrow again his host said: »Come now, let us relax and enjoy each other’s company, good coffee, fresh air and warm sunshine. You came, because you wanted to talk. So let’s do that and have a grand conversation.«

From the chapped lips of the guest, however, poured a litany of complaint. Relentlessly, he critiqued every slight, real or imagined, that he has encounter in the past weeks. When the waitress brought his cappuccino, he did not bother to favour her with either a word of thanks or a glance. Instead he took one sip and muttered, »Can’t even brew a decent cup of coffee in this place. And by the time this waitress brings it, it isn’t even hot anymore.«

While the young woman walked back into the restaurant, the guest leaned back in his chair, exhausted from the heavy burden of judging and condemning the world. It really is quite exhausting when you have to do God’s work for him. Now he sat expectantly, awaiting from his host the consolation and affirmation so rightfully his.

»What is your life worth to you?«, asked his host.

The man was utterly flustered. »Whatever do you mean?«

»Well, I have listened to your demands for all this time. You have clear and massive expectations of what you believe others should be doing for your life. You itemize quite painstakingly all the efforts they should be making to entertain, sooth, satisfy and carry the burdens of your life.

But, what is your life worth to you? What time and space are you investing in learning and growing, expanding the horizons of you concern? What efforts are you making at serious living? What steps are you taking toward becoming a person of greater kindness and courtesy? Are you willing to make the effort of having a grand conversation, or are you settling for these wearisome monologues of self-referential complaint? Are you working at helping to carry the burdens of life, or are you merely a burden the rest of us are expected to carry? Are you growing up? What about your engagement? Or are you still sitting on the fence and critiquing the life in others you are not willing to live yourself? Do you make as much effort in knowing others as you expect them to make to know every whim, fancy and desire of yours?

What is your life worth to you? After all, if your do not value your life enough to do any of these things for it, why should anyone else? If you do not care enough to make it beautiful, beloved and attractive, why should anyone else bother?«

The guest blustered and sputtered. »But I'm allowed to criticize a little bit, aren't I?« When his host did not respond, he rose from the chair of hospitality that he had turned into a throne of judgement and stomped off.

The host watched him disappear into the distance. He then summoned the waitress and paid her for the coffees, paid her an exorbitant tip and paid her an exquisite compliment for her kind, thoughtful and attentive service. Then he whispered a word into her ear and walked away, whistling a cheerful tune.

In the restaurant, the barista asked the young waitress what had taken place out on the patio.

»The man who stomped off was a sniper.«

The barista laughed in disbelief. »A sniper. What makes you say something like that?«

The waitress looked intently at him. »Yes, a sniper. He takes the shot at others, but it too cowardly to engage openly in the battle of life, where he would risk some wounds of his own.«

»Is that what the host whispered into your ear«, the barista inquired, unable to hide his curiosity.

»No«, she laughed. »He apologised for his guest’s poor manners and then told me: Petty criticism is always exercised by those who bring no positive and creative contribution of their own to the world.«


Erik Riechers SAC, June 9th, 2021



How shall we live?


One day, visitors came to a hermit. They asked him, »What meaning do you see in your life of silence? « He was busy drawing water. He was drawing it from a cistern. He thought and said, »Look into the cistern. What do you see? «

The people looked into the cistern, »We see nothing. «

After a while, the hermit asked the visitors again, » Look into the cistern. What do you see?« They looked down and said, »Now we see ourselves! «

The hermit said, »When I drew water earlier, the water was turbulent and you could not see anything. Now the water is calm, and you see yourselves. This is the experience of stillness. «


Some of the experiences of the last 15 months, for most of us, have been significantly greater peace, far fewer distractions, less being driven, and more time.

How did we fill it? How did we use it? Did we take an honest look at ourselves? Were we able to discover anything essential about ourselves and for our lives? Or was it all just a terribly long wait for the world to offer us again all that we supposedly need to live?

The hermit of our little story did not dismiss his visitors so quickly. For he continued: »And now wait for a while. « And after a while he said again, » Now look into the well. What do you see?"«

The people looked down: » Now we see the stones at the bottom of the well. «

Then the monk explained, » If you wait long enough, you will get to the bottom of all things. «


Perceiving the ground of all things helps us to stand well in life; deeply rooted, firmly anchored and truly grounded, we can embrace and shape our present. Thus, we do not waver with every wind, always in danger of losing our footing and always tempted to cling to external things. Then we become inwardly free from external circumstances. Of course, part of life is enjoying celebrations together, good meals, and beautiful trips - but just not in the way of circling like vultures around the next thrill. The old saying of        » less is more « is true: then we live more consciously, more mindfully and more intensively.

With this in mind, I give you a poem by Andreas Knapp:

                                     Rules for Real Presence

we have no open-ended contract

with life

Time gives itself only

from now to the moment


do not waste your time

and do not kill it either

like a fly that pesters

do not pick the day apart


use the windows of time

for silent gazing


inhabit your body


do not pass by the rose on the way

stay and breathe in its fragrance

only the moment is real

when will you live, if not now

 (from: Andreas Knapp, Gedichte auf Leben und Tod, 2016: trans: E. Riechers)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 7th,  2021



Denying the Truth we already Know


10. Sunday B 2021                       Mk 3, 20–35


The Scribes level an astonishing accusation against Jesus. 

»And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’«

The problem here is straightforward: the scribes themselves know full well that what they are saying cannot be true. Theologically well versed, they know that that what they are saying is a total contradiction to fundamental truths of faith, which they themselves teach and uphold.

»And he called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.’«

What Jesus points to in all of this is a basic truth: Evil never acts against its own self-interest. It is what utterly separates it from the good. Good people can act against self-interest: they share their bread, even when they are hungry, make sacrifices, do not practice human sacrifice, that ageless willingness to sacrifice others to suffering and pain simply in order that we might live better and with greater ease. They can transcend themselves.

The evil never do this. Evil knows only one interest, and that is self-interest. It will never act against its self-interest. Thus, why would the ruler of demons help drive out other demons? Since when do demons lend a helping hand to exorcists?

The scribes are not stupid. They know how specious this argument is. What they are doing here, Jesus will clearly name:

»Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.«

Jesus calls this blasphemy against the spirit. It is what happens when we know the truth full well, but deny it in order to suit our purposes. We speak an untruth so that we do not have to face the truth we have already recognised, but cannot bear to affirm. We do it so that we do not have to admit what we do not want to be true. We would rather lie about the truth we know in order to deny it, than accept the reality before our eyes. Even the theologically illiterate know that only a person filled with the power of God can drive out demons. But to admit this, is to admit that Jesus is filled with the power of God, and this is the truth the scribes cannot accept. Since the spirit will lead us into all truth, then to deny the truth the spirit has already given us is a blasphemy against the spirit.

The problem goes very deep. This is what happens when we repeat the lie so long to ourselves, that eventually even we begin to believe it. We deny what we already know and recognise until we no longer know and recognise it. 

This sin, which clings forever to us, lies not within the content of the lie, but in the process of lying, in the process of denial. Look at the people in the USA still going on with the lie that the presidential election of 2020 was stolen from Donald Trump. They accept no forgiveness, no pardon, and no offer to come together now for the good of the country. Why? Because they have told this lie for so long and so convincingly, that they believe it themselves. And because they believe it, they cannot accept forgiveness, reconciliation and the offer to move on. Despite all the evidence, they believe they do not need pardon and forgiveness, because they are convinced they are in the right.

»But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.« Such as these will not find forgiveness, but not because God would not offer it. They will never find forgiveness, because they will never accept it. This is never as far away from us as we would like to think. How hard is it to admit goodness, kindness, truth or generosity in people we dislike? Can we readily admit the truth when it comes from someone we cannot stand? Will we accept that Holy Spirit is at work when we encounter that work in people who think differently, vote differently, and choose differently from us?

In a world full of conspiracy theories from the origins of Covid 19 to wearing masks as a government plot, we are witnessing how far people will go to maintain their personal view of things, no matter how overwhelming and conclusive the facts of life are. They have often done great harm even to the point of endangering others. But even if we extend our hand to them and offer a way forward in peace and forgiveness, will they accept forgiveness, or merely continue to insist that they were right all along?


Erik Riechers SAC, June 6th, 2021



For what shall we pray?


I encounter tired faces in these weeks. When I inquire, the voices sound heavy and burdened. »It is enough«, says one of them and refers to the limitations imposed by the pandemic. »I have lost my sense of lightness«, laments another.

I also meet people with happy eyes. » My daughter has survived several operations. She's alive «, one jubilantly remarks.  » My husband and I were sick with Corona and had to stay in the hospital for several weeks. Now we are well again - despite our age », rejoices the other.

These different perceptions of life make me think.

Do we humans have a right to a simple, easy, and unstressed life? Or can we only gain true lightness when we are deeply anchored and storms do not set us adrift?

Do we already lose perspective when our lives become somewhat limited externally? Or do we make experiences of what is truly essential and thus gain a wide view?

Can we still be grateful? Do we have a counterpart for our gratitude, before whom we can express it?

And what petitions do we carry in our hearts? Are we spoiled children or are we becoming mature, powerful people?

For what could we pray?

Psalm 138 comes to my aid. David, the person who prays, shows us that he consciously and very clearly decides to give thanks and praise; he says »I will« four times! The answer he has received from God is life-giving. Therefore, he can say, » my strength of soul you have awakened «. The strength was already there, but God's closeness and accompaniment awakens it, sets it free. In this way he can act and walk, even when it becomes difficult and oppressive, always knowing that it is God who keeps him alive and completes what he himself cannot accomplish. Thus, he does not ask for a comfortable life and the removal of dangers. He is grateful for the power awakened in him. With it and from it, he acts and lets God accomplish what is beyond his ability. Perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of his prayer:

I will give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;

before the gods I will sing your praise;

I will bow down toward your holy temple

and I will give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,

for you have exalted above all things

your name and your word.[a]

On the day I called, you answered me;

my strength of soul you have awakened.

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth,

and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,

for great is the glory of the Lord.

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,

but the haughty he knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

you preserve my life;

you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,

and your right hand delivers me.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 4th, 2021



There’s a better day a coming


In the exuberant Gospel spiritual »In That Great Gettin' Up Morning« there is a line that always makes us pause. »There’s a better day a coming.«

It is easy to admire the sentiment and to sing it until it is our turn to experience the reality from which this song was born. This is not a cheap tonic sold to us by some self-esteem guru. These words were birthed in a time of shattering and severe oppression. It was sung by people who knew that their owners aimed at breaking the human spirit and enslaving not just the body, but the soul of the people it fettered and chained. Out of this darkness, a people found the inner wellsprings of hope in the grand biblical stories. And these stories of God led them to proclaim that a better day is coming. They sang about that day, before they could see it. They sang about that day before they could experience once iota of its promise. A people in slavery sang this song.

Yesterday we rolled out our Siebenquell program for the second half of 2021. Weeks and indeed months of preparation have gone into it. It speaks of more than planning and organisation. We presented the program early, months before we start with the first event, to restore unto our people a horizon of hope, to ensure that they will have a perspective beyond the past days of limitation and restriction. It is our way of singing: There’s a better day a coming.

To plan for the future is to set a sign of hope. It gives us the motivation to move forward towards that better day, before we actually stand in its embrace. It encourages us to prepare a welcome for it. It is really a very simple thing, yet it can easily obscure a brilliant truth. Only those who have a genuine hope and expectation for a future ever bother to prepare for one.

And it about resisting the powers that would break the human spirit. We planned for the second half of the year even while the first half of it changed every plan we had forged. Yet, even while we were forced to change our plans, it did not lead us to abandon hope and the will to serve the gift of life. In some form or other, we found a way to tell the stories of God and faith and home that mattered so deeply to us.

When Jesse Jackson lost his bid to become the nominee of the Democratic Party for President in 1988, he gave a rousing speech about a better day that was coming. He did not sulk, pout or withdraw from the fray. Instead he gave an impassioned outline of his plans for the future, the causes he would fight for. At the end of it, he shared with the audience the spirit that drove him:

»Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don’t you surrender!

Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint.

You must not surrender! You may or may not get there but just know that you’re qualified! And you hold on, and hold out! We must never surrender!! …Keep hope alive! On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive!«

Despite all the surprises, incalculable elements and unforeseeable risks that the future holds, including the disappointment it can also bring with it at times, we carry on and we plan, and we keep hope alive. There’s a better day a coming. Believe it, deeply and passionately. The many hindrances and obstacles of the journey cannot extinguish the yearning within us.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn

Erik Riechers SAC, June 2nd, 2021





After almost ten years, I picked up a book and began to read it again. I was astonished by how much I no longer remembered. It was almost a new discovery. - »The Italian Shoes« by Henning Mankell. I soon came to a passage that has remained with me ever since. At the first encounter of the protagonists after almost four decades, Harriet reminds the storyteller of a promise that he once made to her; she calls it the »only truly beautiful promise« she had ever received. Then she lays it out for him: »One constantly receives promises… One makes them oneself. One listens to the promises others make. Politicians, who speak of a better life for the aging, of a medical care in which no has open wounds. Of banks, which make promises about high interest rates, products the promise weight loss, and creams that guarantee an aging with less wrinkles.  Life is nothing but a cruise in your small boat between a changing but never ending stream of promises.«

I paused. Indeed, if we bind out lives to what is said to us through the media, then we are delivered up unto a flood of promises. If we believe them and bet on their fulfilment, we will be repeatedly disillusioned and have the experience that nothing changes, neither in my bank account nor on my skin. That is frustrating. It will be the cause of much disgruntlement, but I can protect myself against that. It helps me, for example, to see them for what they often are: Temptations not for my own good, but for the personal benefit of the one who promises something here.

I find it different with promises which a person personally makes to me. They apply to me. I trust that they will be kept. If this does not happen, we speak of a broken promise.

»Broken promises are like shadows that dance in the twilight. The older I get the clearer I see them«, says Harriet to the person who had once made the »only truly beautiful promise« to her and who now, grown old and gravely ill, insists it be kept. It was a promise that had spoken from heart to heart at the time: he wanted to show her a place that was deeply connected to a moment of his childhood.

It is deeply inherent in us humans that we take seriously and trust what others promise us. This is vital and existentially important and is laid down in the basic trust of our earliest childhood. Even if we have to wait a long time for its fulfillment, we usually do not forget it. It is the same with everything we promise others. Let's take an honest look at the last 15 months: To whom did we promise attention and time? What did we promise to do differently when the crisis is over? Do we even remember what we promised? Do we bother to remind each other of our promises?

These are the questions we must face if this extraordinary time is to bear fruit and allow us to grow as individuals and as a community.

The Bible often speaks of God's steadfast love and faithfulness. God turns to us benevolently and he is faithful. He keeps his word. Again and again, people tell of exactly this experience, like the prayer of the 40th Psalm: » As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!.«

We are of His kind. Let us dare to make promises to one another and strive to keep them. Then we will live as God's people and not as sacrilegious people whose words are empty and evaporate like chaff.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 31st,2021



In which love do we want to dwell?


Trinity Sunday 2021                       Mt 28, 16–20


Therefore go and make disciples of all nations;

baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


With these words, we know in whose name we baptize them. But that will not be enough. After all, we are not only saying that God is Triune, but that we are being drawn into the life of the Trinity. Then the question arises, what is the relationship into which we have all been baptised?

Richard of St. Victor (1110-1173), a thinker of the Middle Ages and one of the most important theologians in Paris will probably not mean much to most of you. But from him I gained a very deep and helpful insight about the life of the Trinity.

In his work De Trinitate, he describes the life of the Trinity as a mutual friendship between the three persons. He calls this relationship an absolute friendship.

Since you probably lent your copy of the collected works of Richard of St. Victor to a friend, I will briefly summarize his thoughts.

He begins by saying, »God is good. But to be good, God must be only one.«

Then he says that God is also loving, but to love, God must be two, because all love is a relationship of giving and receiving.

Then Richard of St. Victor comes to the part that always excites me, because he says that God is also filled with pleasurable joy and happiness, thoughts that are not foreign to the biblical narrative but that hardly ever occur when we tell the stories of God. But to be filled with pleasurable joy and happiness, God must be three. Pleasurable joy comes about only when two enjoy and rejoice in the same thing together at the same time. As an example, he cites new parents who love their new child and cannot stop admiring the child together. This love has matured and developed. Originally, this love flowed back and forth between husband and wife. But now it flows in an infinite circle, between mother, father and child. Each of the three has its part in generating and carrying forth desire and love.  And this is what Richard of St. Victor calls true, absolute friendship.

I like that very much. The theology of this extraordinary man places friendship at the very heart of God.

This friendship that is able to love beyond itself is the culmination of a human life. It must have its source in God, for God is the author of all goodness and love. Authentic love goes from the self to the other and does not stay with two, for they will want to share that love with another. To experience, feel and enjoy the fullness of love, we seek one who will share our love for the beloved, for that which we so love. Richard sees friendship in the Trinity as a breaking-out, beyond the two to include a third. The third is in no way less loved than the other two, for love flows equally in all directions. Just ask the beloved child of two loving parents.

We are baptized into this friendship, indeed, we are immersed into it. The people we love most deeply, with great devotion and out of complete freedom, will never simply be the people who love us. The people of the deepest, truest friendship are those who also love what we love. How can one parent say to the other, »I love you but not our child«, without diminishing, or even destroying the love that already have? How do I say to a friend, I love you, but not what you love with all your heart?

In the best case scenario of love, both parents fall in love with the challenge and joy that is their newborn child. The child they are in love with holds the couple together in a kind of ecstatic and serviceable excitement. Love then is not a feat of strength; it flows in each new moment between the one who agrees to set the flow in motion, the second who receives and reciprocates the flow, and the third who becomes the beneficiary and the flow itself. And they keep changing places!

Ponder on this mystery. Then ask yourself, if there is any other place you would rather be.


Erik Riechers SAC, May 30th, 2021



The Choice that leads us to new Stories


In my reflection »The Stories that guide us to new choices«, I spoke of my love of Dr. Eva Edith Eger’s book »The Choice«. In it, I have found wonderful examples of the power of stories to influence our lives, to break us out of old inner prisons and to lead us to choices we would not otherwise dare and friendships we would not otherwise make.

Today I turn to another powerful effect that a good story can have. It is the long term effect of the story, which can take years, even decades to unfold its fullest power.

The line of Viktor Frankl’s book that Eva Edith Eger considers to be the heart of his teaching is this:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Many years later, Dr. Eger receives an invitation to visit and teach in Germany. She is to speak to 600 US army chaplains about her area of expertise, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, she will be in Berchtesgaden, in an old alpine hotel once used by SS officers. She is very conflicted. Then she goes on to visits Auschwitz for the first time since her liberation.

Here the story that began with a book handed to her by a student flowers into fullness. She is riddled with doubt and guilt, with the unanswerable question: why died I survive and not the others. Then she makes her choice:

Could I have saved my mother? Maybe. And I will live for all of the rest of my life with that possibility. And I can castigate myself for having made the wrong choice. That is my prerogative. Or I can accept that the more important choice is not the one I made when I was hungry and terrified, when we were surrounded by dogs and guns and uncertainty, when I was sixteen; it’s the one I make now. The choice to accept myself as I am: human, imperfect. And the choice to be responsible for my own happiness. To forgive my flaws and reclaim my innocence. To stop asking why I deserved to survive. To function as well as I can, to commit myself to serve others, to do everything in my power to honor my parents, to see to it that they did not die in vain. To do my best, in my limited capacity, so future generations don’t experience what I did. To be useful, to be used up, to survive and to thrive so I can use every moment to make the world a better place. And to finally, finally stop running from the past. To do everything possible to redeem it, and then let it go. I can make the choice that all of us can make. I can’t ever change the past. But there is a life I can save: It is mine. The one I am living right now, this precious moment.*

I think this is the hardest choice of all, to forgive ourselves for what we were unable to be or to do, and to choose life. Dr. Eger’s words are one of the purest and rawest expression of Deuteronomy’s words: I place before you blessing and curse, life and death. Choose life that you might live.

We do not have the luxury of always choosing the time and the place where we must choose life. Most of us are spared the experience of Auschwitz, but many men and women are traumatized by other cruelties and hardships and blows.

And to the vast campus of death that consumed my parents and so very many others, to the classroom of horror that still had something sacred to teach me about how to live - that I was victimized but I’m not a victim, that I was hurt but not broken, that the soul never dies, that meaning and purpose can come from deep in the heart of what hurts us the most - I utter my final words. Goodbye, I say. And, Thank you. Thank you for life, and for the ability to finally accept the life that is.*

Viktor Frankl gave his story to the world, a man gave Frankl’s story to a frightened woman, traumatised by the same events, and she went on to tell her story to many others. And I pass her story on to you. There will never be an end to it. After a hard 15 months of pandemic restrictions, losses and uncertainties, perhaps this story will lead us to new choices, maybe even to forgive ourselves for not being and doing everything we thought we should have, and to turn back to these days and say: »Goodbye, I say. And, Thank you. Thank you for life, and for the ability to finally accept the life that is.«

* Edith Eva Eger, The Choice: Embrace the Possible (Scribner: 2017), 232-233

Erik Riechers SAC, May 28th, 2021



The Stories that guide us to new choices


In the last year, I read many, many books. If someone were to ask me to which book I returned most often, I would undoubtedly say »The Choice«, by Edith Eva Eger. The book is a fascinating account of her life, from her childhood in Budapest to her survival of Auschwitz, to her emigration to the United States, on to her own development into a therapist specialising in the treatment of people suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

But it is the message at the heart of the book that keeps bringing me back to it. And that message is that we have a choice and through these choices we can form and even fashion our lives and the world around us.

Dr. Eger describes how at the very start of her university studies, a fellow student gives her a copy of Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. This alone enchanted me, for it is vivid example of the way in which stories enter our lives and change their direction.

In this case, Dr. Eger finds a voice that tells a story she knows but has not been able to face, let alone tell, in her own life.

[Frankl] is speaking to me. He is speaking for me. . . . I am staring directly at the thing I have sought to hide. And as I read, I find that I don’t feel shut down or trapped, locked back in that place. To my surprise, I don’t feel afraid. For every page I read, I want to write ten. What is telling my story could lighten its grip instead of tightening it? What is speaking about the past could heal it instead of calcify it? What is silence and denial aren’t the only choices to make in the wake of catastrophic loss? *

This is the power of a good story: to give us words and images for experiences we deeply have known, but cannot formulate. The stories are the companions who give us the courage to look at and tell the buried stories of pain. The stories can liberate us from old demons by showing us unseen horizons, untrodden path and untried possibilities. And they teach us, that we are not alone, even in the nightmares we have suffered.

Dr. Eger goes on to make a life-changing discovery:

I read this, which is at the very heart of Frankl’s teaching: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Each moment is a choice. No matter how frustrating or boring or constraining or painful or oppressive our experience, we can always choose how we respond. And I finally begin to understand that I, too, have a choice. This realization will change my life.**

Later, she will make a first attempt to tell her own story in an essay entitled »Viktor Frankl and Me«. She is overwhelmed when she receives a letter Viktor Frankl which begins with the greeting, »From one survivor to another«. The two will become friends. Moreover, he will take on the role of a mentor and accompany her path to becoming a much sought after therapist.

All of this comes about, because someone handed her a story to read. Stories do not just open up new horizons and possibilities, hitherto unseen and unnoticed, they also lead us to companions and guide us to friendships we might otherwise have never known.

* Edith Eva Eger, The Choice: Embrace the Possible (Scribner: 2017), 155.

** Ibid. 156

Erik Riechers SAC, May 26th, 2021



Be Something Beautiful for God


Pentecost 2021                        Sirach 39, 12-16


I have more on my mind to express;

I am full like the full moon.


Listen to me, my faithful children, and blossom

like a rose growing by a stream of water.


Send out fragrance like incense,

and put forth blossoms like a lily.


Scatter the fragrance, and sing a hymn of praise;

bless the Lord for all his works.


Ascribe majesty to his name

and give thanks to him with praise,

with songs on your lips, and with harps;

this is what you shall say in thanksgiving:


All the works of the Lord are very good,

and whatever he commands will be done at the appointed time.


Pentecost is the feast of mission, the moment when the Spirit touches us, sets us on fire and frees us from the confines of the rooms we withdraw into, so that we might move into the wider spaces God would have us touch.

But there is always an accompanying question to our movement from the cenacle to the city. How do we live this out? I do not doubt that we are bringing our spirit-filled faith into the world, but I often and increasingly have the impression that we do in a severely stripped down form. That is why I chose these words of Jesus Sirach, for as gorgeous as they are, they also pose an urgent question to us.

Indeed, we »bless the Lord for all his works«, but seldom scatter the fragrance. 

We most certainly »ascribe majesty to his name«, but we are not overly concerned about being as fragrant as incense while doing so.

Christian proclamation, synodal processes, theological debate as to what the urgent issues of our time are, Church documents and church reforms, have become a grim business. The ultimate impression that it all leaves behind is well captured by the commentator who remarked: They are a rather joyless lot.

I know, of course, that living a life suffused with faith is a serious business. But in the course of going out to the whole world, we have lost contact with a deeply held desire of God, of which Jesus Sirach reminds us. We are supposed to flourish and grow while we gather the folks, tell the stories and break the bread.

Recently, I took part in Vespers. Good and holy women demonstrated grim determination to get the business of praising God done, and done right. Page after page of praise was recited, outlining in vivid, painstaking detail all the reasons we humans have for proclaiming to the world that this is our God.

But I must add, it was hardly attractive, inspiring or appealing. It had something harsh and cold about it. At one point, I simply thought to myself: Where are we in all of this? Is it really enough to say we made sure God has received his daily dose of praise without asking what God desires for us? When it comes to the works of the Lord, the Psalmist describes the Pentecost mission this way: »We will not hide them from their descendants. We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders that he has done.« (Psalm 78,4) . But I ask myself, is this the way we want to tell the next generation the stories of God? Is this the way in which the experience of Pentecost wishes to send us into the world?

Or is it not true, that the greatest and most profoundly convincing argument of God’s presence has always been the effect his story has on our lives? 

If we do not »blossom like a rose growing by a stream of water« while telling the stories of God, but instead whither on the vine, dried out, living grey, colourless and drab lives,then what do we expect the response of others to be to our invitation? What is the motto of such telling? Misery enjoys company?

If in our stories of faith, we do not »send out fragrance like incense«, but add to the

fuming anger, accusation and recrimination that marks nearly all public discourse, where is the attractive quality in that? In a world that is flooded with the by-products of rage and bitter diatribe, there is hardly need to bring more of the same.

If the stories we tell of our journey with God do not lead us to »put forth blossoms like a lily«, but contribute to the ugliness and mean-spiritedness of public discourse, then we are simply adding fuel to an already brightly burning fire. But we are certainly not lighting a new flame.

If our stories do not lead us to »scatter the fragrance«, but instead to clutch the little bit of mystery we have grasped to ourselves, lock it into our hearts of private devotion, and jealously guard it for our personal edification, then we act like beggars while proclaiming that we come from a good, wide land of plenty. Perfume that never leaves the bottle, cannot fulfil its destiny.

In the experience of Pentecost, God most certainly wants us to serve the life of the world, but he also most assuredly wants us to live and flourish while we do so. We speak of the Spirit as the Lord and Giver of Life, but the tellers of Spirit-woven stories, are just as entitled to be recipients of life. We are supposed to relish it, not just proclaim it

We are not just to make the world more beautiful, but relish and enter into that beauty ourselves: »We do not want merely to see beauty... we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.«   C.S. Lewis 

We are supposed to grow, in beauty as well as in strength.

Our lives are supposed to unfold in attractiveness as well as in industriousness.

We are meant to blossom, not just to produce.

I never knew a man who took beauty as seriously as John O’Donohue. He referred to it as a human calling. 

»Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. And I think, when we cross a new threshold, that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing, then, we cross onto new ground, where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.«

The same John O’Donohue once poetically confessed a secret wish of his heart. »I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.« What would that look like?

Listen to me, my faithful children, and blossom

like a rose growing by a stream of water.

Send out fragrance like incense,

and put forth blossoms like a lily.

Scatter the fragrance, and sing a hymn of praise.


If those words describe out way of being in the world and of offering welcome in our world, the quality of our witness will be exceptionally attractive.


Erik Riechers SAC, Pentecost, May 23th, 2021



There are still storytellers: »Theater by a thread«


Where are the storytellers for our youth, children and grandchildren?

Which stories are offered to them? Wherefrom can they nourish themselves?

These questions have occupied me for a long time, and not just academically. Anyone who works with children in daycare centers and schools or in a private environment often experiences children who show little imagination and only want to be entertained. They are also quickly distracted, unable to immerse themselves into one thing. They lack perseverance and enthusiasm. All this is not surprising if we consider what the everyday life of many children is like. They spend most of the day under the control of others, are driven everywhere, and are rarely out and about in nature. There are seldom any free times with leisure and spaces that inspire the imagination, and often there are no adults at their side to listen to them, to tell stories and read aloud to them, or to seek out small adventures with them. The television or the tablet are more likely to serve this purpose: the images are predetermined, the stories are never adapted to the children's particular situation, and they are passive consumers. There is great deal more that could be said about this. 

It pains me to observe this and it worries me. I ask myself: Where do children today still encounter real storytellers and living stories?

At the beginning of May, I was walking through Stuttgart's west end with my youngest grandson and his parents when suddenly my gaze was drawn to a courtyard. It was as if, in the middle of the affluent world of this part of town, a window opened into an enchanted other world. I remembered that I had glanced into this old, somewhat chaotic courtyard once before in the winter; at the time, it had been barren and empty. But now many faces looked at me, colours sparkled, as fairy-tale and exotic figures seemed to come to life. They were just waiting to start moving and to speak to us.

These were large marionettes and they belonged to the »Theater by a thread«; the puppets peopled the staircase and lured us into the courtyard. My daughter looked around and remarked: » I feel exactly how I would have immersed myself here as a child.« 

My heart grew wide: They still exist, the storytellers, the wizards of new worlds. They have survived the pandemic and offer themselves again for the summer. Children have sat here before and they will sit here again and let themselves be whisked away to enchanted worlds.

So let us not lose heart! And let us be inspired again and again!

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 21, 2021

Nächster Abschnitt

The Choice Between what is Right and what is Easy


In J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore, the wise and ingenious headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, speaks a warning to his young protégé:

»Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.«

This is an admirable distinction, because it offers a surprising twist. Normally we pose the classic choice as being between right and wrong. Yet, the much more realistic, and therefore difficult, choice we face is between that which is easy and that which is right.

While we all make wrong choices, we seldom make them out of a desire to do what is inappropriate or morally incorrect and false. We choose the wrong path, because it is the easier path, the path of least resistance.

In the inimitable language of the biblical stories, this choice is described quite succinctly. We are called to choose between the fullness of life, or an easy life. Fullness is not easy. Yet, our language often betrays us. I cannot count the number of times people have come for spiritual direction because they seek a greater fullness in a life that has become unbearable. Yet, the moment I show them possible paths to that fullness, the words shoot out of them: »That is not that easy!« They are right, but easy is not the issue. We all have a choice to make. Do we want life and life in fullness? Or do we want an easy life? Because we will most assuredly not have both.

When this pandemic comes to an end, we will have some decisions to make. »Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.« It would be very foolish indeed to believe that the days after Covid-19 will be sunshine and lollipops. Greed, consumerism and radical individualism are already hammering away at the common good and human fraternity. That is the easy choice, but hardly the right one. Instead, we could ask: Will we seek to be more connected? Will we see anew how much we needed one another all along? Will we repair some of the damage we have inflicted on others and on ourselves?

Hear and heed the poetic words of John O’Donohue:

»You are in this time of the interim

Where everything seems withheld

The path you took to get here has washed out;

The way forward is still concealed from you.

The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.«

In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells another wizard, that he wishes that he had been spared from the happenings of his time. Gandalf replies with a wisdom of the deep heart: »So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.«

In grand stories wizards often are the bearers of great wisdom about making choices that change life. I assume, that this wisdom can be found in the grand story of God in which we all characters.


Erik Riechers SAC, May, 19th, 2021



Guided by what?


It is not the case, as we like to claim, that we cannot help but act this way or that, as if what we do has no alternative. No, we have a wealth of possibilities for thinking, deciding and acting. We have to look at this diversity, endure it, weigh it up and then choose. Indeed, this is sometimes quite exhausting; it is not a laissez-faire lifestyle in which I take a sniff here and there at whim.

Diversity forces me and all of us to make choices that have consequences.

But how do we arrive at the good choice, to sustainable life decisions? More than a year ago, in the face of the spreading pandemic, the American philosopher and author Charles Eisenstein addressed these questions in many essays. For him, the subject matter is made particularly clear by the crisis - which is still ongoing - but the question of what guides us always applies. Because:

» A million forking paths lie before us. . . . 

What can guide us, as individuals and as a society, as we walk the garden of forking paths?

 At each junction, we can be aware of what we follow: fear or love, self-preservation or generosity.

Shall we live in fear and build a society based on it?

Shall we live to preserve our separate selves? . . .  

It is that a next step into love lies before us.

It feels daring, but not reckless.

It treasures life, while accepting death.

And it trusts that with each step,

the next will become visible.«


Let us look at Jesus path through life and his way of living and gratefully perceive what a Master we have!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May, 17th, 2021



How should life go on after this?


7th Sunday of Easter 2021                        Acts 1, 15–17.20ac–26


When a great era or a particularly intense time in our lives comes to an end, we automatically ask ourselves one question: How should life go on after this?

The disciples are also faced with this question after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Equipped with the Lord's commission to be his witnesses, they must now shape the life of faith and guide and accompany the community of believers. This includes that they need to look for a successor for a colleague successively lost, first to greed, then to betrayal and finally to hopelessness, Judas Iscariot. 

The criterion for the successor is clear: 

So one of the men who have accompanied us

during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

 beginning from the baptism of John

until the day when he was taken up from us—

one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.

But even though Peter and the apostles pose their questions to the future successor through these two criteria of being constantly present with Jesus and being an eyewitness of the resurrection, the candidates who are nominated, »Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias«, must also ask themselves a question: Can I be a successor instead of a pioneer?

Matthias is a man I admire very much. In his willingness to stand for and accept this election, I see in him a courage that might not be obvious at first. Because by his choice he becomes the only successor among a band of pioneers.

Being a pioneer is never easy. These are people who must be willing to be the first. They are the people who are the first to venture into the world of the new, the unknown and the unexplored. This brings a lot of challenges with it. Since they are the first, they have no one else to whom they can turn to for advice. Since they are entering uncharted territory, there are no maps to guide them, they have to scout everything out first. They have to make the paths, because there are none in the undiscovered country. There are no precedents and no previous experience to which they can refer.

At the same time, there are some advantages to being a pioneer that we usually do not consider. Pioneers have no predecessors. And because they have no predecessors, there is no one to tell them: »I have always done it this way.« Also, because they are the first, they are not constantly being compared to those who accomplished the task before them. They are free to use all their creativity, free of all prior experiences, which are so nonchalantly deemed to be normative for all who follow.

By his choice, Matthias is placed in a difficult situation. The eleven were all pioneers. There were no apostles before them. They were the first to fill this role and there was no job description. 

Matthias, in fact, must enter as the only successor in a group that all had no predecessors. That is why he is the only one of the apostles who can be compared to his predecessors, and as we all know too well, all comparisons are diabolical. Preconceived expectations can be projected onto him, an experience none of his colleagues had to undergo.

Thus, he will also experience a special pressure that all people endure who take up a position that another held before them. He will stand in the shadow of his predecessors. And that shadow can be a very dark place indeed. There we hear messages dripped into our ear, messages that corrode the self-confidence of the heart like poison: Don't be your own man, be the steward of what has gone before you.  »As it was in the beginning, so it must remain forever« is a phrase that pioneers do not hear, but all those who come after them cannot avoid it.

In all likelihood, we have all been in Matthias' situation at one time or another. We were the newbies, at school, in the company or in a group. Everyone else knows their way around, so they introduce us and tell us where to go, what to do, and how things work here. It can take quite a long time for us to find our way around.

What will certainly take much longer is to find the courage to bring ourselves into play, to contribute our thoughts and ideas. It takes a lot of self-confidence to propose something different, let alone to dare something new.

Here we experience the great challenge of Matthias. Does a successor have to be only a steward of the old ways? What kind of successor do I want to be?

Even if we are constantly compared with the people who have gone before us, we must resist this in order to be what we are from God. We will need strength and courage to use all our creativity, free from all previous experiences. It is not easy to keep what is good and still dare the new.

Today we are facing a similar situation as Matthias. When the pandemic is over, an extraordinary, intense and probably (hopefully) unique era of our lives will come to an end. Already now we are faced with the question: How should life go on after this?

So far, there has been a dominant cult of restoration. Everything is to be restored to the way it was. Economically, we wanted to restore everything. Socially, we want to be allowed to enjoy all the possibilities of consumption and entertainment again. Life after the crisis should be as it was before the crisis.

The question that is hardly raised is whether we do not have to change some things. Here would also be opportunities to carry out political, economic and social reforms. Because if we only have to restore everything and then carry on as before, we are already all only the stewards of the old.  Here, too, we could, we would have to, step out of the shadow of what we used to be. What about new ways?

Pope Francis has been asking this question since the beginning of the pandemic.

»God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economics that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labour. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded, and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that impact their lives. We need to slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth…

We need a movement of people who now we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigour…«                                                                                                                                                                                         Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. p. 6

Is this not the revolution of confidence of which Rosemarie wrote so aptly and touchingly on the day before Ascension Day? She writes: »Confidence is not to gloss over or superficially overplay things in the sense of ‘all is well’, as it is said with frightening frequency. Confidence means to trust firmly in the good that I expect. ‘Faith’ is already contained within the word. I already have faith in the good that is coming about, also by means of my help.« We should all be successors in this sense.

When we take on the roles that others had before us held and exercised, then we come to a time of transition. And for this John O'Donohue speaks words that can also bless and strengthen.

What is being transfigured here is your mind

and it is difficult and slow to become new.

The more faithfully you can endure here,

the more refined your heart will become

for your arrival in the new dawn.

                                          To  Bless the Space Between Us, p. 120


Erik Riechers SAC, May 16th, 2021





The experience of restrictive limitations is part of our lives, both permanently and temporarily. We experience limits imposed from the outside, just as each of us has his or her own inner limits. His observations during the first weeks of the pandemic inspired Willi Bruners to write a poem in March of last year about how we dealt with these new limitations. 14 months have passed since then, we have had time to pause and reflect, and, in the meantime, we have good prospects. Yet, when this text fell into my hands, I was amazed, even shocked, at how current it is.

Could it be that our inner boundaries are more rigid than those imposed on us from the outside at times?

Read it for yourself:

                 limited times

now we sit here and await the news

that we can live again as before

get into the car and drive off

get on the plane and fly away,

after all, the trip is already paid for,

so that we can dispose of the hamster purchases with expiry dates

and can dispose of them with the next garbage

that the shelves in the temples of consumption

are freshly filled with sales prices again

that the kindergartens are open again and the schools, too

the noise in the children's room was no longer bearable


oh yes, almost forgotten the refugees

at greece's borders with many children

who came unaccompanied and look with big eyes

at our plates which are still full despite the crisis

that their problems disappear with the with corona viruses as well

is an illusion that will soon be washed away by the rain

and we will wait a long time

for the news of the end of all horror even if corona

has long since ceased to lock us up in our four walls

and prevent us from visiting each other without masks


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 14th, 2021



»Revolution of Confidence«


Two huge problem areas of our earth and our time are vying for supremacy in the public consciousness: the COVID 19 pandemic and the climate catastrophe.

How do we deal with them, what are we learning?

Certainly this: a great deal lays in our hands, even if we cannot be the saviors and redeemers of the world. Therein lies a great tension that must be balanced and endured.

The coronavirus is in the world, but we know clear rules that protect us if we follow them and we now have several (!) vaccines against it.

Climate change has been apparent for a long time, but we have already recognized many connections and partially implemented solutions to positively influence the change.

In our reactions, however, we often vacillate between powerlessness and resignation in the face of major threats on the one hand, and fantasies that we can and must solve all the problems on the other.

In Frank Schätzing's new book (»What if we just save the world? Acting in the climate crisis«), the idea of a »revolution of confidence« emerges. Already the word confidence, in its truest sense, hardly seems to occur in the world of the media world - and then in this context! Indeed, it seems to me that the author is right: a revolution is needed, a profound change. Confidence is not to gloss over or superficially overplay things in the sense of »all is well«, as it is said with frightening frequency. Confidence means to trust firmly in the good that I expect. »Faith« is already contained within the word. I already have faith in the good that is coming about, also by means of my help.

The fact that we have several vaccines available so quickly has confirmed all those who confidently believed in our possibilities or worked on them as experts.

With regard to our climate, to which Schätzing dedicates himself, the »revolution of confidence« is necessary in his eyes, but also challenging. We can stare into the abyss of the planet, but we could also realize »that through consistent action ... we can move away from the abyss.«  For, as Schätzing says, we have »the option of doing better«.  And he urges us to exercise moderation » and not just focus everything on consumption, maximization and increasing profits «.

And this is where the two great issues of our day interweave. Addressing them requires revolutionary changes indeed, the goal of which can be neither »business as usual« nor »finally, back to the way things were! « Haven't we noticed in the last 14 months that life is more than what we have largely deluded ourselves into believing for decades?


Under this title »May you be sheltered!« we have been exercising a paschal, faith-filled way of seeing for 40 days.

I think we should become the leaders of a revolution of confidence.

For it has been promised us that we are never alone: »I am with you all days unto the end of the world.« (Mt 28,20)

And it has been promised us there is life throughout the darkness and beyond. Thus, we hear the women at the tomb: »He is risen; he is not here.« (Mk 16, 6)

We are the descendants of the first witnesses of whom it is said on the feast of Ascension: »And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.« (Mk 16, 20)

So let us pray, as John O'Donohue puts it in a morning prayer, that we might live compassionate of heart, clear in word, gracious in awareness, courageous  in thought, and generous in love. May we become co-creators of a change of confidence that new life is truly possible.

And let us become witnesses of hope.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 12th, 2021



The Shepherd’s Staff


Two weeks ago, I wrote a homily about Jesus as the good shepherd. Shortly after it was published on the website, I received an email with words of encouragement and gratitude that greatly strengthened my heart. Included in that email was a work of art that Karl Ditt created as a creative answer to my homily.

Stories create more stories. That is why there will never be an end to it, something for which I believe we should be far more grateful than we usually are. Today I simply wish to share the story I was given in the hope that you might share in the blessing of it. I also harbour a silent, deep hope, that the Shepherd’s staff might inspire a new story in you, perhaps awaken the slumbering good shepherd in you. Who knows? Perhaps you will find yourself reaching for the shepherd’s staff and start a whole new story of your own.


Erik Riechers SAC, 10. Mai 2021


Nächster Abschnitt

In Search of Friends amidst people accustomed to Slavery


6th Sunday of Easter 2021                          John 15, 9-17


No longer do I call you servants,

for the servant does not know what his master is doing;

but I have called you friends,

for all that I have heard from my Father

I have made known to you.

I wonder if God did us a favor with this.

To soften the shock of the text somewhat, the word »doulous« was translated as servants instead of slaves. But here we are not talking about poorly or barely paid servants. These people were deprived of their freedom, had hardly any rights, and no protection from the arbitrariness of their masters.

Jesus takes up this image to clarify the relationship between him and his apprentices. He says: »You are my friends if you do what I command you«. But whether we become those friends, engage in that relationship of trust, is our free choice. Then, as now, people, unlike slaves, simply left when it no longer suited them.

In order to perceive the urgency and also the beauty of Jesus' offer, we should carefully note the differences between slaves and friends.

Friendship is based on reciprocity

Each of Jesus' friends

is a giver and a receiver at the same time.

Slavery is a one-sided relationship.

It is about the master,

the fulfillment of his wishes

and the carrying out of his plans.

Friendship means shared responsibility.

Both sides must shape the relationship.

Slaves are not co-responsible.

They only have to carry out the plans of others.

Friendship is an experience

of discovery and adventure.

Friends must always look

what is at the moment, what is coherent,

and these roles are constantly changing.

Therefore they need sensitivity and


Slaves have a clear role,

determined from above to below,

and they have a fixed structure

as well as a fixed chain of command.

The slave needs neither sensitivity

nor sensibility .

He does not need to worry

about the quality of the relationship.

He only needs to be obedient.

Friends care for the heartfelt concerns

of the other.

Slaves fulfill their duties,

no matter whether they care for the

concerns of the master or not.

Friends must also take initiative.

The friend must not just wait

for others to act, suggest or

introduce, but act himself

Slaves receive orders and

perform services.

They merely implement the initiatives

of their masters.


That means that if we are no longer slaves but friends, not only our self-image, but our entire relationship with God changes. I wonder whether God has done us a favor by doing this. For mutuality, co-responsibility, sensitivity, concern for matters of the heart and taking initiatives is significantly more difficult, exhausting and challenging than simply doing what someone else says.

It is considerably easier to be a slave of Jesus than to be his friend. Both will serve, but the slave serves out of fear, compulsion and pressure. The friend, however, should offer his service out of love. Touched and moved by it, the friend, has the inner need to strengthen, heal and accompany the life of another person.

Years ago I saw a bumper sticker. It said, »God said it. I believe it. That settles it.« Some will look at that and think that it is a bolder, simpler, or even purer way of believing. But if we take this story of Jesus seriously, we have to admit that this is not the faith relationship he is looking for. This is the job description of a slave. Jesus came looking for new friends.

Whether God did us a favor by doing this? That depends on how we want to live.


Erik Riechers SAC, May 9th, 2021





Do you also practice it in these Easter times? Not looking into graves, but into life? Nature makes it easy for us and we discover life in inconspicuous places: it sprouts in all gardens, and on dry stone walls bright colours smile at us and on the ground of the still sunlit forests white star blossoms shine.

How much life is within the stories of the people we meet? Let us look and listen carefully and not dismiss them as trivial. Sometimes great steps from darkness into light are revealed here.

We recently came across such a small story of life and love. It tells of a transformative encounter between Veronica, a young South American woman doing her voluntary service in a German kindergarten, and little Luca.


»You are wonderful«, Veronica said to a child in the Kindergarten.

The child pauses for a moment, then takes a deep breath and shouts at Vero:

»No, you are wonderful.«

Now Vero pauses and then starts to laugh heartily.

» It's not a swear word, Luca. I'm not angry with you. It's a good word.

I am happy with you. You are a good boy.

I like you. I like to do crafts with you and play hide and seek with you.

That is what 'wonderful' means. You are a good friend. You are a precious person.«

Luca looks at Vero with wide eyes. He goes silent. He looks at the floor.

Then he says softly: »You are wonderful, too, Vero.«


So much life in all its breadth is contained within this small incident of everyday life in the kindergarten!

What speaks to us? What touches us? What do we know?

Have fun »unpacking« this little gem!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 7th,  2021



Who will guide us?


In the CBC Radio program, Tapestry, I listened to an interview with a writer named Leigh Stein. With delightful clarity and forthrightness she points out a problem she has been grappling with for some time. In a society in which celebrities no longer limit their advice to promoting certain products through advertising and certain causes through their media presence, an increasing number of them have become »wellness influencers«. Although the usually would not call it so, they are offering people to become their spiritual directors.

Leigh Stein is decidedly not impressed. She clearly points out that we should not compare the results of rich traditions on spiritual living with the outpourings of people who have come late to the game and invested little thought to their utterances. »What religion offers us is thousands of years of people going through very similar struggles. We were born. We might get married. We might have children. And then we all die. There are religious traditions for going back thousands of years that have been wrestling with these questions. And I don't find that the influencers will even touch them.«

I was delighted and could not agree more. A pandemic is an excellent time to note the truth of this lesson. These are serious times creating serious problems. They require a serious answer born of a deeper understanding of life than the superficialities with which we nourished so much of our daily lives before the crisis hit us.

G.K. Chesterton, in his book »Orthodoxy« writes a few lines that I deeply appreciate. »Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.«

While we certainly made advances in technology that your forebears could hardly have imagined, we have also sacrificed parts of humanity that would have horrified them. Our short attention spans and constant craving for instant gratification serve us well in a society where the consumption of life is king. Yet, now that this is not possible, the older more venerable questions return. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks articulated it this way: »At some point in life, every reflective human being will ask three fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?«

When those questions arise from our depths, unfettered and undiminished even after years of negligence, to whom will we turn? Who will guide us? The people who lived only for the present moment are the architects of this present moment. A good place to start is with the great storytellers of religious traditions »going back thousands of years that have been wrestling with these questions«. They will remind us that we are not the first, nor the last to face these questions. Even better, they will remind us that we are not alone in answering them.


Erik Riechers SAC, May 5th, 2021



Moving Toward the Second Fire


In her column of April 22nd, 2021, entitled »Safely Carried« Sylvia Ditt wrote a line that has preoccupied me from the moment I read.

I admit

to not being immune

against the deathly fear

that gnaws at my heart

that sought to warm my heart at false fires.

 The story she recounts is found in John 21. There, Jesus has bread and fish prepared on a charcoal fire. That little detail is important, because earlier in the Gospel, John tells us: »Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.« (Jn 18,18) Peter warms himself by a charcoal fire while denying his friend three times. One passion, death and resurrection later, he has a conversation with the same friend before a charcoal fire, and threefold love flows from his heart.

Sylvia Ditt’s words speak a deeply painful truth in a gentle and generous fashion. We all know the moment when we have warmed our hearts at a false fire. Many paths lead to these false fires, because there are many hungers of the heart. Logic alone does not rule the vast and deep places of a human heart. The human heart is a land where desperation, loneliness, grief, intense longing, thwarted desire, bone-chilling fear and rages that both simmer and explode are but a sample of what drives us towards any fire that would give us even a hint of relief.

John makes it his mission to tell us a story of a second fire, where new conversations can lead to new trust, where true warmth and real responsibility can be born. And yet, all of us who have warmed our hearts at false fires will know not just relief and gladness at the good tiding of a second fire. We will also know doubt and hesitation. Will we find our welcome in the world at that fire? Will we dare to show up at it? What conversation will be have there?

For there is a mystery about hearts that  have been at the false  fire that we seldom speak, although we know it too well to ever really deny it. God is willing, able and eager to move on to the second fire and have a totally different, life changing new conversation with us. But we cling to our guilt and shame. We do not forgive ourselves as easily as God does.

After reflecting on Sylvia’s gorgeous biblical poem, I got up, went to my bookshelf and plucked another book of poetry from my shelf. There I sought a poem from Padraig O’Tuama that also uses the Gospel scene of the fireside chat between Jesus and Peter as its springboard. And at the end of the poem, he has Peter say:

»And he said

‘Come now, fisherman, come on

and maybe sing a different tune

and fine a room where you can let me stay

and maybe take that oar out from your own eye

and paddle back to where I started with you.

Let’s be beyond all this,

and let’s move on’, he said to me.«

And that is the deepest invitation of the second fire. »Let’s be beyond all this, and let’s move on.« God is ready to do so in order that a false fire might not become the dominating story of an entire life. We should welcome that gentle invitation and ourselves be ready to move on. It would not harm us to forgive ourselves a little once in a while.


Erik Riechers SAC, May 3rd, 2021



God's cultivation of relationship


5th Sunday of Easter 2021                          John 15, 1-8


In our work in Narrative Theology, it is always pointed out that we should pay attention to what images people employ when they speak about their relationships. These images tell us what they genuinely care about. Therefore, we should also be aware that there is an ancient conflict between the mechanistic and organic images people use. This controversy mirrors the underlying controversy of the deep concerns of the human heart.

In this story from John's Gospel, Jesus reveals one of the great concerns of his heart, which is the connectedness and commitment in our relationship to him. Jesus uses an organic image, the relationship between the vine and the branches and the fruit, to reveal to us what is close to his heart. He wants us to live and for our lives to be fruitful. He wants a relationship with us that is so healthy internally that it, in due time, produces externally that which we and others can live from, namely the fruit. This has become a matter of course for us who know the story well.

However, it is equally important to note what Jesus did not do. He did not choose a mechanistic image to describe his desired relationship with us. This in turn tells us that Jesus does not view the lives of his people or his relationship with us like a machine.

Years ago I heard a preacher turn this choice of Jesus on its head in the very interpretation of this biblical narrative. He wanted to emphasize Jesus as the center of our lives and resorted to the image of the relationship of the spokes of a wheel to its hub. In doing so, he switched the organic image of Jesus for a mechanistic image.

For many people, this won't matter. Others will say it's just nitpicking. But words create worlds and the images we choose have great power and effect on the way we love, work and relate.

Wheels with their hubs and spokes are taken from the world of mechanistic images. And like all machines, they revolve around one central theme: they have to function. When a machine does not work, it is repaired. The purpose of this restorative attention is simply to get it functioning again as soon as possible. What does not matter at all here is the rhythm. When we need them to work, we do not ask machines whether they are in the mood or whether this would be a convenient time for them to fulfill their predetermined purpose. Therefore, we do not need to wait until they are ready. They work at the push of a button, and then we don't need to be patient with maturation processes and growth. With machines these are not issues

Now let's see what happens when we use a mechanistic image like the relationship of wheels, spokes and scars to describe our relationship with Jesus. If we describe our relationship with Jesus in this way, then we will believe that Jesus expects of us what we expect of our machines, namely, that we are to function properly and on time. The picture is horrifying. Because we all know what happens when our machines don't work. Then they are replaced. Should this be Jesus' statement about his desired relationship with us? Work properly or you will be replaced? And when we repair our machines, it is only to get them working again as soon as possible. Does anyone really believe that this picture reflects Jesus' relationship with us?

In this mechanistic image of spokes and the hub (as in all mechanistic pictures), rhythm plays no role whatsoever. In this image we humans are no longer asked whether we can or want to enter into this relationship, or whether it is suitable and coherent for us. Then we also do not receive the space and time for what we often urgently need so that we can transform our ‘no’ into a ‘yes’, so that we can heal, so that we can grow and mature in an authentic relationship.

In all the biblical narratives, Jesus refuses to deal with people in this way, and that is why he chooses the organic image of the vine and branches.

Unlike a machine, the fruit-bearing relationship between the vine and the branches cannot be repaired. It does not need to be made functional, but to be nurtured and cared for. This is the relationship we have with Jesus.

In everything that is organic (people as well as plants), rhythm plays a major role. If our relationship with Jesus is to thrive, we need to ask ourselves many rhythm questions.  What is appropriate right now? What is coherent and what is premature? When do I have to act (water, weed, plant, support) and when do I have to be patient and give the necessary processes the time and space they need?

Organic images remind us that relationship is an act of mutual coordination. Because life is not only in Jesus, but in us as well. It should flow between us. We should share it with each other. This relationship binds us together and we are in a mutually, dependent relationship in this life. »Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.« But this never applies to machines. Just because the vine is already full of life-giving sap does not mean that the branch must already be fully laden with fruit.  Without participation in the inner processes of the other, there is no life.

Fruit occurs seven times in this story. Jesus speak of bearing fruit and bringing it forth. Fruit it is obviously important and significant to him. Bearing fruit is the reason for staying connected and why the connection to Jesus as the bearer of life (vine) should not be cut.

Fruit is metaphor and image: fruit grows and comes forth from the flow of life. Fruit is conducive to life because it strengthens and nourishes it, and because it sustains life.

But bearing fruit is not a mechanistic picture, because it is a process that flows from the inside out. Fruit is not attached to the vine from the outside. Fruit is only born when there is contact with the inner processes. Fruit arises only when there is contact with the life-bearer (Jesus = vine). Furthermore, these processes of fruitfulness cannot be observed from the outside.

This fruit should remain. That which grows should last. It should be permanent. In other words, we should be able to rely on it. This most richly described the kind of relationship Jesus seeks to share with us.

All this is the heart's desire of Jesus for his people. And for this very reason, we must not treat our relationship with him mechanistically. Therefore, we should participate in the inner flow of life in him, otherwise this fruit will not come forth. What is emphasized in the story of Jesus is that this relationship must not be broken. But nowhere in the narrative does Jesus tell us how fast it must go. What he does place before us, however, he states right at the beginning. »I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.« Our God is a vinedresser. Vinedressers have a powerful desire, namely, fruitfulness. »By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.« As long as there is even a little life in the vines, the vinedresser will do everything to ensure and strengthen the flow. The Vinedresser God serves the life and fruitfulness of our relationship with Jesus at all times, even in winter when everything lies fallow. Jesus does not deny that this relationship can fail, but unlike a machine, God will invest all his power and love and care into it while there is still a vestige of hope for fruitfulness.

That is why the images we choose to describe our relationship to Jesus are not harmless. This is because images reveal our true heart's desire.


Erik Riechers SAC, May 2nd, 2021



Pascal living – an Example


Many weeks ago, while on the road, I heard a true story during a radio conversation that captivated me so much that, when I reached my destination, I was still listening to the end.

A violist spoke about her current tasks and challenges and then started to talk about her student days, especially about a teacher who had particularly impressed and influenced her. He was her instructor in viola studies. This man had lost 2 fingers of his left hand, the hand that plays the strings, in an accident at a young age. The viola had by then long been »his« instrument. He had wanted to make playing the instrument his profession and now it looked as if he would have to bury this plan, this wish - over, done, impossible!

But his longing to continue was incredibly powerful. And he followed it. He had a new viola built, which he could play the other way around; from now on, his left hand guided the bow. He practiced with even greater perseverance and dedication to the music. This dedication, his perseverance and his longing, which would not allow him to give up, led him to become a master of his craft.

As a lecturer, he made no bones about all this. Now and then - as the woman on the radio told it - it happened that he wanted to show his students something and did not have his viola with him. Then he let them lend him a viola and played what was important for him on it to demonstrate. This playing was so overwhelming each and every time that it triggered something in the students: if he, handicapped and playing on a viola that was »wrong« for him, plays like this, then we have to practice and practice and practice even more.

This is how the story ended.

I am haunted by it. Here was a young man who once looked into a tomb after this accident, the tomb of his hopes and life plans. But his longing was greater than this tomb - and very focused. He wanted to continue playing the viola. This longing fed his persistence to search for new ways, and thus to turn away from the tomb and toward new possibilities. And, in the end, he must have been filled with a great devotion to music (and still is to this day), because how much space and time did he devote to practicing from then on. He kept at it, even though playing was much more difficult for him at first. He did not give up and found his way anew to his life of music.

It was for him as with all the resurrection stories the Gospels tell: Life is not to be found in the tomb. It is empty! We find new life when we turn to life (again). The women and men meet Jesus in their everyday world: in the garden, on the way, in the room, at the lake. There they begin to live differently, anew. They long for life and risk new steps, they step out and go new ways – to this very day!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 30th, 2021



From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring.


»All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring.«


These lines stem from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, from his book, The Fellowship of the Ring. They speak to me of the genuine resurrection experience as well as of true Easter hope. They also speak to me of the one person in the Gospel stories who, in my opinion, embodied these words, Mary of Magdala.

My favourite Easter story is that of Mary of Magdala in the garden. Here is a woman whose life has turned to ashes, but the whole story tells us how there was a fire under those ashes and how she made it flame up again through her relentless search for the one whom her soul loved. When she turns from the narrow darkness of the grace to face the dawning light that is returning into the light she sees first a gardener, but eventually the Risen Lord. Indeed, it is the moment when a light from the shadows springs. This remarkable woman lived her life with a poetic elegance that makes me reflect on her and write about her to this day. It is why I am immediately attracted to anyone who writes about her poetic life in lyrical fashion.

Ron Rolheiser wrote such a poem years ago and every year I pull it out again and rejoice in its simple truth. These are words that take us to the heart of Mary’s experience of the resurrection. Therefore, they are also words that take us to the heart of our own struggle to live a life in the light of the Easter mystery, a mystery go great, that no one day can hold it. I find it especially helpful in times, when I cling to hard to the life I know and struggle to embrace the life I need. May the poem bless you today as it has blessed me for years.


Mary Magdalas Easter Prayer

I never suspected


                        and to be so painful

                        to leave me weeping

With Joy

            to have met you, alive and smiling, outside an empty tomb


With Regret

            not because I’ve lost you

            but because I’ve lost you in how I had you –

                        in understandable, touchable, kissable, clingable flesh


                        not as fully Lord, but as graspably human.


I want to cling, despite your protest

            cling to your body

            cling to your, and my, clingable humanity

            cling to what we had, our past.


But I know that…if I cling

            you cannot ascend and

            I will be left clinging to your former self

            …unable to receive your present spirit.



Erik Riechers SAC, April 28th, 2021



The Eyes of Easter


The resurrected Jesus is the same one who, after years of inconspicuous living, gathered people around him and told them and gave them an example of God's merciful love.

He is the same one who was condemned, tortured and crucified.

He is the same one who was buried.

A young woman told me years ago that for her this was the most outstanding and convincing thing about our Christian faith: "Our God knows our greatest suffering because He went through it Himself. What religion comes close to that?" To this God, she said, she could entrust herself.

That's why the Easter narratives are so significant. They do not deny anything of all that was before Easter. Rather, they show the greatness of God's love for us humans, which has always been infinite and which he confirms through Jesus' life, death and resurrection. "Do you see how much I love you?" he asks us.

Klaus Hemmerle, who was bishop of Aachen for many years and revered by many, once wrote the following Easter wish:

 I wish us Easter eyes,

which are able to see

through death unto life,

through guilt to forgiveness,

through separation to unity,

through the wounds unto glory,

through humans unto God,

through God unto humankind,

in the I to the Thou.


This is a wish for a whole life in all its breadth and all its fullness.

Easter eyes do not exclude anything and see more deeply. They train themselves to perceive more and more the loving gaze of our God upon us and to gaze into the world in this fashion.

Easter eyes know no taboos and are able to connect worlds. Opposites merge and difficult things can show their beauty.

I wish us such Easter eyes.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn,  April 26th,  2021



At Home among the Good Shepherds


4th Sunday of Easter 2021                          John 10, 11-18


»I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.« When Jesus speaks these words, he is trying to give us a glimpse of the true nature of his devotion to us. By describing himself as a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for those who are entrusted to him, he describes how he loves us. Later Jesus will say: »Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.« (John 15,13) This willingness to lay down one's life for the good of another, is for Jesus the sure sign of love.

Jesus emphasizes that his loving devotion goes far beyond the normal limits of self-interest: it is a devotion for the other person beyond the paychecks and pragmatic utility of paid servants. Above all, Jesus reveals the integrity of his personal vocation, an integrity that is most fully revealed when a high price must be paid to sustain that devotion.

»I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.« These words of Jesus are spoken again and again to this very day. This word has become flesh in the many people who have made Jesus' deep personal devotion their own. They have taken on and lived out the vocation of a good shepherd. But they have also paid the price for that devotion. They did not flee when the demands of loving became difficult: They did not abandon the sheep and save only themselves when the wolves came.

In these days of the pandemic, my habit is to focus on such people, and it has not been easy. The media is narrowly focused, even obsessed, with reporting on the people whose response to the global crisis is narcissistic and self-centered. Those who are self-important and self-absorbed, who refuse to wear masks, who gather en masse, have Corona parties, and generally show their contempt for the welfare of their fellow man, find a camera and a microphone waiting for them. It is reminiscent of the Book of Judges, which describes how the people descended into chaos and violence because they no longer had a sense of the common good. Sadly, the book ends with this last sentence, »Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.« Far and wide no trace of people who make the sentence their own: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Moreover, the media deluges us with numbers with an urgency that is as mindless as it is breathless: the number of those infected, those in intensive care, the number of vaccinated, the doses ordered, etc. The only statistics that are never reported are the numbers of people who have lived these words tattooed on their hearts: »I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.« They are considered uninteresting and not so newsworthy. Therefore, no cameras and microphones are waiting for them.

But I have kept my focus on people who are able to do right by all people, not just for themselves. Naming them, remembering them and telling their stories is the strengthening gospel tonic to keep my balance in an uncertain and unbalanced world. Their story like every story is silent until the word is spoken, witnessed and becomes flesh so that it can be touched, felt and lived.

What do we have to expect from the mindless protesters and agitators? They will not contribute to the life of the world. In every generation, in every culture, in every place and time, real help and authentic change have come from the good shepherds, from women and men who have given their lives, invested their lives, so that others may live.

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. So I pray with gratitude that so many people have taken their vocation seriously. The world is teeming with good shepherds. They are the neighbors who quietly take care of each other. I see them in men and women who give their all for their spouses and children so that they can live with dignity, even when they are exhausted and worn. I see the good shepherds in the many people who work in health care and in the researchers who have been locked in laboratories for months, putting aside all personal pursuits to find a vaccine for the world. And what of the people who have undertaken countless creative pastoral initiatives to feed the poor, clothe the freezing in refugee camps, keep the isolated connected, inspire and motivate the weary and battered? Are they not good shepherds? Or the clerks in grocery stores who stock shelves and still find a kind word and smile for me, having just been treated so shabbily by the customer in front of me?

Here are the vocations we pray for. Here are the good shepherds. They do not show their loving devotion because they were personally well rewarded for it. They were not hirelings who cared nothing for the sheep. They do all this not because the money was good, the applause endless, the gratitude undying and edifying. They did it, because they are genuine Easter people. »We are sent here to search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it we are meant to give it away generously.« (John  O’Donohue)

Behind their vocation there is a deep love. This is not a naive love that has no idea of the demands and risks it takes on. The love of the good shepherd is something that seeks to cast lines of hope into the dark heart of human despair.

Love is at the center of this text. It is because of love that the good shepherd lays down his life. To express this love, Jesus uses the interesting metaphor of shepherding, an image taken from the daily grind of the working class. The Gospels tell us that working class people identify with him. After all, as the son of a carpenter, he comes from this milieu. People who earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow are drawn to him, such as fishermen. His parables are full of the experiences of the working class: the work of the peasants; the experience that comes when money is scarce and one searches with considerable determination for a lost coin because one has only ten to start with; the kneading of the leaven into the flour to make bread; the sowing and harvesting of the fields; the backbreaking work of the vineyards.

Jesus speaks the language of this daily life of working men and women. The endless hours of hard, back-breaking work did not always end with a generous wage paid by a generous employer. And even when the day was done, these people knew before they fell into the sleep of the exhausted that the same awaited them when they opened their eyes the next day. Regardless of what the day brought, they knew they would have to work, through sickness, storms, cold, and personal grief, if they wanted their daily bread. Their lives play out in the place of toil, of work, of great effort to secure their lives and their future from the earth. It is the place where they invest everything to bring forth fruitfulness. They are the servants of life. They are used to working through the demands of life.

Thus they stand in sharp contrast to the rich and powerful. Their lives take place where others toil to serve their lives, where others work to secure their comforts, and they can live effortlessly. They are not servants of life, but consumers of it. They have an expectation that the working class does not, namely, that others serve their lives. They do not labour to meet the demands of life, but simply make demands on life.

In the midst of this world of work, Jesus does something breathtaking and chooses this as the place where he will speak about love. He does not choose hidden places or privileged places. He does not speak of love in extraordinary and tender moments that are deeply personal and private.

»I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.« Shepherds do this, but they do it in public, before the eyes of a watching world. Jesus makes the value of love public. For him, this is where love is needed, in the midst of a struggling world. Love is needed in public places, where life happens every day. It should not be relegated to the realm of privacy. Love is needed in the places of our professionalism and should not be degraded as a leisure activity. Love must be lived and told in the places of politics and not relegated to the sanctuaries and lecture halls.

Love is not a private matter for Jesus. For Jesus, love is the most creative force in all creation. It possess incredible power to enrich people's lives, to create justice, to bring about change, and to create community and belonging. But where is this a more pressing concern than in the public places of the world? Love is needed more urgently in our boardrooms than in our bedrooms.

I must confess, that the prophets of doom have been getting to me these days. I have repeatedly found my frustration flaring, feeling annoyed and irritated by their endless litany of discouragement, whining, and criticism. Like many others, I have found it an uphill battle to keep faith alive and hope burning. There have been times when I have been sorely tempted to throw in the towel.

But there is also a stubborn streak of resistance in me. I refuse to hand my soul over to the prophets of doom. I am tired, my friends, but I am still proud to say with the Master: »I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.« Then I turn my back on chattering doomsayers and instead, I keep watch for all my fellow good shepherds, respecting and telling their stories, because they bear witness to the fact that the world is still full of love and light, and also of God, the first and foremost of good shepherds. And it gives me courage to carry on, and keep »walking on the pastures of wonder«. (John O’Donohue) And it gives me comfort to be among so many good shepherds, be a part of their guild.

And so, beyond weariness and frustration, I sat down and did what good shepherds do, and wrote these words for you.


Erik Riechers SAC,April 25th, 2021



Living with the Resurrection


To really hear the message of the Resurrection, the messages of the Risen One in the comprehensive and biblical sense of the word takes time. So it is good and beneficial that the Easter season lasts so long, because to become truly human we need time and practice.

Simply perceiving the messages is not enough here either. We must - like the disciples once did - take in what we have experienced and heard. What all Easter stories have in common is that Jesus comes quite unexpectedly, into very different everyday situations: at the tomb and on the way, behind closed doors and while fishing at the lake. Gradually, faith and confidence unfold in his own people: he is alive. He is with us. The ending of Matthew’s Gospel tells us, » And behold, I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age«. Trusting this is the exercise of the Easter season, back then as now. He also calls us by name. We, too, meet him in the wounds and in the breaking of the bread. We, too, hear him when he promises peace and asks us for our love. He also sends us. In this way we can grow into the third step of biblical listening after perceiving and receiving: taking it with us into life.

Then life as Easter people can truly begin, a way of life that is shaped and permeated by what we have heard. 

A prayer of Pope Francis may accompany us on the way to live Easter »further« :


All-powerful God,

you are present in the whole universe

 and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness

all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.


Fill us with peace,

that we may live as brothers and sisters,

harming no one.


Teach us to recognize

that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.


We thank you for being with us each day.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 23rd, 2021



Easter in Desert Times - Invitation to Prayer


Sometimes we barely notice Easter because we are so distracted.

Sometimes we breathe a sigh of relief for a day or two, but then other issues, in their » importance « push themselves to the fore in such a way that the tender impulses of life are stifled.

Sometimes the desert within us is so strong that we are afraid to fully enter into life for fear of falling into the trap of a mirage.

Let us try to perceive this Here of our life as well and, standing honestly in it, entrust ourselves prayerfully to the Risen Lord:


In the desert of our hearts

you, Hidden One, call out to each and every one of us:

Have no fear, come!

And: Follow me!

Let yourself be seized by the fire of my love.

This fire never says: It is enough.

Even with the thorns of our heart

you light a fire;

even the stones within us, the barren places,

you make glow.

In the midst of the desert of our heart

you forge a path for yourself,

let us glimpse your presence.


Risen One, the breath

of your presence creates us anew –

day by day.

Out of petrified blocks of ice you form

us into human beings.

Your forgiveness, fresh as on the first day,

creates us anew.

While yet in the darkness of our guilt,

in the prison of our habits

- your face: human, merciful,

and invigorating.          

               Markus Grünling in: Gegen die Schwerkraft des Todes 2008  


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 21st, 2021



Only gradually


Today is the 16th day of the message »Jesus lives!«


The pandemic dominates the headlines – for such a long time!

»On the side«, so many other needs for so many of us!


Is it any wonder that we have grown timid?


                 Much in our lives is difficult, gloomy, uncertain . . .


How was it once a long time ago for those who had bound their lives completely to their Master, Jesus, and were completely distraught after the darkness of death? Two departed, many shut themselves in, it is also said that some went back to their old work in resignation. Fear and confusion prevailed.


                 How well we understand this!


I found these lines - I do not know their source - but they speak so honestly of the path that the resurrection takes in our hearts.


»Only gradually my heart learns your jubilation.

Too powerful are the images of death for me.

I know too much of the torments of the earth

and too little of the one who overcame them.«


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 19th,  2021



3rd Sunday of Easter 2021                          Luke 24, 35–48


Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds

us to the fact that we are already at the feast.

To accept this can change everything; we

are always home, never exiled.

- John O'Donohue


The Gospel according to Luke tells the story hidden in John O’Donohue’s words. The urgency of their hunger blinds the disciples to the fact that everything they hunger for is right before their eyes. Their reaction? »They were frightened and greatly afraid, for they thought they saw a ghost.«

This is the way of things when we are too fixated on the urgency of our hunger. If, like the disciples, we remain only in the role of spectator, then the hungers that frighten and scare us will not give way. Then makes no difference how the resurrection breaks into our lives or where it appears in our lives, even if we are already at the feast.

In a conversation, a man tells his companion all the longing and hope he carries within himself regarding his future. Then he says »I want to live. This is my decision.« His companion says to him, »No, these are merely your considerations. Decisions produce concrete actions and signs, not just drastic new insights into your problem, which you don't actually want to address. Since you want to postpone the challenges of decision-making, you hide behind your considerations, which give you the warm and comforting feeling that you are doing something, yet all the while you do not have to make any investment whatsoever." The man nods while listening to his companion and then days to him, "I hear what you are saying. I will give it due consideration.«

The risen Lord comes to us with the offer of a new life, not a ready-made solution to the urgency of our hunger. But human beings are not obligated or compelled to accept the offers of God. We can also reject this offer of new life.

Paschal life consists of five clear steps: death, resurrection, the 40 days, ascension and Pentecost. Each of these steps also has a deep meaning for people who want to live paschally.

Death means the loss of life. In this step we must mourn and honour our losses.

Resurrection is the offer of a new life.

The forty days are the time of maturation, reflection and exercise, so that we gradually choose the new life.

Ascension is the exercise of letting go of the old life so that we can engage in the new life.

And Pentecost is the reception of a new spirit.

The Lord brings his offer of new life to those places where people are too concerned with the urgency of their hunger, where they have become too passive and reserved in shaping their lives. Hand in hand with this offer, however, comes the core question: How much life do you want to dare? For only dared life demands concrete signs and steps from us. Only when we dare more life do we have to master it and shape it. The question "How much life do you want to dare?" is a frontal attack on an unlived life. 

In this biblical story, the concrete signs and steps that Jesus dares to take for the sake of the new life are clear: encounter, touch and conversation.

Even if the disciples think they see a ghost, Jesus is not a ghost. The spirit that fills him is tangible and touchable, because encounter, touch and conversation make the Spirit of God tangible.

»Touch me and understand«: Here we encounter again the old biblical principle of life. First life, then understanding. First let yourself be grasped, then grasp what is happening.

»Touch me and understand: No spirit has flesh and bones, as you see it with me.« What has flesh has substance, there is something to it. And the bones form a skeleton in us, a supporting structure for the substance of our flesh. Analyses of the life we may, under certain conditions, possibly, one day, at an appropriate time, perhaps implement offer us neither a supporting structure nor the substance we need to act. A life that is lived has flesh and bones, as we see in Jesus. The primary place where tradition and experience meet is the flesh and bones of every human being. Thus, encounter, touch and conversation make the Spirit of God tangible.

»Look at my hands and my feet...Touch me and understand... With these words he showed them his hands and feet.« Here the story employs grand images to speak truth to us: an authentic, resurrected life has hands and feet. In the image of the hand, it tells us: here is life that can tackle, that can act and create. In the image of the foot it shows us:

Here is life that is mobile, accompanying, on the way.

And then Jesus eats. »Do you have anything to eat here? They gave him a piece of fried fish; he took it and ate it before their eyes.« In this image of the fish and the eating, another aspect of authentic life in the resurrection is unveiled. What Jesus is demonstrating to his friends is essential: What is an essential part of your life also belongs to my life. Every life, including resurrected life, needs to be nourished.

Fish is eaten. Fish is something that can serve and nourish the lives of hungry people, but only if they are willing to do the hard work of gathering these fish out of dark waters and hidden depths and bring them up to the place where they live and work. Fish, as we know, do not lie on the surface of the water and they certainly do not jump into the boat by themselves.

However, this fish is not raw, but fried. It has been processed and prepared so that it can nourish and strengthen life. Here, too, we are expected to invest in our lives and make a contribution. If they do not jump into the boat of their own accord, fish certainly do not jump into our frying pans.

These are the powerful images of this resurrection story. They will be ignored to our peril as long as we do not value the Bible for both its images and its thoughts. These stories are not strangers smuggled into human life, but the inevitable companions of a people bound by birth and death. They tell us: everywhere there is spirit and life deep within: be it in people, in dreams, in stories, in songs. They have life in them. But we will have to meet, touch and discuss this life. It will, like fish, have to be brought out of depths and shaped if it is to be food for us for a lifelong journey. We cannot live the life of the resurrection as passive bystanders of our own existence.

How much life will we dare? If it is only spirit, then everything remains vague, beige und bloodless and without sharp contours. That will never lead to a life that is dared, because it asks absolutely nothing of us: no attitude to be taken, no action to be risked and no decision to be made. The spirit that is in Jesus spurs us to dare to live more. How far may our lives rise? How much life are we willing to dare?

The resurrection is God's offer of new life. Yet, the nature and challenge of all offers is that they are invitations. As pleasant as it is to receive them, but they are completely worthless until we choose to accept them.


Erik Riechers SAC, April 18th, 2021



Against the gravitational pull of death


If we want to look further and deeper at the Easter message and, above all, live it, then we are challenged to take it with us into all the heaviness that we encounter and carry. We cannot make light of it, we cannot avoid it, and we do not want to suppress it.

But how can we learn to live with it?

By taking the biblical experience of Easter seriously.

Let us allow another voice to have its say on this:


One stands up.

Against the gravitational pull of death,

he rises from death.

Takes from death its heaviness

once and for all.


Radiantly bright are now the prospects.

A spark of hope for the healed world:

Beyond death: Life!


Life beyond death -

new perspectives open up

for life here and now!


Very heavy burden remains burden,

immeasurable suffering remains suffering

and death remains in the world.

But burden and suffering and death do not have the last word.

The last word is reserved for another.

And he answers

the gravitational pull of death

with the explosive force of life.

    Ursula Schauber from: Ibid. (Pub.), Gegen die Schwerkraft des Todes. Fastenzeit und Ostern, 2008


Death encounters us in many facets of our lives and makes our progress difficult.

Let us take it for what it is: a passage unto more life.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 16th, 2021



We should not abandon one another


Am ersten Tag der Woche kam Maria von Magdala frühmorgens, als es noch dunkel war, zum Grab und sah, dass der Stein vom Grab weggenommen war. Da lief sie schnell zu Simon Petrus und dem anderen Jünger, den Jesus liebte, und sagte zu ihnen: Sie haben den Herrn aus dem Grab weggenommen und wir wissen nicht, wohin sie ihn gelegt haben. Da gingen Petrus und der andere Jünger hinaus und kamen zum Grab; sie liefen beide zusammen, aber weil der andere Jünger schneller war als Petrus, kam er als Erster ans Grab.

Joh 20, 1-4

What is Mary's first reaction after seeing the stone rolled away from the tomb? She returns to her companions with her message. She comes to them with everything that is inside her: with the emotions that this experience has aroused, with the fears that it has provoked, with the unspoken hopes that it has awakened. She has come back and created a place of sharing, a place of encounter. But unfortunately it does not become a place of dialogue, of conversation.

Why not? Because on the part of the disciples there is no response to her experience. No one asks about what she has experienced, how she feels and how she is doing with all this. They abandon her. They leave her alone with everything that is in her.

Have you ever returned from a great vacation, a moving celebration or a lecture and wanted to tell others about what had fulfilled you? Have you ever seen a moving movie or read an inspiring book and wanted to share it with others? What happens when no one really listens to you? What happens when there is no echo to your experience, only silent disinterest?  You will feel abandoned. Disinterest in our interests is always perceived as disinterest in our person.

Peter and John have what they need for the time being and then they set out to pursue their own agenda. They satisfy their curiosity, their hunger for knowledge, but they do so by sacrificing a friend and companion.

The search for life and truth cannot be authentic if we sacrifice other people to achieve our goals. Sadly, however, this is often the experience with unhealthy religious agendas that make us so myopic and put blinders on us, so that we overlook or, worse, ignore God's people, especially those who suffer. We see only what we need of the religious experience we seek, and then we are willing to sacrifice others to get it.

This is exactly the opposite of the way the resurrected love lives and acts.  Jesus, the resurrected one, refuses to leave everyone else behind. Jesus always returns to us. He appears and looks for us where we are, in the conditions in which we live, in the situations and experiences that have us in their grip. This is the love of Jesus and this is the love that the disciples miss: a love that refuses to seek its own fulfillment at the expense of others. This is the love they seek, but not the love they emulate. They leave Mary behind.

We can become so consumed by our religious ideals that we forget the priority of human life in the loving heart of God. Then liturgical purity becomes more important than the participants in a worship service. There is an obsession with regulating the life of faith that often ignores the life of believers.

This is what the disciples are doing. They ignore the life of this believing woman. Without her, they wouldn't have even heard the story that sets her in motion. But they leave her behind. And they do it twice.

After they had explored the empty grave and what was of interest to them, they go home. Mary, who followed them back to the grave on her own, they leave alone with her tears.

Leaving people alone in their grief is not the way of the Risen One. Let where he appears in resurrection stories. He is ever to be found where his disciples are suffering, whether from anxiety, depression, grief, doubt or hopelessness.

This is often the reproach to the hierarchical church: You have abandoned us in our grief and vulnerability. Many people in difficult relationships have experienced that the official church would rather condemn them than accompany them. In example after example, victims of abuse have not been respected and accompanied because ministers wanted to avoid the scandal that the recognition of their pain brings with it.

A few weeks ago, we in Germany witnessed the publication of the abuse report for the Archdiocese of Cologne. Immediately afterwards, an auxiliary bishop was relieved of his duties. Afterwards he wrote: »I am even more ashamed to have paid too little attention to how wounded people feel, what they need and how the church must encounter them. This is a failure as a pastor and as a human being.« If an auxiliary bishop can only say that after he has been exposed in the abuse scandal, then we have to ask: Where have you been all these years? What have you been so busy with that you don't know what wounded people feel and need? Certainly not with these people. He had time for the church career and was always concerned about the people who could promote him instead of caring about the people who needed his protection.  His concern for the cult of personality around Cardinal Meisner, and the cultivated denunciation of all those who did not observe every liturgical rule has been willful, because he did not make sure that the rules of canon law were observed as soon as it was about the most frail people.  When these become the concerns of shepherds, then there is little time for the care for the souls of the people. This is how people are born who end up leaving Mary of Magdala crying at the tomb.

John draws a strong contrast between Mary and the disciples. In her grief, 1. she thinks of the others,  2. she returns to them (does not leave them alone), 3. she tells them her story (and thus something that could also strengthen their life in a time of grief) and 4. she takes detours into account for the life of others (she could also stay in the garden to pursue her interests and continue her way).

The disciples, on the other hand, 1. think only of themselves and leave Mary behind, 2. do not seek her out, 3. tell her nothing of their story (and thus share nothing that could strengthen Mary's life in a time of grief) and 4. simply go home when they are done. Here there are detours and no one waits for Mary to be ready.

A healthy Easter spirituality must ask the question, how will we seek and encounter the Risen Lord? If we want to celebrate Easter »further«, it is certainly not by abandoning one another.


Erik Riechers SAC, April 14th, 2021



»Further« Celebrating Easter


Liturgically, we celebrate the Paschal Mystery on all Sundays until Pentecost. But in our consciousness, Easter fades into the background at the latest with White Sunday, that is, after one week. What a pity!

We would like to counteract this and to further celebrate Easter with you - on the one hand temporally, on the other hand also in forms and through the voices of other people. In order to broaden our view and our hearts, we always let others have their say. Last week it was Willi Bruners. Today Susanne Ruschmann from Freiburg speaks to us about what happened and happens in the early morning:


in the dark of the morning

you go to the graves of life

more night than dawning day

in your heart


when your sorrow does not want to end

about everything you carried to the grave

your hopes, plans, failed love

your living longing that died in the midst of life

the meaning of your present, which you believed would carry you

into the blossoming future and beyond the future


then remember

that once before

one who was hope and meaning for so many

mocked, failed, robbed of life

was buried in the abyss of death.


And call to mind

that those who buried him, those who wept for him

did not experience his rebirth

no return to life, as if nothing had happened.

Everything remained true: the hope that died, the sorrow, the death.

When they saw him, he was still bearing his wounds.

And yet they knew:

now a new beginning blossoms for us

as there never was one before

because he, who is life itself

awakens new life

from the depth of the grave and the night of death.


Then set out

in the early light of your Easter day

and seek life.

But do not look for it in the grave.

It encounters you different and new

strangely at first,

marked and tender

in the midst of everyday life.

In working, loving

in hoping and mourning, in failing and starting,

and in the midst of you.

Susanne Ruschmann, from: Ibid.  (Hg.), Es wird in aller Frühe sein. Fastenzeit und Ostern, 2009 


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 12th, 2021



No Doors can bar him


2nd Sunday of Easter 2021                          John 20, 19-31


»On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them…«

»Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them…«


Jesus comes even when the doors are locked. John repeats this sentence twice. With such a taciturn narrator, this is always a sign that something important is at stake. Why? Because when something is only said once, we only have one opportunity to understand it and put it into practice.

But what is repeated gives us more than one chance to absorb and digest what is said. That is why John emphasizes twice that the doors were closed. Thus, he signals in advance that these closed doors play a significant role both times. When it comes to the closed doors of our personal lives, we will also need a God who makes more than one attempt to penetrate through them.

Every time I hear this story, an image of my childhood comes back to me. When I was very small, a nun gave me a holy picture with the subtitle: Only you can open the door. In the picture there was a man. He was sitting behind a closed door, cringing, paralyzed by fear and inner darkness. Outside, in front of this door, stood Jesus. With one hand he holds a lantern, with the other he knocks on the door. And here you had to look very carefully at the picture, because only then do you notice that the door has only one knob on the inside. Jesus cannot enter, except if that the man first unlocks the door from the inside. And so the subtitle: Only you can open the door.

Part of the image reflects the experience of the Gospel while also reflecting an all too common experience of our lives. We often live behind closed doors. We feel constricted and enclosed. But even if we have shut these doors ourselves, that does not mean that we are always able to open them again on our own. When then the message resounds »Only you can open the door«, it sounds like mockery to us.

Today's Gospel offers us an alternative story. After Jesus' resurrection, he appears to the disciples who, as John describes it, »were gathered in a room«, full of fear, behind closed doors. Jesus comes right through the closed doors, stands in the midst of their fears, and breathes peace upon them. A week later, he does it again. »Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked.«

As cute as the holy picture of my childhood was, it was not harmless. Because it cannot answer a question that John clearly answers. What if we cannot open the door of our fears? Such life situations happen occasionally. These days, people told me about a woman who took her own life. Their narration was filled with consternation and deep sadness, but also a helplessness. Why couldn't we reach her? Why couldn't we appear behind these closed doors of her heart to do something, to make a difference? Indeed, here we encounter the limits of our human ability. And where we come up against this limitation we will hear the words Jesus spoke to Peter when he reached the end of his imagination of what is possible: But nothing is impossible for God.

However, we should not consider ourselves immune to such hours. Sometimes we, too, are too afraid to open the doors. Other times we are paralyzed by worry. Sometimes we just can't find or muster the strength to get up and open the doors again.

What then? Does that mean that Jesus then shrugs his shoulders and walks away simply because we couldn't open the door? Should our moments of weakness, darkness, heaviness and paralysis be able to determine the places God may enter?

The biblical story denies such an idea quite energetically, and it does so twice. Because in both instances Jesus comes to us behind closed doors. Did we really imagine anything other than this from the Jesus who shatters lock and stone? If neither the wood of the cross could hold him, but the rock-sealed tomb was able to imprison him, what chance do doors closed by human hands have, be they in our homes or in our hearts?

When we are so paralyzed by fear and darkness that we can no longer help ourselves, when we come to the moment when we can no longer open the door to let in light and life, God still comes through closed doors.

God comes through all the locked doors of our lives, stands in the middle of our fears and breathes peace upon us. There are doors that we have personally locked and bolted. The love of God does not stand helplessly in front of such closed doors. Precisely because he appears even behind closed doors, we realize that there can be no God-less, no God-empty spaces.

This experience can change our lives. A woman wrote to me these days, »I discovered that I have heartache with my personal God. And somehow, despite pain, it was liberating for me. Because in this way I realized for the first time in my life, and continue to feel, that there are no godless spaces. This is completely new for me. A whole new experience.«

This does not mean that everything immediately becomes good, that all worry gives way and only lightness reigns within us. For, as John so aptly tells us, after Jesus had already once come behind closed doors to relieve his people's fears, it is only eight days later that we hear that the doors are closed again. We need more than one chance to get many things done in life. We are very fortunate that the Lord who writes twice for us on stone tablets, the God who writes twice for us in the dust, is also the Lord who comes twice behind closed doors.

And yet we should not misunderstand the message. Here John speaks comfort to us. For from where does the voice of Jesus come that would like to speak to us again? In the picture, it comes from outside the house. There is a door between a man and Jesus. And this voice invites us to open the door.

In John, the voice comes from inside the house. The Jesus who would love to talk to us stands in the space of our fears. No door stands between our timidity and his willingness, between our weakness and his strength. This is true consolation, because this twofold narrative reminds us that all these things are given space and place and time in the spaces of our encounters with Jesus. His voice is beside us, where we are. This voice comes into the spaces where we are pressed, constricted and trapped.

This resurrection story also tells us of the disciples' experience of Jesus' ongoing yet transformed presence. And today we hear twice that this presence of the Risen One is an accompanying presence, ready to enter all our spaces, whether we have already cleaned them up or not. The presence of Jesus opens doors for us from the inside, so that we can go out into life again.

Here is one who is present and near, entering the rooms of our lives. We humans have plenty of fear of contact. Jesus does not share any of these fears.

Of course, we still have all of our freedoms behind these doors. We can keep them closed. We can continue to stay there. There are doors that we personally keep locked and bolted. But we should never, ever underestimate God’s freedom. The love of God does not stand helplessly before such locked doors. For, there are no God-less, no God-empty rooms. Although we human beings can be quite stubborn, compared to the stubbornness of God, we are all just amateurs. God does not come only once.


Erik Riechers SAC, April 11th, 2021



If only someone could do that


Many would like to live like a butterfly; life should feel easy, be simply beautiful, perhaps cozy, and preferably sociable - Where can we eat well, what shall we wear? Stories of suffering? I don't want to hear about it! It's bad enough that we have not been able to travel for so long! Are you worried? Treat yourself to something nice, distract yourself! Pain? There's a cure for that! Scars from old wounds? Everything is covered up, concealed, and smoothed over with words.

But life is not only easy - neither in the larger world nor in the smaller one and in no single human life. Hunger, flight, and wars are realities just like illness, loss, separation and pain. Why are we afraid to accept these realities as well as the sunny sides of life?

Why do we find it so difficult to look at the dark and to say ‘yes’ to injuries and scarring,  to neither deny nor to condemn them?

Is the fact that we follow a Master who has lived and suffered through life in all its breadth, covering up nothing, glossing over nothing, not precisely the extraordinary thing about our faith? The scars are the very sign of the Risen Lord. They belong to him just as every suffering we go through belongs to us. If we understand this, we do not need a permanent religious elation, which pretends that we only have to believe correctly and everything is easy. Nor do we need to maintain a superficially light façade, for fear that the heaviness will take something away from life. If we could accept our own wounds, then we would not ignore and marginalize all those people who suffer, because their pain reminds us of our own pain.

The peace of Easter could dwell in our hearts and communities, in which everything has its place and the whole of life takes on significance.


Willi Bruners found wonderful words for this many years ago.


»Peace be with you.

When he had said this,

he showed them his hands and his side.«

(Jn 20, 19f)


If someone could do that


show his scars,

his wounds, the blood

not yet dried


            and not curse

            not judge


if someone could do that


it would be his turn

to excavate heaven


the forgotten dead


            from: Wilhelm Bruners, Verabschiede die Nacht, S. 74


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 9th, 2021



Step by Step


Easter is not a feast of one or two days. We celebrate it in the liturgy for weeks. We approach the mystery, we spell it out again and again. There is a reason for this. Experiencing the resurrection is not a triumphalist event that comes upon us and clears everything up in one fell swoop. It was not that way from the beginning. The biblical stories are clear on this point. It was and is always a tender, questioning approach that finally warms the heart and sets us in motion.

Willi Bruners put it into words in this manner:


Step by step

the chaos clears

the life becomes recognizable

that lies before us



hungry people

who wait for bread



sick people

who yearn

full of anticipation

for a kindly look


Summoning forth the dead

who are hoping

for the words

of resurrection


When we move out

of the house

of our fears

and disappointments

we become free again

for each other

and give the demon

of endless death speeches his walking papers


Anew we discover

the traces of life

anew we discover the resurrected one

anew we discover in the chaos

the great connections

which slowly become clear to us

and become transparent

to an open future

in and with





Perhaps we will take time again and again during these Easter weeks for an inner and also outer journey to Emmaus. We could perceive and name questions, fears, longings and hopes within us. We could sense and discover the Risen Lord in new possibilities and life spaces in a way we never expected.

Let us open the eyes and ears of our hearts, so that our Easter light may dawn on us again and again!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 7th, 2021



And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.


Easter Monday 2021                          Luke 24, 13-35


The resurrection stories of the biblical narrative are rich and complex at the same time. They tell us about the disciples' experience of Jesus' continuing yet transformed presence. And that is why there are no ecstatic resurrection stories. The disciples are happy that Jesus' presence is continuing, but cannot easily come to terms with the way his presence has been transformed. They are always startled, mostly overwhelmed, frequently frightened, and for a great extent oblivious.

Precisely because it is so difficult to adapt to this transformed presence of Jesus, all the resurrection stories reveal to us four identifying signs for the way the Risen Lord enters our lives.

  1. First he enters into our present, unfiltered and unpurified life situation.
  2. He comes unknown and uninvited.
  3. He first reveals himself as a kind neighbor.
  4. Only after the experience of the effect of his transformed presence in our lives do we recognise him as Master and Lord.  


  1. First he enters into our present, unfiltered and unpurified life situation.

The present life situation of the disciples is devastating. They once lived with the great certainty that Jesus was a prophet, »mighty in deed and word before God and all the people«. With his death, this »great certainty« turned into the »great disillusionment« for the disciples. His death not only ended his physical life, but in the hearts and minds of these disciples, the truth he believed, his great certainty that God is gracious and merciful, was also destroyed.

»But we had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.«

It is a devastating sentence, because they speak of hope in the past tense. How many questions are woven into this one sentence? Can the ultimate power of life be merciful if this very man and all he stood for is crucified? Was the joyful confidence that characterized Jesus just a fata morgana? What kind of love allows Pilate to die in his bed and Jesus to be nailed to the wood?


  1. He comes unknown and uninvited.

The resurrection is the disciples' experience of Jesus' continuing yet transformed presence. But because this presence of Jesus has been transformed, they do not recognize him. His resurrection does not solve the riddles of human existence.

A long loving look at the reality of this resurrection story shows us that the two disciples encounter and journey with Jesus, but that does make everything crystal clear, nor does it resolve their doubts and fears or soothe their troubled hearts.

The two of them share their path and their stories with Jesus, but his presence does not put an end to all the storms of their lives, so that now they could calmly return home.

I remind you gently, that this is a story in which hope is spoken of in the past tense. The two of them pour out their grief about the vicious persecution of the chief priests and leaders of the people. They mention that »today is already the third day«, but no alarm bells are set off.

They speak of the remarkable women of their community.

When the twelve deserted him, the women remained.

When the morning was still dark, the women brought the spices.

When the tomb was empty, the women proclaimed the good news.

When they were not believed, the women did not give up.

But none of this, none of their own story, seems to have any effect on them. And the Risen Lord’s presence is not changing the way they hear and service their own story an experience.

Why is it all still so confusing? Because the resurrection does not solve the riddles of human existence. The Risen Lord is their companion, but no one in this biblical narrative I able to walk around and claim that all the mist of doubt and uncertainty have been lifted.

That is not how resurrection works. The characteristic of our Christianity is not that we are well informed about the coming heavenly future. The resurrection does not clear up once and for all the mystery of the relationship between God and his people.

Instead, it teaches us that this relationship is real. Our experiences of the Risen Lord will be found where find our doubts and uncertainties accompanied. The Risen Lord will first call on us to tell our stories in all their numbing, confusing, messy and chaotic fullness. The Risen Lord is not the one who suddenly appears and says: »I am back. Don’t worry about anything. Now I will tell you everything.« He is the one who first says: »Tell me everything«.

The Risen Lord eases us into the fullness of the mystery of this relationship.


  1. He first reveals himself as a kind neighbor.

The resurrection is the original religious experience for Christians, but does not dispel the mystery of God or of our life with him. All the resurrection stories show us that the disciples are as shocked by the resurrection as they were by the crucifixion.

Like all of Jesus’ actions, the resurrection is an invitation. He invites us to overcome death. How? By taking our present, unfiltered, unpurified and real lives and immersing them irretrievably into mysterious relationship God enjoys with his beloved people. Easter is an invitation to a world of possibilities and perspectives we have not even thought of yet. »Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.«

The resurrection experience is first connected to a kind neighbor and fellow human being who opens our perspectives to all the places between heaven and hell where life can blossom.

When Jesus presented to them all that Moses, the prophets, and all the Scriptures have to tell about, he reminded them that wild things happen when one dares to walk with God.  He is gently leading them to a lesson that John Shea put this way: »Most people who have drunk deeply of God have walked wildly through life«. Jesus told them the Stories of God and the Stories of Faith, and these stories recount how grace is insidiously at work healing our wounds. This happens on the road to Emmaus, while he is talking about it. »Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?« He told them the stories of a God who issues surprising invitations and of a boring old world that will be shot through with the unexpected power of the Son of Man.

The resurrection stories are stories of faith. They are a poetic overflow of faith experiences. Whatever they may say about the Risen Lord, they tell us more about ourselves and how we realistically experience life after encountering the Risen Lord.


  1. Only after the experience of the effect of his transformed presence in our lives do we recognise him as Master and Lord.

This is what all the resurrection stories teach us. Only now and only gradually will our eyes open. Our hearts burn for a long time while we are on the road before they realize who the arsonist is.

The resurrection and the challenge to shape life beyond death experiences is difficult for us, then as now, because grace works through the most unlikely people. Here is one who brings them out of their sorrow and depression. They do not recognize him at first, just as Mary does not realize who the gardener is, who does this for her. First the experience of his transformed presence in our life, then the knowledge of whom we are encountering. Here is one who draws them toward new perspectives beyond old guilt. They will not recognize him at first, just as the Peter does not recognize the fish-cooking and bread-roasting man on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius who is doing exactly the same thing for him. First the experience of his transformed presence in our life, then the knowledge of whom we are encountering. Here is a good man who will lead them out of them beyond the disappointments that were too large and the stories that were too small. Only at the table will they fully recognize him. First the experience of his transformed presence in our life, then the knowledge of whom we are encountering.

So keep your eyes open for the signs of the Risen Lord:

  1. First he enters into our present, unfiltered and unpurified life situation.
  2. He comes unknown and uninvited.
  3. He first reveals himself as a kind neighbor.
  4. Only after the experience of the effect of his transformed presence in our lives do we recognise him as Master and Lord.


Erik Riechers SAC

Easter Monday, April 5th, 2021



Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.


Easter Sunday 2021                          John 20, 1-11


In Genesis 28, 16-17 Jacob, who has absolutely no expectation of an experience of God in himself and in the place he presently finds himself in, comes to a startling realisation. »Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.« And he was afraid and said, »How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.«

When it comes to the resurrection, I think a great many of us assume that it will occur in any place aside from within us and in the places where we dwell. Yet, today’s story from the Gospel of John leads us to the same startling realisation in the garden where the rock is rolled away that Jacob had in the wilderness with a rock under his head. »Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.«

Hidden in the folds of John’s story is an older tale of love and longing. It guided his heart and his hand as he was writing his first Easter story for us.

 On my bed by night

I sought him whom my soul loves;

I sought him, but found him not.

 I will rise now and go about the city,

in the streets and in the squares;

I will seek him whom my soul loves.

I sought him, but found him not.

The watchmen found me

as they went about in the city.

“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”

 Scarcely had I passed them

when I found him whom my soul loves.

I held him, and would not let him go

until I had brought him into my mother's house,

and into the chamber of her who conceived me.

Song of Songs 3, 1-4


If you are looking for a trustworthy and sure-footed guide on the path to resurrected, redeemed life, I highly recommend Mary of Magdala. She can cure us of one of the worst problems that Easter faith faces: the romanticising of the resurrection.

Too often we speak and sing about the resurrection as something finished, as a final product.  But not all the darkness that lay heavy upon our hearts has disappeared. Like the disciples in every resurrection story, we have a problem: none of us lives such an antiseptic life.

We dream of resurrected, redeemed life; of friendships coming back to life after long hibernation; of the revival of old love stories long lost; of peace putting an end to war, of food following famine, of health replacing disease, and of freedom trumping oppression.             

Indeed, this life is fulfilled for Jesus, but not for us. On our side of the tomb, we experience the promise of resurrected life as Mary did in the Garden: neither completely finished nor a hope in the distant future. Mary of Magdala is the guide to this mystery, because she alone goes through all the processes. She does not take shortcuts and does not quit in the middle of the journey (unlike Peter and John who simply go back home). She teaches us: this risen life is not a possession, but a process that must unfold in us through the power of God. This is important if Easter is not to be just a pause on the road to despair.

This first Easter experience of Mary is like the experience we have had innumerable times in the course of our lives. Our life is painfully incomplete and imperfect. Only those who take this experience seriously understand the deepest reason for Jesus' death: a true love that wants to redeem something must be ready to fight for what it loves. Authentic love seeks, »the one whom my soul loves«. We will not shed the blood of our heart for what we do not want to redeem.

In the Song of Songs we see this willingness to struggle for that which we have grown to love. What a tremendous and arduous outpouring of loving effort this woman makes for the sake of her love: Searching through long nights and not finding what she is looking for; roaming the city, scouring the streets and squares; stopping others and questioning them in the hope of finding some hint, some direction; grabbing the beloved, not letting go, and bringing him home.

In the Gospel story of the first Easter morning, John looks admiringly at Mary of Magdala and recognises the same willingness to struggle for the sake of great love that he knew from the Song of Songs. Mary is cut of the same cloth as the Old Testament singer: She rises early, wanders through the darkness only to find emptiness. She walks back to where she started and discusses the situation with others, but finds little understanding and no support; she walks back to the Garden again, having been left behind by her companions. She stand before the tomb (on the outside). She needs a time for weeping that Kohelet knew must come. She dares to stares into the emptiness. She risks being questioned. She turns away from darkness and confinement to light and spaciousness, from tombs to gardens. And then there is more questioning, more recognition and even more letting go.

But John does not stop there. He sees this willingness to struggle for the sake of love in the Risen Lord. The underlying question is: Whom does my soul love? This is, in fact, the key question. God answers this core question of love. Too our lasting astonishment, and often to our disbelief, we are the answer. Jesus, the Risen One, tells us that we are ones for whom he was willing to struggle for the sake of great love.

This is the eternal message of God's stories. They show us a God who is willing to shed his blood for the people he truly loves. They show us a God who is ready to wrestle for us. If it were not so, he would not need to part the Red Sea and confront military powers. If it were not so, then he need not rain carbohydrates from heaven. Then rock would then continue to stubbornly and silently refrain from gushing forth water, even if a thirsty people wail before it. If God would not struggle for us, then the first garden story of Adam and Eve would have been the last one, and the present garden story of Jesus and Mary would never have existed.

John knows all of this and yet, with the eye of the eagle, he also recognises that this resurrecting, redeeming life pulsates not only in God, but also in Mary. And in us. This resurrection life refuses to write off and abandon the one whom my soul loves. This life continues to write human narratives that others have long since consigned to the grave.  This heart is to be found in our God, but it is also to be found in his beloved people. It is a heart that knows what is worth fighting for, what is worth suffering for.

Perhaps this is the best kept secret of Christian faith. We carry a redeeming love within us.  Redemption is just another word for the divine spaciousness that God gives to all people in all the narrow places where their lives are at stake, no matter how they got there or whether they know the name of the Lord. We participate in this work of redemption, because we, too, are able and willing to wrestle for the life of the world for the sake of great love. Why else do we struggle with unemployment, social injustice and economic inequality?  Why do we muddle through complicated relationship histories and not immediately throw in the towel? Why do we bend over backwards for people who don't always appreciate our efforts? Why do we not immediately withdraw when death, illness or despair infect the lives of others and burden our lives?

We dwell in a time when we feel overwhelmed by crisis. Our confidence in the future is shaken. So join me, Easter people, not in triumphalist and unrealistic hymns of Easter glory, but in the earthy, grounded story of a remarkable woman and her going into that garden.

Remember, my fellow grave goers and garden guests: we will never struggle for what we do not love. We will never wrestle for what we don't care about. We will never put anything on the line for what leaves us cold. God struggles with us and for us, and that is the only sure and reliable sign of love. He pours this resurrecting, redeeming love into us, and it makes us ready to struggle, for each other, for the world, for justice, for the children, for the poor. Resurrection is flowing through our veins.

The way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel, and the way of a paschal spirituality are the ways of wrestling. Wrestling will make us see. We will see what we really love. We will see what is worth wrestling for. We will see what is really in our heart. Lead on, Mary of Magdala. And remind us that there are things that can only be seen with eyes that have wept.


Erik Riechers SAC

Easter Sunday, April 4th,  2021



What wondrous love is this?


Good Friday B 2021                            John 18, 1 – 19, 42


It is easy enough to get caught up in the dramatic and heart-wrenching passion of Jesus. This hour and this ambience allow us to feel the depth of his pain with a new ferocity. Knowing his innocence, we are all the more horrified at the injustice done to him. Knowing his kindness, we are all the more appalled at the cruelty he endured for our sake. The viciousness galls us, the tragedy tears at our hearts, and his humiliating death has saddened our souls for centuries.

Several years ago, a teacher took a group of Kindergarten children on a tour of the church. The Stations of the Cross particularly moved one of the little boys in the group. As he moved along the stations, watching the story of Christ’s passion unfold, he grew more and more agitated. Finally, he came to stand under the great cross, and his youthful sense of outrage and injustice exploded forth. Hands on his hips, with defiance in his voice, the young boy burst forth, »I am going to kill the guys who killed Jesus!«

My friends, this is not the highest theology of the cross I have ever heard, but it does touch upon the one mystery of this day which must be dearest to us. Like the little boy, the passion and death of Jesus Christ must touch us deeply and move us personally. Like the little boy, the passion of Christ must awaken a passion for Christ in those who follow the road to Golgotha with him.

In order to touch us on yet deeper levels than sadness and anger, we need to look at three facets to the mystery that looms over us this day.


It is love that brings Christ to the Cross. Throughout the passion narrative of John we hear how Christ moves through the gradual stages of coming to the cross. Yet, John makes it very clear that Jesus did not have to go at all, if he did not want to. This is not the suffering and death of a powerless man. When Judas comes with the posse into the garden, Jesus does not run and hide. He steps forward freely to face the music. When he admits to the lynch mob that he is the one they are hunting down, the soldiers fall to the ground. Jesus offers himself up for the arrest, but insists, »So if you are looking for me, let these men go«. He stands unabashed and fearless before the Sanhedrin. In the face of Pilate’s insistence that he has power over Him, Jesus retorts, »You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.«

Indeed, this power to avoid the cross makes the death of Christ far more astonishing. The lengths he was willing to go for us, in suffering and death, find their real meaning in the fact that he did not have to go at all. This is a voluntary death, a freely chosen suffering. It is a death mirrored throughout the ages, in mothers and fathers who toss aside personal safety to run into a burning building to save their children. It is a dying reflected in a tender story recounted by Sister Joan Delaplane.

»Five year old Johnny Quinn loved his big brother, Tommy. The doctor told Johnny that his brother was very sick and needed a blood transfusion, and the doctor asked: ‘Johnny, would you be willing to give some blood to your brother?’ Johnny gulped hard, his eyes got big, but after a moment’s hesitation he said, ‘Sure, doctor.’ The doctor took the blood and Johnny was resting quietly on the table. A few minutes later, Johnny looked up at the doctor and said: ‘When do I die, doctor?’ It was only then that the doctor fully appreciated the extent of this little boy’s love.«

It is love, not force, which flings parents into the inferno. It is love, not force, which makes Johnny pour forth his blood for his brother. It is love, not force, which brings Christ to the Cross.

This moment must cause our hearts to crack. We are the reason Christ comes to Calvary. He harbours a love for us so deep, that it gladly embraces what he could easily avoid. For us, he enters into a misery and cruelty that would be instantly relieved if he would only detach his heart from our destiny. If we were standing before Pilate at Gabbatha, at the place called »the Stone Pavement«, would we not be tempted to cry out to him, »Leave us behind, save yourself.«? Yet, he does not take his leave from us. He takes the cross for us. Love, love for us, and not our guilt brings Christ to the Cross.


Which leads us directly to the second mystery of this day. If in the first instance love brings Christ to the cross, then in the second instance love keeps Christ on the Cross. It is a wonder of the cross that Christ does not have to go to the wood, but voluntarily goes for our sake. It is a marvel of matching magnitude that he does not have to stay, but freely chooses to do so.

Here is the Lord of the entire universe, present when God first peeled back the waters to begin the work of creation. He has power to climb down from the cross. He has power to call upon legions of angels so that he would not even dash his foot against a stone. His word grants light to eyes that languish in darkness, and strength to set legs a’ strolling that once were lame.

In the face of the agony of the cross, the taunt of the crowd, and the humiliation of the soldiers gambling for his clothing before his dying eyes, Jesus remains on the cross. He lingers in this pitiless place of pain. He does not leave this horrifying moment, filled with callous disregard for his person and his dignity. Filled with the agony of this brutality that sears from skin to bone marrow, Jesus stays on the cross.

The reason for this is simple. He must complete two works of mercy. The first is a work of revelation and the second a work of redemption. These two works are vital.

In his staying on the cross we have the work of revelation, namely, that God will remain with us in the painful moments of love. He will not walk away. We will not be abandoned when the going gets rough. His love for us keeps him near to us. The cross reveals that we are loved to death.

The second work of redemption is equally important. When Christ stays on the cross, we learn that no one can be saved by love, if we do not remain in the places of suffering with the beloved. The cross redeems us by granting us the experience that we are loved by a God who is present in dreadful, pain-racked, blood-soaked places and times we ourselves would like to flee.


Thus we come to a third moment in which we win a deeper appreciation for the cross. Remember the little boy beneath the cross. He was so moved, he wished to exact vengeance from the people who had hurt the friend he had in Jesus. If we wish to share his passion on an adult level, then we must ask ourselves clear cut questions. Will we allow our love for others to bring us to the cross? Will we allow our love for others to keep us there? But will we also avoid the revenge and violence that the cross often awakens in us?

We only go to the cross if we are willing to deal with something other than our own agenda, concerns and comforts. This is the question the cross draws from our hearts. Do we love anyone enough to do for them what Christ has done for us? If we are gripped by the happenings on Golgotha, then we must let love bring us to the cross, and that will demonstrate itself in whether we will avoid or embrace the places of suffering in our beloved. Will we freely go to the places where love is crucifying? Will we freely stay in the places where the very presence of our loved ones is a passion?

In this year of physical distancing, we cannot celebrate our beloved ritual of venerating the cross. But here there is an invitation here that takes us beyond the ritual to the very heart and soul of life. If your heart is as moved as that little boys, you must move to a veneration of the cross in every place where it is erected on the landscape of your life. There are friends who weep in silence, but whose tears we need not hear. We are not forced to the heart of their suffering. We can shut our eyes to the tears that redden theirs. We can feign deafness to their sobbing. When the elders ache to tell us the stories that are tedium to us and relief to them, will we stay? We venerate the cross when it is an agony for our hearts to watch the palsy of our parents. We do it when we wade into the terrors that afflict their souls and allow ourselves to be tormented by them. Our knees bend before the wood of the cross when we ache with every fibre of our being as we stand by friends undergoing daunting and severe medical treatments. The cross touches our flesh when wild horses could not drag us from the side of the dying, while everyone else flees the discomforting reminder of our mortality. 

The cross is forged of every instance where we suffer because we are committed to the other in love. This is the wood of the cross on which our redeemer hung. What about us? Will we love, even when there is an easy way out and nothing or no one can force us to stay? Will we remain in places of the suffering of our beloved, even when we could exit stage left?

Exactly twenty years ago, I celebrated a Good Friday that was the most poignant for me to date. Three earlier I met a couple, Kevin and Jodie, in whose flesh I saw engraved the image of Christ crucified. Jodie was pregnant with her fourth child, and the baby was in danger. After a series of attempts to save the child in the womb, the doctors held out to the couple one slim hope of survival, which was to induce labour. For 36 hours the labour went on, and then the child was born. I was called and raced to the hospital to baptise the little one. Twenty minutes later, young Keegan Patrick died in my hands while I welcomed him through baptism into the family of the faith.

The parents did not have to go to this cross. Abortion was counselled and offered, but refused. They willingly went through weeks of discomfort, hours of pain, and the anguish of losing a beloved son to death. They did not have to go to this cross. Moreover, once they went, they did not have to stay. But go they did. And then they stayed there. Because of this, their child, who drew only 55 minutes of breath, experienced his life wrapped in a momentous love that was willing to suffer so that he might have those 55 minutes.

This infant experienced in his parents what we experience in Christ. The words of an old hymn capture Keegan’s experience of Christ’s redeeming love, and ours, so very well.

»What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul?

What wondrous love is this, o my soul?

What wondrous love is this,

that made the Lord of bliss,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?«

Keegan died knowing only the fiercely dedicated love of people who were willing to suffer crucifying passion in order to let him know life. I would say that his parents were the perfect preparation for meeting Jesus Christ. May the same be said of us.


Erik Riechers SAC

Good Friday, April 2nd, 2021



Do you understand what I have done to you?


Holy Thursday B 2021                            1 Cor 11, 23–26 and John 13, 1–15


On Holy Thursday we stretch out our hand to touch the body and blood of the Lord. One day later, we stretch out our hand to touch the wood of the cross. If touching the Mystery of God means we must be ready to touch such mystery to the lives of others, then we must seriously consider the question of Jesus at the foot washing. »Do you understand what I have done to you?«


The beginning of the second reading from Paul’s exquisite first letter to the Corinthians really does not tell us anything we do not already know. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it. In the course of many years of cushioning Christ on palm and tongue, we are quite accustomed to seeing a bread broken. It is an experience common in our kitchens and done in our dining rooms.  Breaking bread is a routine. However, routine actions are not meaningless actions. Often they are laden with a significance that goes unseen and unnoticed, because we repeat the action so frequently. 

In this vein, the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper is far from mundane. Consider a loaf of bread in your hands, on your table. It contains food for the hungry. It satisfies growling stomachs, and gives basic nourishment to keep nerve and sinew from failing. However, none of this potential windfall of sustenance and strength has any hope of being released if one vital requirement is not met. The loaf must first be broken.

Consider the body of Christ upon the altar. It contains food for the soul, and satisfies the hungry heart. It brims with life-giving presence and keeps body and soul together. However, here too, there would be no table of plenty if Christ did not grant one special blessing. His body must first be broken. If Christ does not break the bread for us, then no one eats. If he does not pour out his blood for us, then no thirst is ever slaked.

The very act of breaking makes sharing possible. Breaking partitions a possession so that it can be enjoyed by the many. If one hangs on to the whole, then there is nothing to be shared, and nothing can be given to others as a blessing. The breaking of bread and body is the shattering of possessiveness.

Two critical lines of Paul’s letter teach us this lesson. »Our blessing cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.« »For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.« These two sentences link the Eucharist to the cross, and for good reason. For the willingness to break his life open for us in the Eucharist would be nothing without the willingness to break open his life for us on the wood of the cross. If he would be willing to do it at the table, but not on the cross, then the cross would be a meaningless moment, and the Eucharist a hollow ritual. Why would Christ break open his life to feed a people he did not want to save? Why nourish a life you do not want to redeem? Christ’s life must be broken open for us otherwise no one lives. His life must be poured out for us otherwise no one is saved. Stated very simply, genuine loving requires a real breaking apart of what we possess, whether it is bread, body or presence.


Authentic love requires a real breaking of our bread. There are many forms of bread that feed us, and the genuine love unveiled for us on the cross and in the Eucharist teaches us that we must share them with others if their nourishing fullness is to be unleashed. Break your bread. Break the bread of your life. Break the bread of your tables. Break the bread of your joys.

The willingness to break our bread for the sake of hungers in other people is the essence of what we commonly call sacrifice. Sacrifice entails breaking open our lives. We break them by means of selflessness and service. We break them open by means of self-denial. Yet, a true sacrifice always means that we have clear purpose. That purpose is to let others live, flourish and grow. A sacrifice must benefit another, not just empty me. If you break the bread of sacrifice, it is not enough that you go hungry. Others must eat. Your freely chosen impoverishment must give birth to unexpected enrichment in another. It is not wise to break your bread if there are none with hunger enough to eat of it. Such bread will only grow stale. It is not wise to pour out your wine when there are none to drink of it. Such wine will only spoil and sour.


Which raises a final issue. Will we live a life worthy of the Eucharist? Will we live a life worthy of the sign of the cross? Will we break the bread of our tables? Will we break the bread of our lives? The only way we can be sure that the Eucharist of this night and the Cross of tomorrow’s sorrowing have engraved the divine image of our Lord and Master into us, is if we are caught in the act of breaking the bread of sacrifice.

In the breaking of the bread, a father or mother might abandon a career-making opportunity for the sake of the children. Thus, they break their bread of power and personal fulfilment, in order that their children can feed on their presence and attentive love. Expensive theatre tickets might be left unused, because a friend’s need was greater than our taste for entertainment. In that moment, the bread is broken, and we give of what is ours to feed another.

Jesus asks the disciples after the foot washing, »Do you understand what I have done to you?« When we forsake a long anticipated pleasure, because greater duty commands our presence; when we give up golf links for the sake of great loves; when we turn off the favourite TV program to listen to the weeping of our children, when we give up a day off to make someone else’s day; then we can faithfully answer the question of Jesus. Yes, Lord, we know what you have done for us. You have taken all that is yours, broken it for sharing, and given it to us that we might yet live. And we have done likewise.

To walk the path of sacrifice requires one overwhelming reality above all others. You must consider someone worthy of a sacrifice. You must see that person’s life as valuable enough, precious enough, to break your own life open for its sake. If you cast your gaze upon another, and consider what you see to be beneath your dignity, beyond your contempt, and too woefully inadequate to merit your care, I assure you that you will make no sacrifice for them.

All that fashions Holy Thursday is made of a quiet joy tinged with sadness. Indeed, there is a quiet joy, for we know that his breaking is our blessing. There is a touch of sadness, for we know that not just Christ’s bread, but his body must be broken. It is imperative to know this to be the way of all our breaking. It will be marked by a quiet joy, and tinged with sadness. You will know the quiet, satisfying joy of restoring life and blessing to the shadow lands of shattered hearts. Yet, you will also know the touch of sadness that comes with sacrifice, for real losses are suffered. This is a critical hour. It can lead the heart to bitterness and resentment. Looking back, we will notice some of our dreams were left unfulfilled, certain aspirations were necessarily lost, and certain pleasures were denied, all because of others we have loved more than ourselves. Then, like Christ, indeed with Christ, we must answer the ultimate question. Were they worth it? It is with trembling that we must come to this night of Holy Thursday, for after knowing all that he endured for us in the foot washing, in the Eucharist, and on the cross, this is the place, this is the hour in which Christ whispers to us: You were definitely worth it.


Erik Riechers SAC

Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021



What sets the resurrection and the life in motion?


In Johns Gospel (John 11, 1-44), the Evangelist weaves a magnificent tale about the death of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. At the beginning of the story, his two sisters, Martha and Mary, take center stage. Here are two sisters who suffer the same fate, namely, the loss of their brother. Each of them goes on to have a personal encounter with Jesus. Both of the sisters start off their conversation with Jesus by saying exactly the same thing to him. »Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.«

The obvious expectation would be that two such identical encounters would lead to the same result. But that is not how it plays out.

Martha starts off her encounter with Jesus with her statement: »Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.« She sheds no tears, shows no emotion. She also does not give Jesus a chance to respond. Instead she forges ahead with a theological declaration. »But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.«

For his part, Jesus does not directly address her theological statement. He goes directly to the heart of the matter, namely, that which Martha’s aching heart most needs in this hour: »Your brother will rise again.«

Martha takes this very existential, personal reassurance and moves it into the realm of abstraction. She speaks of far off days when wondrous things will happen. »I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.«

Jesus responds to her by bringing the topic back to the present moment. »I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?«

Martha responds again, this time by professing her belief in him as the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. But she utters not a word about believing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, here and now. She speaks about faith in general, but not about her earthy, pressing need for resurrection and life in her grueling moment of need.

Then she goes home. And then it is Mary’s turn. She goes out to see Jesus, who is still outside the village. »Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.« An astonishing moment, because it shows us that the encounter with Martha did not set anything into motion. He is still exactly in the same place he was before he spoke with her. The Resurrection and the Life have not moved.

Mary starts off the encounter exactly as her sister did. »Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.« But she says this while on her knees and weeping. Her encounter has no statements and professions of faith. But it is full of tears.

»When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved.« And immediately the resurrection and the life are set in motion. First Jesus asks where Lazarus lays buried. Then he joins in the weeping. From there, he goes to tomb, accompanying the mourners to the place of their loss and grief and to the wellspring of their tears.  

It is the tears that move him. It is not the discussions, not the professions of faith, but the tears. Because tears are the language of the affected and the afflicted. They are not born of our thoughts on bereavement and loss, but of our existential experience of what these things do to us. As important as the discussion about faith is, in the end, if it does not reach the heart, it remains a cold, clinically-detached and lifeless reality. It will not set anything into motion. For the heart is the place where everything is decided.

The starting points for real movement toward resurrection and the life are the experiences of life that knock us to our knees and fill our eyes with tears. Pure doctrine will not be enough to bring us to the place where the resurrection and the life can be experienced. But we will weep our way there, for where we weep, we reveal ourselves for what we truly are and show what we genuinely need. Those tears speak of what is really happening with us and within us. They reveal what is we normally keep well hidden within our hearts. Tears are the place of encounter. They are the language of the soul. And they speak to God. And they set the resurrection and life in motion, because they move the heart of God.

Erik Riechers SAC, March 31st, 2021



Allow ourselves to be grasped


Perhaps personal experiences of unhappiness make us more thin-skinned.

Perhaps the uncertainties and threats posed by the pandemic, that has lasted so long, make us more sensitive.

Thus, it may be that as we enter Holy Week we feel more strongly about the kind of journey on which we are accompanying Jesus during these days of remembrance and what tremendous tension is expressed in the narratives: the tension grows, the conflict comes to light, who can still be relied upon? Words and actions take on an even greater importance in the face of death. Everything is of critical importance.

In the 12th chapter of his Gospel, John recounts Jesus' last visit to his friend Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, before he goes from the east up to the Mount of Olives and then on a donkey down to the city. Mary lovingly anoints his feet with precious nard oil. Immediately the rift among the disciples becomes apparent as Judas makes the accusation of wastefulness. Jesus, however, speaks of his burial. How confusing and frightening for all who hear it!

Jerusalem fills with people on pilgrimage to the Passover; but Jesus' enemies lurk on every corner and the crowd distances itself from him - nothing is to be expected from those who called out to him at the solemn entrance.

Then there is the last meal in the closest group around the master. Jesus speaks of the utmost, of blood and dedication, »for you and for all«. Every word a legacy. John prefaces his narrative with a poignant account: Jesus kneels on the ground and washes the dusty feet of his own on the last day of his life. Earlier it is told, that Jesus knew »that he had come from God and was returning to God« (Jn 13, 3). What an anchoring and perspective!

And then there is no more evasion: betrayed and arrested, accused and paraded, mocked and cruelly humiliated, lonely and abandoned at the mercy of the mob, tortured, tormented, murdered. And at the end the word: »It is finished!«

During no other week of the year are we so confronted and challenged to live life authentically, faithfully and fully, so as not to repress suffering, but to endure this tension. These last days of Jesus can take hold of us so that we become fellow bearers and are borne along with our own crosses.

I believe it is the only way to experience Easter.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 29th, 2021



By the side of the road


Palm Sunday B 2021                                        Mk 11, 1-10


We often speak of this moment in the grand Gospel story as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is a language I prefer to avoid. While I am quite sure that the spectators along the way felt something of triumph in this procession into David’s City, I am equally sure that Jesus did not.

This is a story about a path taken. Where such stories are told, a number of things happen. Who will the traveler meet on this way? How will they meet him? What will others do to help the traveller along the way? This story is no exception. Thus, I would take a closer look at what the people in the tale are willing to accompany Jesus on his way, and the one thing no one is willing to do for him in this moment.

While Mark will tell us what many will do (will spread cloaks and lay down branches), that does not tell us what everyone does. What we can say, is that no one active tries to hinder or impede Jesus on his way. Many will remain as neutral observers and unobtrusive bystanders. They place no stumbling blocks in his path. That is the path of minimalism. It shows no support or encouragement for Jesus, his mission or his way, but it equally does not discourage him. There is no investment, no involvement here, just the cool distance of the spectator and the withdrawn aloofness of those who avoid taking any position whatsoever. That is how we often experience people on our own path through life. They are not our enemies, but they are certainly not our companions either.

Then we see the two disciples who have been sent to secure his transportation. Having fulfilled their task of procurement, Mark tells us:

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it.

They make the first effort to make a contribution to easing Jesus’s way. But the image is more nuanced than we might notice. They “threw” the cloaks on the colt. When we throw something to a person or over the back of an animal, it is an image of rough, inattentive, and gruff living. It lacks the tenderness and thoughtfulness we experience when a person takes time to attend to our needs with time and sensitivity. It conveys the idea, that this is something we want to get over and done with. This, too, is an experience we have when we are on our path. There is always an experience of being helped along, but it lacks warm and heartiness.

Then we meet the many. Of them Mark says:

And many spread their cloaks on the road.

Notice the change in tone. These people do not throw the cloaks, like the two disciples. Instead they spread them out, an image of attentiveness and taking the time to make careful preparations. It is an image of deliberate action. We would immediately notice the difference if a person welcomed us to the table by throwing a tablecloth over it, of if they took the time to spread a tablecloth over it. That would make a difference to the way we feel welcomed.

For a second time, cloaks, garments, are invested. A garment is something that belongs to us, which is readily at our disposal. We do not have to go far to find a garment. There is rarely a time when we are wearing them, carrying them everywhere we go. The many spread their garments on the road, and thus make the path somewhat softer and gentler for Jesus. However, once Jesus has passed by, we can easily take them back again, brush off the dust or wash them, and even repair them if necessary. Then we can put them back on and return them to the service of our needs.

There is nothing negative about that. It is a small help offered to another to make his or her path a little easier, to make their journey somewhat more comfortable. We have known such people on our own path through life, and surely have appreciated their small gestures and kindnesses. They let us borrow a tool, share a room or use their facilities. Then they reclaim for their own purposes.

Mark then moves on to describe yet another response:

And others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.

This is an image of a greater and heightened investment and effort to ease the path of Jesus. These people do not reach for that which is close at hand and readily available (their cloaks). They move out to the fields, move out in the greater world, in search of other resources and means with which they might smooth the path Jesus is taking. And they make the effort to gather them in and carry them back. Furthermore, what they are willing to lay down is something they are willing to leave behind. Unlike the garments, these branches serve the sole purpose of making Jesus’ path somewhat softer, easier and more comfortable. We, too, have known such people on our path through life. They have made a considerable effort to smooth our way. But they go a step further than garment-spreaders. They invest resources they are not getting back. Such are the people who share a meal with us, knowing that they are not getting the food back afterwards. The gratitude for such people is usually also a little deeper, for they also go a little further for us.

So, what is lacking? What is the one thing no one is willing to do for Jesus in this moment? No one offers to go share the path he has taken, to go all the way. Every one of these moments, precious as they are, show us temporary aid, not long term accompaniment. Mark tells the tale very subtly:

And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, »Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!«

Some go before him, but only for a short stretch of this path. Other go behind him, again only for a short stretch of his journey. But no says to him: I will walk the whole way with you. This is not to demean or belittle the other offers, but they all stop short of the one thing we all will need on our long journey through life: companionship.

This has consequences. Sharing short stretches of a person’s journey, especially the exciting or particularly pleasure parts, is not all that difficult. Easing our journey and preparing that way for us are valuable gifts, but in the end they cannot and will not suffice. We also need companions, people who will walk with us through every landscape of life, rick every curve with us, and weather every season with us. The consequence of this story in Mark’s remarkable Gospel is very clear: no one will stand with Jesus at the foot of the cross. Mark tells the starkest story of all the Gospel writers, leaving absolutely no one near the cross of Jesus when he dies. The other Gospel writers soften the scene in their telling. But I hold with Mark. If we have no companions on our journey, but only bystanders, then we will be alone when we reach our Good Fridays.

We have encountered all these types of people on our journey through life. Yet, we should not leave this story on this note. Instead, where do we stand in the story? Are we bystanders who ease the path for others, to a greater or lesser degree? Or are we companions who offer others the accompaniment on all the paths their journey may take?

I invite you to join me in prayer with Padraig O’Tuama. May his words lay a gentle yet rich blessing upon our Palm Sunday.



person of privacy and publicity

popular - for a while - but not populist;

you held your centre,

based on what you understood to be your call.


Help us to hear a call,

not to greatness, or grandiosity,

not to position or prominence

but to the deepest call of all:

love, creativity and justice.


May this carry us, through

the lauds and lamentations

of our lives.


And may we be faithful to love, creativity

and justice, as you were.  Amen.


Erik Riechers SAC, March 28th, 2021



But only he who sees takes off his shoes


In my last reflection (Moses and Maud) I wrote about finding the bush that God sets on fire to summon us. Yet the moment we find that burning bush, we must understand and abide by one of the great rules of mystery. We must take off our shoes.

The English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning spoke elegantly and lovingly of this basic rule of mystery and equally eloquently about what happens to those who do not heed it.

»Earth's crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God,

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.«

The lesson is about sensitivity and how to foster and maintain it. Nothing is lost more swiftly nor more easily that our sensitivity toward the experiences of the burning bush. Therefore, let us take a closer look at what happens when we remove our shoes.

  1. We step gingerly and cautiously.
  2. We watch where we step.
  3. We slow down.
  4. We do this because without a shoe to protect us, we are restored to vulnerability and extreme sensitivity.

What Moses and Maud and Elisabeth learned about the Mystery of God is that we must do this before every mystery we encounter, be it the Eucharistic life of our Lord or the playful lives of our children. This must be our posture in the hour of courtship, friendship and colleagueship. This must be our way in matrimony, parenthood and priesthood. Otherwise we will trample over moments of mystery. Then we will not have the life-changing conversations that Moses enjoyed with God. We would have none of the paintings of Maud Lewis to thrill and sooth our weary souls, if the worlds she depicted in colour and form did not first thrill and soothe her own soul. And there would be no poems from Elisabeth Barret Browning, only blackberry harvesters. These people had the depth of the encounter with God, because they followed this rule of the deep heart: approach the mystery with care, with gentleness, with time and with sensitivity.

These should also be the four golden rules of our Lenten springtime, a new and more attentive way of moving through life.

  1. We should step gingerly and cautiously, for everywhere we turn we can find the Mystery of God.
  2. We should watch where we step. There are no godless places or encounters in the world.
  3. We should slow down. We cannot see, recognise and appreciate what we race past.
  4. We desperately need to restore our vulnerability and our extreme sensitivity. The rough and course manner in which we deal with life, love and longing, often hides, disfigures or even abuses moments that should open us unto mystery. The lack of sensitivity will kill the poetry within us, blot out the colouring and shaping of our creativity and stifle the conversations that lead to extraordinary life.                                                                           

If we want to live well with the mystery that graces our lives, we must take off our shoes.


Erik Riechers SAC, March 26th, 2021



Moses and Maud: Those with eyes to see the burning bushes of life


When I was studying narrative theology in the west of Ireland, there was a creative exercise that we would often play. We were to name two people from history or literature and then bring them together for a conversation. Then it was our task to create an imaginary dialogue between them.

I recently was reminded of this exhilaratingly creative exercise while watching the life of Maud Lewis, a Canadian painter from Nova Scotia. Both her life story and her paintings are a source of profound inspiration. In all her paintings she draws a world without shadows. She is usually referred to as a folk artist, but I have also found references to her work as primitive art. I could not disagree more. There is something sublime and sophisticated in her art, because she had the ability to show others what a deep inner gift made possible for her: she had the ability to shows us wonder.

Therefore, if I played out the exercise of imaginary conversation again, I would set Maud Lewis across the table from Moses. I believe that they have something in common. Both of them knew something about recognizing and moving toward a burning bush. Therefore, both of them knew something about how to approach and stand before the mystery of God.

I think that each would recognise in the other a kindred spirit. Both of them were children of wonder. Wonder, however, is the beginning of faith. If Moses was not moved by wonder, he would never have turned aside to view the burning bush, but that would mean he would have missed the encounter with God.

Wonder moves men and women to the encounter with God. You cannot gaze upon the paintings of Maud Lewis without being touched by her never failing sense of wonder. She found wonder in trees, birds, fishing boats and tulips, housecats and cows. These were her burning bushes.

We have our own burning bushes. Burning bushes are those moments of wonder that God places in our daily path in order to stop us short. They are moments in which the beautiful God summons us to an encounter that demands a long loving look at the real. They are our first, toddler’s steps toward God.

Moses and Maud Lewis would warn us about the one great peril that lays between us and our burning bushes: out ordinary, unassuming daily grind. Moses was not out looking for spectacular experiences of the divine. He was tending sheep. Maud Lewis did not travel the world for inspiration, but painted what she saw in the world at her doorstep, never travelling more than an hour’s drive from the place of her birth.

When we are caught up in the travails of our daily grind, the question that most troubles our hearts is, »Where are these fabled burning bushes of which you speak?« Yet, the real question is: »Where are the sons and daughters of Moses and Maud, who stop, notice and draw near to the burning bush moments of life?«

A bush is burning when men and women come upon the moment in which they recognise in one another a companion with whom they could forge a community of life and love, and welcome one another into the mutual commitment of the covenant. Yet, the wonder does not hold them all and too many refuse to leave the common path, to step aside and contemplate a life that is not just about them.

The bush burns in the soaring thoughts of impassioned and sparkling oratory of great storytellers of faith. Yet, it is all too easy to pass it by and to give ourselves over to the constipation of thought and the diarrhea of mindless words on television.

The bush is burning when we are startled to find new life within the womb, the astonishment of genuine love, moonlight kisses, tenderness in trial, and hands held through hell. But each of these summons to a new encounter with God can easily we ignored, belittled, even derided with an unadulterated arrogance that believes itself too sophisticated to deal with such trivial matters of wonder.

For this reason we are given a Holy Springtime. This is a race that does not go to the swift, but to the enraptured. The issue is clear. Where are your burning bushes, and do you still have what it takes to turn aside for the path you have chosen for the sake of the God who summons you? Can you be a spiritual son or daughter of Moses and Maud?


Erik Riechers SAC, March 24th, 2021



Regarding Fidelity, Perseverance and Companionship


Exactly one year ago, we launched our offer: »May you be sheltered!« The spread of the pandemic and the establishment of the first lockdown unsettled us all; our lives became unusually and painfully restricted, we were literally thrown back upon ourselves, as worry and fear spread. At the beginning of spring, darkness fell. None of us had ever experienced anything like this. Thus, we started out on our communal way in this situation - writing and reading. Today, we are still walking it together today and have just started our 53rd week. It's not as easy as it sounds, for both sides. Neither of us knew a year ago where the path would lead and how long it would be. We had not chosen this adventure, it was completely new. And yet we went and continue to go together day by day and remain on this path until this day and beyond.

In no way can this be taken for granted. It demands loyalty, consistency and perseverance, on both sides. Of course, there are moments of temptation to drop out. When it seemed like the hardest part was done, there were voices that whispered, »That is enough: it more than suffices. Now we ae done. « We remember this from last summer. We know voices such as these from many protracted and challenging times in our lives, and on our own we might succumb to that temptation: stop writing, stop reading. But a sober look made it clear that the crisis was not over and Covid19 was by no means already under control.

Thus, we were challenged more and more to practice the big theme of our Wellspring Days from one year earlier, maintain our breath for the long march. The great works of J.R.R. Tolkien, »The Hobbit« and »The Lord of the Rings« were our companions at the time. Together we now practice what it means to say:  » All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. «. We set priorities. We reject whining. We do what is possible. We keep an eye on each other. We address what should not be suppressed. And we show one another what is valuable, essential and beautiful.

The shadows are still there, the road much longer than expected. A look at Tolkien may remind us again and again: » Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens «.

We have embarked on this long journey through darkness together and are now entering our second year. Perhaps one of the most important experiences is this: Not without companions! Companions share bread with us and raise us up when we stumble; they encourage us when we get tired, they sing with us in the dark and make us laugh when our gaze gets too narrow. All of this is possible while respecting the rules of distance and hygiene. We have all been bearing witness to this for 52 weeks.

That is why we continue: Not without companions!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 22nd, 2021



Like Grains of Wheat


5th Sunday of Lent B 2021                                        Jn 12, 20–33


Thirty years ago, while sitting in a park, I observed as a child came running up to its mother, sobbing and clutching a jar to her chest. Somehow amidst the wailing and howling the mother managed to discover the nature of the tragedy that had befallen the child. She had captured and carefully preserved a butterfly in that glass jar. After several hours in the sun, without any ventilation, the poor creature died, much to the horror and stunned disbelief of the little girl. Gently her mother brought her back to a semblance of calm and then said a short and simple sentence. »Honey, it was never meant for that.«

That in a nutshell says everything about the Gospel story about the grain of wheat. »Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it shall remain alone.« Jesus is teaching us that we must not resist every form of dying in our lives. Indeed, there is a form of dying that is of paramount importance to a life well lived before God and his people. There is a form of fruitfulness that can only be born through an experience of death.

Tragic is the realization that we cannot capture and carefully preserve our lives in glass jars. Perhaps we will sob and howl our protest to the heavens, much like the little girl. Jesus will then answer us with a short and simple sentence: »You were never meant for that.«

Look at a grain of wheat. By its very nature it must die in order to bear fruit. That is part of its make-up, part of its essence. If the farmer decides to carefully preserve it in a glass jar, then he is not shielding it from death. Instead, he is denying it the fullness for which it was made, to which it is called and for which it was always meant. The grain of wheat is the image of potential for life and fruitfulness that is yet unfulfilled, a life chock full of possibilities that has yet to unfold itself into the world. Those who would cling to the grain of wheat, must be gently chided: »It was never meant for that«.

Humans are much like grains of wheat. Part of our essence is to die unto fruitfulness. It constitutes part of our nature. No one is going to pretend that it is a pleasant or particularly enjoyable part, but a part it is. Dying to parts of our lives is painful, unpleasant and difficult. It is also necessary if we would become that for which we were created, that which we are meant to be. Every attempt to refuse this death unto fruitfulness is a denial of ourselves, of the fullness and the destiny for which we are intended from the start.

A change of venue is in order now as we turn to a vignette of Father Pedro Arrupe's life, a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In his memoirs he writes of a young man of twenty-two, a victim of the horror that was Hiroshima. The radiation from the atomic explosion had left half his body as one, large, festering wound. Standing before Arrupe he said, »Father, help me.«

Arrupe sized up the situation immediately. »It's going to hurt a lot.« To which the young man replied, »Father, don't hesitate to hurt me; I can take it, but just save me«. There followed what can be described only as a time of terrible healing. The cleansing of the burnt flesh had to be done with boric acid, with the pus already hardened beneath the burns. For two and a half hours the terrible process dragged on. Arrupe wrote that »at the end he was prostrate with suffering, and I was exhausted with the tension«. Then comes the telling comment. »I had to become like an executioner to this man if I was to save his life«.

 We are like that man. There are wounds to be borne in our lives and we are covered with the sores of moments when we have lived beneath our potential and dignity, where we have failed to do justice to our relationships to God, neighbours, and creation and to ourselves. Cleansing these wounds entails pain, and it hurts to remove the scabs in order to be what we were created to be: healthy and strong. Self-preoccupation stripped away from us is painful and causes us suffering, but there is no other option if we are to be that which we are meant to be, a people of service. We must die to egotism, because we are created for self-emptying and selflessness. Greed must perish, for we are meant for generosity. Rugged individualism is peeled away from those destined for community. Racism must pass away in a people intended for justice. Hatred has to die in a heart forged for peace. It hurts to die to all these things. But it is a necessity to die to them, for we were never created for them, never destined for them. If our lives are filled with all these sinful realities we will hear God whispering into our ears the words of the wise, young mother: »You were never meant for that.«

When we encounter a serving, self-emptying, generous, just and peaceful person of communion, we know that this life has forged a life that is something beautiful for God. Yet, we should never forget, that this is a beauty born of a deep dying. None of us can walk away from this process of painful cleansing and still fulfil the purpose of our lives. Through dying we come to life. Through death we are fruitful.

Occasionally we are tempted to turn our back on the natural rhythm of things, desiring to spare ourselves or others the hurt and suffering and thinking ourselves noble and true as a result. Years ago I met a very gifted spiritual director. He made the remark, that he often heard a complaint from people he accompanied. It was never about a lack of kindness, compassion or understanding. It was about his clarity. He admitted that this often cut him to the quick. He was a man in whose heart resided a deep and personal concern for all the people in his care. Yet, his was a real compassion and not a false pity. He called them by name to be the truth, beauty and goodness that God intended them to be. He saw in them potential and fidelity, a real power and loving nobility. But often it was fettered, covered up or weighed down by sin and neglect. Unwilling to let them settle for less, he practised a true compassion by inviting them to liberation, uplifting them to freedom and showing them a vision of what could yet be reality for them all.

 When I heard this old man’s story, I thought he must feel much like Pedro Arrupe. In the end it is often the only way to heal, the only way to save a life. »Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it shall remain alone«. How compassionate would Arrupe have been if he had spared that man the awful pain? It is a telling lesson of our faith. We may spare another the pain of dying naturally like the grain of wheat, and discover that we have actually denied them authentic life.


Erik Riechers SAC, March 21st, 2021



A Man »put in place as a rock« *


A faithful companion,

who takes good and reliable care of his wife and son,

who knows what to do in case of danger and acts accordingly,

who does not put himself in the foreground, but always lives up to his responsibility for thos entrusted to his care,

who maintains a deep connection with God -

who would not wish for such a companion, such a father?!

Matthew and Luke tell us all this about Joseph from Nazareth.

And it is precisely this that makes him a role model for many people in their lives: caring like him, listening to God's voice and reliably assuming responsibility. How many institutions in which needy people are cared for bear his name for this reason! In our world, however, self-promotion and big words seem to get more attention; when things get difficult, patience and perseverance are lacking, excuses quickly pass our lips and God is a foreign word for many.

The Jesuit Alfred Delp lived and suffered in his world during the years of Nazi rule. But he persevered and won his very own connection and devotion to St. Joseph. Because of his connection to the resistance, he was arrested in July 1944 and wrote in prison:

Joseph » is the man on the margins, in the shadows. The man of silent assistance and help. The man in whose life God constantly intervenes with new instructions and missions. His own plans are silently overtaken. Always new instructions and missions, new departures and new exits.

He is the man who serves. The fact that a word of God binds and sends is self-evident to him. The willingness to serve, now that is his secret. (...) He is the man who wanted to prepare for himself a sheltering domesticity in the silent splendor of the adored Lord God, and who was sent into the insecurity of doubt, of the burdened mind, of the tortured conscience, of the drafty and wind-open streets, of the unhoused stable, of the unreal foreign life.

And he is the man who went...« *

This brings us closer to the deeper reality of the meager words of the Gospel. Alfred Delp knew what it means when plans are thwarted and fidelity to one's mission is challenged again and again, urging one to set out - into foreign lands, against fears, even into death.

Joseph was a man who endured the tensions of life and moved within them without losing himself. He was able to live all that the evangelists narrate succinctly because he was deeply rooted in God.

He was the kind of person of whom Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: »… a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock..« (Mt 7, 24-25)

The world needs people like him today as well, especially today - how good that Pope Francis places him especially close to our hearts this year!

* Alfred Delp, Gesammelte Schriften, IV, 199f

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 19th, 2021




A Legend of St. Patrick


Today is St. Patrick’s Day. May his blessing be upon you.

As soon as we speak of St. Patrick, we are surrounded by a plethora of legends that have built up around his person. And as soon as we hear the legends, we become bemused. We do not take them seriously, because we consider them a little childish, or worse, something for the simple-minded and the superstitious.

The legends around Patrick were born of popular perception. This is how the people saw and perceived him. These stories are a different way of approaching the historical person of Patrick. They are not born of the historical-critical eye of the scholar. They spring forth from the awed and deeply touched heart after the encounter with Patrick. These are not the cold, analytic depictions of the scientific mind, forever condemned to stand among the bystanders and spectators of the world. These are the stories of encounter, of the warmth that was felt, the horizons that opened the hearts that trembled because they were privilege to meet Patrick. They knew that what they experienced in the encounter with him was riven with God. These storytellers were never spectators, but participants.

Permit me to share my favourite legend of Patrick. One of the stories begins when Patrick takes leave of his parent’s home in Britain to return to Ireland. He takes his beloved walking stick with him, made of the wood of the ash tree. On his journey, he repeatedly stops to gather the folks, break the bread and to tell the stories of God. He takes every opportunity he gets to preach the Good News of Jesus.

When he would pause in a village, it was his habit to thrust his walking stick into the ground. For him it was a sign that he would not just move on, but was ready to stop and stay awhile. One day, he reached a village and decided to stop there to share the stories of God and the stories of faith with its people. As usual, he thrust his walking stick into the ground. Yet, this time it took a long time for the stories to be heard. Troubled hearts, anxious hearts, and hardened hearts did not immediately open and welcome his words. There was hesitation, confusion, reluctance and resistance. So Patrick stayed much longer in this place, telling the tales and preaching the good news. And because it took so long a time, the walking stick made from the wood of the ash tree developed roots and turned into a living tree. The place where all this occurred was thereafter called Aspatria, meaning ash of Patrick.

Now let us turn to the people who told this story. They chose the tree as the symbol of what they experienced. In biblical narratives, the tree often serves as a symbol of the human being and his or her growth. The tree enjoys a broad diversity, which one sees in the branches and leaves and fruits it bears.  Yet, this diversity forms a mysterious unity. The unity is the trunk from which everything branches out. This unity (the trunk) gets its life from roots. Roots, however, are buried deep in the earth and do their life-giving work in places we cannot see.

In deeply symbolic language, the people who encountered Patrick are telling us what they experienced, what touched them and what they took away from the encounter. If we stop to listen to Patrick’s stories of God and stories of faith, then what happened to his walking stick will also happen to us. They learned that we have to draw strength from the hidden places. We have to grow in two directions at the same time- We have to grow deep in order to keep connected and well grounded. We also have to grow upward, to stretch toward the heavens, to toward the light. Our lives need to branch out, grow higher and broader, bear fruit and ward the heavens and the light. And we need to trust the unseen parts of this process, happening in the depths (the roots) even while on the surface nothing is apparently happening.

If we move among these people, they will reveal to us the nature of the awed and touched heart after the encounter. What do they remember? What do they ache to tell us about their encounter with Patrick?

Let me write for you an imaginary letter. One night the storytellers behind the legend sit down to write us.

»Friends of the future. We pass the legend on to you, because what is precious to us we would not deny you. We knew Patrick, touched his hands and were touched by his hands. His voice still echoes in our hearts long after they stopped ringing in our ears. To have met the man was to have known something of God. And who can then keep silent? Here was a man who had patience with us. Even when he realised that his message took a long time to get through to us, he did not walk away, curse our ignorance or belittle our lack of learning. He stayed with us, accompanying us by giving us the time and the space we needed to open ourselves to the unknown God.

It is something we have never forgotten. In our day we have often been written off by the powerful, belittled and derided by the learned and treated with disdain, even by preachers. In all likelihood, the scholars of your day, will treat us and our stories in much the same fashion. But we pass our stories on to you, not to them. From Patrick we received dignity. From him we learned, that genuine storytelling and authentic preaching are not ventures for those who are looking for the quick profit and the easy win. In this man we learned that genuine storytellers and authentic preachers are looking for God’s people, seeking out their hearts, aiming to touch their wounds.

And we saw in his walking stick the process that was taking place and unfolding within us.  It took a long time for us to take root, dear friends. We had to go deep, not to be fast. So we tell our story to all who have ears to hear. If you do not go deep, you will never be more than a walking stick. If you do not go deep, you will never become a living tree.«

»Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!«  Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you.


Erik Riechers SAC

The Feast of St. Patrick, March 17th, 2021



But whoever does what is true. . .


We are quite far advanced on our way through the »holy spring«. Many of us now love this old name for Lent very much and indeed, we have made good progress. Temporally speaking, this is definitely true, as we are now already in the 4th week of Lent. But is it also interiorly consistent and true? A look out the window can guide us. Outside it is currently quite cold, yet life is bursting forth everywhere. What has begun in the darkness of the earth can no longer be stopped. It shows more and more: snowdrops and crocuses, daffodils and the first tips of the tulips, and shoots of perennials where I didn't expect anything at all. Variety shows in the garden, where my eyes had become accustomed to monotonous, lifeless brown. The growth began invisibly, tentatively in the dark, and is now making its way into the light. 

Do I also feel the first signs of vitality in me, tender beginning, perhaps, of processes that increasingly need space and slowly strive outward? Do I allow them to break through when the time comes? May they show themselves? Perhaps - encouraged by silence, prayer, good company - the truth finally breaks through in my heart that God looks at me, loves me and thinks well of me. This makes me grow and drives me out to a completely new vitality, more color, creativity and agility. It must be allowed to show itself. It wants and must go out into the light. 

»But whoever does what is true comes to the light«, we heard in yesterday's Gospel. Jesus says it to Nicodemus, the respected Pharisee and teacher, who only dares to seek Jesus by night. Longing has moved him to take this step, but at the same time he is afraid. He trusts the familiar securities of his position more than what Jesus' words have triggered in him. He does not seem to be a man of spring.

People of the spring trust the still invisible germ in themselves and let it come into the light by starting to live this found truth. Life that begins to grow within us must at some point be translated into action, into doing. People can talk a lot about what is going on inside them, what ideas and desires they have and what they want to do. But if this is never transformed into action, if the smallest drive of new life is not yet visible in their actions, then they do not live their truth and threaten to wither away. Talking about it is not yet living. When I perceive the truth in me, when new life stirs in me and moves me, then holy spring can come: Let us dare to take the first steps, let us show ourselves to the world, let us go, let us act! With the first shoot of a tulip breaking through the ground, the whole flower is not yet there. But if this breakthrough into the light does not happen, there will be no tulip - no color, no fragrance, no food, no joy, nothing! 

I wish us that we dare to do our truth, so that we grow into the paschal light - sometimes timidly and slowly, sometimes courageously in larger spurts - but always on the way to more life. Indeed, elsewhere Jesus says to his disciples, »the truth will set you free«, (John 8:32) – let us enter into this!

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 15th, 2021



Mercy is more than a word


4th Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          Eph 2: 4–10


But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

even when we were dead in our trespasses,made us alive together with Christ…

Mercy. Hardly has the word fallen and already we feel what longing it awakens in us. It is very welcome in a cold and merciless world. Who among us has never longed for mercy? 

But mercy is not just a word. It should be a way of life. Therefore, we should ask ourselves 2 questions so that we take seriously this experience of mercy, which is also an experience of God.

       1. How does mercy work concretely? (Is it more than being kind?)

  1. How does mercy make us come alive?

The great narratives of the Gospel can be of great help to us, because they trace the path of mercy. Three great characteristics emerge, the primordial experience of all believers in their encounter with their God and the reasons why they experience him as rich in mercy.


  1. The first step toward mercy is to have understanding for that which overwhelms others.

In Gospel narratives, it is clear that Jesus he has understanding for the excessive demands on his people, including his disciples. Again and again he shows this understanding when people are not able to carry more, to hear more, or to receive more. They are not able to do more at the moment.

Jesus has this understanding even though it costs him something. This overwhelming of the people and the disciples means that, for the moment, he cannot carry on with his program, even though he still has »many things« to say. But there is no mercy without this first step. Just ask the Samaritan of the parable. It costs him time, oil, wine, and money to help the beaten man. But while he does this, he cannot continue his journey and carry out his plans.

I am fairly certain that we have all had experiences of exhaustion, powerlessness, and being overwhelmed. There have surely been hours when we simply could not go on. I am also sure that in such hours we have occasionally encountered the painful experience of people who showed no understanding for what we were going through. And in that moment we knew, they also have no understanding for us.

Very often there is no understanding, because the other person only hears that what is overwhelming us could now become his problem and that this could change, delay or cross out her plans.

This is what a man told me years ago about a conversation with his boss. This man had brought a multi-million dollar contract to the company, but became very ill in the process. Now he needed treatment as well as time off. Immediately the boss complained about the problems this would cause him and what impact it would have on the duty roster. He never once asked about the well-being of his employee nor about his prognosis. 

If there is no understanding for us when we are being overwhelmed in these situations, then we cannot live well. In that moment, no one feels that they are treated mercifully.


  1. The second step toward mercy is patience. 

Jesus sees the overburdening of his people, but he does not assume that it defines us. Just because we humans cannot carry something at a certain point in time does not mean we never will. 

But patience is a tricky business. I once confessed as a teenager to my impatience and its devastating consequences in my relationship with my father and received the not-so-helpful advice, »Be patient!« My response was not patient either as I told the confessor in frustration, »Thanks a lot for that useless answer. If I could already do that, I certainly would not be here confessing impatience.«

What I needed at that time was help. What does patience look like? What steps do I need to take to live patience? Patience will always challenge me to give another person two things, space and time. Patience means giving people the space and time they need for growth, inner processes, maturation, unfolding and development, and for becoming whole.

This is the second step toward mercy. And we know it, because we do not feel mercifully treated when someone does not give us space for what still needs to grow and mature in us. How often do we experience that our tears, our fear and sadness are not given much needed space? No one feels mercifully treated when someone does not give us the time we need to deal with what is still going on inside us. However, we often experience the relentless pressure to be functional. If we are ever sick, sad, or exhausted, there is a merciless pressure that we should be restored and operational as quickly as possible.

The merciful must be able to wait for processes that cannot be accelerated. In this way, mercy can make a person come alive and become vibrant. In such moments of distress, who doesn't benefit from hearing, »Why don't you take the time you need?«


  1. The third step toward mercy is the support and fostering of growing greater than we are at the moment.

This third step toward mercy lies in Jesus' promise to send the Spirit. This Spirit will come and deepen what we have before us and within us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus expresses this as follows:

»He will not speak on his own authority. . .

. . . he will take what is mine and declare it to you.«

(John 16: 13-14)


Jesus does not pronounce a vote of no confidence in these moments of our lives. His message is not: Well, you have nothing, there is nothing available and therefore we have to start all over again.

Quite the opposite. Jesus expresses his confidence that more is possible than what is presently available. That is why he sends the Spirit. With this he wants to say: what is already there, I will accompany, deepen, support and promote. I will build up what is there, what I find.

To know that I am supported in my desire to become greater, healer, more loving, more just, healthier or better lets me breathe a sigh of relief and revive.

It's not always like that, though. Sometimes we are simply written off as hopeless. Sometimes we just hear that we should change, but get no support. And sometimes we are told that the way we are right now is not the way we should be. It is always a merciless moment, when people to refuse to work with what we have to offer.

Having understanding for being overwhelmed, patience (time + space) for necessary processes of growth and unfolding, and support for becoming greater than what we presently are form the path of mercy. This is the mercy of which God is rich. In this way he gives us a space in which to live.

Mercy is much more than just taking a burden off someone. In the long run, that creates inferiority in the receiver (I can't do it!) and mistrust in the giver (You're right, you can't do it, so I'll take it from you). God's mercy does not want the inferiority of His people, nor does it want to express His fundamental distrust of our ability. The God who is rich in mercy wants us to live, freely, responsibly and creatively.


Erik Riechers SAC, March 14th, 2021



A Swelling Mercy


In my last reflection, I told the story of the Ennis Sister and their song, »I will sing you home«. Yet, as my beloved teacher often said, »Every good story gives birth to other good stories«.

A few days ago a friend sent me a video in which »I will sing you home« is performed. He wrote me: »This moved me on so many levels and since I heard it, it rolls around in my heart, day and night. It comforts and encourages me in ways I cannot describe, but which I feel so deeply. I have no words for it, my friend. But I know you do. So I send it to you, because I know you will turn it into something beautiful for others.«

On the video I heard the Holy Heart Chamber Choir sing the song. This was a project that started under the constraints of the Corona pandemic, the students who normally participate in the school choir were concerned about being able to sing under the constrictions of masks and social distancing. Yet, they were confident that their choir director and music teacher, Mr. Robert Colbourne, would find a way. And they were not wrong.

First he listened to what was moving his students’ hearts. Together they chose and arranged this song, which spoke to them about loss and loneliness, love and comfort, and of a courage that sings us home. As one student put it, »It was a song that meant home to us«. In the first moment, they sang for themselves.

But mercy swells and grows. Before long, the choir and their director decided that their singing should be shared, that what they sang could comfort and strengthen others. So they decided to make a video for a music competition sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

But mercy swells and grows. The choir decided to be more inclusive and to translate one of the verses into French, thus allowing a group of another mother tongue to participate more fully in the message and comfort of the song.

But mercy swells and grows. As they grew into the song, and the song grew in them, a greater inclusivity began to unfold in them and they wanted to speak for everyone afflicted by the feelings and experiences that they knew all too well. They wanted to sing everyone home.

So they decided to reach out and include the deaf community. They invited a deaf choir member, Paula Coggins, to sing with them. The Newfoundland Deaf Choir helped the students to learn sign language and to appreciate it as a truly expressive language that employs the whole body as an expression of a deep culture.

On the hauntingly beautiful video of their performance, you will see the result of their efforts.* You will see Paula Coggins singing with them in sign language. You will see shots of students holding up signs with the various reasons why they sing. You will see a series of students holding up signs with a common message: »I sing, because when I sing, I am home!« And you will see the entire choir sing the last verse in sign language.

A tiny group of lonely, frightened, disoriented and isolated people created a video that integrated, included and reached out to innumerable people in their loneliness, fear, disorientation and isolation. A small beginning became something big, because mercy swells and grows.  And that is the story behind the story.

»Every good story gives birth to other good stories.« Rosemarie told us a story about Moses learning a song from God and left us with the question questioning impulse, »Do we have a song for times of trouble?« Her story awakened in me the story of the Ennis Sisters, three women who turned a personal story of tragedy of a suicide in the family into a story in song form. Like mercy, a good story swells and grows. At the moment, it swells and grows in you, beloved reader.

My friend sent me this video, because this song set his heart a swirling. It also moved him to do something more: »So I send it to you, because I know you will turn it into something beautiful for others.«

I just did.

Erik Riechers SAC, March 12th, 2021

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEIFBbHN0PY



I will sing you home


»Do we have a song for times of trouble?« The question that Rosemarie posed in her last reflection has stuck with me since I read it. The line that struck me most was when she wrote of God’s song for troubled times:

»For times such as these God once dictated a song to Moses. Moses, at the end of his life and leadership, had to write it down and teach it to the people; the people had to memorize it for times of trouble and distress that tend to follow sated, self-satisfied times.« 

The sheer loveliness of the scene touched me. What wondrous love is this, that stops to teach us a song, learn it by heart and make sure it is part of the toolbox of the heart, ready at a moment’s notice when the need arises?

Now I am sure, that many of us are touched by that scene. The question is whether we are moved by that scene. Would we follow God’s lead?

In Newfoundland, Canada, a singing trio of sisters, composed such a song. The Ennis sisters wrote a song entitled »I will sing you home«. It was born out of a tragic, painful and emotionally taxing experience in their lives. A young cousin of theirs took his own life. Maureen, one of the sisters, recounts:

»When this happened with Steve it was quite a shock to our family and through that winter, moving through that kind of grief, I really had no idea how to do it. So my writing partner Mark Murphy suggested that we sit down and write a song and so the song came out of a very necessary point in my life of trying to heal through the grief.« * That was in 2008.

Since then, many hundreds of people have sung this song to navigate the turmoil of their personal troubled times. In 2015 the Ennis sisters sang it as part of the service to remember the fallen Soldiers during the 100th anniversary of the catastrophic Battle of Beaumont-Hamel during World War I. In 2019 the three sisters stood on the shores of Juno beach in Normandy and sang their song to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Maureen, Karen and Teresa, the Ennis sisters, followed God’s lead. First of all they wrote a song for troubled times.  Secondly, they took a deeply personal experience and shared it with others, teaching them a song for their own troubled times. Thirdly, countless people learned the song by heart. You can see them singing along at their concerts, at these commemorations, without notes and song sheets. And finally, people bring the song forth during times of trouble. They sing it where grief envelopes them, sorrow overwhelms them, despair is their constant companion and the rawness of life needs a soothing balm.

What God did for Moses, the Ennis sisters did for others in their world. And when people do what God did, I believe we are standing in a privileged place, a holy place, a place where God dwells with the beloved community.

And I believe they found a lovely turn of phrase to describe the holy, healing flow that God set into motion in days long ago. »I will sing you home.« It is what God does for his people until this day. It is what his people do for each other when they live closest to his magnificent heart. This is what such a moment sounds like in the lyrics of the Ennis Sisters.

Too soon to leave this earth.

How could all your work be done?

Ash to ash and dust to dust.

Seemed to me you’d just begun.


When grief invades my soul

there's comfort in a prayer, I find.

Though these candles honor you

They burn for those you left behind.


I'll sing for you because I need to.

Right now this is all I know.

I’ll sing so we will not forget you.

I will sing you home.

I will sing you home.


Know that you will live

on the lips of those who knew,

what it was you had to give

and what it was they learned from you.


This is my prayer for you

and maybe someday I will know,

if it helped your journey home,

or if it helped me let you go.



We're born unto this earth,

generations one by one.

Ash to ash and dust to dust,

there is nothing left undone. 



We are living in some fairly troubled times right now. Perhaps we could take up this grand tradition.  Perhaps we could move beyond our personal grief and struggle and open it to others. Perhaps and say to one another, »I will sing you home«. It is a work worthy of God. 

*CBC News, October 29, 2015

Erik Riechers SAC, March 10th, 2021



Do we have a song for times of trouble?


We were sated by so much for so long - and would like to be again.

We followed idols - and did not notice.

Self-confidently we planned our days - and thought it would go on forever.

We had everything under control - now we are standing on shaky ground.

We let nothing be said to us - now we cling to every voice.

Yet: Which one is right? Which one should we follow? Where are we going?

Small boats and big ships are all swaying. We cling to thin sticks: numbers, regulations, ordinances - what is valid today, what tomorrow?

Where is solid ground, a rock in the surf, reliable and faithful?

For times such as these God once dictated a song to Moses. Moses, at the end of his life and leadership, had to write it down and teach it to the people; the people had to memorize it for times of trouble and distress that tend to follow sated, self-satisfied times.

This is how this old song begins:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! »The Rock«, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. Do you thus repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. (Dt 32, 1-7)


In detail, the song continues to tell the whole story of the people, once chosen, saved and led, and at some point sated forgetful of God.

Will we find and listen to such a song that sings

            of the reliability and the faithfulness of our God, who was and is and will be,

            who waits for us like a father and in whom we can entrust ourselves?

And if we ourselves still know such a song -

            do we sing it to those who do not know it?

In a time of crisis, Simon Peter said to Jesus, »Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.«  (Jn 6, 68)

Huub Oosterhuis lets us sing:

»May you speak the word that comforts and liberates and that leads me into your great peace. Open up the land that knows no borders, and let me live among your children. Be thou my daily bread, as surely as thou livest. You are my breath when I pray to you.«

Indeed, we have the words and songs for troubled times. Let us practice them again during our Holy Springtime!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 8th, 2021



What kind of House is this?


3. Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          John 2:13-22


All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. But while Matthew Mark and Luke tell the story toward the end of the Gospel in the time when Jesus Passion and suffering begins, John makes a boldly different choice. He tells us this tale at the very start of the Gospel when Jesus’s public ministry is just beginning.

What happens at the beginning of a story awakes an expectation. We keep the event in mind, because we want to see how it all plays out. As the story unfolds, we begin to understand the fuller meaning and power of the earlier event, realising there was more here than we suspected.

By putting the cleansing of the Temple at the start of the story, John is already showing us something that will play a distinctive and significant role in the way Jesus accompanies us through life. The cleansing of the Temple is a story of disruption, of being willing to be loud when others hide behind hushed tones and of speaking and living plain truth in places where people choose accommodation as the path of least resistance. When we read this story at the end of a Gospel, it suggests that this is one of the reasons why Jesus is finally arrested, tried and executed. But by placing it at the very beginning of the story, John is saying to us, here is an approach to life and faith that belongs to Jesus from the very beginning, an essential part of who he is and how he lives. Thus, it becomes an essential part of what his apprentices will learn from the Spirit Master.

In this story, we are placed before the Jesus who does not quietly appease all the parties involved. He is willing and quiet able to be confrontational in matters of great importance to his heart.

That, in turn, raises the question, what was so important to his heart, that he overturned tables? What was happening here that made him openly, clearly and publically confront it? What harm or danger did Jesus see here that made him react like this?

The Temple was designed as a set of courtyards that moved ever closer to the Holies and Holies. There was a courtyard of the gentiles to which everyone had access. That was followed by a courtyard for women, then a courtyard for the men, followed by the courtyard of the priests and finally the Holy of Holies. Each successive courtyard became more selective as to who could draw closer to the holiest dwelling place of God.

Thus, the first courtyard, the courtyard of the gentiles, was the most democratic, most egalitarian place in the temple. It was accessible to Jews and Gentiles alike, men and women, and even the unclean were permitted to enter it. Thus, it was the one place in the house of God for everyone. For many, it was the only place in the House of God, because they would by faith, gender, religious status or ritual impurity, not be allowed access to any other courtyard.

Jesus reaction to the business being conducted here has everything to do with that. The one place in the temple that was meant to embrace everyone willing to enter in, was now becoming a place of business and market forces. And one thing we all know about markets, is that they always become a place of separation.

By setting up their stalls here, the merchants let a poison enter the temple: can you afford to be here? If we walk down any street with shops and restaurants, we will subconsciously practice this subtle form of separation and exclusion. We read the menu posted outside the restaurant, check out the prices and then we know, whether we can afford this place. The stores we shop in are silently chosen by that criteria: can I afford this place? If we do not have the money, we do not enter. That is how marketplaces work.

The poor would thus enter the courtyard of the gentiles and quickly realise that they could not afford to be here. They had no money for the animal offerings required for cleansing rituals. It is comparable to places in the world, where people have not baptised their children or celebrated their marriages, because they could not afford the stipend or the fee. This is something that deeply bothers Pope Francis and which he repeatedly challenges.

It bothers Pope Francis, because this is what bothers Jesus. How could the entrance to his Father’s house be the place where the first and deciding question was: Can you afford to be here? Have you ever entered a rather expensive store to simply look and seen how the staff look you over, giving you the distinct impression that they doubt you can afford their products?

The first and deciding experience of entering into the house of God is unmitigated welcome. Jesus is saying: the entrance to my Father’s house is a place where all are welcome. But the first experience and encounter with God is not elitist. It takes place in the rich, chaotic mixture of peoples, in every shade in which they come. The best and the worst we have to offer is welcome here. Where men and women, young and old, rich and poor, sinner and saint and everything in-between can come together and know themselves welcome, that is the place where the encounter with God begins.

And Jesus is not afraid to name this, call it out, and confront it. He does so openly and publically.

That is the challenge of our Spirit Master. We all too easily look away when things are uncomfortable. We do not easily name injustice like this. Because there is a hidden trick to this story. In fact, Jesus could easily have kept silent, because he could afford to be there. His circumstances did not exclude him from entering the house of the Lord. Therefore, he is confronting an injustice that does not directly affect him. He is raising his voice for others. He is overturning the tables for the excluded.

The Church is much afflicted in these days, indeed, battered by many problems, many of her own making. But the most serious problem we as the people of God face today, is whether how we set the starting point for the encounter with God. If we do not start with indiscriminate love and welcome, we turn entrance to God’s house into a marketplace. If we ask, whether they are moral enough, religious enough, pure enough, then we are asking: Can you afford this place?

Religiously elitist groups practice this to this day. They want to welcome only the people they deem worthy, who fit into their image of »appropriate«, who meet their criteria. If you do not have what they are looking for, they let you now in no uncertain terms, that you cannot afford to be there. Some build schools that only accept the children of the wealthy elite. I have seen spiritual programs designed entirely around the executive echelons of businesses. They are created to cater to the powerful, the influential, and of the upper class of the business world, satisfying their needs and serving their agenda. There is no doubt that one must pass the test of the temple merchants to enter this world.

I have also seen the great welcoming spirit of Jesus, in communities that make it clear that money is no obstacle to receiving the finest pastoral care and spiritual accompaniment. I know of superb ministers of the Gospel who make sure that any person can receive the pastoral care they need, regardless of their ability to pay. They go the extra mile to ensure that no one feels uncomfortable, unwanted or »second clas«” because they do not have enough money.

The starting point cannot be what we are able to bring to the house of God, but what we seek in this house.

That is why John puts this story at the start of his Gospel. This is where it all starts. The culture of first welcome, of first encounter, of first contact: it will determine the rest of the story. We need to cleanse the temple with the same passion as Jesus. It is, after all, the way we open the doors to the House of God to a waiting world.


Erik Riechers SAC, March 7th, 2021



Despair or promise?


Today, we have a hard time with the word promise when it comes to our personal lives. We are used to having so many more possibilities than the people in biblical times that we have long been on the track of having and holding a great deal, even everything, in our own hands and also of having to deal with it. We are currently experiencing an example throughout the world. A pandemic has been spreading for over a year and at the same time scientists are developing vaccines against it at an unprecedented pace, which can now already be administered. This is extraordinary and wonderful. But it also reinforces in us the feeling that we can and must save ourselves, and we unconsciously transfer that to all areas of our lives.

But what if it doesn't work? What if my illness is not curable? What happens when people deeply disappoint and hurt me and I can't do anything about it and am powerless? What about when a faithful companion has left me and I can't fill the void with anything? Are only resignation and despair left? Or is it precisely here that completely different possibilities and ways open up to set me on the track of my promise?

Through progress and secularization, something went lost in us. The person of the Bible, on the other hand, saw clearly, that agonizing pain needs space and time. And in this moment he was able to turn to God, to whom he unstintingly poured out his heart about what was troubling him. Thus, it became possible for him to find a new perspective on his promise. Psalm 77 is a powerful example of this. The person praying does not mince his words in his distress. He cries and complains, his spirit is desperate and turns in circles at night - we know the feeling. And then he asks: Has God forgotten to be gracious?    Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Ps 77, 9) And he pauses in the next verse and says to himself: And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed. I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. (Ps 77, 10-11). He remembers the history of salvation of his people and the faithfulness of God, and can enter again into the community of all bearers of the promise of life and future.

However, this does not happen as quickly and easily as it may sound here, and everyone who honestly goes through painful times in his life knows that. How often God repeated his promise to Abraham! How insistently and to the point of exhaustion the prophets reminded the people of Israel of the promise! For the way is long and often irritating. Yes, it requires a long breath and faithful companions and perhaps also the advice that Henri Nouwen gives us for such times: »Cling to the promise«. We cannot find access to it outside; it does not help us to tell our story to all kinds of people. »You must close yourself off to the outside world«,  Nouwen advises, »so you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send you the people with whom you can share your affliction and who will bring you closer to the true source of love.« He then reminds us that God is faithful to His promises and will give us in this life the love we long for.. »Things will not turn out the way you expect. Your needs and wishes will not be met. But your heart will be filled and your deepest desires will be satisfied. Hold to nothing but this promise. Everything else has been taken from you. Cling to this naked promise in faith. Your faith will heal you.«  (from: Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, , 51998)

We all live because there is a promise upon us - ancient and eternally young. Let us walk with it and keep it alive within us, so that we remember it when doubt gnaws and despair threatens.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 5th, 2021



People of the Spring


Lent is intended to be a holy springtime for us. While nearly everyone feels the charm and attractive quality of this image, springtime also carries within it a spiritual challenge as well as a spiritual responsibility. It calls us to be a people of hope.

My mother was a daughter of the springtime. On every March 1, she would declare loudly and to all of us that spring had officially begun. This declaration was bold indeed, for on the Canadian prairies, winter was still reigning with unbroken power over our lives. The temperatures were cold, the wind icy, and the snow deep. Moreover, we all knew that winter’s grip would last well into April, and occasionally into May.

Therefore, I would gently tease my mother about her declaration of the official beginning of spring by pointing to the prevailing conditions. With unbroken resolve, she would recite to be a verse from a poem she had learnt as a child.


Und dräut der Winter noch so sehr

Mit trotzigen Gebärden,

Und streut er Eis und Schnee umher,

Es muss d o c h Frühling werden.


And while winter yet threatens

with defiant gestures,

And scatters ice and snow around,

It must become spring.

This is the first verse of a poem by Emanuel Geibel (1815-1884). The poem is entitled Hoffnung. (Hope).

In Hebrews 11:1 we read this line: »Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not being seen.« And that is what my mother was practicing every year. She believed in warmer, gentler days ahead while winter winds whipped about her. She felt assured of a new blossoming life, while icicles hung from every tree branch. She was convinced of the glory of spring while unrelenting cold chilled her bones. That is what people of the springtime do: they defy the momentary experiences of the wintry season and already start living differently, because they are confident that new life is coming. 

My sister is such a defiant daughter of the springtime. (The greatest strength flows through the veins of the women of my clan). Every spring, with breathtaking defiance, she sheds her socks and walks barefoot in her sandals, no matter how many times winter returns with snow, how many times the cold reasserts its grip and how bitter the winds blow across the prairies. I have teased her gently as well over the years, but once the socks are off, there is no going back. That is what people of the spring do: they already start living differently, because they are confident that new seasons are coming. 

When the surprising winter snows arrived here in Germany this year, my colleague went for a walk through the snow piled up in her garden in her bare feet. A tiny, humorous and joyous act of defiance in the face of the wintry season. That is what people of the spring do: they refuse to allow the prevailing experience of the moment dictate how they will live. There is a fierce streak of resistance in them.

That is what the 40 days of the Holy Springtime wishes to restore in us. I leave you with the words of a hymn, so beloved in my home and native land, »Now the Green Blade Riseth«. It is a song of hope for the beloved community moving through the forty days. It is the song of all those who in the midst of the wintry season remain spring-believers, sock-shedders, and bare foot snow walkers. It is the song of resistance for the people of the spring time.

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.


In the grave they laid Him, Love who had been slain,

Thinking that He never would awake again,

Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.


Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,

Jesus who for three days in the grave had lain;

Quick from the dead the risen One is seen:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.


When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Jesus' touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.*


* A gorgeous version can be heard here:



Erik Riechers SAC, March 3rd, 2021



On the trail of loneliness


One of the increasing plagues and laments of our modern world is the suffering of loneliness. The pandemic has intensified this distress and it is worth taking a deeper look at the phenomenon of loneliness.

A young woman, then in her early 20s and very familiar with this feeling because of her unfolding fidelity to herself and her very unique gifts, told me many years ago, » It's becoming ever clearer to me that we humans come into this world alone and end up leaving it alone.« She began to accept that the feeling of being alone is part of life.

I couldn't help but think of her when I came across a text by Henri Nouwen these days. It comes from a book that Nouwen himself called his »secret diary« and wrote during a very difficult time in his life. In great distress at the time, he went into self-chosen exile and wrote down, step by step, everything he went through and learned. Of course, the feeling of loneliness played a significant role there and he appeals from his own experiences to approach its source:

»Whenever you feel lonely, you must try to locate the source of that feeling. You tend to either run away from your loneliness or settle into it.  When you run away from it, it doesn't actually diminish, you just push it out of your consciousness for a short time. Settling into it only intensifies your feelings, and you slip into depression.

               The spiritual task at hand is not to escape your loneliness, nor to allow yourself to be drawn into it, but to seek out its source, to pursue its reason. It is not an easy undertaking, but if you somehow succeed in identifying the place from which these feelings emanate, they will lose power over you. Determining this source is not an intellectual task, but a task of the heart. You must search for this place with your heart and without fear.

               This search is important because it leads you to discover something good about yourself. Suffering your loneliness may be rooted in the depths of your vocation. You might come across that your loneliness is related to a calling to live fully for God. Thus, your loneliness may turn out to be the other side of your unique gift. Once you can experience this truth in your innermost being, you will find your loneliness not only bearable, but even fruitful. What at first appeared to be a pain may afterwards prove to be a feeling, albeit a painful one, that opens the way for you to a deeper knowledge of God's love.« (from: Henri J.M. Nouwen, Die innere Stimme der Liebe,5  1998)

    The young woman of that time drew nearer to her loneliness, cautiously, with increasingly less fear and a growing openness. In the process, she came to know herself more and more and finally found wonderful companions who were close to her heart.

She became ever more courageous and authentic, in order to venture into her life freely and in responsibility before God and herself, ever anew. And she is no longer afraid of loneliness!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March, 1st, 2021



A Tale of Two Transfigurations


2. Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          Mark 9:2-10


Every second Sunday of Lent we hear this story of the Transfiguration. The first thing that happens, is that our eye is drawn toward the transforming light that envelopes Jesus. The story draws our eye toward the glory. Yet, our ear is drawn toward a heralds’ voice from Heaven. The sounds and the sights of this story move us in very different directions. For the minute the voice from heaven’s heights is heard, its message turns our eye back to the person of Jesus. Furthermore, the voice emphasises what it sees and loves in Jesus, and it is neither the light, nor the glory. It is the belovedness.

So today I thought I would get into the action as well and draw your eye away from center stage. Instead I would draw your attention to the other side of the story, where Peter, James and John are huddled together, mesmerized and confused at the same time. This is our side of the story.  Charles Dickens once wrote a novel entitled: »A Tale of Two Cities«. Well, my brothers and sisters, this is a tale of two transfigurations. Across from the trio of Jesus, Moses and Elija, there is a group of three also being gradually transfigured by what they are seeing and hearing. And from their midst, Peter utters an important line: »Lord, it is good to be here«.

This story tells us quit vividly how Peter, James and John arrived at this transformative moment:

  1. Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves

They climbed the mountain with Jesus, moving out of the everyday experience to a more privileged mountaintop moment, where you have a greater overview of life and the world, and are a little more isolated from the hustle and bustle of the valleys and the plains.

  1. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

All of a sudden, the Jesus so familiar to them appears in a totally different light. His whole appearance changes, and they see him from a side they never experienced before. Moses and Elijah appeared next to him in splendor, and for the first time they recognise the wide world of his relationships, a world considerably larger than the one in which they have walked and talked and broken bread with him until now. Like all transformative experiences, this one lets them see old things with new eyes, old relationships in a new light.

  1. Then Peter said to Jesus, »Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.« He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Peter does the talking here, but he speaks on behalf of his companions and, if we are honest, for us. Who wants to leave such a moment behind? We are deeply enough aware of its importance that we know, there is more here than we can grasp and take in all at once. We need more time. We need to linger a little.

Peter wants to make three dwellings, because he wants to stay in this experience and to hold on to this moment.

Over and over, preachers roundly criticized him for this attitude. I will not add my voice to that chorus of complaint. After all, I am just like him. Every place that has ever »held me in thrall«, made me want to build three tents, to stay and enjoy and relish. In every place, occasion and moment that has mesmerized me, I have never once felt the urge to leave.

I seriously doubt that it is task of that moment to want to leave. The question might be better re-framed: What will we do when this moment ends? Having seen what we have seen, and heard what we have heard, is it not possible to go to other places, less thrilling and hardly as overwhelming, and still seek and see and name the belovedness of Christ as clearly as the voice rumbling out of the clouds? Is it possible, that we might go elsewhere and still say of the less overwhelming moments and less dramatic places of life: »Lord, it is good to be here.«?

I cannot help but like Peter. He is so much like us. His instinct is our instinct, and our instinct in these moments of glory is to try and capture the experience. At the same time, we also know that we really do not know what we are saying in this moment, because our own experience tells us this will end badly if we try. Thus, we bring back wine from our holidays, but it just does not taste as good at home. We bring home the recipe for the meal that delighted us and we cook it in our own kitchen, but it is never really the same. Why not? Because genuine moments of transformation always elude our imprisonment. We cannot hold them fast. It does not work in the worlds of our memories and not in our video clips, selfies, and Facebook posts. Whatever dwellings we build, they cannot contain the purest, deepest part of the transforming experience.

So we need to recall the transforming moments of our lives and ponder them somewhat more exactingly. Remember the moments when mountains became moments of mystery and not just piles of rock, when spring blossoms spoke to us of God, when the first word of a child was as moving and momentous as the ten words from Sinai, and a glance across the breakfast table at partner and companion became a feast of revelation.

Linger as long as you can. Don’t waste your time building dwellings, but drink in the moment with your eyes and ears. Be silent with gratitude. These are moments not unlike those Peter, James and John experienced. And therein lays the deep truth, the clue that unveils the mystery: Transfigurations don't happen on mountains. They also do not happen in parks or street corners. They happen in us.

I think of less dramatic transfigurations in my life.

Sitting with a group of old people whose memories are few and realizing that God sees each of them as he created them, as his perfect child. This was a place that had none of the spectacle of Tabor, but all of its splendour. It was a place where I had to say: Lord, it is good to be here.

I once sat at the deathbed of a woman who opened her eyes one last time and said: Thank you for not leaving me alone! It was sad, painful, and sorrowful. When I recall the moment, I feel it transforming me still. And I still can say: Lord, it is good to be here.

I have often sat in my chair reading a good book and my eyes grew wide and I knew what I needed to know without needing words. The book drops from my hands and I am at peace. Is this not the place to say: Lord, it is good to be here?

Like our biblical companions, we too will come down the mountain and ponder a question: What can this rising from the dead mean? Transformative mountaintop moments of life do that for us, leaving us with questions that continue to rouse us from the slumbers that threaten to put our spirit to death. »What can this rising from the dead mean?« is a question that can wake us from passivity, indifference and numbness toward life, love and mystery. What can this rising from the dead mean, when we walk again along the common paths of life, and dwell once more among faces so familiar and places so well known? Will we allow these moments to awaken a deep passion, a consuming fire within us that lets us see them in a new light? Will we allow a voice from the cloud to point out the belovedness in the world beyond the ordinariness that can dull us, just as it called us to see the belovedness beyond the glory that can blind us?

Nikos Kazantzakis once wrote: »God is not found in monasteries, but in our homes! Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God: wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that’s where God is, too. The God I’m telling about, the domestic one, not the monastic one, that’s the real God.« (The Last Temptation of Christ, Page 70)

May this grand storyteller, who understood our side of this story so well, do us one last favor. Let us listen to a parable that flowed from his quill to bring this to an end:

A man came up to Jesus and complained to him about the hiddenness of God. »Rabbi,« he said, »I am an old man. During my whole life, I have always kept the commandments. Every year of my adult life, I went to Jerusalem and offered the prescribed sacrifices.

Every night of my life, I have not retired to my bed without first saying my prayers. But . . . I look at stars and sometimes the mountains - and wait, wait for God to come so that I might see him. I have waited for years and years, but in vain. Why, Why? Mine is a great grievance, Rabbi! Why doesn’t God show himself?«

Jesus, in response, smiled gently and said: »Once upon a time there was a marble throne at the eastern gate of a great city. On this throne sat 3,000 kings. All of them called upon God to appear so that they might see him, but all of them went to their graves with their wishes unfulfilled.

Then, when these kings had died, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat upon that throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of a human being cannot look directly at the sun, for they would be blinded. How then, Omnipotent One, can they look directly at you?

Have pity, Lord, temper your strength, turn down your splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you!’ Then - listen, old man - God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut and, in the front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant.

‘Thank you, Lord,’ he whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!’«


Erik Riechers SAC, February 28th, 2021



Why we should not speak of the Pandemic as a Lenten Experience II


Fasting is more than imposed abstinence

In my last reflection, I pointed out that unlike the pandemic, Lent is voluntary and not inflicted. We choose to practice Lent because we see it as a meaningful way to restore what has been lost to us. The pandemic is not a choice, but a tragedy we are forced to cope with.

During the Lenten springtime, we turn to the practice of fasting, but here, too, we need to avoid comparing this to the imposed and forced abstinence of the pandemic.

In Isaiah 58, 1-9 the prophet points out that fasting cannot consist in mere abstinence. Simply refusing to eat is a hunger strike, not a fast. The prophet is brutally clear on this matter. Fasting has to open us up to new horizons of service, justice and mercy. Otherwise it is displeasing to God. That is not what pandemic measures do.

In fact, it is a simple lesson for us to learn. I have found it incredibly easy to fast from food in my life, and never widen the welcome of my heart one whit. At other times I have fasted from food, but let my spirit gorge itself on anger, bitterness, and even selfishness. At yet other times, I have fasted and found myself more querulous than I was before the fast. The prophet’s words ring with fine rebuke in my ears. »Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.« (Is 58, 3-4)

This is powerful, provocative language. »You cannot fast as you do today   and expect your voice to be heard on high«. (Is 58,4) Two things are implied in this statement. First it tells us that improper fasting does not gain us an audience with God. However, in the second instance it reminds us that proper fasting is defined as that which garners us a new hearing from God. If you fast, and it does not bring you closer to God, the fast has failed.

My friends, fasting can bring us closer to God by making us more profoundly aware of the concerns of His heart. While we eat, drink and practice merriment, our lives are intensely focused on the concerns of our own hearts, on our personal pleasures. Fasting creates hunger. The question is »What kind of hungers are awakened in us?«  After putting down your pork chops, chicken legs and rib-eye steaks, do your hearts have the same cravings found in the heart of God? These are not questions raised by the imposed abstinence of the pandemic measures.

It is not that hard to give answer to this biblical inquiry. What are the cravings of the heart of God? Simply this:

»Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?«


What is the hunger of God’s heart?

»Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?«

If we fast, then what burns in the heart of God must become the heartburn of humanity. If you fast from bread and never let a morsel of it touch the lips of the hungry, then you are simply stockpiling bread. If you refrain from consumption of any and every kind, and give none of what you have saved to those who never have the luxury of fasting because they have nothing to give up, then you have not only spared yourself, but also denied them. None of the enforced abstinence of the pandemic has brought forth such fruits.

Permit Lent to unfetter your joy. Isaiah promises that it will be so. If you let Lent alleviate the greeds of your heart with the needs of God’s heart, then »your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appea; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.« Now that is what I call joy. Yet the fullness of joy found in the fullness of the fast, is that it will grant us a hearing before our beloved God. It is the final promise of the prophet. »Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.« Think long and lovingly on this, beloved of the Lord. What morsel could you possibly eat that would satisfy your heart and soul as much as knowing that in every hour the Lord will answer your plea with his presence?


Erik Riechers SAC, February 26th, 2021



Why we should not speak of the Pandemic as a Lenten Experience I


Some people have complained about this Lent after a year of the pandemic. I have often read commentaries that say: »Why should we practice Lent this year after 11 months that have been nothing but one long, continual season of Lent?«

While I understand the frustration the last year has brought with it, and the restlessness that comes with it, it dismays me to hear the pandemic compared to Lent. To use Lent to describe the year of the pandemic is to employ the worst of all possible stereotypes we have about the Forty Days. This question is less a statement about the effect of the pandemic than a revelation of a very negative and false understanding of the forty days. It suggests that the only purpose of Lent is to impose a time of misery, hardship and discontent through imposed sanctions and practices.  It suggests that suffering and pain are the purpose and goal of the Forty Days.

That is not all that surprising, considering the way Lent is often practiced. This is supposed to be a holy springtime, but often it was reduced to one over-simplified question: What are you giving up this year? Entirely lost in the process was the question: What is the purpose of all this? What are we trying to achieve in this season in which abstinence and fasting have a very real role to play? And what is the role of fasting (abstinence) in all of this.

When we use Lent as a description of this time of the pandemic, we employ a cheap caricature of Lent. Lent is not comparable to the pandemic for several reasons. And knowing them will help us to remember the deepest and genuine meaning of Lent.

First of all, the season of Lent is voluntary and freely chosen. Unlike the pandemic, it is not inflicted upon us. It is not thrust upon us, but freely and willingly taken up. We choose to practice Lent, because we see it as a meaningful way to restore what has been lost to us. The pandemic is not a choice, but a tragedy we are forced to cope with.

Secondly, the season of Lent is a conscious act. The measures we have been forced to undertake during the year of the pandemic do not require a conscious choice on my part. They are proclaimed from the outside, without regard for my inner consent. The state decrees them, demands them from us and enforces our adherence to them. Lent is a movement born of inner choice, will and desire. Its measures are consciously taken up. If I do not choose them, there is no who will demand or enforce my adherence to them. There are no penalties, no fines, if you sneak a bite of chocolate, sip your wine or eat meat on Friday.

Thirdly, the purpose of Lenten practices renewal and reinvigoration. As a holy springtime, it wants to restore flow where things have come to a standstill. Like spring restarts the flow of sap within the trees after the cold of winter, so the Lenten spring wants to set love flowing again, where wintry seasons have brought it to a standstill. The measures of the pandemic have a different purpose. They are not trying to set new life in motion, but are exercises in avoidance. They want to avoid contact with what is harmful and not to renew contact with what is life giving.

Finally, the ultimate goal of the Lenten springtime is the restoration of fullness of life. Every exercise of Lent asks what we need to do to find our way back home, to the place where a full and meaning life is possible. The measures of the pandemic are by their very essence not restorative, but preventive. They wish to protect us from potentially harmful infection that can harm us, but that is all. Even if you never catch the virus, it will only mean you have preserved your present state of health, but you have not grown healthier. That is a critical difference to the Lenten spring time. It does not want to avoid winter, but lead us to summer. It does not wish us to avoid hell, but to guide us to heaven.

(To be continued)

Erik Riechers SAC, February 24th, 2021



»From the mouths of children and infants«


»From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise « - a part of verse from the Psalms that many of us know and love, that seems easy to understand and which we lightly pass over.

Let us take a closer look. What do we hear from the mouths of the smallest ones? They cry out when their needs are existential, they babble to themselves, they try to imitate sounds, they test out their voice: when they get bigger, they often blabber lively and say what comes to their minds; they pose question after questions or tell us what their imagination inspires in them. Children express plainly everything that they feel: Pain and joy, fear and tension, homesickness and the desire for life. All inner processes of liveliness flow past their lips. They have an unmistakable sense of what is real and true, something we have mostly forgotten out of deference to conventions and acquired patterns of behavior. Is it any wonder that God, who loves all life, deems this as praise? Everything that lives and expresses life praises the Creator of all life. Thus, He »creates« praise for Himself from all that the youngest naturally and freely let sound from their mouths. We often deem this incomprehensible or simply cute or try to explain it or even demean it. For God, however, it becomes the praise of life in general, the praise of Him as Creator. Because what the little ones express is existential, pure, honest and true.  

 This verse is at the beginning of Psalm 8, which praises both the Creator and creation, and goes on to emphasize the greatness and dignity of man. 

»From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise on account of Your adversaries, to silence the enemy and avenger« - unexpected are the further words of this verse. But let us remember: When from praise of the Creator flows naturally from the mouth of children, then all those who neither appreciate nor love life have nothing more to say. They are not on the side of the Author of all life. We all know the voices of people who are know-it-alls and judge everything, who can no longer marvel, who have forgotten how to express their feelings and prefer to repress them. How many people have cut off parts of their inner life? They speak about what »one« wants to hear. They follow a tactic, but not the diversity of life. What counts is what is useful to them, but not what truly serves life.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus holds this very sentence up against the powerful: »But the chief priests and scribes were indignant when they saw the wonders He performed and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked. Yes,’ Jesus answered. ‘Have you never read: ‘From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise?’« (Mt 21, 15-16).

Anyone who takes notice and takes seriously the little ones and what they say feel how close they come to real life through them. No hour that we spend in this way is wasted time - not for the children, but also not for us. It is an hour of truthfulness. With their help, let us return to the genuine depths of life.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February, 22nd, 2021



Why we need deserts


1. Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          Mark 1:12-15


The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.

And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Mk 1, 12-13


None of the evangelists recounts Jesus' desert experience as briefly and succinctly as Mark. Here no detailed temptations are described. He does not spare a word about stones that should be turned into bread and no one has to bow down before the tempter to possess the kingdoms of this earth. Mark does not tell us about the temptation to throw oneself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to test the rapid response times of the angels.

This brevity of words has a great advantage. Mark pierces through to the heart of the matter and a very fundamental decision. Like Jesus, we hear the words of God revealing to us that we are his beloved sons and daughters. Yet, the story does not end there. As in the Gospel itself, what the Father’s voice speaks to us at the Jordan is where the story begins. We are beloved people, but whether we want to live as such is another question, and one that tests us to the core.

To find out whether we want to live out this dignity as beloved sons and daughters, we need three things: 1. a desert, 2. wild animals, and 3. servant messengers of God.

  1. A Desert

We need places where we are not distracted, where we are thrown back on the essentials of life. T.S. Lawrence answered the question why he loved the desert with the sentence: »It is clean«. Deserts are about curse and blessing, life and death. In deserts we experience life stripped down to the basics. Deserts have no distractions, no amusing entertainments and no superficial conversations about trifles that make us forget what we don't want to notice, look at and tackle.

We need such places and times of desert to find out what really matters to us, what our real convictions are, what really moves us. We need them, because they give us the place where we can break through to the heart of the matter. In the desert, this pursuit is no longer sidelined by the pleasurable distractions life has to offer.

  1. Wild animals

In such desert situations we also live »with the wild animals«. Wild animals devour what they find in the desert. They are looking for prey, and the more vulnerable the prey, the better. They exploit the helplessness of their prey and turn it to their advantage. They turn the plight and weakness of others into something from which they profit.

This experience is not exactly foreign to us. There are also wild animals in our times of crisis that sense an advantage for themselves and relentlessly make use of it. They see when others are helpless and at their mercy and exploit their situation for their own purposes. The Bible also has another word for this: human sacrifice. Human sacrifice is the willingness to sacrifice other people so that I can live better.

We need this experience of the wild animals to examine what we really want to be: Do we want to join their ranks? Do we want to be just as cold and calculating in seeking our advantage, no matter what the cost to others? Do we care less about the fate of others as long as we get off easy?

The temptation is great. In the great refugee crisis of our time, there are people who put their heart and soul into helping maltreated people. There are also others who are smugglers and exploit this great human suffering to enrich themselves. In the pandemic there are people who tirelessly care about others, but at the same time people who think only about their benefits, who demand to jump the queue and be vaccinated first, regardless of the people around them who suffer more and are at far greater risk than themselves. There are is not shortage of wild animals in our deserts. .

  1. Servant messengers of God.

It is said that the angels served Jesus in the desert. This is also our experience in times of desert distress. People are sent by God to serve the life that is destitute, endangered and exposed. There are wild animals that kick us when we are already down. There are also servant messengers of God who lift us up from the dust so that we do not fall by the wayside. There are wild animals that can hardly contain their glee at the mishaps of others, and there are servant messengers of God who share our suffering and pain. There are wild animals who see the anguish of others as an occasion to be triumphant (let's think of such phrases as »I knew it« or »I told you so«). But there are also servant messengers of God who give help and relieve pain to bring a person back to life.

And here we are confronted with the third possibility of a desert experience: what kind of person do I want to be? Because the beloved son or daughter of God is not a wild animal, and should not behave as such. The beloved child is a servant messenger of God, a bringer of salvation, a guardian of the inexperienced and a comforter of the afflicted.

What Mark is telling us is fundamental: what kind of people do we want to be? And only in deserts will we really test what kind of answer slumbers within us.

I hope and pray that we will take this instruction of God to heart. Is there anyone among us who has not made the painful experience that is reflected in a saying of my homeland: When the chips are down, you will discover who your friends are? Well, when we are in the desert, we will discover who our true friends are, but whether we ourselves are cut of the cloth of genuine, loving, serving friendship. There is nothing like a desert to rid us of our self- illusions.


Erik Riechers SAC, February 21st, 2021



»The Holy Springtime«


Every year I observe with gladness, in myself as well as with others, what the first signs of spring are and how they affect us. The light increases, the days grow longer and the shadows are already noticeably shorter. The sun is gaining strength; sometimes you can sit in a sheltered corner sunlight and enjoy the warmth as early as February. Gradually, more color comes into the world - the witch hazel is a very early harbinger of yellow and what will follow. Birdsong delights us in the morning, large flocks of wild geese make themselves loudly heard in the afternoon on their migration north.

They are all signs of life, new life, and resurgent life! It lures us out, we feel the desire for purification and more lightness, as well as setting forth and for new beginnings.

In ancient times, there was the custom of the »holy springtime«, called "ver sacrum": young men born in the springtime who had in the meantime grown up were sent out among the ancient Italic peoples, or expelled, to conquer new land and found a new tribe there. So here too: more life, new living space, future possibilities, at the same time saying goodbye and courageously starting anew.

In the early church, people spoke of our Lenten season as the »holy springtime«. It is important to consider the word »holy«.  In the Bible, only the Holy One is holy, God Himself. Nothing is holy of itself, but only through contact with the holiness of God. Where the shadow of the Most Holy falls, there the beauty of holiness is to be found.

The 7 weeks before Easter are meant to bear all the signs of spring, as they now increasingly appear in our latitudes. They should serve as a sacred time of departure into new life when and because we walk through them in contact with God and in relationship with Him. God loves life in all its facets, and we can make this season of preparation a sacred time by making space for all that we perceive and love in nature during the springtime. We can make it a sacred time by perceiving ourselves anew in relationship with God, entering into ourselves and looking at what God has placed within us. »Become what God made you to be« could allow a springtime burst forth: with more glimpses of light where we saw so much gloom; with more warmth where we dealt coldly with ourselves and others; with more color where we had already become so accustomed to monotony that we hardly recognized it; with more voices and music where we wanted our peace and quiet; with more vitality in ourselves and with others, where we were bored.

Indeed, to this end it will good and necessary to renounce the habits that have kept us from all this for too long. But that is the magic of spring, where the dead old leaves are pierced by the pointed shoots of the tulip bulbs and the young shoots of the perennials. New things grow from within and the old may quietly pass away. How much life is within us - let us help it gently and persistently to sprout and eventually blossom.

Let us be told anew: God is a lover of life - it is something sacred to love life. Thus, let us enter into the holy spring.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 19th, 2021



How do I get back home from here?


This question is the theme of our Wellspring Days in 2021 as well as of our Shea Course. Only two months into the year, we are hearing how the theme has found deep resonance with so many people. The reason for that is simple enough: We are all feeling a little lost.

The deepest effect of sin, of living beneath our dignity, is estrangement. This is a remarkable word in the English language. It stems from the French estrangier »to alienate«, and from the Vulgar Latin extraneare »to treat as a stranger«.

It perfectly describes our experience of being lost: living like aliens or exiles, far from what home is and means to us, living like strangers within the lives we have chosen for ourselves and made for ourselves. We know that dreadful feeling of living like outsiders looking in at wat we crave but cannot gain access to. We can experience this in every relationship we know: treating the God of our lives like a stranger, alienated from the world that surrounds, sustains and carries us, exiled from our brothers and sisters, near and far, and even estranged from ourselves.

For many, if not most people, Lent is perceived as the time when we focus on this estrangement. To a degree, that is true. Yet, the Lenten spring is more precisely and accurately our annual pause to pose the question that arises from the ashes of estrangement: How do I get back home from here? How do we get back to the home and the hearth of our hearts?

Ash Wednesday offers a first answer to this question. Six times Jesus will speak about a hidden place (krypto or kruphaoi).

But when you give to the needy,

do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

so that your giving may be in secret. (krypto)

And your Father who sees in secret (krypto) will reward you.

(Mt 6, 3-4)


But when you pray,

go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen (krypto).

Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, (krypto) will reward you.

(Mt 6, 6)


But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen (kruphaoi) and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, (kruphaoi)) will reward you.

(Mt 6, 17-18)

Go to the secret, the hidden, place. Jesus is worried about getting this right. Whether it is giving alms, praying or fasting, all laudable practices in Lent, none of them will lead us home if they are not born from and flow out of our secret place.

That is the first place we need to go in order to find our way home. It has a rich tradition in Gospel storytelling. Jesus uses it in the parable of Father and his prodigal sons. The youngest son begins the journey home only after this line is said:  »Now coming into himself...« That is the secret place. Only then does his saving memories surface and he says: ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, »Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you«.

When we come into ourselves, we find what he does, the memory of a father who treats his servants better than anything he has known at the hands of his present employers. He remembers a house of bread while starving in a pig sty. He remembers there is a home to which he can return. What he remembers gives him the first step in the answer to the question: How do I get back home from here?

Whatever we choose to do during this Lenten Springtime, we should begin here, in the secret place of our hearts, that room where we come into ourselves, not distracted and waylaid by outer appearances and performances put on for the sake of others. That is the way that leads to estrangement. We should be focused on getting home so that we can say, »I will arise and go to my father.«

I remind us all of a truth we speak often this year that is particularly important during the Lenten Spring. »The path home is long, hard and complicated, but you don’t have to take it by yourself.«

Thus, I wish us all together a good journey home.

Erik Riechers SAC, Ash Wednesday, February 17th, 2021



Life with Promise


Here in the Rhineland, many people are sad these days, because Carnival is not taking place during the pandemic. They miss the exuberance, the celebrating, dancing and singing together. Many console themselves with the beloved music of this time, share pictures of past carnivals, and plan for the future.

But life always holds an incredible palette of shades, and so these days there is also sadness of a deeper kind. In front of me is a death announcement: from my circle of acquaintances an almost 94-year-old woman died. Her family speaks in it of love and gratitude for a full life and a peaceful death.

At the top of this announcement is a promise that touched my heart, because I immediately felt the attitude with which this family looks at the life of their mother and grandmother and how they go through this time of mourning:

»Do not fear,

for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name,

               you are mine!«

                                                           (Is 43)

This promise – pointing beyond death – stands over the life of the old woman. Here a family mourns in the face of the final farewell from a loved one, in the deep faith and trust that what Isaiah pronounces as God's word to his people in exile was also spoken precisely to this woman .

Do not be anxious, do not worry, do not fill yourself with fearful thoughts of lies ahead.

                For I myself have already delivered you, you are free.

You are already called, by me.

               You, I have called you by your name, it is YOU who are meant.

Do not forget: You belong to me.

What a boundless offer of home and belonging! You no longer have to roam about and look for a place to stay: You are mine, always have been. Come home!

Whatever weighs down the heart of each of us, whether our stage of life is easy or mighty boulders lie before us: This promise is valid for us as well. Let us hear it anew, let us absorb it into our hearts and shape our lives from it. So that we can go through this and all days with a joyful spirit.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 15th, 2021



All for one and one for all


6. Sunday B 2021                                          Mark 1:40-45 


»I never thrust my nose into other men's porridge. It is no bread and butter of mine; every man for himself, and God for us all.« Miguel de Cervantes lets Don Quixote speak these words in his masterpiece. The quote mirrors an attitude that we come to know in various forms and disguises in our lives, our relationships and in our society.

By contrast, Alexandre Dumas lets his Musketeers Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan say something altogether different in the face of the trials, adventures and challenges life has to offer: »Un pour tous, tous pour un« (All for one and one for all).This word also reflects an attitude, but this time it is about standing together rather than standing apart.

These two words are never far from our hearts when we face a crisis and have to make a choice. When waves of refugees shiver at our borders, we can say, »This has nothing to do with us,« or we can say, »We can deal with this together.« Those two words reflect the struggle for dominance over the human heart. Now that a vaccine is available, there are people who feel that once they are vaccinated they should be free from the restrictions of lockdown, no matter how others in society are faring. The fight for enough vaccine makes some countries simply insure that they enough for their population, while other countries worry that developing countries will have as much access to the vaccine as their own citizens.

In today's Gospel, we see the mindsets of these two words grappling with one another. In the laws regulating the lives of the lepers we see more the mindset of Don Quixote. It is the mindset of separation and distance. We separate ourselves from what is unpleasant, dangerous, or troublesome to us. As long as we get what we need, what do we care about the fate of others?

Jesus' way of thinking and acting, on the other hand, speaks more of the attitude of the musketeers. This encounter between Jesus and the lepers is a narrative against the mindset of separation and distance thinking in favor or hearts and minds that think and feel in terms of solidarity.

All the characters in this narrative, the lepers as well as the healthy, are first influenced by the mindset of separation and distance. Thus, the come up with a simplistic formula: The sick should stay away from the healthy. 

Many would argue that this formula is not simplistic, but merely common sense. That perspective is only possible if you are counted among the healthy. Take a closer look at Leviticus 13:45-46. It states that the leper should wear torn garments to stand out from the well-groomed garments of the healthy. The leper should let his hair hang down loosely to clearly distinguish himself outwardly from the well-groomed appearance of the healthy. The leper should live separately, not among those who are healthy. The leper has his dwelling place outside of the camp, so that the healthy ones, can carry on with their lives in peace. Even a child would recognize that the spirit of »one for all, all for one« does not prevail in these »common sense« regulations. All the obligations, restrictions and sacrifices are demanded of the sick. Nothing is demanded of the healthy.

This is how the story in the Gospel is supposed to unfold. But Jesus refuses to have anything to do with a way of thinking that separates and distances itself from other human beings, because this destroys human solidarity. Jesus goes the opposite way.

  1. Jesus had compassion for him.

Jesus himself is not sick and unaffected by the consequences of alienation, loss and isolation that leprosy brings with it. His life is intact. Yet, although he lives in a world of salvation, the broken life of the leper touches and moves his world.

  1. »He stretched out his hand«.

As soon as Jesus does this, he bridges the separating distance that exists between his world and that of the sick person. Jesus breaks the boundaries of separation and distance that the rules have established. The moment he stretches out his hand, he makes his own rule.

  1. »He touched him«.

Once again we return to a much loved theme of Mark: the touches. Through touching, the worlds, experiences, and people that should remain separated from each other come into contact with each other and a touching place is created where before only emptiness filled the space between us.

  1. »And he said, I will it - become clean!«

Here we hear a clear confession of Jesus: He reveals his motivation.  He does not say, »I can«, but »I will«. He wants to restore this person to health, home and hearth, and that is why he takes on the arduous effort of these steps, all of which are omitted if he would only rely on the mindset of separation and distance.

These are the four clear steps to overcome the mindset of separation and distance. But Jesus is never exclusively about the rejection of a negative way of thinking, but about the acceptance of a life-giving way of thinking. For him, it is always about the dominion over the human heart, and that is why he cultivates and promotes a different way of thinking. He looks at people, at the relationships they have with each other and with God, and emphasizes what binds and unites us, what we have in common.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking is not easy to achieve. We always practice what we already know how to do. We are used to thinking and acting in the categories of competition. And when this competitive mindset has us in its grip, we identify with the physical, psychological and social advantages we have that set us apart from others. Then the phrase »I never stick my nose in other people's porridge« wins out. »It's not my bread and butter; every man for himself and God for us all« gains dominance over our hearts.

This in turn leads us deep into the world of comparison. We can then say, »I have better health, I am more intelligent and I have more money than the other«. But it also works the other way around: »Unfortunately, I have worse health, am less intelligent and have less money than the other person«. The world of comparison makes us constantly oscillate between »I am better off« and »I am worse off«. We vacillate between pity for those who have less and envy for those who have more. Either way, in both cases, we withdraw from the other. The clear message is, »That's not me.« In the end, we have drawn clear boundaries, born of the mindset of separation and distance, a mindset that Jesus is working hard to reverse.

When we approach this story, we do so from the role of the healthy. Thus, we assume that the leper is one who is worse off than we are. If we come into contact with him, his circumstances, his situation, his condition, could be contagious, that is, we could be affected ourselves. And already the strategy of withdrawal, separation and distance is off and running. In a flight of piety, we may perhaps even ask the protective God to save us from their plight.

Jesus does not look at the disease, but at the person who has to bear this illness. The disease does not bind us to one another, because we are not lepers. But Jesus' way of thinking asks about being human and not about the illnesses they happen to have.

What binds and unites us? What is the common ground on which every life rests?

We all have value, dignity and meaning. We are all loved, wanted.

Only when this way of thinking replaces our separatist mindset will true compassion be born.

For true compassion is a deeply felt perception that we share what is common to all human beings. Having value, dignity and meaning, being loved and wanted is the world that we all share. If we cannot find this world, we will never be able to sincerely say »All for one and one for all«. 

Then we walk the four steps of Jesus:

  1. We have compassion and let our ideal world be touched and moved by the broken lives of others.
  1. We reach out and bridge the dividing distance. We break through the boundaries of separation and distance that our inherited interpretations and their ways of acting have built up.
  1. We touch the lives of others and come into contact with the worlds, experiences, and people that were originally meant to remain separate from us.
  1. And we say »I want it«. We can also make a clear confession that we are not willing to let others fall by the wayside in order to save ourselves.

 Mark draws our attention to this profound truth. The experience of the other is also my experience. In his play »The Merchant of Venice«, William Shakespeare has Shylock appeal to this common humanity: »I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?«

We should not overlook that this biblical narrative ends in irony. The leper who was obliged to always proclaim he was unclean and impure is now the man whom Jesus asks to be silent. He does not do so. Instead, he uses every chance he get to tell others of the one who saw him, stretched out his hand, touched him and told him that he desired his healing. »But the man went away and proclaimed at every opportunity what had happened.«

Yet, now that Jesus has the reputation of being a healer, two things happen.

  1. He is not allowed to show himself openly in any city
  2. He can only dwell be in solitary places.

This is the irony, because according to Leviticus, this is normally the fate of the lepers. 

  1. They cannot show themselves openly in any city
  2. They can only stay outside the city in lonely places.

How does this ironic twist come about? It is simple. Wherever people think only of what they need or want, regardless of the cost to others, then the others’ well-being will be sacrificed, even if the other is Jesus of Nazareth. Roy T. Bennett is right when he writes in his book »The Light in the Heart«: »Most of us must learn to love people and use things rather than loving things and using people.«


Erik Riechers SAC, February 14th, 2021



How do we look at the world?


There are days when I feel the restrictions of this time particularly strongly - not so much as an aggravation, but rather more as an impoverishment. Then I am tempted to view all of my experiences through these glasses. However, again and again I am shaken up by the realization that life is more than all that makes the present situation oppressive. The impetus for this was - as I sometimes feel – heaven sent. It comes in the form of a conversation or through a radio broadcast or a story I happen to come across. That is how I recently discovered the poetic author of rhyming riddles and the lyricist, Erika Beltle. She had met her future husband, Theo, during World War II, and he was soon drafted. Their correspondence throughout the war was published years ago. She writes the following in a letter at the beginning of 1942:

»Dear Theo, ... Today I once again wished that feelings did not always have to be first clothed in thoughts in order to be understood by the other person, but that they could be transmitted immediately. The path from the heart over the head is so cumbersome, and the essential is lost. I am in a very cheerful mood today and would like to chirp like the birds. Despite war and a thousand devils, life is beautiful! Perhaps it is because I have planned something like a regimen, a direction, for my future life. One would like to think that a path that is planned almost by the hour has something compulsive about it and would be constricting or oppressive, but just the opposite is the case: it sets me free inside. Because I always experience freedom in connection with a feeling of happiness, I have such a feeling today. ...   Erika«

(Erika und Theodor Beltle, Für Dich will ich leben: Ein Briefwechsel aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, 2009)


»Despite war and a thousand devils, life is beautiful!« - How is it possible for her to write such a thing in the midst of a war?

Well, she had a good sense of herself. She had a perception of herself and thus discovered the treasure within herself, got to know her own heart, in which much more was alive than words can express. Because she took herself seriously, she could live and create from within herself, and in her situation - she is barely 21 years old when she writes this - that meant making plans for her life - despite all that is cruel and terrible and uncertain! And she made a grandiose discovery: this liberated her interiorly. And she observes very precisely: to feel this personal inner freedom causes a feeling of happiness - in January 1942!

For me, this is an extraordinary testimony to what we have often discussed: true life flows from the inside out. It cannot be consumed. That is why the thoughts of the young woman of that time can be a help and impetus to rediscover ourselves, especially in these months of the minimisation of many facets of consumerism. We are all burdened to varying degrees by what this pandemic forces upon us. But we are free to choose how we look at life and what, of all that is within us and is longing for expression, is allowed to live. We could nurture and foster it like a gardener, we could share it with each other and slowly push forward to happy moments - despite an extension of the lockdown.

And I set aside, for days when I am again overburdened by much that is heavy, a poem from Erika Beltle's later years:                                              

Gardens of Closeness

I have drifted off

like a boat

from the land of your soul.

Fully laden

it sways

on breadths of the sea.

But I throw,

piece by piece

ballast overboard

and strive

to return to the shore,

for only one,


light as a butterfly,

finds the gardens

of closeness

the vicinity,

wherein you dwell.

                (from: Erika Beltle, Gesammelte Gedichte - Ausgewählte Werke Band II, 2008)



Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 12th, 2021



Poorly told Stories


Just a few days ago I began to read a new book by Pádraig Ó Tuama and Glenn Jordan. The book looks at Brexit, borders and belonging and turns to the book of Ruth to hear and heed a story that has the potential to open our eyes to very different horizons of hope and healing. I will surely return to this book in later reflections.

But what caught my attention right from the start is the emphasis on what happens when we only hear poorly told stories. The entire bluster around the Brexit campaign is described as »blunt stories told poorly to push changes forward«. We have witnessed this repeatedly in the last years, be it the AFD in Germany or Donald Trump in the USA. Complex realities are simplified to the point where we have a caricature of the reality we live. The heroes and villains are divided up with fundamentalist zeal and every nuance or fact that complicates the story is immediately ignored, dismissed or decried.

That is no mere happenstance. It arises everywhere in history and the world here people ae unable to deal with complexity. When the multi-faceted, deeply complex realties of real life become too hard to bear, then some people will bend, twist and contort it all to fit into a much more black and white version and vision of reality. This is the atmosphere in which poorly told stories are born.

What we need are well told stories that stretch us, even when we do not feel like being stretched. Here is what Pádraig Ó Tuama writes:

»Stories have the power to face us with ourselves. If a story is told well, it upsets some of our conveniences and challenges the previously unchallenged. Stories have unexpected twists and turns. Stories find heroes in strange corners. Stories reveal something about the behaviour of people previously considered to be above reproach. In stories we find our hearts drawn towards multiple characters, locating ourselves in this one and that one. Stories contain our projections and prejudices, and if we’re lucky – we hear the story enough times that some of those projections and prejudices are coaxed into a new imagination.« *

Indeed, we need such stories, but we need two other components as well. We need storytellers who make these well told stories come alive and who are tenacious enough to tell us stories we need to hear precisely when we do not wish to hear them. Thus, we need storytellers of considerable courage, because well told stories will never simply go with the flow and confirm the prevailing wisdom of the status quo.

Further, we need talented story-hearers. It takes a considerable skill to hear the story you do not agree with in advance. It also takes the gift of courage, the willingness to engage and grapple and wrestle with those multiple characters who rattle our cages and widen our way of look at the world.

I remember once asking John Shea what the sure sign of a poorly told story is. His answer is etched into my heart. »A poorly told story will lead you to every place you always wanted to go.« It will lead us to landowners, but hardly to the woman at the well. It will lead us to supermodels, celebrities and power elites, but hardly to a widow who puts two pennies in the plate. The poorly told stories will lead us to the rich and powerful men and women who guide the destiny and fates of millions, but they will not lead us Ruth.

Let us be on our guard in these days. The long haul of this pandemic has wearied and bruised us. That makes us more susceptible to poorly told stories. But even now the world is filled with good stories and great storytellers. This book I am presently reading is an excellent example of that. I also believe the world is filled with great story-hearers, including the 7000 of you who come to “May you be sheltered” four times a week. Pádraig Ó Tuama asks in the introduction: »Can we be held in some kind of narrative creativity by a story whose origins we do not know?« *

I believe we can.

* Borders and Belonging:

The Book of Ruth: A Story for our Times,

Pádraig Ó Tuama and Glenn Jordan

Erik Riechers SAC, February 10th, 2021



My life can be glorious - »quite heavy«!


In yesterday's homily, Erik laid out what aids and life lessons there are for us in the few verses about the healing of Simon's mother-in-law. You probably felt like I did: you were amazed. And then you began to draw from it - remembering your own experiences and looking to what was to come. But all this presupposed that you really read this sermon in its fullness, without shortcuts, without »I've heard it before«, without premature abandonment.

This is a challenge that we encounter again and again in life: we are offered a fuller and richer life, more salvation and joy. But how do we deal with this offer? Unfortunately, it happens again and again that we do not open ourselves to it. Sometimes we do not listen properly, perceive an offer only superficially and do not break through to the treasure that could be in it for us. Often we are impatient: a church service is too long, an article too detailed, a person talking to us takes too long, and we drop out before we have really gotten started. But there are also challenges to which we open ourselves, but need to work through piece by piece: Yes, I can hear that, but it's so difficult - yes, but what would be the point - yes, but I can't get away with that, . . . yes, but. . . , yes, but! Then we come to a standstill on the inside, stick to what we already know, indeed, to a certain degree we get stuck and then try to justify this. I think this is what Psalm 1 means when it warns against standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the circle of scoffers. It invites us to engage in God's instruction of life, persistently, patiently, steadily: here those are called blessed whose »delight is in the law of the Lord, and meditates on this law by day and by night.« The law of the Lord is the word which the person, who is called blessed, allows to draw near to him and in which he takes delight. But that alone is not enough. It is constantly in his mind; during the day he will look at some things differently than in the night, but he sticks to it and draws from it for his life: »He is like a tree  planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.« Life can then become glorious, and the Hebrew word kabod for glorious means something like: quite heavy!

Thus, why would we pass by it lightly when a source of life opens up to us? Would it not be an outrage against ourselves?


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 8th, 2021



A Touching Place


5. Sunday B 2021                                          Mark 1:29-39 


As I was looking out my window a few days ago, I saw an elderly couple I am acquainted with walking past. It was slow going, because for some time this woman is gradually sinking into dementia. At that point, she dropped her gloves to the ground. Her husband bent over and picked them up. Visibly annoyed, he threw them into the basket on the front of her walker, shouted at her to be more careful and then walked off in frustration. That little scene troubled me for the rest of the day.

It is a scene that is repeating itself in many ways on many levels during these drawn out days of the pandemic. It is not unexpected. Confronted with continuous and on-going crisis, we weary, lose our patience, our perspective and sometimes our nerve. In such moments, we are not at our stellar best. These interminable days can grind us down to such a degree, that we no longer feel that we have any resources left to deal with the never-ending story that has become our crisis. We are suffering from the malady of the exhausted soul.

Today’s Gospel can offer us some gentle guidance through this troublesome time. The story we hear today is the continuation of a story that began last Sunday. It is a story that meanders through one complete Sabbath day in the life of Jesus. The journey through this Sabbath is all about a grand restoration. As Jesus moves through this day, Mark tells us in three episodes how the Spirit Master is giving back to the Sabbath its deepest meaning and purpose.  First we hear how Jesus restores the depths of authentic faith and worship through the casting out of the unclean spirit in the man in the synagogue (episode 1). Then we hear two further episodes of this ongoing tale. There is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law so that celebration might once again be possible (episode 2). That is followed by the healing of the people at the gates of the city after the sun sets on the Sabbath (episode 3).


»And immediately coming out of the synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother–in–law was lying down with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And approaching her, he grasped her hand and raised her up.

Then the fever left her, and she began serving them.«

You will surely not be surprised when I begin by telling you that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Subtly woven into the fabric of this story is a path forward, through crisis and exhaustion. This path answers the question that burns in our crisis-ridden lives: So what can we do?

Allow me to unveil for you seven steps within the story.


1. Tell the story that is not apparent.

»They told him about her.« As soon as Jesus enters the house of the brothers Simon and Andrew, they tell him about the suffering and need of Simon’s mother-in-law. That is a very good place to start.

We need to tell the stories of need and grace in our all too concrete lives to people who cannot know them or note them if we do not  speak of them. We need to tell the stories of the people in our lives who are burning with fever. We need to tell the stories of the people who are out of sight and out of mind for the outsider. Without this story, Jesus does not know the drama taking place in another room of the same house. Without this storytelling, we cannot know the dramas being played out in the other rooms in the lives and hearts of our fellow human beings. Storytelling opens the doors to hidden suffering that would otherwise forever go unseen. Yet, once it opens that door, it leads to solidarity, companionship and an immediate offer of aid. Open a new horizon in the hour of crisis!


2. Tell the story without undue delay.

Moreover, Jesus does not need to wheedle it out of his apprentices. »And immediately they told him about her.« There is no hesitation, no waiting for a better, more appropriate or more opportune moment, no beating around the bush. Social niceties and conventions are all fine and good, but how many times do they make us too timid and hesitant to speak of what is really going on, inside our houses, as well as inside our hearts? I have seen it often in the decades of spiritual accompaniment. People will sit and talk about all manner of things before telling the story that brought them through my door in the first place. Even worse are the coy games we play with each other, hinting at the predicament that plagues our hearts, without coming straight out and telling the story. We drop enough clues in our words, gestures and body language, in the hope that others will pick up the trail and ask us what is really  bothering us.

Not these companions of Jesus. They told him »immediately« about her. This gives Jesus the opportunity to act immediately, to make an offer of assistance and healing right away. Do not delay hope in the hour of crisis!


3. Choose to approach the other.

»And approaching her…« The story does not dedicate even one full sentence to this simple step. But it is a step nonetheless, and of no small significance. Hearing a story is not the same as being moved by a story. We can also listen quietly, express our sympathy and then swiftly change the topic. We can hear about places of suffering without seeking them out. We can hear the stories of suffering people without experiencing any impulsion to visit them.

Jesus chooses to approach this woman. That is a real choice, a conscious and deliberate decision. To do so, he moves to another room in the house. This is the classic movement we need to practice, moving from the place where the story is told to the place where the story is taking place. This requires us to move to rooms other than the ones we are presently occupying. We are called to leave the rooms in which we have already settled in, that have a warm and comfortable feel about them. When we do this, the places of their discomfort become the places of our discomfort. We approach the other in his or her suffering and need, by entering the rooms of life where suffering is unfolding. This is genuine mercy, because real mercy is not a feeling, but the willingness to enter into the chaos of the other.

Set out to offer presence and help in the hour of crisis!


4. Create a touching place

In this story, Mark tells us that after approaching Simon’s mother–in–law, Jesus »grasped her hand.« Like many actions in biblical stories, this looks simpler than it is. The next step to healing is touch. Better said, it is to create a touching place. The cold touch heals nothing and no one. The healing touch requires a space in which a two-fold action can evolve.

The first part is what Jesus does. It is the action of the giver, the offer of connection that shows that he is not afraid to encounter and touch what ails another. To touch as Jesus does in this tale is already an act of storytelling, for it unveils to the troubled person that we are willing to come into contact with them. Moreover, it demonstrates a willingness to connect with all the parts of their life and not just their choicest moments. We are called to be the companions of all their hours, not just their finest hour. Anyone can embrace and kiss the attractive, appealing, beautiful, and charming people of the world. We usually thrill to it. But only Francis of Assisi can embrace and kiss the leper. He does this from the same deep place of the soul out of which Jesus acts.

In stubbornly longstanding crisis, we need to touch the ugly parts, the leprous parts, the feverish parts in the lives of our brothers and sisters. This touching place shows our brothers and sisters, that we are not afraid of all that makes up their personal story, that we will not pick and chose what is attractive and neglect all the rest. To touch like this is to show one another that we are not fair-weather friends. At the same time, it bestows the afflicted the gift of encouragement. If we will not be shunned due to what ails us, then we are less afraid to show what ails us. 

The other part of the touching experience is what Simon’s mother-in-law does. She does not pull back. She allows herself to be touched. When was the last time you let yourself be touched in your distress? When was the last time you allowed another touch you in an hour when you were far from being at your best? I once tried to visit a woman in a hospital who had suffered a nervous breakdown. She, however, refused to let me visit her. Through her husband she expressed her gratitude for my offer, but rejected it every time. This forth and back of offer and rejection went on for months. Nearly a year later, after she had recovered, we came together for a conversation. The first thing she did was to thank me for my repeated offers to visit her. But immediately thereafter she added. »I did not want you to see me like that.«  To which I sadly commented, »I understand, but now you hardly need a touching place.«

We need to create a touching place. This will have to happen often. A favorite hymn of mine is entitled: »The Touching Place«. Its refrain beautifully recounts the mission that must be bred in the bone:

To the lost Christ shows his face,

to the unloved he gives his embrace,

to those who cry in pain or disgrace

Christ makes, with his friends, a touching place.

The verses of this song name a myriad of people whose need to be touched we must learn to feel. We must feel for the people we avoid, who appear strange to us, are bereaved or never employed. We must feel the need of a touching place for the women and men who fear that their living has been without purpose or meaning, for parents who have lost their child, for women whom men have defiled, and for the baby for whom there’s no breast. We must feel the desire to create a touching place with Christ for the weary who find no rest, for those confused by life, riddled with doubt, lonely of heart and afraid of new beginnings.

Touch the wounds in the hour of crisis!


5. Lend your strength.

As important as it is to create a touching place, this is not enough. The next step for Jesus is described as he »raised her up«. Here we are given a gentle warning. The willingness to touch a person is not the same as being willing to raise them up.

What Jesus does is simple. He adds his strength to the woman’s. He lets a portion of his strength flow through his touch, so that she can draw on it and start to move back into life. The willingness to raise another up speaks volumes about the heart. It tells the other that we will not abandon them midway through the journey. We are reliable companions on this trek. We raise them up to demonstrate our stubborn refusal to leave anything behind. Just because one of our companion has stumbled and fallen for the moment, does not mean we are willing to abandon to forces of darkness and misery. We do not expect our companions to go it alone, to manage it by themselves, at any juncture of our common adventure.

Jesus does not merely touch this woman and then walk away. That is precisely the lesson. Like the Spirit Master, what we touch in the hour of crisis we must also be willing to strengthen.


6. Heal in the ordinary places of life

Where can we do all this? In the very first sentence of this episode of the Sabbath tale, we are reminded that we are no longer in the synagogue, in a sacred space. Now we are in an ordinary home. This is a down to earth place where a sick woman lives, and suffers and burns with fever. »And immediately coming out of the synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.«

Everything Jesus does for and with this woman happens in the ordinary places of her life. He does not expected her to seek out a more exotic place to find healing, a holier space that breathes a more rarefied air than that of her home. Where she lives, she is healed. Where she suffers, she is lifted up.

Yet, the moment we follow Jesus lead, then we help restore the backbone of an enfeebled tale of grace. Instead of seeking sacred places, we must learn to sanctify the places in which we are found. Make sure that you do not spend your whole life looking for a special place where God touch you. Instead insure that you make every place special by opening it to the potential and power of God. Make the home, the hearth and the sickbed holy!


7. Restore life and thus restore service and joy.

The tale ends with the soft line: »Then the fever left her, and she began serving them.«

That is why this episode is vital to the story of the grand restoration of the Sabbath. The restoration of life will always lead to the restoration of service. This woman was exhausted by a fever that was burning away her strength and will to live. Now she is able to enter into life again. She has the strength and the will to contribute to the well-being of others under her roof. She is restored to active participation in the life of the community

That, in turn, leads to the restoration of joy, a critical element of all Sabbath living. The hospitality she offers, the tables she sets, are not the menial tasks of servants, but the loving care of hosts. She is a key participant in creating a place of welcome, celebration and belonging, because she has been freed from the feverish bonds that shackled her strength and bound her to passivity.

Thus, we should ensure that in the end all these steps lead to this destination. It does not suffice to be merely relieved after the crisis. Once we are beyond it, we should restore and reinvigorate service and joy.


John Keats once wrote, »Touch has a memory«. Whether we touch each other and how we touch one will create lasting memories.  We will not forget them once these days are done. I would leave you with a final story, the counter point to the one with which I began.

It is told by Michael Leetch. He lives with his wife of over forty years, Vickie. She is now in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Listen to a short excerpt from what he writes about getting up in the morning with her.

»We go through our familiar liturgy of hygiene and getting dressed, Vickie first. It takes about as long as an early morning Mass by a priest and an altar boy who want to get it right even if nobody's watching. We hug before we go downstairs, and I say, ‘You done good, sweetie,’ and she says, ‘Thank you,’ two words she has always remembered, and I remember Meister Eckhart's saying, ‘If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.’« *

That is a touching place, a home that has been sanctified. And, as we may well note, even in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease, two words are remembered. Indeed, »touch has a memory«.

*Michael Leetch,

 »Life is all about getting up in the morning«

Erik Riechers SAC, February 7th, 2021



»And the people stayed at home«


In the last 10 months, most of us have certainly been on the Internet more than ever before, because communication is possible in this way. Repeatedly we enjoy pictures and texts that are forwarded to us. For example, I was given a poem whose origin has been the subject of controversy on the Internet and which probably did not come from a 19th century novel, but from an American woman who worked for a long time in palliative care, Catherine "Kitty" O'Meara. She was sad and worried in the spring of 2020 and fearful for her former colleagues. She wanted to help her friends and as worry and sadness grew in her, her husband advised her to write. So she simply sat down, wrote down her thoughts, and published the poem on Facebook; she had done that before. But she had never had such a response. Read it for yourself:


And the people stayed at home

and read books

and listened

and rested

and exercised

and made art

and played

and learned new ways of being

and stopped

and listened deeper

someone meditated

someone prayed

someone danced

someone met their shadow

and people began to think differently

and people healed

and in the absence of people

who lived In ignorant ways

dangerous, meaningless and heartless,

even the earth began to heal

and when the danger ended,

and people found each other,

grieved for the dead people,

and they made new choices,

and dreamed of new visions,

and created new ways of life

and healed the earth completely,

just as they were healed themselves.


What is the reason that these words have had such an effect for months?

Two thoughts come to my mind.

We are touched by the fact that a woman expresses here what is going on inside her, how it is affecting her. At a time when the pandemic in the U.S.A. was becoming increasingly catastrophic, she found words and spoke them to the world.

Second, her words are thoroughly positive in their simple rhythmic sequence. She speaks of life and of life's possibilities being seized and unfolded from within. »People«  no longer) allow themselves to be entertained and determined from the outside, but by staying at home they begin to act freely, to become active themselves, creatively and diversely. Because we are no longer good at this, so many have been complaining for months that the days no longer differ and they more or less one into the other. But it doesn't have to be that way. We could practice . . . and learn . . . and listen . . . and pray.

This poem was created out of a longing for life and salvation - and this longing is in many of us. Let us give it room!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 5th, 2021



Space for God


Recently, in a serious conversation about difficult life issues, the phrase came up, » But we must not forget: in everything, we also have the dear Lord on our side!«

The other person paused and there was a long silence. And then it slowly burst out of him. How he had struggled! What had he tried and done! But instead of things getting easier, more and more problems seemed to arise. He was a believing man - and this thought frightened him. No, it was not the thought itself, but how far it had been from him. He himself had constantly tried to keep everything in perspective; he had worried far into the future, worn himself out on the inside. » How could I forget that?«, he asked himself, murmuring softly,  » Why did I think and feel and worry as if it were all up to me?«

I have not been able to get this out of my mind ever since. Why do you have no faith? Why is your faith so small? The disciples of Jesus were already confronted with these questions. They reacted with shock, dismay, amazement. They had to practice it, just as we have to practice it. Much is in our hands, but not everything. This should not frustrate us, but it may encourage us to do what is ours and leave to God what is His. Then, instead of endless worry, gratitude may grow in our hearts about so much that succeeds in the togetherness of God and his people.

The short psalm 67 gives expression to our trusting petition, with a grateful heart at the same time:

May God grant us grace and bless us,

may he shine his face upon us.

To know on the earth Your way,

among all the nations Your rescue.

Nations acclaim You, O God,

all peoples acclaim You.

Nations rejoice in glad song,

for You rule the peoples rightly,

and nations on earth You lead.

Nations acclaim You, O God,

all peoples acclaim You.

The earth gives its yield.

May God our God, bless us.

May God shall bless us,

and all the ends of the earth fear Him.


In the Bible, the fear of the Lord is considered the beginning of knowledge, respect for his instruction in life is considered wise. Because: He is with us on the way, come what may, until the end of days.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 3rd, 2021



The Magnificent Defeat


Recently I found myself rereading Frederick Buechner’s book »The Magnificent Defeat«. It is a collection of homilies by this now 94 year old American theologian, novelist and pastor. My favourite homily within this work gives the book its name, his homiletic reflection on Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok.

In this homily, Frederick Buechner points out how often Jacob has achieved the victories and successes of his life through deceit and his willingness to play fast and loose with the rules. He becomes rich, increases his wealth constantly, and has two wives and a multitude of children. He is prospering on every level that matters to us human beings.

After twenty years in exile, he decides to return home. It is just  before he crosses the border back into his homeland that he experiences a stunning reversal of his good fortune and goes down to defeat at the hands of a stranger. His string of wins has come to an end.

The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:22-31: 22

 At this telling moment in his life, a turning point, Jacob does not attain the greatest and most stunning triumph of his life. Instead he suffers what Frederick Buechner describes as »The Magificent Defeat«!

But then Buechner goes on to pose a fascinating question. Why would Jacob, having just suffered such a debilitating defeat, cling with such ferocity to the very opponent who inflicted this ignominious downfall upon him. Why does he insist: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me!" Normally, we like to walk away from those who beat us and forget the entire episode as soon as possible.

I remember the first time I read Buechner’s answer more than 35 years ago. And I share his words with you, in the hope that they will move you, as they moved me, and that you will learn to love them as I have grown to love them.

»The darkness has faded just enough so that for the first time he can dimly see his opponent's face. And what he sees is something more terrible than the face of death-the face of love. It is vast and strong, half ruined with suffering and fierce with joy, the face a man flees down all the darkness of his days until at last he cries out, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me!’ Not a blessing that he can have now by the strength of his cunning or the force of his will, but a blessing that he can have only as a gift.

Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God. And God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives - our selves, our wills, our treasure.

Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.«

In this pandemic, we have struggled hard to come up with a great and stunning victory over the Corona virus. For the most part, this triumph has eluded us. Despite our money and technology, the things we most trust, we have suffered a long series of defeats. We have suffered many annoying and frustrating set-backs on the road to the healing which now appears on the horizon. Even when we finally get there, we will still have to deal with lingering and lasting human, spiritual, psychological, medical and economic problems that have arisen from the pandemic, likely for years to come. We will walk away from this pandemic, but we will walk away limping.

Perhaps this is our »magnificent defeat«. Perhaps this is our Jabbok where we can learn that modicum of modesty that become us as men and women of faith who journey with God. We have managed to manufacture vaccines against the virus, but we cannot manufacture what we have come to crave most in these hours of loneliness, isolation, fear, suffering and uncertainty. »Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God.«


Erik Riechers SAC, February 1, 2021



Practicing Authority


4. Sunday B 2021                                          [nbspMarc 1:21-28 


Today's biblical narrative is quite dramatic. Unclean spirits are shouting at the top of their voices in the synagogue, destroying what should be a rather quiet experience. This is because people gather in a synagogue on a Sabbath to praise and pray to God. When we go to church on Sundays, we, too, do not expect high adventurous dramas to take place. But there are no spaces, not even these, that are immune from the presence of Jesus and the upset it brings.

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when a man with an unclean spirit cries out:

 »What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

Have you come to destroy us?

I know who you are—the Holy One of God.«


The time and the place do not hinder Jesus. Sacred times and sacred spaces have their own rules, but when it comes to people and their salvation, the rules are secondary.

In biblical narratives, unclean spirits, like demons, are the powers that we ourselves make strong. We make them stronger than they are by the way we look at them.

  1. These powers appear in our lives. They will not go away on their own, nor are they easy to get rid of.
  2. We make them stronger than they are by the way we look at them. We see them as insurmountable, as invincible.
  3. Then we make them stronger than they are by the way we deal with them. The view that makes us see these powers as invincible then leads us to say, »It's no use anyway.« We choose resignation.
  4. Resignation leads us to three classic attitudes:

- Avoidance (we get out of the way of the problem).

- Denial (we act as if there is no problem)

- Suppression (we push it aside with work, entertainment, and distraction)

       And these three moments are how we negotiate with demons.

  1. And already these powers have a free hand to do what they want because we call any resistance futile. They win not by defeating us in battle, but because we never showed up for battle.

Even worse, we can even strengthen and justify many forms of resignation theologically. Traditional teaching says: Avoid everything that is unclean, be it food, people or places. Keep your distance, do not come into contact with it. In this way, protect your purity and your holiness.

In this amazing narrative, there is now an unexpected turn. The unclean spirit, used to shocking others, is himself shocked. Since Jesus is the Holy One of God (as they themselves name him), he would have to avoid everything that is unclean. This is the inherited interpretation for this hour: separation and distance. That is why the unclean spirit is stunned when he detects another strategy in Jesus. »Have you come to destroy us?« Impure spirits and demons have their expectations of us, just as we have our expectations of them. We have the expectation that we are powerless and cannot do anything against them. They have the expectation that we will always continue to play by these rules.

Therefore, this unclean spirit has the expectation that Jesus will say to him: »I will have nothing to do with you«. But Jesus’ answer does not fulfil his expectations.

Jesus silences him. The original text even says: I place a muzzle upon you. Jesus does not negotiate with unclean spirits and demons. There is no strategy of resignation here.

  1. No avoidance (Jesus does not avoid the unclean spirit, but goes toward it).
  2. No denial (Jesus does not close his eyes and continue on as if nothing is wrong).
  3. No suppression (Jesus does not push it aside by taking on other healings, preaching sermons, or distracting himself with other more pleasant topics)

And Jesus drives him out. He is not willing to leave anything to the unclean spirits that belongs to his father, that belongs to the light and life of God.. Jesus recognizes the terrible price of the avoidance tactic of separation and distance: Then he would have to leave this man to the unclean spirits.

The people in the synagoge cry out: »What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.«

The new doctrine is engagement and elimination, not avoidance.

Jesus' attitude is clear. He has the intention to free people from everything that has a grip on them, what they are obsessed with. He wants to free them from everything that oppresses, plagues and terrorizes them. And the effects on the people of witnessing Jesus and his way of dealing with people and unclean spirits are positive and liberating.

This can be liberating for us as well. We also know powers within us that have a hold on us. They take a place in us and we feel powerless to drive them out. We have places in our thinking and feeling where we are so knotted up that we are paralyzed internally, and sometimes externally. We are afraid of what oppresses us and of what we judge to be beyond our powers to alleviate. Our only strategy is to evade or avoid.

But then we see someone who does not flinch, someone who confronts the unholy and exercises authority over it to empower people and improve life situations. We realize that there is another way of thinking and acting, beyond our old, habitual strategies, beyond our inherited interpretations. The inner knots of thinking and feeling are untied. What has held us in check until now is let go. We are free to think and act differently. We begin to experiment with exercising authority over that which oppresses us as human beings. 

We can also exercise authority over what oppresses us and others. Many avenues are open to us:

Sometimes we just offer general help.

Sometimes we provide our specific resources.

Sometimes we enlist support.

Sometimes we go along as companions, standing by troubled people as they venture in new ways.

Sometimes we simply pray.

Sometimes we pray in addition to other possibilities.

It is important that we do not continue to practice a learned helplessness and resignation forever. We should always be looking for what we can do next, using our courage and creativity. 

We are committed to bringing hope, healing and perspectives to people and situations that are in need. That is the mission that is bred in our bones. We have authority. Jesus has shown us the way. We follow him by exercising authority.

Erik Riechers SAC, January 31th, 2021



Situate yourself!


The pandemic with all its challenges, which has now lasted a good 10 months in Germany, is among many people »friable«. They feel increasingly worn down and exhausted. The caution and extreme reluctance to make contact are tormenting them. Uncertainty about how much longer it may last makes people tired and despondent - or careless and reckless. Gerald Hüther, a neurobiologist, writes in his latest newsletter: »Many people, including some politicians, are unsettled and at a loss and are just trying to hold on somehow. Despair and resignation are spreading. The mood in the country is not good, nerves are on edge. Tolerance, prudence and foresight are fading, we have also lost our sense of humor, and anyone who says something inappropriate is immediately  suspected and is fought against.«

Each individual can tell his or her very own story of being affected. Those who like to be on the road and have usually already planned and booked some undertakings and trips by this time, find it difficult to look ahead to the next few months without any such perspectives. Those whose family live widely scattered suffer from still not being able to get together. Those who earn their living in an industry that has had to close down again and again have existential fears. Those who live in a care facility feel increasingly lost and forgotten. Overanxious people no longer dare to do anything, impatient people can't wait to get back to living normally, and unreasonable people do it anyway.

We are in danger of becoming more and more preoccupied with ourselves. This pandemic could teach us something in a special way: Your story is situated in the story of the community in which you live. Your I belongs to a larger WE. More than usual, we realize how much my way of acting has consequences for the community on a small as well as on a large scale. When have we ever been able to see this so clearly as in these long months? In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, for example, people are living so responsibly in this long crisis that there are always days without a single new infection - this spurs individuals on to continue to take good care of themselves and each other and to gratefully live out what community is possible again because of the low numbers. Every I is situated within  a WE!

Narrative Theology teaches us a second form of embedding: The story of each WE belongs to the grand story. There is a story of God with us humans which transcends everything and in which everything is situated- every We and every I. For what other reason would God say to his people:

»Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.« (Dtn 6,4)

Why would Jesus response to the question about the most important commandment with:

»You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.« (Mt 22, 37-39)

Love yourself and unfold your very personal story. Thus be on the way with the others, love them and write your story with them. And remember: everything is situated with the great story of the ONE God.

For me, this means: My personal story is valuable, unique and important, for me, for the community and as part of the common story. But it is also part of the great whole of God's story with His people, which only He oversees and holds in His hands. I like to situate myself in this - it also takes away the pressure of having to do everything myself. It takes away the mistaken belief that everything depends on me. And it strengthens my confidence that everything has a meaning.

Widening our view in this way makes even this long crisis livable.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 29th, 2021



I raise my voice


On November 11, 2018, I preached a sermon in the Koblenz synagogue on the Reichspogromnacht. At that time I spoke the following words:

When I came to Germany from Canada as a young student, I came from a country that until recently was convinced that it had no problem with anti-Semitism. And I admired a country that dealt so intensively with their history. Today, anti-Semitism is growing worldwide, including in Germany. A few weeks ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave a speech in The House of Lords on the subject of anti-Semitism. He sent me the text from which I would like to quote a few lines:

»Antisemitism, or any hate, become dangerous when three things happen. First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.«

Sadly, these factors do not exist only within Britain, but through the world.

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am disturbed and saddened that the words of Jonathan Sacks have become even more prophetic today. We have all seen the images of the Capitol in Washington being stormed by Trump supporters. But what haunts me is the anti-Semitism that was openly and undisguisedly displayed there. One demonstrator wore a T-shirt with the message »Camp Ausschwitz« and underneath the phrase »Work brings freedom«, a reference to »Arbeit macht frei«.

Such public anti-Semitic slogans can also be seen in Germany. A particularly insidious and despicable tactic used today is T-shirts with »6MWE«. This is short for »Six million wasn't enough«. They were seen at a demonstration in Berlin one year ago.

The fact that there are people who think like this (if you can still call it thinking) does not surprise me, but the fact that they appear like this in public and that there is hardly any protest shocks me. As Rosemarie so aptly put it to me, »This, too, is a virus«. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is also a pandemic.

And like the Corona pandemic, it has the best chance of spreading when people are indifferent as to how they act. Mask deniers, people who hold parties anyway and don't keep any of the social distancing rules are people who don't care what happens to their fellow human beings. And when indifference has spread far enough, then any virus can spread.

Elie Wiesel, himself a survivor of the Shoah, put it aptly and warningly:

»I have always believed that the opposite of love is not hate,

but indifference.

The opposite of faith is not arrogance,

but indifference.

The opposite of hope is not despair,

it is indifference.

Indifference is not the beginning of a process,

it is the end of a process.«

This indifference allows anti-Semitism to take root in our midst. When Rabbi Sacks made his speech against anti-Semitism in the House of Lords in 2019, he figuratively showed how acceptable this sickening and pathogenic hatred can become.

»I’ve just returned from a conference in Warsaw. It’s a city I don’t know well. And I was shaken to discover that the Warsaw ghetto, which existed between November 1940 and May 1943, was pretty much in the centre of town. With its 9 foot high walls topped by barbed wire, holding 400,000 Jews, its existence must have been known by everyone in Warsaw.

And it was there that Jews were systematically starved and enslaved. In the summer of 1942 254,000 of them were sent by train to their deaths by gas in the extermination camp called Treblinka. In April and May 1943, the Germans set about the destruction of the ghetto and the extermination of its population. 300,000 of them killed by bullet or gas. 92,000 who died through typhoid and starvation.

This happened in open view in the centre of one of the great cities of Europe and no one protested.«


Take note, you hatemongers, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites, right wing extremists and all who harbour or aid them:

I protest. You shall not have my silence as your ally.

You shall not build your house of hatred in the midst of my city.

I raise my voice and name the evil that stands in our midst.

I raise my voice, to speak on behalf of my Jewish sisters and brothers in the face of mindless vitriolic hatred.

I raise my voice against those who think it is fashionable, funny or acceptable to wear symbols that celebrate the torture, death and extermination of our fellow citizens.

I raise my voice against all those who belittle and taunt the memory of the Schoah and the ravaged dignity of its victims.

I raise my voice against those who insult the survivors of the Shoah, who even today are willing to deepen their pain.

They are my brothers and sisters.

You representatives of inhumanity, I see you and I name you, whether you skulk in the shadows or walk openly in the public square. I will not downplay your toxic presence. Your cruelty, hatred and bigotry cannot turn my heart to indifference.

I raise my voice. »For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.«


Erik Riechers SAC, January 27th, 2021International Holocaust Remembrance Day



Walking against the fear


He was young - and he was an anxious kind of person. He had completed his education well. Now he was supposed to look for a good job. But it was all going too fast for him. He felt another challenge. And it came from deep within him. There was a desire in him to simply set off for a few weeks and go on pilgrimage here in his homeland, which he knew so little about. The thought grew in him, took shape; but soon other voices arose: How will you live? How can you finance it? How will you get through such a summer with your allergies?

He confided in his uncle and he really listened. He perceived his nephew's longing - it was the longing of a pilgrim. Again and again he strengthened this longing so that it did not suffocate under his anxiety. He did not need to do more. In his heart he was on his side.

And the young man chose an external road, travelled to the heart of Germany and set out from there.

On his back he carried everything he needed, in his pocket a little money, in his heart fear and joy and the words of his uncle: » I look forward to hearing from you and I will help you if you need anything.«

His journey had begun. It was summer and sometimes he spent the night in the forest. He grew bolder and after a few days, as he passed through a village as evening drew near, a friendly couple in a garden returned his greeting and struck up a conversation with him. He readily entered into the conversation and ended with an invitation to camp in their garden for the night.

From then on, he kept asking people along the way if he could use their garden for a night. And it was usually possible.

Joy grew in him, as well as a gradual realisation: If I dare to walk again and again, against my fears, and just keep walking, I have good experiences every day. I move forward and most of my worries do not occur at all.

Confidence grew in him - confidence in himself and in the people he met.

When his uncle told me about this pilgrimage of his nephew, he was still on the road. His uncle spoke of it with pride, but also with emotion. Every now and then, his nephew would call briefly, the young man who had taken the risk of setting out against his fear. He had not chosen a spectacular destination in an exotic country - and yet he was exploring a previously rather unknown terrain: himself.

Can we too rise against our fears again and again, enter a new day and dare new ways of acting? I very much hope so.

May the Old Irish blessing be upon him and us:

May God keep you on your way through life.

May God warm you when fear makes you cold.

May God strengthen you when doubt gnaws at you.

May God encourage you when longing moves you.

May God hold you when sleep envelops you.

May God flood you when love makes you hope.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 25th, 2021



Hither! After me!

Sunday B 2021                                                     Mk 1, 14–20


Jesus proclaims a most disturbing secret. »The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.«

This sounds very comforting, but it is actually meant to make us all wide-awake. Because if the kingdom of God is here, the time of waiting is over. And if the time of waiting is over, then the time for change has come. And it is not just a little that needs to change. We have to change the way we think, see and judge. We have to change our actions and our behaviour. The paths we take will have to change and we will no longer be able to take some directions to which we have become accustomed.

The Kingdom of God means its intrusion into our worlds. It is the in-breaking of our God who wants to bring out the fullest potential of our life and love. The kingdom of God is the entry of our God into our relationships with Him, with creation, with our neighbours and with ourselves to allow their fullness to blossom.

This movement into the kingdom of God, into this full, rich, unfolding of life as God has always intended it for us, will not happen without one of the ground rules that the story of vocation that we hear today proclaims. In the biblical narrative, Jesus first says, »Hither! After me!« It is an imperative, a command and not a mere invitation. This word is filled with a sense of urgency. There is a need in the world and a mission in the heart of Jesus that cannot wait. This is reminiscent of Jesus in John's Gospel. There he says to Lazarus who is still in the tomb, »Hither! Get out!« There is always an urgency in God to call us out of the places of death, be it the cemetery or the places of everyday life that threaten to become the graveyards of our souls.

Immediately after this »Hither! After me!« from the mouth of Jesus, an action follows on the part of the disciples: it is a »leaving behind«. (Greek = aphetes). Andrew and Simon leave their nets behind. James and John leave their father and the day labourers behind in the boat. There is no moving into the kingdom of God without the willingness to leave something behind in order to engage with something new that lies ahead.

How will we practice the art and craft of this leaving behind in order to move forward?

I doubt we will leave behind fishing nets, family members and colleagues, although for some of us that may still be the call. Yet, within the well-defined contours of our lives, there are more than enough examples of how our living and loving have evolved into unhealthy and undesirable patterns. There are relationships that were meant to foster and explore togetherness and equality that degenerate into dominance and subordination. Sometimes we are trapped in anger instead of liberated by love. Unhealthy arguments and even revengeful feelings arise at times. Enmities arise and hearts become poisoned. How could they ever lead us to where life is to be found?

Therefore, another part of the story should not be ignored: »Repent and believe the gospel!«  We will not enter the kingdom and respond to God's desire for us to live in His full, rich unfolding of life if we do not change our chosen ways. That, however, will not happen if we refuse to turn back on those paths that lead us away from that fullness. Being on the wrong path is not fatal. Staying on the wrong path, once we know it cannot lead us into life, is fatal.

All this is necessary because the call of the Lord, the call of the Kingdom of God, is a call for the life of the world. In the venerable world of the rabbis, this mission is called »Tikun olam«, the repair of the world. This idea of world repair was deeply connected to the hope of a Messiah who would break into the world.

This call of Jesus is the call of a Messiah breaking into our world. It is a call out of the passivity in which we let the world and its agonies pass us by while we pursue our personal interests, hoping that at least we will manage to muddle our way through. This is an attitude we need to »leave behind«.

At the same time, it is a call to get involved, to get off the bench and onto the playing field and get our hands dirty. There is no conversion if we only change our opinions. Repentance means changing our actions, the way we live in the world, the way we move through our world. It is not our primary task to avoid or condemn this world, but to make it whole, to make it better. We should fix the world: Tikun Olam.

Opportunities to repair and improve the world abound. If we want to use them, we human beings must become guardians of love. Guardians look out for the places where love is not only possible, but required: racism, cruelty, injustice in the workplace, neglecting the poor in our midst, ignoring the plight of migrants, etc. Without guardians of love, we will not recognise these places for what they truly are: the places most in need of our love.

Being a guardian throughout the night requires some pretty basic skills:

1. It requires courage:

The places where the redefining and life-changing love of the kingdom of God is needed are unlikely to be found in the places of our comfort.

2. It requires creativity:

The places where the life-growth of the Kingdom of God are needed are places that have not yet been touched by it. Therefore, there will be no fixed and ready-made strategies. We will have to think them up, on the spot, on the run, off the cuff.

3. It requires perseverance:

For the emergence of the kingdom of God and its relentless desire for the fullness of life will never be a one-time experience. Around every corner, a new place will emerge. In every niche of the heart, in every corner of our relationships, whether in our families, in society, in the church, in the marketplace or in the workplace, new needs will arise to repair these worlds.

There is a moving gospel song entitled: »There is a balm in Gilead.« The biblical inspiration for this song comes from two passages in the book of the prophet Jeremiah:

»Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?«  (Jer 8,2 2)


»Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.«   (Jer 46, 11)


The singers of this song see Jesus and the kingdom of God as this balm and thus proclaim:

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.


Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God as a balm, but it remains a most disturbing mystery. »The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.«

If we want to repair the world, make the wounded whole and heal the sin-sick soul, then we must rise up and go to Gilead. We must rise up and embrace the kingdom of God, this way of life that God has always intended for this world and his people.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 24h, 2021



Vincent Pallotti: The Man of Perseverance


In my last reflection I spoke of Vincent Pallotti as the man who stayed. However, Pallotti also knew very well that the struggle of a life becomes very long. That is why he asks us never to forget that no matter how many barriers are put in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the voices of millions of believers who are calling for God's relationships in this world.

I am continually inspired by the first generation of civil rights workers who marched with Martin Luther King Jr, protesting, practising non-violent resistance and facing physical violence, imprisonment and sometimes death. John Lewis died of cancer on 17 July 2020. He was a pioneer in the civil rights movement. A few weeks before his death, he wrote: 

»Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.«

He was 80 years old when he wrote this. He was 23 years old when he joined Martin Luther King. He knew what he was talking about. There will be no new world without women and men of perseverance.

Occasionally I hear that the intuitive vision Pallotti had, represented and shared with others is just words. Just words! What does that mean? When was the last time that words were not important? When was the last time that great people did not use words to move hearts and point directions? When was the last time a person did not use words to proclaim their deepest feelings and convictions? When was the last time that words could not be empowering?

We will always have these prophets of doom among us. They use fear as a weapon. They do not want us to dare to hope that there can be something better than what they want to feed us (and of course guide and control).

They tell us:

You are in the dark.

You have no voice.

You are powerless.

You cannot renew a world,

satisfy hunger.

make peace

create justice.

In Vincent Pallotti we have someone who not only describes our value and dignity before God, but who wagers on it. Here is one who tells us: Be proud to be called. Be proud that God has chosen you, sent you, given you such trust. Because he believes that you can do it. 

That is why perseverance is so important. Because it shows us that God also values our perseverance. Even today, in this crisis, in this pandemic, we can act. We could rekindle our passion for God again and again, because »our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.«

We are called by God. He sends us to all the towns and villages where he himself wanted to go. God has confidence that we can do what He can do.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 22nd, 2021, Day of the death of Vincent Pallotti 1850



Presence is the Programme

Vincent Pallotti: The Man who Stayed


The year is 1835. A cholera epidemic wreaks havoc in the city of Rome. Many left the city, fleeing to save themselves. But not Vincent Pallotti. He stayed. He was present in the hour of suffering and death of his fellow men and women. 

He had no medical solution for cholera, but he stayed because he had the power to offer spiritual, human and also physical relief. He did not discover a vaccine, but he stayed because he could find creative ways to organise food for the neglected people who had nowhere to go. He could not prevent many children from becoming orphans, but stayed to give them shelter and educational opportunities so they could find a welcome in a brutal and unjust world. And long after the cholera epidemic ended and people returned to the city, he continued to work with strength to help people who continued to suffer from the side effects and repercussions of this devastating epidemic. 

What can we learn from this story from the life of Vincent Pallotti? Presence is the programme. 

Not only his words, ideas and visions have something to say to us, but also his life. St. Vincent Pallotti reminds us that there is a task for us as Christians that we cannot avoid: We are called to shape lives. We are called as mature Christians to seek solutions ourselves and to take responsibility. We are called to keep alive the enthusiasm and love that are within us. But this is not possible if we do not appear where the people are. Presence is the programme. That is why we have to stay.

Vincent Pallotti was convinced that God has given us the power to change the conditions of this world.

This power of God gives us the courage to set out for new shores. In the relentless wilderness of brutality, violence and inhumanity, we have the possibility and the power to offer life to our fellow human beings. This primal calling to be Collaborators of the Most High gives us undreamed-of power to change the conditions of the world and to shape them in such a way that they look like the Kingdom of God. Presence is the programme. That is why we have to stay.

We can eradicate some poverty. We can discover peace and justice as new territory. We can bake, break and share bread until everyone has enough. We can heal our church. We can renew the face of the earth. Presence is the programme. That is why we too must stay.

Too often we are paralysed because we cannot solve or redeem everything. Then we fixate on what we cannot achieve. Pallotti, on the other hand, was convinced that everything we have to offer is of value and counts. I learned from him: You can only fashion what is given. But this demands something of me that all considerations about optimal conditions never encourage: I have to show up. Presence is the programme. That is why I have to stay.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 20th, 2021





I want to be one of those people

who are not satisfied

with quick answers and

pragmatic solutions.

They search and ask.

When they hear well-meaning,

oh-so-sensible advice,

they sense another voice

deep inside.

They have the courage

- and the yearning -,

to follow it, in order to remain

to themselves.

They go their own way.

They question the appearance.

They endure dry spells.

They discover the sacred.


A great and versatile artist of the first half of the 20th century was such a person: Hans Arp. I love his sculptures; but his »Questions« make me think:


You stupid little days

does a dying word of redemption

never cross your painted lips?

Do you never kneel

before a cross?

You stupid little days,

you only know coming and going.

Do you not know

that at every moment

the holy infinity is gazing at you?


These questions make me pause and lead me to an old trail:

Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

And I pray Psalm 1 anew.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 18th, 2021



We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.


2nd Sunday B 2021                                           1 Sam 3, 3–10.19


I once took part in a training course for pastoral workers. It was about pastoral counselling. It was just awful. Lofty words without any connection to real life were paired with methodological steps of appalling clinical coldness. And not once did we speak of the people, let alone their souls. No, they only spoke to us about clients. 

One older colleague, a Protestant pastor, gave up listening at some point, opened a book and was absorbed in reading. During the lunch break I went to him and asked him about what he was reading. He held up the book and I read the title: Life Together. A book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Then he shared a passage from the book with me:

»There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.«

After that he only said: »True listening is an adventure of the Christian life.«

In great moments of life and story, a one-sided wish is awakened in us: we want to find someone who listens to us like that. What seldom happens is that we wish to become that listening heart for others. The complaint is clear: No one is listening to me. That drowns out the question: To whom am I listening?

The reading from the Book of Samuel tells how the young prophet learns from his old master Eli how to listen to God. This is an important theme for the spiritual life. What we completely ignore is the last sentence of the narrative.

Samuel grew up

and the Lord was with him

and did not let any of his words fall to the ground.

(1 Samuel 3:19)


Here God wants to teach us how to listen to the word of others so that they too can grow up: We, too, should take care that none of their words fall to the ground!

Let us take a closer look at this fine image. When we carry something, we are not always careful that it does not fall to the ground. That is not necessary. But with certain things we do! When do we take care that they do not fall to the floor? With things that are fragile, irreplaceable and precious to our hearts. They deserve and enjoy our special protection and care. When what we carry is coarse, insignificant, easily replaceable and disposable, our handling of it is more superficial, careless and careless. What is truly precious to us alters our attitude. Then we are careful, mindful, caring and protective.

Let's observe how an infant is placed in other hands: careful, mindful, caring and protective. No one takes that trouble and exercises that care when we pass a tennis ball from hand to hand in a group-dynamics exercise. Because we immediately recognise where the fragile, irreplaceable and precious lies, and it is not in the tennis ball.

To listen well, we must come to a deeper realisation. The delicate, fragile, irreplaceable and precious moments in people's hearts lies in their words. Our words express the innermost parts of our being, they reveal facets of our deep heart and are thus delicate and easily broken.

We learn this most easily when we want to confide something intimate, private and sacred to someone. How long does it take before we have the courage to entrust someone with the words that speak about these parts of our lives? And what happens when we finally dare to do so, but are met with ridicule, derision or scorn? That is the moment when our words are dropped onto the floor.

Because our words carry a part of who we are and what makes us, they are precious to the heart of God and worthy of protection. They must not be dropped on the ground, because their fragility reflects the fragility of the human heart. Therefore, people's words should be precious to us and worthy of protection.

Listening requires three steps in the Bible:

- perceive (be present)

- receive (integrate)

- taking along (shaping life from it)

Thus, true listening is at the same time a work of mercy. Mercy means that we voluntarily and consciously enter into the chaos of another person, just when we could easily avoid it.

And that is always what happens in true listening. It pulls us out of worlds we would prefer. Samuel would rather rest and recuperate than be jolted out of sleep three times, have to get up from his bed three times.

Listening to another person pulls us out of very pleasant and comforting worlds in which we feel and enjoy peace, strength and security. When I listen to another, I voluntarily and consciously enter a world of chaos that can rob me of sleep, exhaust me, and overwhelm me. Listening is entering into a world of pain, worry, abandonment, fear and hopelessness that is not mine and does not necessarily have to become mine.

Authentic listening will mean that I engage with issues that are not mine and that I could easily avoid by simply not listening. We know this truth and we are afraid of it. Why do we not answer the phone when certain phone numbers come up on the display? Why do we avoid meeting and talking to some people? And when we have engaged in the chaos of the other by listening, how often do we moan and say, »Oh God, if only I hadn't heard that?« Sometimes we put our hands over our ears and say, »I don't want to hear that«, fully knowing what chaos is waiting for us on the other side of listening.

God did not let any of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. God is merciful and enters into our chaos. Listening is a work worthy of God. But most of the time we find it quite difficult to participate in this work.

What happens when children tell us something that is important to them and we laugh at them or sneer at their words, because we dismiss what they have said as insignificant?

God does not allow any of these words to fall to the ground.

What happens when we mock other people's deepest convictions, when we scoff at what others hold sacred and speak disrespectfully about it?

God does not allow any of these words to fall to the ground.

We see what happens when people share their words on Twitter and Facebook, and they are subsequently harassed, savagely insulted, and even threatened.

Bonhoeffer was right: »But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share.« Here we have to make a fundamental decision of faith. Will we leave sisters and brothers in their pain and suffering because we are too afraid of their chaos? Or will we consciously and freely choose to notice, absorb and take with us what is happening in their lives? Only when we ask and clarify these questions will we really know whether words will fall to the ground or be caught.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 17th, 2021



The Strength to ask the right questions


Now that we have been in the Corona crisis for a long time, there is a growing tendency seek a solution and to damn the consequences. The longer the crisis lasts, the more intense the search for answers becomes. There are voices calling for vaccines to be admitted without proper testing. There are others who new measures be taken, harder or softer, without any reference whatsoever to the possible consequences.  In search of a quick solution, there is a willingness to give up the search for the proper questions. The demand for quick solutions makes us ever more willing to dismiss burning questions as irritating inconveniences .Thus, once we have found a solution, we tend to ignore the proper questions such as: Is this the right path? Is this the only solution to our problem or only the quickest one? What will be the consequences of this path and who will pay the price for it?

When we become exclusively interested in answers and solutions, we start to grow ever more distant from the storyteller of God, the Jesus of the Gospels. His style of teaching does not depend on rote memorization of answers, unlike the subtle suggestion of our catechisms. Rather than people willing to take notes at his lectures, Jesus is interested in finding and fostering hearers of the word. And hearers of the word learn the art and craft of becoming genuine listeners. Jesus invites the hearers of the word to explore the stories of God and come to a conclusion. He will guide their thinking without telling them what to think.

The stories of God and the stories of Faith are not good teaching tools for people who seek simplistic answers. The Storyteller of God offers no quick, easy and patented solutions to the mystery of life. Instead, he has come to invite us to join him on a journey of great adventure. But adventures are nasty things for those who are care only for solutions: they make us wrestle with our assumptions, force us to confront our conveniently one-sided images of ourselves, drive us to wrestle with God and guide us to the humbling reality that there is someone greater than ourselves and even matters greater than our personal concerns.  Once that happens, we start to seek the proper questions.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: »We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.«

This is real faith, and that is hard work. We live in a world in which we love to talk about being free, but then want someone to tell us what to think and what to do. We love to think of ourselves as free thinkers who have broken through and moved past the old, worn-out stories of the past. In reality, we took stories rich with layers of meaning and purpose and replaced them with cheap pseudo-stories. We took magnificent biblical stories that forced us to move beyond easy answers and replaced them with trivial tales of convenience, always tidy in their black and white depictions and always without complication.

The Storyteller of God is on the move through our world and still doing today what he did in the days of the Gospel: upending all inherited assumptions, ideas and concepts we hold to be beyond question. He hopes to move us to the faith of Mosche, described and admired by Elie Wiesel in his book Night.

»And why do you pray, Mosche?«, I asked him.

»I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.«

I think that is a very good idea in the midst of our crisis. For if we pray to God for the strength to ask Him the right questions, who knows what astonishing and unexpected solutions might be given?


Erik Riechers SAC, January 15th, 2021



What troubles your heart?


On New Year’s Eve, a friend of mine lost her mother. When I received news of this several days later, I was deeply saddened at her loss. I sat down to write her a letter of condolence, and I celebrated a Mass of Resurrection for her mother.

Over the course of the day, my sadness deepened.  My friend was present at the funeral of my mother nine years ago and again at the funeral of my father just over a year ago. 8000 km separate Vallendar from Edmonton, and that makes that impossible for me to attend. But it troubles my heart that I cannot return this sign of closeness of heart, to practice this most essential form of presence in the hour of grief for a good and faithful friend.

It is so simple an action, going to a funeral and supporting a friend in the time of mourning. Like most simple actions, we take it for granted. But while we do so, we often forget those among us for whom it is not possible to take part in what we take for granted. As Jesus Sirach says: »The day of prosperity makes one forget adversity; the day of adversity makes one forget prosperity«.(Sirach 11, 25) It is the nonchalance of this forgetting in the day of prosperity that worries me more with every passing year.

Many thousands of people in these days, who have lost family and friends to the ravages of the corona virus, now enter this experience. They were often unable to visit and accompany their beloved people in their dying, and often not able to mourn their loss in a deep and necessary fashion. In places such as Bergamo, Italy, hundreds of people were not even allowed to attend the funerals of their family members.

And it troubles me. When the pandemic ends and the day of prosperity returns, we will gradually resume the normal routines of our lives. Will we then forget the days of adversity and what they tried to teach us? Will we then forget all those for whom the days of adversity do not automatically end when ours do?

For Jesus Sirach also says this: »When (the wealthy man) says: ‘I have found rest now I will feast on my possessions,’ he does not know how long it will be till he dies and leaves them to others.« (Jesus Sirach 11, 19). It is an old story in the biblical tradition. Luke picks it up when he tells us of a man who forgets everything else as soon as he is blessed with the unexpected large harvest. »‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’« (Luke 12, 18-20)

I worry what will happen to the people who have suffered the hardest losses. When we come to the unexpected harvest of blessing, will we forget everything else to build bigger barns, and never spare a thought for those who need to honour the memory and lives of their dead loved ones? In our time of ample gifts, when it is possible to relax, eat, drink, be merry, will we share with them the time and the space of grief and mourning? As life goes on for so many, will we permit it to flow past those, for whom it cannot simply go on as before?

Would it be worth it to survive a pandemic only to come out a colder, crueler and more self-centered people than before? »Let not your heart be troubled«. (Jn 14, 1) That is direct and good advice from Jesus himself. But there are times when it is good for our hearts to be troubled so that we can move into the next line. »You believe in God, believe also in Me.« I doubt whether the barn builder was thinking of God or life or anything else as he enjoyed his untroubled heart. And then a terrible thing happens. We wake up to the horrid realisation that our horizon of concern is the same as the width of our shoulder blades.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 13th, 2021



A Request for Blessing for Being Alone


A few years ago, in a beautiful neo-Gothic little church in Ireland, I took along a bookmark from the Benedictine nuns there. I liked the prayer text and the design very much. I rediscovered the beautiful little bookmark as this New Year began. And the words began to speak to me in a whole new way. Some of the experiences and hardships that people had recounted to me and over which they also lamented over the past months resonated with me.

Whereas before the pandemic the feeling of being alone could be covered up with all kinds of activities, many of us have been painfully confronted with it for months and are no longer able or willing to avoid it.

I invite you to look at the situation honestly and to take it into prayer. This can change our view, away from the perception of something lacking toward the perception of grace.


I Live Alone


Stay by my side, O Lord,

For I’m alone.

I need your presence with me

Night and day, to share my home,

To guide me on my way.


Keep me safe from danger;

Fill my heart with joy.

Give me your peace, your gift

To share with those whose hearts

Are troubled or despair.


And even when the shadow

Of the cross falls on my path

I see your Easter sunlight

Through the dark.


I live alone, dear Lord,

But I am sure

 Your gaze is ever on me

As on an only child.


Abide in me, dear Lord,

That I may live in you.




Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 11th, 2021



I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word.


Baptism of the Lord B 2021                                           Mk 1, 7–11


I recently had a most unpleasant encounter with two people, who took offence at the idea that they might be sinners. Like nearly every conversation of this sort over the course of the last thirty years, this one was also an utter waste of time. Where there is no nuance, there can only be caricature. Can we find a way to speak of the reality of sin in such a way that we can do the biblical stories and our lives justice?

I believe that a moment from the baptism of the Lord can help us. It is the moment when Jesus rises out of the water. Immediately three things happen: the heavens open, the spirit descends on Jesus and a love speaks to us of love and belonging. It is a defining moment.

When we descend into the waters, we know we need some cleansing. Something is sticking to us, clinging to us, of which we would rid ourselves. It is a deep moment in the recognition of sin. Wilhelm Bruners defines sin in this way: Living beneath our standard. It is simple yet decidedly biblical. When people sin, they slip beneath their own personal standard, no longer living as they would prefer to live. It is a matter of failing ourselves, of not living up to a standard we know to be truly fitting and suitable for ourselves.

Yet, it has become close to impossible to have this conversation about slipping beneath our standard, because we tend to fall into the extremes. The one extreme is utter denial of this experience of sin. Yet, sin is part of our experience. We do not always act worthily, justly or with dignity. Our love often is lacking. Denying this is futile, because we are often dismayed, disappointed and disheartened when such moments occur. We know that we are not always that which we wish to be and what we are called to be.

But the other extreme is to believe that these moments define us. To sin is to slip beneath our standard. But it is not an expression of who we are. When we act sinfully, we often say: I hardly recognise myself anymore. We often do not know what drove us to say or do something, and usually do not wish to identify ourselves with these moments. Because they do not define us. The sin is not our standard, but the moment when we slide beneath it. For the most part, it is not an expression of our deepest conviction, not the manner in which we would prefer to act, not the way we would normally choose to live.

The moment Jesus climbed out of the water, everything was washed away that does not truly belong to us. And everything of true significance remains. The sin is washed away, not the heart and mind and soul of a human being. The waters of the Jordan carry away the sins of mortal men and women, it does not carry away their dignity, goodness, kindness and loving care.

If we slip beneath our standard, admit it, wash it off and return to that standard. When we rise from the waters, the sin will be washed clean, but the heavens will still open. All the lines of communication with God will remain open, conversation will still be possible and even desired.

If we slip beneath our standard and return home to it, the cleansing waters will carry away what stuck to us for but a time, but it will not deprive us of the spirit of God. The spirit will still descend upon us, the Lord and Giver of life will still live and move and breathe within us. We will still know and be moved by his inspiring presence.

If we slip beneath our standard and seek renewal, the waters will rinse off the brokenness of our relationships, but not the relationships themselves. The voice of God will still speak to us of love and belonging. We will still be considered and called a child of our God, and we will still be called beloved. Our God will delight in us, take pleasure in us, and rejoice in us.

The ignoring of sin will make us self-righteous and arrogant. We will start to think that everything God gives us is based on strict reciprocity and that God owes it to us, because we have nothing dishonorable clinging to us. It will not allow us to experience the merciful and gracious love of our God, who speaks the word, seeks the encounter, loves the lost, even when we ourselves know that we have no claim to any of it, and that we can stake no claim to having acted so magnificently or convincingly, that we would be worthy that he should enter under our roof.

Exaggerating the experience of sin makes us equate our weaker moments with our standard. »Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.« (Romans 5, 20). Like Jesus, when you come out of the water, you return to the genuine standard of your life. Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote some fine words that only a person who comes dripping out of the Jordan like Jesus could write:

»God's grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God's grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word ... it's that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn't about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - like saying, "Oh, it's OK, I'll be the good guy and forgive you." It's God saying, "I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”« *

There is someone waiting for us on the other side of every slip beneath the standard. There is always a way home. There is always a way back to conversation, inspiration and loving relationship with our God.


*Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Erik Riechers SAC, January 10th, 2021



»There is still enough time.«

One of the challenges for all of us in these long months is the testing of our patience.

Already in the springtime I heard: »Hopefully the lockdown will soon be over. Then we can live normally again.« When I remarked that the virus would also accompany us throughout the summer, I only received raised eyebrows.

Like so many things, this is being revealed and exposed by the pandemic, but it is not new. It has long seemed to me that patience is less and less a virtue of ours today. This is not only fed by experiences in traffic or at cash registers and counters, where queues of people can form and we repeatedly experience breaking in line, pushing or at least grumbling. We can observe this lack of patience in ourselves and in others in all areas of life.

We get sick and healing takes time - but we have to and want to get back on our feet quickly.

We want success at work - but quickly, please!

Instead of saving for a long-term goal, we prefer to take out a quick loan.

We consume supposed solutions instead of patiently practising living from interiority to the outside.

It is difficult for us to wait patiently without resigning, to persevere with a deep breath. We worry when we desire a good development for our children or friends and it doesn't seem to happen. We help and do what we can, but nothing seems to bear fruit. How impatient we can become then!

A few days ago I came across a dialogue that is unusual for our time. One person is very concerned about a young man whose heart is filled with hatred and sadness, and speaks:

» ‘But his heart is full of hatred for his father's murderer, and it is a damned chain that no one can break. Not even you, who allowed yourself to be crucified for these cursed, rabid dogs.' 'The world is not yet over,' Christ said serenely. 'The world is barely past the beginning, and in heaven time is measured by billions of centuries. There's no need to lose faith, Don Camillo. There is still enough time, there is still enough time.‘«

Indeed, her Don Camillo and Jesus speak with each other in the novel »Don Camillo and Peppone« by Giovanni Guareschi, published in 1957.

»There is still enough time.« When was the last time we heard that? Have we ever heard it and taken it seriously? Yet this sentence is like a balm for our harried souls. It takes so much pressure off us and suggests to our hearts:

Transformation will take place. Promises will be fulfilled. Paths will be taken. Maturation and growth are permitted.

We are not finished and we have enough time.

And we are part of a much bigger story. Our individual stories have meaning, our actions have consequences, but not everything depends on us and not everything has to happen immediately. »Being human takes time « Columban the Elder once said.

It is given to us, so let us take a deep breath.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 8th, 2021



The Favorite


Wanderer, you look tired. The disappointments of your life are etched into your face. Discouragement has drained the colour and the joy from your soul. You should not go on like this. Do not pass me by. Won't you sit with me for a while and warm yourself by my fire? I am but a simple storyteller, but you are welcome to share my bread and company. Come, sit down. While you eat, I will tell you a little story.

Many years ago, when the world was much younger, but already felt old a young man walked over to the fields to visit his grandfather.

He found the sitting on a finely carved wooden chair gazing at a camel. Everyone simply referred to this camel as the »the favorite«, for it was well known, that she had a special place in the old patriarch’s heart.

The old man looked up as his grandson approached and smiled. Even now, after all these years and having grown into manhood, the young man felt a wave of awe sweep over him and reverence touch the places of the deep heart. For his grandfather was one of the legendary 3 pilgrims of the star. Ever since he could remember, he had heard the story of his grandfather and his two friends following the star and finding the child of light. After the three star pilgrims had returned home, they continued to make rich contributions of learning to the land, but nothing they ever did afterward compared to the great journey they had undertaken. They were legends, and his grandfather was one of them.

Smiling back at his grandfather, the young man said, »You have come to admire ‘the favorite’ again? Why does your heart draw you here so often, grandfather, to this one camel? Surely you have more precious possessions than this old and worn out camel?«

The old man looked startled at the very thought. »I have many possessions that are more expensive than this camel, but none more precious. She was with me on the star journey and has ever a place in my heart.«

His grandson smiled. »It is fine, grandfather. I was just teasing you a little. We all know why she is your favorite, for she reminds you of the greatest adventure of your life.«

Shifting slightly in the chair, this old friend of the heavens and intimate confidant of the stars, furrowed his brow. “She is not a souvenir of my sentimentality. She was a teacher of a great life lesson to me and my companions.”

Immediately, instinctively, the grandson sat down on the ground and crossed his legs, leaning forward to eagerly hear a tale from this beloved grandfather, cupping his chin in his hands. It really is the only way to receive a story, Wanderer. The grandson had done this since he was old enough to walk, and never once regretted taking the time to hear one of grandfather’s stories. And here, too, the grandfather did not disappoint.

»When we had reached Bethlehem and found the child, we entered the house of Miriam and Josef. I have often spoken of it, but no tale has ever done my heart justice. We came out of the house, but we spoke no words to each other. There was joy, oh indeed, but only in silence. The words came much later.

Yet, our silent reverie did not last long, for a woman soon shattered our silence. We had paid her to care for our camels, to groom and feed them. She had done the job poorly and half-heartedly, for she was far more interested in eavesdropping on us then doing her wages justice. We were still deeply immersed in the experience of the finding, of the seeing and encountering when we saw her. We were so full of joy that we would have embraced her, but she began to talk. Her words were laced with the most vile and pernicious of all poisons, discouragement. It is injected through the ear, but it always reaches the heart.

‘All this fuss over that baby? And gifts of such value placed into the hands of peasants who do not know or appreciate their true value?  You should not be the ones bending your knees. Those two should be doing you homage. That child is one of thousands of worthless peasants, and you are filling his parent’s heads with foolish ideas that he is some kind of king? Like his lowborn father, he will rule over sawdust and be glad if they even bother to toss him coins for his labours. What an idiotic waste of a journey. You will go down in history as three foolish men who were deceived by the stars, which you failed to properly interpret.’

For all the wisdom I have acquired over my long years, I have never known a silence as painful as that one. I was so grieved I could not find words. All the joy and reverence of my heart was wilting under the assault. It was what I least expected in such a moment of bone-deep holiness and haunting beauty. My companions looked as stricken and appalled as I felt.

At that very moment, as the woman continued to spew her venomous words over our joy, my camel became my teacher. With his left hind leg, he gave the woman a powerful kick in the backside, sending her flying ten meters through the air. We ran to her aid, fearful that great injury had been done to her. But we found her merely bruised, more harm done to her dignity than to her body. That is when the three of us started to laugh.

We laughed and laughed. We laughed until tears trickled down out cheeks. We laughed until our sides ached. In the end we were all sitting on the ground, racked with waves upon waves of laughter. We all ended up on our backs staring up at the sky. And then we saw it. The star. It never shone brighter for me than in that moment.

We had lost sight of it once before, while we were in Jerusalem, and were overwhelmed with joy when we found its light again. But his was different, in many ways more powerful. We had lost sight of the star, of our joy, of this deepest experience of our hearts due to the nagging, disparaging words of the woman. We let our hearts be poisoned by a person who could not hear what we had heard, could not see what had already seen with our own eyes, and could not pause in wonder before that which we had looked at and our hands had touched. Unable to honour the grandeur of this place and hour, she tried to strangle our joy with things of utter insignificance, with narrow-minded prejudice and small-heartedness. Her discouraging words had nearly managed to distract us from a deep satisfaction we already possessed.

In that moment, my camel saved us. She became my teacher. What use is it to find utter joy and meaning, if you cannot guard it against those who have none for themselves and would have others join their misery, hardness and cold-heartedness? My camel tossed her from the circle of holiness and awe, showing me that such people must not be allowed to remain in the holy places of our hearts and lives. Since then, she was ever my favorite.«

Now Wanderer, stay but a little while longer with me. For the tale does not end here.

Forty-five years later, this grandson told his own grandchildren of this moment with his grandfather. When the tale drew to a close, he told his wide-eyed grandchildren two things. Come closer, lean toward me, Wanderer, for I would not have the night wind steal my words before they can reach your ear. First, he swore that he saw the light of the star shimmering in his grandfather’s tears. And then he told them this: When he looked over with newly won respect at »the favorite«, the camel winked at him.

And do you know what the great-great-grandchildren of the star pilgrim did when they heard that, Wanderer? They laughed and laughed and laughed, until they too rolled onto their backs and saw the heavens.

Now, Wanderer, tell me truly: Does bread not taste better when buttered with a story? Does the fire not burn brighter and warm deeper when fed by a good story? It was good of you to share my bread, my company and my story with me, Wanderer. You already look a little less tired and a little less discouraged. My goodness, if I am not mistaken, I see a twinkle of the star in your eyes.


Erik Riechers SAC, January 6th, 2021



Let us walk sheltered



can be hurdles.

It helps if others

climb over them with me,

take me by the hand,

perhaps even carry me.

And then?

I cannot tarry here.

From behind I am pushed,

from before I am pulled.

In the distance I cannot

recognise anything.

That makes me


But to stand still

or even

to remain lying down

is not possible -

that makes me lifeless.

Thus, a first step, a second,

a third . . .

at my pace.

The path emerges.

I sense supporting ground.

I see people on my right and left.

The sky becomes bright.

And someone whispers to me:

»Go on! He who shelters you,

does not slumber!«


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 4th, 2021



Words that can light fires in our hearts


2. Sunday of Christmas                                              Jn 1, 1-18


This prologue is like a manual of John's Gospel - it's all here in this poetic jewel. But precisely because it is a poetic jewel, we find it difficult. The language is hard to understand because it is not clear, plain and straightforward.

Broken hearts, shattered relationships, being wounded by someone, being betrayed, being lied to. Even trying everything to save a relationship and realising it was in vain. Now try to tell about it clearly, plainly and straightforwardly. As if everything in life could be described with the precision of an encyclopaedia.

John tells a story of true friendship without romanticisation. Because romanticisation takes neither the love nor the lovers seriously. And I want to help you understand his story with the help of another narrative.

In his book The Fault in our Stars, John Green tells the story of two teenagers who meet under difficult circumstances. Augustus is seventeen and suffers from a bone tumour. His friend is sixteen and has a brain tumour.

I would like to highlight one scene to help understand the prologue better. Here Isaac is talking about his friend Augustus at his funeral. It's about his friend visiting him in hospital after his operation. It saves his life, but in the process Isaac loses an eye.

»I was blind and heart broken and didn't want to do anything and Gus burst into my room and shouted, ‘I have wonderful news!’ And I was like, ‘I don't really want to hear wonderful news right now,’ and Gus said, ‘This is wonderful news you want to hear’, and I asked him, ‘Fine, what is it?’ and he said, ‘You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!’ «

This is John Green's way of describing what John wants to tell us in the prologue. God is an authentic friend who breaks in on our lives and not my invitation only. He comes unexpectedly, with wonderful news, even when are not in the mood to receive it.

Furthermore, the prologue not only tells us that that God can deal with broken relationships, but shows us how.


  1. The problem in the relationship is recognised and a costly plan of action is undertaken.

John describes this moment when he says that we human beings did not want to receive God and his message any more than Isaac wanted to receive his friend Augustus and his message.

»I was blind and heart broken and didn't want to do anything« is a state we all have been in. And yet that state is broken into, always a costly act, whether for God or for man. This lays in the poetic words »And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended it« as well as in the words »The true light that enlightens every man came into the world.« To recognise the problem in the relationship is already not that easy, but taking action beyond resistance and disinterest is the true art, and one that is mastered by our God. When we spend too much time proclaiming the terrible state in which God found his people, we spend too little time proclaiming that he is more than capable to dealing with us, regardless of the state we happen to be in.


  1. The Initiative is relational and personal.

When Augustus wanted to give his friend the good news, he burst into Isaac's room. He didn't write him a letter. Nor did he make a phone call or, worse, send a message on social media. He works relationally and personally. He appears himself. John tells it like this: »and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.« In verses 14-18 we have a description of Jesus' life when the Word »dwelt among us«, »pitched his tent among us« or »made his home with us«. The tent of presence was the symbol of God's companionship of his people on their 40-year journey through the wilderness. The life of Jesus, the divine presence in human form, thus reveals the relational and personal nature of God more fully than ever before. John is the storyteller who shows us that Jesus can show us what is really on God’s  mind and, more importantly, in his heart. »It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.« [Jn, 1,18]


  1. Success is not guaranteed. This is an open offer. And rejection is an option

Isaac's first reaction to his friend's message was: »And I said, ‘I don't really want to hear wonderful news right now’.« When we dare to love, we assume that it must then automatically met with success. But love is an offer that can always be rejected, otherwise we wouldn't have to talk about daring to love in the first place. Risk is always included in love stories. And John is not writing a romanticised form of the love story between God and his people. He writes: »He came into his own, but his own did not receive him.« John is like a novelist describing the pain of unrequited love: Loneliness, isolation and rejection. In the face of a needy world, Jesus comes as God's Word with a gift that satisfies all longing, but the loving offer is also rejected. Even divine love stories do not have to have a happy ending.


  1. The act of love is unconditional. God does not wait until the »guilty« show that they have changed.

Augustus literally hears from his friend Isaac, that he is not at all open to his message. »I was blind and heart broken and didn't want to do anything.« This statement remains true even after his friend enters his hospital room. Augustus does not wait until Isaac changes his mind or his mood improves. He is not concerned with his level of popularity, but with a message his friend desperately needs so that he does not lose himself in sadness and hopelessness.

John admires the same tenacity in God: »the true light that enlightens every man came into the world. He was in the world and the world became through him, but the world did not recognise him.« Which did not stop God from showing up in the room of our pain any more than it stopped Augustus.


  1. God's initiative is a loving offer that shows that the motivation is the well-being of the »other«.

The wonderful news that Augustus announces shows that he is concerned about the welfare of his friend. When people tell us »I have wonderful news«, it is revealed afterwards that they have been promoted, got a coveted place at the university, got an excellent grade or the job they longed for. But Augustus shows that he is not concerned with himself. »You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!« What we shouldn't lose sight of is the fact that Isaac tells this story about a friend who himself does not survive his cancer.

When John tells us »In him was life, and the life was the light of men. But to all who received him he gave power to become children of God, we have seen his glory, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,« we hear his version of »You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!«

John's friendship story not only shows the manner in which God is a good and committed friend to us, but also that he is a God who approaches life from a perspective very different from ours. God is happy for us, as Augustus was for Isaac, because we have the opportunity to experience life in a new way. And God dares to tell us this for the same reason Augustus tells his friend Isaac: because he has not been spared this reality of life, but is in the middle of it, as we are. He pitched his tent right next to ours. God himself suffers the pain of unrequited love: loneliness, isolation and rejection. He shows us that love opened up ways for him to deal with it. And these ways are open to us as well. 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 3rd, 2021



Walking under his name


Every day is a beginning, something new, unprecedented; but on the first day of a new year, we feel this especially. We become more aware of this threshold and - the older we get - also of what we carry across its threshold in terms of sorrow and joy, sadness and hope, anxiety and confidence, gratitude and disappointment. Really quite weighty!

Yes, life is like that, not only since the pandemic. But God says good things about precisely this life of ours! He blesses it! On the long and arduous journey through the desert, which often seemed hopeless, he pronounced this blessing in a way that we love to this say and place over the New Year:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

The good that God promises to His own has a threefold face: protection, grace and peace. Salvation is promised. It is a blessing that flows directly from God's name: I am here. When the way becomes dark: I am there. When crises shake you: I am there. When you become frail: I am there. When you feel lost: I am there. I see you, I shelter you, I look upon you. My name is upon you.

Blessed like this, we can go on, even today, when we may perceive the threshold to be like a hurdle and feel our way only hesitantly. We can entrust our name to this name. Then perhaps we can contemplate with Andreas Knapp:




Your name

is not smoke and mirrors

but sound and image

a good omen

unmistakable writing

Alphabet of life


your name

invented by love

tenderly whispered

not a lonely echo

but an echo of the heartbeat

password to you


your name

lifeline in HIS hand

engraved more imperishable

than in the most granite tombstone

carressing- pet -name


                               Andreas Knapp, Weiter als der Horizont


A blessed New Year!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 1st, 2021



The Swaddling Clothes of Welcome


When Jesus came into the world, angels appeared to the shepherds and sent them in search of the Saviour. In order for them to recognise him, they give the shepherds the following instruction:


And this will be a sign for you:

you will find a baby

wrapped in swaddling cloths

and lying in a manger.


In the book of the prophet Ezekiel there is a word that can bring the meaning of the swaddling clothes closer to us.


And as for your birth,

on the day you were born your cord was not cut,

nor were you washed with water to cleanse you,

nor rubbed with salt,

 nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.

(Ez 16:4)

 Ezekiel describes a birth of a very different kind. Here is a picture of the people of Israel being brought into the world without swaddling clothes. This is a metaphor of being exposed, of being at the mercy of others.  And it is an awful image of a defenceless life left to fend for itself, abandoned from the start. For the swaddling clothes described in the Bible consisted of a cloth that was tied together with cloth bandages. After the birth of an infant, the umbilical cord was cut and tied, and then the child was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and then wrapped in swaddling clothes. These strips of cloth were intended to keep the newborn child warm and ensure that its limbs grew straight. Swaddling clothes speak of warm shelter in a cold world. They speak of loving care and an appreciative willingness to protect and serve this life.

Years ago, John L. Bell wrote a wonderful carol about the search for the child.


I sought him dressed in finest clothes,

where money talks and status grows;

but power and wealth he never chose:

it seemed he lived in poverty.


I sought him in the safest place,

remote from crime or cheap disgrace;

but safety never knew his face:

it seemed he lived in jeopardy.


I sought him where the spotlights glare,

where crowds collect and critics stare;

but no one knew his presence there:

it seemed he lived in obscurity.


Then, in the streets, we heard the word

which seemed, for all the world, absurd:

that those who could no gifts afford

were entertaining Christ the Lord.


And so, distinct from all we'd planned,

among the poorest of the land,

we did what few might understand:

we touched God in a baby's hand.


And that is why Luke uses this detail of the swaddling clothes. The Son of God comes into a cold world, exposed to jeopardy, poverty and obscurity. But we should never paint the world in shades too dark. For there are also people in this world who protect, shelter and lovingly welcome the child. These are the people who wrap all new life from God in swaddling clothes. 

And it can certainly does us no harm to remember who the people were who provided the swaddling clothes. May we be numbered among them.


Erik Riechers SAC, December 30th, 2020



Before the eyes of children


In these Christmas days or, according to old tradition, 12 Holy Nights until Epiphany, the stories of Selma Lagerlöf are fine companions for me. Timeless, they widen the view from the Holy Night into our lives and thus go with me through this time. One of these stories is »A Christmas Guest«.

Little Ruster, who is already getting on in years, is a poor musician and flute player. There had been good years for him, when he and others played music and led a lively life, but that was a long time ago. As Christmas approaches, he turns up at the splendid estate of a former comrade, the violinist Liljekrona - with nothing but his flute, a quill and brandy. He is reluctantly taken in; the lady of the house considers him as an imposition on the children.  He disrupts the festive preparations that everyone here loves so much and who work toward the enchantment of Christmas. Finally, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, he leaves the estate with wounded pride - the stable-boy is to take him in a sleigh to another farm.

Yet, the enchantment of Christmas does not come to Liljekrona and his family. The violinist withdraws from his family and plays his violin so wildly in his room that his wife becomes frightened.  In the meantime, Ruster goes from house to house through the snowstorm - no one takes him in. » Then all at once he saw himself. He saw how miserable and degraded he was, and he understood that he was odious to people. “It is the end of me,” he thought. « And as he looks at his life like this, he suddenly becomes very humble and he believes his life will come to an end in the cold and darkness of this Christmas Eve.

Only when he is suddenly taken in by light and warmth does he realise that he is back in Liljekrona's house - the stable-boy had wearily returned home, without Ruster having taken notice. The master of the house continues his romp with the violin, but his wife is transformed; she is filled with compassion and then she entrusts her boys to Ruster while she does some last chores in the kitchen. With children, however, the man is completely inexperienced: » He was almost shy of them, and did not know what he ought to say that was fine enough for them. « Then he turns to what he knows, his flute. And by means of the tones they come to the notes and through them to the ABCs. Yet Ruster is not satisfied with himself. » He was turning over the old thoughts from out in the storm. It was good and pleasant, but nevertheless, it was the end of him. He was worn out. He ought to be thrown away. And all of a sudden he put his hands before his face and began to weep.« Then Liljekrona's wife steps before him - full of understanding, full of confidence and with the offer to teach their children in the future. She admonishes him to look the children in the eye, but he does not dare to do so and says so. » Liljekrona’s wife laughed loud and joyously. “Then you must accustom yourself to them, Ruster. You can stay in my house as schoolmaster this year.”«

This laughter reaches Liljekrona. When he comes out of his room, he can hardly believe what he sees and what his wife has just arranged and he does not understand her courage and he asks what Ruster has promised. » ‘Ruster has promised nothing. But there is much about which he must be careful when he has to look little children in the eyes every day. If it had not been Christmas, perhaps I would not have ventured; but when our Lord dared to place a little child who was his own son among us sinners, so can I also dare to let my little children try to save a human soul.’ «

Liljekrona's face twitches with emotion - as it always does when he hears something noble. And he kisses his wife's hands.

Now Christmas is truly celebrated!


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 28th, 2020



The Complexity of an Authentic Life


Holy Family B 2020            Luke 2,22-40


Normally when we think of the coming of the child, we expect a fairly simple and straightforward story. It should make us happy, comfort us and warm our hearts. However, many people have celebrated this Christmas season with mixed feelings. Sadness was mixed with joy. Many expectations were only minimally fulfilled, or not at all. There is a mixture of hard reality and stubborn hope, of the cold facts of life and the unquenchable longing of faith.

Today we hear a biblical story that is just as complicated and complex. The reason is simple: the reality of human experience is always complex. In this story of the coming of the child we see the fulfillment of a promise of redemption and at the same time a prediction of times of trouble and pain. This child is destined that in Israel many will fall through him and many will be raised up, and he will be a sign that will be contradicted. There is no escape from reality here. Here we have the real-life story of the Gospel. And we can take from it three life lessons for mixed experiences.


Do not speak ill of poor and feeble beginnings

It is easy to overlook the signs of poverty in the story, but they are present. Because Mary and Joseph are poor, they cannot afford to bring a lamb as a sacrifice to the temple. Therefore, they have no choice but to choose the option open to the poor: »a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons«. The very fact that they bring these offerings is already a humiliating public confession of their social and economic status. The constant frustration and humiliation that so many of their compatriots also experienced surely aroused a desire for God's promise of redemption to be fulfilled.

At this point Simeon and Hannah enter the story, two people who neither ridicule nor denigrate the poverty and simplicity of this young couple. Instead, they see something in their present situation, indeed in what they already possess, that is not only realistic and focused, but also generous and inclusive. So often in our crisis situations we experience sarcasm, irony, condescension, prophets of doom, and know-it-alls. Here, however, are two who find warm words for poor and powerless beginnings. For this is how all stories of God begin.


Grant others the life you long for yourself

Luke tells us that Simeon was a man on whom »the Holy Spirit rested«. What the Spirit wove in him makes Simeon show a remarkable openness.  Intuitively, he felt the urge to visit the temple, and he took it as a guidance of the Spirit. Simeon not only sees the baby, but recognises the significance of the tiny life he holds in his arms. In a cascade of words that encapsulate Simeon's thoughts and prayers over the countless years, he speaks the words of what we now call the Song of Simeon.

When we humans hard pressed for long periods of time, the desire of our hearts can become too small. Then we want deliverance from what is oppressing us here, today and right now. Then it can happen that we wish it only for ourselves. Simeon, on the other hand, sees God's salvation as something that encompasses the whole earth. Not only his nation and his people should see and experience God's salvation, but all peoples and nations.

How often crises become nothing more than gaining an advantage over the enemy. But Simeon sees that God is inclusive and not partisan. God does not want to divide the world into winners and losers, but to let everyone share in the gains. His redemption is for the whole world. Here Simeon stands in a tradition as old as Genesis. For God's promise to Abraham says that through his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed. This generosity is a fruit of the Spirit who dwells in us and rests upon us. The glory of Israel will be realised to the extent that Israel is a means of blessing to the nations. This was Simeon's vision of Jesus' life and ministry. 


Speak blessing that touches the deepest realities of life instead of avoiding them

Simeon then blesses Jesus' parents. But even his blessing is complicated, for with the blessing come words of warning, of prediction, of conflict, of division, of opposition. (Behold, this Child is appointed to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against). For Mary it will mean personal loss and suffering. (A sword will pierce your soul as well.)

Simeon's blessing is anything but a glossing over of reality, a whitewashing of the cracks with blind optimism and sentimental good humour. Simeon's blessing faces the reality that where the love of God meets the sinfulness of human beings, suffering is the inevitable result. The blessing comes from the knowledge that the way God has chosen is to deal with the suffering of the world by accompanying those who suffer as one who suffers with us.

Another remarkable person, Anna, then comes along. A woman who had experienced tremendous loss but refused to give in to bitterness and resentment and found meaning and fulfilment in prayer and fasting day and night! She was a person of faith and hope who looked to a better future. She was also open to see the significance of this child and shared her joy of this discovery with all those who were waiting for the »redemption of Jerusalem«. Anna had lost so much, but instead of being bitter or resentful, she found fulfilment.

These are the complex steps through all times of crisis that enable us to resist the bitterness of spirit after a great loss.

John Shea has taken a long, loving look at the realities in the Song of Simeon. May his words, also complex and mixed, help us not only to celebrate Christmas but to face the days ahead with grace and kindness.


The Song of Simeon (Lukas 2, 29-32)


When I sing the canticle of Simeon,

I envy his privileged place in salvation history.

His aged eyes see the child of promise,

his ears hear the infant cry of the Saviour.

This allows him to go in peace,

to take leave of life.


Simeon holds the child of promise in his arms

and sings that life has become so full

there is no need for more of it.

Fulfillment has arrived.


How many have wanted to be able to say,

»Now you can dismiss your servant in peace«?


I think of a friend who died

while his children were still young.

As I sat at his bedside,

he was agitated and unable to talk.

I asked him

if he was worried about his wife and children.

He nodded.

I told him they would miss him,

but they would do well.

He held up his hand

with the index and middle fingers crossed,

the sign for ‘Hope so!”


No song of Simeon for him.


We know how deep bargaining goes in us –

the parent prays to stay alive

until the child is married or a grandchild is born.

We hold out hope there will come a time

when we will be ready.

hope that when our time comes

We will have partaken of a feast

that will so satisfy our hunger

no more will be needed.

Then our fist will open

and we will let go of the tight grip we have on life.

We will surrender without regret

and lay down the burden of our days.

May it be so!


But I am not sure.

For many of us,

for me,

there may be no resolution within life,

no culmination of our efforts.

We may die unfulfilled, with work undone,

with others carrying on without us.


But if there is a chance

to make Simeon’s words our last song,

we must radicalise ourselves as servants.

It is the servaant who departs;

all others merely stop.

if we have given our life away,

we may know the Spirit well enough

to embrace its unfolding in ourselves

and in those we love,

to trust the larger Mystery

that connects us beyond separations.


Our heritage of service will sustain us

knowing that the One we have served

is faithful

in ways beyond our ability to image.


Erik Riechers SAC, December 27th, 2020



God starts anew in the child


Christmas Day 2020

(For Julia, Lukas and Johannes)


»For unto us a child is born« (Is 9,5). When we hear that, we could wonder if God really has it all together. Because even a brief glance at the painfully broken world around us tells us that the very last thing we could use right now is a child.

Every day we hear exactly the opposite from politicians and economists. They tell us: we need more troops to protect us from terror, not a child. We need ingenious people to develop new technologies so that we can once again become leaders in the globalised world economy, but not a child. We need heroic people to open up new worlds. We need entrepreneurs to get the economy going again and reduce unemployment. In such a world, we have been waiting a long time for the angel to announce: »Fear not... Today in the city of David the Saviour is born to you«. But how dare God then tell us: »You will find a child lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes«.


God provides a path all his own. The surprisingly new thing about the Gospel is precisely that God became small and vulnerable and, of all things, fruitful among us in this way. He prefers to come into the world as a child. The three basic attitudes before the child that we learn in Bethlehem and which becomes a blessing and salvation for us are demanded of us again in Cana and on Calvary, in Jerusalem and Jericho.

Firstly, a child slows us down. A child slows down the normal pace of our lives. This truth is painfully clear to us. Children cannot keep up with adults. They cannot walk as fast as we can. Mentally, they cannot match our speed. Children need more time to learn. They are slower to understand, need much more time to prepare, to readjust. Therefore, if we want to lovingly engage with a child, we have to adapt to their pace.  

And it is in this that we are blessed. When we engage with a child, our lives are slowed down and decelerated until we can engage with new levels of experience, enjoyment and exploration. It is not children who race past miracles, but adults. Children don't need to be reminded to notice the beauty and magnificence of life; adults do. When their questions cascade down on us, we have proof that they can really see, admire and take in the world. Their inquisitiveness gives rise to wonder, and wonder is the beginning of all faith.

That is why a child has been given unto us. God wants to slow us down so that the most important encounters, the fullness and the truly significant things of life do not pass us by without a trace. In the child he slows us down so that we can perceive our life, notice our orientation, take a look at the movement or immobility of our life, and get involved in the burning questions. But what begins in Bethlehem is carried through in the life and work of Jesus. In Bethlehem we learn a basic attitude of faith. How else will we perceive the lilies of the field, the birds in the sky, the poor widow, the prodigal son, the woman bleeding to death on the inside, the insecure Zacchaeus, or the mourning Martha, if we run past all the places of encounter with God? To live fully we need the pace of a child. If we want to slow down, let us welcome the child. That is why he is given unto us.

Secondly, a child unleashes our generosity. Children are not our partners. They cannot contribute equally and effectively to the family, the state and the community. They need much more than they can give. They need our material resources, because they cannot sustain their own lives. They need more affirmation, because they are not yet strong enough in self-confidence and courage. They need to drink from the cup of our love, patience and strength for a long time. They need more time. Plain and simple, we cannot love children if we do not meet these demands. And it is these demands that forge the core of our generosity.

In this sense, children are the first teachers of our generosity. For most parents, a life of selfless service begins not before the marriage altar but before the baptismal font. The moment a child is born to them, they are immediately enrolled in the school of generosity. Without a versatile generosity, children cannot be loved or educated. They make us transcend the stinginess with which we treat time and love to offer and provide more, and more and more of it. Self-occupation diminishes and concern for the child grows.

That is why a child is given unto us. In the child, God begins again. He stretches our hearts to make room for a greater, a divine, generosity. This is how he works with us from the manger to the cross. We need generous hearts if we want to leave the nets on the shore and throw the last penny into the plate. Only generous hearts can turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile and bless the persecutors. No step of the way with Christ can be taken without a generous heart. That is why a child is given unto us, because in the child God wants to start all over again.

Finally a child softens our angers. This is not to say that they are never the cause of your anger. Indeed, your children can infuriate you with a stunning ease. Spilled milk, interior decoration inspired by crayon, missed curfews, and incomplete homework and housework can make your blood boil and your hiatal hernia dance for joy.

Yet even in the hour of our anger they can save us. In the encounter with their vulnerability we begin to draw from the wellsprings of our compassion. Vulnerability opens us up a new access to long forgotten tenderness. Their vulnerability makes them defenceless and easily hurt and this breaks through our otherwise armoured hearts. This vulnerability of children makes us open to a love that transcends our anger, our bossiness and even our drive to violence.  Their defencelessness makes us stand protectively over them and calms our anger. The helplessness of children draws help and comfort from us. When we face children who are small in stature, strength and vitality, our hearts change to mercy and gentleness where once there was only impatience and anger.

God brought us a new life in the form of extreme vulnerability. He came to us as a small child, totally dependent on the care and protection of others. In the child, God starts from the beginning. When God comes into the world as a little child, God cannot walk or talk; first someone has to teach him. That is where the story of Jesus begins. He needs people so that he can grow up. God says: "I want to be weak so that you can love me. What better way is there to help you return my love than to become completely weak so that you can take care of me? “God becomes a stumbling God so that he can depend entirely on our love. The God who loves us is a God who becomes vulnerable, dependent on people in the manger, dependent on them on the cross; a God who basically asks, »Are you there for me?«

We spend so much time protecting ourselves from pain, betrayal and hurt that we put our hearts behind bulletproof glass. But here is the God who wraps his heart in swaddling clothes. In Bethlehem a child is given unto us, because vulnerability is the way to love and life.

This is always the way of Jesus, from the manger of his birth to the showing of his wounds after the resurrection. In his flesh, we constantly learn that in him, God provides a way of his own, the way where we live openly and without fear in our vulnerability. In Jesus we see a person who perceives the needs of the smallest children and who weeps for Lazarus. Here is a person who is not afraid to sweat blood in front of us, who does not hide his fear from us and openly admits to us that his heart is saddened unto death. Here is one who is receptive to the wounds of life for the sake of love.

A new mother once told me: »Everything I have done and achieved in my life has not prepared me for this encounter«. It is not too late. We can still grow a little smaller to meet him at eye level. The child is patient. We probably prepared for something else, imagined it quite differently: it doesn't matter.

So I conclude with a poem by my teacher John Shea. Here, too, a child can help us learn the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.

Sharon's Christmas Prayer

She was five,

      sure of the facts,

      and recited them

      with slow solemnity

      convinced every word

   was revelation.

      She said


they were so poor

they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

to eat

and they went a long way from home

without getting lost. The lady rode

a donkey, the man walked, and the baby

was inside the lady.

They had to stay in a stable

with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)

but the Three Rich Men found them

because a star lited the roof

Shepherds came and you could

pet the sheep but not feed them.

Then the baby was borned.

And do you know who he was?


      Her quarter eyes inflated

      to silver dollars,

The baby was God.


      And she jumped in the air

      whirled round, dove into the sofa

      and buried her head under the cushion

      which is the only proper response

      to the Good News of the Incarnation.



I wish you all a blessed and joyous Christmas.


Erik Riechers SAC, December 25th, 2020



The Surprising Fullness


No matter how hard we try, we cannot exhaust the possibilities of the Stories of God and the Stories of Faith. They will surprise us with their delightful insights that defy every attempt to limit them to inherited interpretations. And they will make us think when we least expect it. They will make us ponder when we least wish to do so.

Denise Levertov, in her book A Door in the Hive, offers us yet another look at the encounter between Gabriel and Mary. In a time when we are strictly limited in our freedom and ability to encounter one another as we would like, it is all the more important to discover the deepest potential that such encounters offer. That way, we will not take them for granted, when the days of unfettered encounters return. 



‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’

From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece


We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,

almost always a lectern, a book; always

the tall lily.


Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,

the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,

whom she acknowledges, a guest.


But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions



The engendering Spirit

did not enter her without consent.


God waited.


She was free

to accept or to refuse, choice

integral to humanness.



Aren’t there annunciations

of one sort or another

in most lives?


Some unwillingly

undertake great destinies,

enact them in sullen pride,



More often

those moments

when roads of light and storm

open from darkness in a man or woman,

are turned away from


in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair

and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.

But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.



She had been a child who played, ate, slept

like any other child–but unlike others,

wept only for pity, laughed

in joy not triumph.

Compassion and intelligence

fused in her, indivisible.


Called to a destiny more momentous

than any in all of Time,

she did not quail,


only asked


a simple, ‘How can this be?’

and gravely, courteously,

took to heart the angel’s reply,

the astounding ministry she was offered:


to bear in her womb

Infinite weight and lightness; to carry

in hidden, finite inwardness,

nine months of Eternity; to contain

in slender vase of being,

the sum of power–

in narrow flesh,

the sum of light.


Then bring to birth,

push out into air, a Man-child

needing, like any other,

milk and love–


but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,

when she could still refuse.


A breath unbreathed,






She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

 Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

 She did not submit with gritted teeth,

 raging, coerced.

 Bravest of all humans,

 consent illumined her.

 The room filled with its light,

 the lily glowed in it,

 and the iridescent wings.


 courage unparalleled,

 opened her utterly.


Erik Riechers SAC, December 23rd,  2020





Yesterday, on the 4th Sunday of Advent, the focus was on the great scene of Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary. It accompanies us through these last High Advent days. For we already know: not only the spark of a single interpretation flares up when we contemplate a biblical story.  Just as a hammer blow on a rock causes sparks, according to rabbinical teaching, a verse of Scripture allows many interpretations.


That is why today we give you a different view of Mary (and of us), who heard the promise of the angel - promise and imposition at the same time!



if I become very quiet

I will hear the language of the stars

in the blue of the night.


if I grow very still

I will hear the word of yearning

in the dawning of the morning.


if I am all ears

I will hear the melody of silence

in broad daylight.


if I let you in, angel,

and you touch me

with the wings of heaven


you will awaken my yes,

perhaps then the miracle will grow.

Perhaps. Now?


»Nothing is impossible for God.«


                              Hildegard Nies (Laacher Messbuch 2009)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 21st, 2020



How a Yes to God can develop


4. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Luke 1, 26-38


When we hear this story, there is a tendency to jump to the result. Then we emphasise the »yes«. The impression can arise that Mary's assent was the automatic response to Gabriel's greeting. What else is she supposed to say to the angel?  But in fact this »yes«. comes after a complex exchange between the two.

There are three moments in the conversation between Gabriel and Mary.

Gabriel greets Mary and questions are awakened in her that lead to inner struggle and debate.

Gabriel announces God's message for Mary to her and Mary asks questions that lead to the enquiry of the external circumstances and processes.

Gabriel explains to Mary in general how God wants to work with her and she considers everything carefully until it results in consent.


What emerges from this threefold exchange is not a foregone conclusion. While Matthew speaks about Mary in his Gospel, in Luke she is a woman who thinks for herself and speaks for herself. She appears as a great woman and not as a helpless little maiden.


Gabriel greets Mary and questions are awakened in her that lead to inner struggle and debate.

The first step of this conversation is Mary's reaction, not to the presence of the angel, but to his address (v. 29). Mary is not disturbed by the fact that an angel has appeared in her house, but by the words he speaks in greeting. What is given here as »troubled « dilutes the force of the Greek diatarassō. The word means a thorough, deep and life encompassing disquiet. This feeling is reflected in the intensity of Mary's inner debate. We do not know what the images and words in Gabriel's greeting triggered in Mary. Perhaps she is thinking about how young and inexperienced she is. Perhaps Gabriel's greeting awakens feelings of being unprepared. Perhaps she feels how poor and insignificant she is in the eyes of the world. What we know from Luke, however, is that she takes time to think thoroughly for herself. She examines all the different things that could be behind this strange encounter and where they could possibly lead.


Gabriel announces God's message for Mary to her and Mary asks questions that lead to the enquiry of the external circumstances and processes.

We have no idea how much time passes before Gabriel continues. Just because we can read a story quickly doesn't mean it goes that fast. But eventually the moment comes when the angel sees that Mary is ready to hear more. Then he begins to present his announcement. Again, Mary enters the conversation, but this time she moves on to an enquiry of the external circumstances and procedures. It is worth noting here the contrast with Zechariah's question from the previous story. Like Mary, he too was »troubled«, but whereas he asks »How will I know?«, her question is the much more practical »How will it come about?«. This response, with its implicit willingness to consider further, suggests that a new and differently focused phase of clarification has begun.

Dr Edith Eva Eger describes this phase through two questions that people asked in the concentration camps. Some asked: Why? This is what she calls the paralysing question, because it leads to passivity while we wait for an answer that we probably won't get. She chooses the question: What now? This question seeks what is really essential, namely the possibilities for shaping life that could lead to a future.


Gabriel explains to Mary in general how God wants to work with her and she considers everything carefully until it results in consent.

Even now, there is no immediate »yes«. Gabriel's statement in response to Mary's questions again raises some serious issues for Mary to confront - especially given her status as an engaged woman, the intended mode of conception and the punishment for violations of the betrothal set out in the law. How would her fiancé, her family and her wider community react? What possible fates awaited her? Could God really be at work in and through such an unlikely and precarious scenario? No wonder she has to take the time to look, think and weigh so that she can come to a considered decision. A »yes« to God is not born that quickly. In this case, her reflection leads her to answer the question in the affirmative - she overcomes the fear of the likely risks and volunteers to be a partner in God's proposed plan. But even if her reflection had led her to a different answer, it would still have been the same profound and informed act of self-determination.

Years ago I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. Too often faith is presented in this manner. In such an understanding questions, considerations, doubts and struggle have no place.

But the path of faith is the path that Mary walks in this narrative. The path of faith is not just about the question »What do I have to affirm quickly and unconditionally?« We need to recognise when to pause and reflect before moving on to the next step. Instead of viewing questions as doubts, we should consider what kind of questions or perspectives are useful when we are trying to understand a situation and make a decision about an appropriate action. The absolute clarity with which we occasionally try to answer questions of faith tends to question whether faith is just something to gain more certainty. Perhaps experiences of faith are also given so that we can grow and live in all those life situations where there are no definite answers.

A »yes« to God is not born that swiftly. And when this »yes« passes over our lips too quickly and thoughtlessly, then it cannot develop it potential, then it will not be what it is meant to be for us. For here we are to carry a promise of God in us and focus our lives around this promise. We should say »yes« to that, which is in our hearts: the breath of God that animate the human family. When a »yes« to God is born in this way, then it is a call to our deepest vocation, namely, to believe that at the very core of the matter, we are made by and for love.


Erik Riechers SAC, December 20th, 2020



Everyone is born there


This year, many of us are missing a trip to one of our places of longing. There are places that do our souls good, where we can experience being at peace with ourselves and recharge our batteries. The majority of humanity hardly has a chance for such an undertaking. But many know the longing for holy places - at least once in a lifetime they would like to visit them and take on the great burdens of a pilgrimage.

This was on my mind yesterday morning when I prayed Psalm 87. At the beginning the it refers to  the holy mountains; in the Bible they are again and again places of experiencing God, of encountering the Mystery, the very Other, the HOLY, and the experiences are varied.

Then the singer of the Psalm singles out one mountain: Zion. It is founded by the Lord like all others, but he loves it above all others. Among us humans, this could lead to a competition, a ranking, a separation between belonging and not belonging. But not with God! The glory of this city of God is that everyone belongs - and in a way that has to do with the deepest questions of being human, the whence and whither of it: of Zion it will be said: » Everyone is born in her. «

This little psalm sings of a great longing. Wherever we come from - one day we will step through Zion's gates and realise: This is where we come from. This is where we belong. This is where everything that makes us live springs forth.

Truly a reason to dance!

His foundation on the holy mountains -

The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

Splendid things are spoken of you, O city of God:

“Let me recall Rahab and Babel to my familiars. Look, — Philistia and Tyre together with Cush— and will say,

‘This one was born in Zion.’ ”

And of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone is born in her, and He, the Most High, makes it firm-founded.”

 The Lord inscribes in the record of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.”

As singers and dancers alike: “All my wellsprings are in you.”


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 18th, 2020



We Wear the Mask


In Germany a new and hard lockdown of the country begins today. It is much the same in many parts of the world. There is much to complain about and no shortage of people willing to do the complaining. No one was hoping for a Christmas like this, but this is the Christmas we will have.

Among the tighter restrictions given to the churches here, we now need to contend with two aspects that directly impact the way we celebrate the Christmas liturgies with each other. First, we are not allowed to sing our beloved Carols while we worship. Second, we must wear a mask throughout the time we are in the church.

Of the two restrictions, the singing is getting all the publicity and rivers of ink are flowing in commentary. But to me, the second one, the wearing of the mask is the more troubling. It is not a problem for me as a public health safety measure, not even in the celebration of the Eucharist. What troubles me, is that we are very selective in our opposition to mask-wearing. When they are made of cloth, people complain loudly and at a length, even claiming this constitutes a violation of their personal freedom. But when the masks are not sewn of cloth, but woven out of human reluctance to share life and feeling, story and wound, then we are remarkably silent about the effects of mask-wearing.

Can we honestly claim that this is the first Christmas in which we will wear a mask? Do we sit in our pews or at our Christmas tables with open hearts and transparent faces? Have none of us ever felt the need to mask our true feelings, what is truly happening within us, in order to keep the others happy, or at bay? Have none of us worn the outer mask of Christmas joy to cover deep and welling sadness in us? Have none of us faked enthusiasm at the gatherings of kin and clan, masking our deeper hope that it will all just go away? Does Christmas automatically make out conversations more forthright? These are the masks we wear at nearly every Christmas and beyond.

Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a brilliant and gorgeous poem entitled »We wear the mask«. May his words give us a chance to think about the masks we wear, that no government edict can demand or enforce.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!

When the pandemic ends and the masks come off, will we actually show each other more of ourselves?


Erik Riechers SAC, December 16th, 2020



Giving witness to the Light


In our latitudes we are entering the darkest week of the year. At its beginning, however, or quite deliberately, there is a saint of light: Santa Lucia (Dec. 13) from Syracuse in Sicily, who died as a martyr at the beginning of the 4th century.

We know little about her, but as happens so often, the people continued to tell in legends what they loved and admired about her, for example that she brought food to fellow Christians in their hiding places under cover of darkness. She needed both hands to carry the food, so to find her way in the dark, she is said to have put a wreath of lights on her head.

For a long time she has enjoyed a special affection in Sweden. Thus it came to be, that Selma Lagerlöf wrote a legend in 1921 entitled, »The Legend of Santa Lucia‘s Day«. In it we come to know the cold and greedy Mrs Rangela, who had her farm at the mouth of a bay, which she secured with a drawbridge and mercilessly levied tolls on anyone who wanted to take this shortcut instead of a day's walk around the whole bay. It is worth reading how it came about that a young relative of hers married the rich widowed Lord Eskil at the nearby castle and took care of his eight half-orphans.

This young woman Lucia was the opposite of her aunt in everything. From childhood onwards she loved the stories of St. Lucia, whom she chose as her patron saint and carried in her heart as an example. Thus, with almost childlike devotion, she helped pilgrims across the bay in her boat and thus began to arouse the wrath of her merciless aunt, who now schemed against Lucia. But this young woman would not be dissuaded from her goodness. Indeed, it almost caused her  physical pain when in autumn her cellars and barns filled up to an extraordinary measure, while she kept hearing how many people in the country were starving and had lost everything after war campaigns and looting. Finally, she used a long absence of her husband in late autumn to put her heart's desire into action with the help of all the servants. Wherever she still found survivors, she provided them with everything they needed to get through the winter. » As long as she still had gifts left, Mrs. Lucia sailed along the Vänerstrand, and her heart was as happy and light on this journey as never before. For just as there is nothing harder than to remain silent and inactive when one hears tales of someone else's grave misfortune, so it brings the greatest happiness and sweetest peace to anyone who tries to remedy it even in the very slightest degree.« Relief and joy spread through everyone as they sit together again in the castle at home on the eve of Saint Lucia's Day. But then everything tips: her husband returns early, full of anger about the waste, being well informed by the wicked Mrs Rangela.

It is enchanting to read how the frightened and desperate Lucia, thanks to the help of her patron saint who bursts radiantly from heaven, is able to comply with an impossible ultimatum from her husband and everything turns out well in the end. Indeed, Eskil promises to enter into the service of two noble ladies: »One of them is my wife, the other St. Lucia of Syracuse, to whom I will erect altars in all the churches and chapels I have on my estates, beseeching her she will keep that spark and guiding star of the soul which is called Mercy alive among us, who languish in the cold of the north.« *

At the end Selma Lagerlöf writes: » On the thirteenth of December, at an early hour of the morning, when cold and darkness held sway over Värmland, even in my childhood, Saint Lucia of Syracuse entered all the homes scattered between the mountains of Norway and Gullspangålf. She still wore, at least in the eyes of the children, a dress white with starlight... And I wished that she would never cease to make her appearances in the homes of Värmland.« *

Each one of us can become a witness to the light - like Lady Lucia in dark Sweden, like Santa Lucia once in Syracuse, or like long ago and still alive today the Baptist of whom the Gospel said yesterday:           

» There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.« (Jn 1, 6-8)

The darkness is there - let us bear witness to the light!

* »The Legend of Santa Lucia’s Day«  by Selma Lagerlöf, in: The Christmas Story Book


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 14th, 2020



God cannot be shaken off so lightly


3. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Is 61, 1-11


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

If you listen to any one voice during this Advent season, then hopefully it is this one. Because Isaiah raises his voice so that the speech about God and his people might take on a new tone. And this tone deserves that we say: It has reached my ear.

With his typical verve, Isaiah announces how the Spirit of God works in his people and what this Spirit does in them. More than anything else, Isaiah emphasises that this God is not ashamed to be our God. Quite the contrary. He stakes a claim to our lives, and not an insignificant one. This God wants to be part of our lives, but not in any old way. Anointing is his style. Through it he testifies to his abiding and personal interest in us. This is how he makes his claim. For God can call, choose, give, enrich, and reward without touching us. But anointing does not work that way. Anointing is not possible without touch and contact.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

Touch is inevitable when anointing takes place. Therefore, the one who wants to anoint cannot be afraid of touch. This is how the first subtle note in Isaiah comes out. Distance is not God's thing.

But anointing immediately awakens a second image in us, namely the image of oil. Anointing is not possible without oil, and only oil will do. For oil carries within it the deepest symbol of the way God touches us and what this touch does to us.

Firstly, the oil gets under the skin. It is absorbed by us, absorbed into us. Oil penetrates invisible levels of our body and becomes a part of us. Oil is not like water, which glides over the surface and then rolls off again.

Secondly, oil leaves a trace. We only need to remember the last oil stain on a shirt, blouse or tablecloth. Oil shines on the skin, not like water that dries and then disappears without a trace.

Thirdly, oil is difficult to remove. It sticks to skin and fabric. We cannot easily wipe it off. With luck, soap, solvent and vigorous scrubbing, it can be removed with difficulty. Water, on the other hand, dries by itself.

Therefore, this anointing of the Spirit brings a new tone to our relationship with God that is as smooth as oil.

First, like oil, God gets under our skin. The touch of our God is not a superficial experience. It penetrates deep into us. The touch of our God becomes a part of our lives. We may remove (and deny) every outward sign of the God relationship, strip away every form of prayer, worship and church, but God remains a part of our lives. The power of his Spirit continues to work invisibly in us.

And because God got under our skin salvation becomes our life message. We can heal broken hearts, break the chains with which people are bound and give sisters and brothers a year of grace instead of being a hellish experience for them. It may be under our skin, but it is all within us

Secondly, like oil, God leaves traces. And these traces show up when we neither expect nor suspect them. There are the tears that well up long after we have deemed ourselves immune and hardened. We know the remorse that arises even after we have given in to indifference. We feel longing even though we pass ourselves off as satiated. Restlessness plagues us although we would swear that we are fully satisfied.

A very exhausted, disappointed and frustrated mother told me about her daughter and the sheer endless strain she has had with her for almost 10 years. Drug addiction and rehabs alternated at regular intervals. And now she was done. She said, »That's it for me. I just don't care. It doesn't bother me anymore. All this doesn't affect me and just leaves me cold.«

I listened for a while before saying, »Somehow I imagined indifference to be less exhausting.« Then we both laughed before talking about the marks left by God's love in and through this mother.

It does happen that we feel hardened, hurt, irritated and annoyed towards God and his life in us. Yet we long for salvation, and not just for ourselves. We still want to put the fragments of our hearts back together. There is no such thing as permanent indifference. Every time we are outraged by brutality, exclusion, corruption or other desecrations of human dignity, we long for justice. Like the mother, we pretend that we have become so indifferent. But indifference looks different.

Thirdly, like oil, the experience of God is difficult to remove. God sticks to us, does not let us go and does not write us off. The touch of God is not superficial. He clings to us with amazing passion. Not even death can loosen his grip on our hearts.

The voice of the prophet rises and a new sound is heard, even in our time. Perhaps especially for our time. For we are used to quite different tones. We hear old tones from stories of a God who scorns or condemns us for every transgression of the law. Or we hear the echoes of teachings about a God who is only squeamish about contact with us, as if we were lepers (sinners). We have heard voices often enough, even in the church, that we are not good enough, that we are weak, inadequate, limited and incapable.

But the Spirit of the Lord has gotten under our skin. His traces can be found in us. There is more life, power, goodness, passion and love in us than others suspect. Most of the time, there is more God in us than we even suspect.

This God is in us. He cannot be taken out of us, beaten out of us or preached out of us.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

These are quite different tones, but they make for a much more beautiful sound. This is what life in God sounds like.

If you listen to any one voice during this Advent season, then hopefully it is this one.


Erik Riechers SAC, December 13th, 2020



»They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. «


The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,  the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God.”

Is 35, 1-4

 These words were spoken to a people in exile - today they are spoken to us!

We know desert places and desert times. Sometimes we think we can no longer get through. Where is there a perspective? Will our strength suffice? It threatens to dry up and all stability is gone.

We somehow hold on with increasingly weak hands and feeble knees.

We need images in order to survive.

We need images of hope.

We need images of life.

Where do they come from? Who tells us about them?

Who paints them in our hearts?

Laughing, even rejoicing, flourishing - unimaginable! As unimaginable as for the Israelites in the Babylonian exile!

But - just for today – let us let go of our misgivings, our negative perspective, our self-made limitations. Let us allow ourselves be drawn into the images: a land with green trees and people who can live from their yield; the Carmel Mountains with their cedars and vineyards; the magnificent, fertile plain of Sharon, then as now the image of fertility in Israel. All this exists, even today, because people had visions and took action for them: they planted trees and vines, they created gardens and plantations.

They believed the images and possibilities more than the appearance of the arid, dry land.

And we? We should not be fainthearted and unimaginative in hoping that everything will be as it once was after the crisis. Let us allow Isaiah to tempt us to greater things. Let us dream how we could live better, draw from greater depths and shape things in a completely new way.

That one day it may also be said of us: »They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.« (Is 35, 10)

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 11th, 2020



What does waiting do to me?


The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2, 1-5

With this text (and quite deliberately in this Advent season of the pandemic) a question is put to us. What does waiting do to me? Because waiting can have very different effects in and on us humans.

How do I deal with waiting? Do I take the time of waiting to nourish the passion within me, to nurture, to challenge and encourage that burning drive within me that says

»Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths« ?

This is the reaction of the waiting people of Israel to the vision of Isaiah. For it is written:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

The question remains: Is that our reaction? Do we feel like scaling mountains to encounter what we have seen? Do we feel like going to the house where we can live? Do we want to learn new ways? Do we want to wager new steps? Or does waiting seduce us into comfort, listlessness and disinterest?

Isaiah calls upon us to wait for something completely different, something greater. Otherwise we will only expect small solutions to small problems.

What do we expect at the end of all days? Or what do we expect after this pandemic?

- Something elevated? (The house at the top of the mountain)

- A deep-seated reliability? (The house firmly established)

- Breadth of vision? (The house towering over all the hills)

- Great movement? (All nations flock)

- A new setting forth? (Many nations make pilgrimage)

- A disarming peace? (Where swords are forged into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks)

- A new lifestyle? (Where the art of war is no longer taught)

 None of this has to happen. We can also just wait for the pizza to arrive. We can wait for the end of the day. We can wait for retirement, for the end of the pandemic or for the next holiday.

Thus, the question: What does waiting do to me? Hopefully, it will awaken in all of us an expectation and a vision that is greater than the mere restoration of what we previously had.

Erik Riechers SAC, December 9th, 2020



How to be alone


In the long drawn-out days of the pandemic, much has been said and written about the impact that isolation and social distancing is having on people. Loneliness grows, there is a sense of being cut off from the relationships that are meaningful, or of being forgotten, cast aside or neglected. Some fall into depression, others withdraw in resignation and yet others enter into smouldering resentment.


The focus has been primarily on how to overcome the ill effects of isolation. Yet, there is one art, one craft of the human heart, which has been utterly ignored in the groundswell of advice. We could learn how to be alone, to be, what Robert Ellsberg calls »Masters of Isolation«.


The gifted poet and theologian Padraig O’Tuama has written a beautiful poem called »How to be alone«. On this Advent day I do more than invite you to read it. Let his words be balm for the lonely places of your heart, and soul and sinew. Let them swirl about you and through you like the current of the Jordan River, and let that current carry away everything that you are willing to release in order to live more lightly when you are alone.


It all begins with knowing

nothing lasts forever.

So you might as well start packing now.

But, in the meantime,

practice being alive.


There will be a party

where you’ll feel like

nobody’s paying you attention.

And there will be a party

where attention’s all you’ll get.

What you need to do

is know how to talk to


between these parties.




there will be a day,

— a decade —

where you won’t

fit in with your body

even though you’re in

the only body you’re in.


You need to control

your habit of forgetting

to breathe.


Remember when you were younger

and you practiced kissing on your arm?

You were on to something then.

Sometimes harm knows its own healing

comfort its own intelligence.

Kindness too.

It needs no reason.


There is a you

telling you a story of you.

Listen to her.


Where do you feel

anxiety in your body?

The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?


The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing

or the clutch of gut like falling

& falling & falling and falling

It knows something: you’re dying.

Try to stay alive.


For now, touch yourself.

I’m serious.


Touch your


Take your hand

and place your hand

some place

upon your body.

And listen

to the community of madness


you are.


You are

such an

interesting conversation.


You belong


                                   Padraig O’Tuama


Erik Riechers SAC, December 7th, 2020



The humble beginning


2. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Mk 1, 1-8


Today's Gospel confronts us with the question of our readiness. Offers of new life, no matter how attractive they may be, are quite useless if there is no willingness to accept them. What will it take until we are ready to take the necessary paths of change?

Well, very often this readiness is made unnecessarily difficult for us. It is presented in images that are very romantic, but at the same time very dangerous. The people who are ready are those with glowing eyes and shining faces. They look courageously into the future and say a clear »yes« to the challenge that lies ahead. A little too much corniness and clearly too little a sense of the reality of faith.

The people who flock to John in the desert are of a different ilk. This story focuses strongly on their longing for the forgiveness of sin. Here the longing is described as widespread:

»And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.«

 Some biblical commentaries see the fear of the coming end of the world at work here. People flock to John in the hope that he can save them from doom. But such a description of their motives makes their longing for the forgiveness of sins appear as insincere, a last desperate attempt to save themselves.

Such a readiness is not as noble as the people with glowing eyes marching without a doubt into the future. Even if it is not so beautiful, it is real and authentic. There is a readiness that flows from frustration and dissatisfaction. Sin means that we slip below our deepest personal standard, so that a disturbance arises in the relationship between us and God, between each other and also in the relationship to ourselves. From this arises a different image of the longing for forgiveness.

But it usually happens this way. One day people wake up and discover that they are living an unlived life, that there is no »life« in their lives. They no longer find passion and joy or meaning in what they do or in what they have become. They drag themselves through their everyday life and fulfil their duty, but in deep places of their soul, they know that something is wrong. Underneath the surface that they show to the outside world, they know that something is no longer right. Even if they continue to strive for money and status, the reward will not give up what has been promised. 

This is the state of sin, because here we know that we have slipped below our deepest personal standard. We were not created for this. The river of life and love has dried up and we want to get out. The deepest longing for liberation only takes place when we realise that we are in prison.

These are the people who visited John in the desert. These people, the discontented and desperate, venture out of the cities and villages into the desert. They come to John with the burning hope that something can still change. That makes them ready. Hölderlin already knew: »Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.«

These people do not know in detail what has to happen, but they know the first step when they see it. Desperate women and men risk their future because their past has become unbearable. Inside they feel dead. They feel that they are dying by their own hand.

The first step is to strip, to cleanse and let go. The current of the Jordan will carry away everything they are able to release. But they cannot carry on as before.

This is the first step, but not the last one. This is exactly what John makes clear when he says:

»After me comes he who is mightier than I,

the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

I have baptized you with water,

but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.«

One will come who is even stronger, who has even more power. From him will flow the Spirit for a new life in all of us, if we heed his wisdom. We must apply this wisdom to our daily lives and integrate it into every aspect of our living. Here are at the edge of great leap, and we arrive here ready, open, able and willing.

This is the first step, but not the last one. As Winston Churchill so fittingly stated it in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, in London on November 10th, 1942: »Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.«

We can say this of the whole of the Advent season and of the long road to conversion: These days are not the end. They are not even the beginning of the end. But they are, perhaps, the end of the beginning.


Erik Riechers SAC, Dezember 6th, 2020



»God has visited his people«


In these weeks, life during the pandemic is getting tougher for many. The shaping of the Advent time with many familiar external means is largely omitted - what remains is often emptiness, restlessness, sometimes rebellion and much frustration.

For me, it is all the more important what an old Levite, who was condemned to silence for months, once said in view of the birth of his son: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! For he has visited his people and brought them salvation". (Luke 1:68) While his aged wife Elizabeth carried the child, which was so unexpected, he was mute - and this time was fruitful for him. Many things matured in the silence; he went into the depths. And when the child, "John is his name", was born, he could speak out loud what he had found: God had visited his people and he had created salvation for them.

The old Levite Zacharias had experienced, that God works, that we can let things happen, because salvation is already created. God has already come and visited his people.

What we supposedly need for the proper Advent mood usually distracts us so much that we do not even notice this message. That is why I am thankful even for the silence of these weeks.

What Dietrich Bonhoeffer brought into prayer in dark times and existential need, can it not be in us as well?


In me there is darkness,

But with You there is light;

I am lonely, but You do not leave me;

I am feeble in heart,

but with You there is help;

I am restless,

but with You there is peace.

In me there is bitterness,

but with You there is patience;

I do not understand Your ways,

But You know the way for me.


God has created salvation for his people. He is here. Let us allow him to work in us.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 4th, 2020



What needs to change?


During the Advent season we often hear a passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3, 4-6) 

What do we hear when we listen to this text? Mostly we hear a message that tells us: You have to change. We hear messages like »Pull yourself together«, »Improve yourself«. We are convinced that this is about us getting our lives in order.

The narrative itself says something else. For a start, we are not the ones who have to change. But we automatically assume this, because this is our inherited interpretation.

But this story tells us that something else must first change. The paths must be changed, because they should be straightened. The valleys have to be filled up and the mountains and hills have to be cleared away. Crooked roads have to be straightened, and rough paths smoothed out.

When the astonishment subsides, because we neither heard nor expected this, we notice a deep insight of our God concerning the transformation of His people. The conditions and circumstances around us human beings must be changed so that the Lord has a way to us. The situations in which we find ourselves must change so that the tenderness of our God can reach us. These things have to change so that the gentle voice of God can reach us, saying, "You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

Everything that stands between us and God must change so that we can hear and accept what God actually wants from us: »Come dance with me!« If we also want to change, if we want to be transformed, how can we do that when the tenderness and loving words that could transform us cannot reach us? If we are too blocked, too cut off, or perhaps smothered under duress, how should the word that comforts and frees us be able to touch us?

Of course, we should take repentance seriously during these Advent days, but it is not so straightforward a proposition as we often make it out to be. Very often we have reduced repentance to an act of the will, an act of self-discipline. But repentance is first of all an act of response to an encounter with a loving and merciful God. To take repentance seriously means taking seriously what such a process requires. Often we want people to change and improve, but we do not realise what is stopping them. The same is true of ourselves, when we are annoyed that we seemingly cannot manage a change for the better. For ourselves and for others, very often a way has to be prepared before the Lord can come to us. Once we meet Jesus in a living encounter we can be moved to an intimate encounter with our Abba. After that, all things are possible.

Erik Riechers SAC, December 2nd, 2020



If the prophets broke in


There are few people better suited to guide us into and through Advent than the prophets. Today Nelly Sachs leads us to these wonderful companions on our journey without hiding the fact, that they are also the most demanding companions of this journey.


If the prophets broke in

through doors of night,

letting the star-trails drawn in the palms of their hands

gleam golden bright –


for those long sunk in sleep –


If the prophets broke in

through doors of night

gashing wounds with their words

in the fields of habit

bringing the faraway inside

to the day labourer


whose evening expectations died long ago –


If the prophets broke in

through doors of night

seeking an ear like a homestead –


you ear of humanity

overgrown with cotton,

would you hear?

If the prophets

burst in on the stormy wings of eternity

if they broke into the canals of your ear with the words:

Which of you will wage war against a secret,

who will invent stardeath?


If the prophets rose up

in the night of humanity

like lovers seeking the heart of the beloved,

night of humanity.

would you have a heart to give?                        

                                   Nelly Sachs (translation by Sommer, Catterel and Catherine)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, Erik Riechers SAC, November 30th, 2020



Words that do not pass away


1. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Mk 13, 24-37


The first text of this Advent season can be very unsettling. The whole world is changing. Everything that is considered reliable suddenly starts to totter. The sun does not shine, the moon no longer illuminates our nights. Stars, the immortal inhabitants of the sky, are driven away.

We are so busy with this part of the story that we then ignore two wonderfully comforting passages.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.


Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.


Allow me to turn our attention to the first sentence. »From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.« Here Jesus teaches us how to recognise God in our lives, even in times of turbulence. For us human beings, the invisible God can be experienced in the same way as the fig tree experiences the invisible summer: through transformation. John Shea writes:  »No one has seen summer, yet its presence is proclaimed by the budding tree. No one has seen God, yet his presence is proclaimed by the transformed person.« (Stories of God p. 165). We will experience God and be transformed by his presence, just as a tree is transformed by the summer.

Transformation, however, is about movement. We can always recognise change by this criterion, namely that something is in motion. Mostly it is gradual and often barely noticeable. But that is not the point of the change that God wants to bring about in us. It is not about speed, but about continuity. It is not about being ready, but about unfolding. It is not about immediate success, but about receptivity. The question of transformation is the question of Advent. And the question is not: Are you there yet? No, the question is: Are you already on your way?

Transformation is always about movement, a movement from disaster to salvation. Because people often ask me for some helpful clues about this summer-transformation of our God, I give to you what I have sketched out for my students. The transformation movements in which we recognise God go

from non-salvation to salvation;

          from non-wholeness to wholeness;

          from apathy to love and empathy;

          from fear to freedom;

    from loneliness to community;

          from the diabolical ( that which mixes things up) to peace;

          from the ordinary to the extraordinary;

          from boredom to celebration;

          from barrenness to blossom;

         from having no wedding garment to wearing a wedding garment (the biblical image for the readiness to do what this hour requires of us).

If we look again and again in this Advent season at where and when this happens in our lives, we will clearly feel where God is at work in us, like summer in a fig tree.

Then comes the second comforting sentence:

Heaven and earth will pass away,

but my words will not pass away.

What are these words that will not pass away? These are the words of love, hope and encouragement that bring about the summer-transformation of our God. They are not the analytical words that explain love, but narrative words. The narratives of God speak immortal words about the places, times and people who embodied and revealed love for us. These stories of God are transforming. They enable us to experience the presence of God and in this presence they transform us like a tree is transformed by the presence of summer.

Today's text describes a period of uncertainty. Everything seems to fall apart. There seems to be no more reliable ground. What can a person do against so much hatred and stupidity in the world? Should we be vigilant? Yes. Should we be prepared? Of course! Should we be cautious? Without question!  But we also should keep to the eternal word, which is always love, the source of our courage and the source of our hope. This word can be the thing we hope for when we are in turmoil.

During this Advent season many of us are living in times of trial. There are fears about money, fears about stress, there are fears about addictions and diseases. Some worry about their children, others about their parents. And it is precisely at this time of year that the old stories of our lives rise up more frequently. The sun and the moon do not have to fade in order that we feel that our wold is shaken to its foundations. Maybe we live with grief, or we worry about a job or a personal injury, whether public or private. In all these cases, be prepared, be vigilant, be wise, but also hold on to the word that is always love. It alone can transform us.


Erik Riechers SAC, November 29th, 2020



A new view


It is now almost 20 years ago that I first encountered the clarinettist Giora Feidman. It was on a late summer Sunday afternoon in front of Engers Castle.

Like many others I was there very early. I found a good spot; many people went for a walk, some bought themselves something to drink - it was relaxing and nice to have time. Not far ahead of me a family with two grown-up daughters settled down. The two of them were constantly in animated conversation with their mother. The already older father seemed rather remote. He did not take part in the women's conversations or they did not involve him. He repeatedly got up and came back with a glass of beer. At some point I saw that the daughters cast rather embarrassed glances toward their father, but they did not speak to each other. This repeated itself several times.

Almost imperceptibly, clarinet music suddenly resounded delicately from the back, as is the custom with Giora Feidman at the beginning of a concert. The master slowly moved forward through the middle, gradually everyone became silent and the concert began. And soon he had arrived at the music I had come for: Klezmer music. With his instrument, the artist told stories - sometimes funny and cheerful, sometimes serious and melancholic - the whole range of life spread out before us, and it was so lively, so moving, that sometimes I would have loved to jump up and move to it. 

Then my eyes fell on the daughters in front of me. They were a bit restless and kept looking to the left, toward their father. When he turned his head a little to the side, I saw it too: a stream of tears flowed through the deep furrows of his cheeks. He did not try to wipe them away or hide them. He just let them flow.

The young women kept looking at him and at each other, but now the look was different. They saw him with different eyes. No longer an embarrassed distancing - they were touched. They gave their mother a sign and she nodded. A devotion spread before me, a reverence for what Giora Feidman had made resound in this man. 

I will never forget the tears in the deep furrows of those cheeks. But I will also never forget the change that had taken place in the women.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 27th, 2020



Love is here!


Not only have we felt restricted for months, we have also felt impoverished. We talk about loneliness and cold. But this is never the whole reality - not even now. Permit yourself to enter into some thoughts that show us another reality, a reality to which we »only« need to open ourselves:

»As more and more love is released into the world, a wonderful Healing is taking place. It is like balm poured into wounds, healing and making whole. Love starts within the individual. It starts in you, and it grows like a seed, bursting forth and revealing great beauty and wholeness. It is what is taking place now. Many souls feel that something is happening to them, but they are bewildered and do not realize what it is. They search without, hoping to find a clue which will show them what is taking place. Other souls feel a stirring but are afraid of what they feel, for it is new, it is strange and unknown, and they try to shut it down. Nothing will be able to stop this release of love. It is like the genie in the bottle; having been released, it cannot be put back again. It cannot be hidden or ignored. Gradually it will begin to reveal itself in everyone. It has come to stay.«  *

Our God is love and love is in us. Let us surrender to it and let it flow through us: warming, attentive and creative, alive and growing.

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 25th, 2020

* Eileen Caddy



A People Made for the Promised Land


»O, fly and never tire,

Fly and never tire,

Fly and never tire,

There’s a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.«


This is part of the inscription which Barack Obama placed at the beginning of the first volume of his memoirs, fittingly entitled »A Promised Land«.

When I sat down and started reading the book I was struck by many things. The beauty of his use of language, the simple graciousness and warm humanity of the man all are a welcome treat. So is his astonishing honesty about his achievements and his failings. Here is a man with whom I would love drink a cup of coffee.

Yet, the deepest impression of the book thus far is the reason that I would also love to sit down and pray with Barack Obama. Here is a man cut from the cloth of genuine biblical hope.

What deeply inspires me is that he lived as the Psalmist has prayed: »But I will keep hope alive.« Psalm 71:14 .  For four years he has had to watch as everything he worked for was attacked, rescinded or cancelled by his successor. Every single thing he had worked and struggled for was suddenly no longer important: his marked tone of compassion was replaced by self-aggrandizement; his measured and thoughtful response to crisis gave way impulsive narcissism; his consistent call for unity was abandoned for social division, racism and white supremacy; his innate kindness and basic human decency in the great social discourse was supplanted by Twitter polemic and alternative facts; the common good  was tossed aside for personal enrichment, nepotism, and basest corruption. The country he led and so loved was plunged into darkest crisis, constitutionally, morally and physically.

I have known moments of despair and doubt in my life having endured far less devastating setbacks than these. Yet, here is a man who invokes the greatest image the biblical story has to tell, namely, that we are on the way to the Promised Land. What is desired, but not yet achieved, the place we yearn for, but have yet to reach, is not lost. We are on the way, even when we are wander through the desert years.

We have suffered disappointments and setbacks in this time of pandemic. We have experienced losses and sometimes we get the feeling, all these restrictions, lockdowns and measures may be in vain. But we are the children of the Promise and must keep hope alive even during the long stretches of the desert journey.

The Gospel Spiritual »The Gospel Train« (especially the stunning version sung by Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle *) always helps me to recalibrate my soul unto hope.

The Gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels a- moving
And a-rumbling through the land

Refrain: Get on board, little children
Get on board, little children
Get on board, little children
There's room for many-a-more

I hear the bell and whistle
She's coming round a curve
She's loosened all her steam and brakes
Straining every nerve


The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class on board this train
No difference in the fare.


She's nearin' now the station
Oh, sinner, don't be vain
But come and get your ticket
And be ready for this train.



So get on board. And keep hope alive until we enter that good and spacious land of the God who is our Promise Maker and Promise Keeper.

Erik Riechers SAC, November 23rd, 2020


*   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txWQZQbr_ag



Because it is just and right

Christ the King A 2020   Mt 25,31-46


The world in which kings move is usually very sharply divided between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, above and below. These criteria play a big and important role in the world of the powerful and the rich. But now Jesus introduces us to a king after his own heart. Immediately something strange happens when he comes.

Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

This king will undertake a separation. But not by the typical royal standard. He is a king, says Jesus, but he is a shepherd who separates sheep from goats.

The standard by which this shepherd-king separates them will be explained later in the story. He separates them according to the way they have treated him in the past. Not origin, possessions or majestic arbitrariness, plays the decisive role here, but something over which we ourselves exert great influence, namely our way of living before God and with each other.

If that is the yardstick, then there is a difficulty, because both groups admit that they never saw the king and therefore did not know that it was he whom they treated in this way.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?

The answer of the Shepherd-King is telling:

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.’

He who comes »in his glory and all his angels with him« and sits »on the throne of his glory« identifies fully with the least of among men and women. This glory is not what we think it is. For this Shepherd-King identifies himself with the opposite of all that we think is royal and majestic: Pain, suffering, being wounded, poor, lowly, disrespected: this is where he is present.

The righteous do not recognise him, but they do what is necessary, what is right. They do it because it is »just and right«.  That is the key to this story, because the other group will also say: When have we ever seen you in these situations? »Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?«

However, they deal with the unrecognised shepherd king in different ways. The righteous say: »We have not seen you. We have seen this person in prison, and have simply done what was necessary. We saw this hungry person, and we just did what was right. We have seen this sick person ... and have done what love, goodness and humanity demanded of us.«

The second group says: »If we had known it was you, we would have been there immediately. If we had known it was the king, we would have done it all for him.« In other words, this second group acts according to a typical royal standard.

In a typical royal manner, they pass their judgement on the world. Not the shepherd-king of this parable, but the cursed ones divide the world into camps: the world in which they live separates rich and poor, powerful and powerless, above and below: the royal standard is their watchword. Their problem is that they are dealing with a king who does not adhere to it.

In the world of the second group, the rule is: we do such things for kings, for the rich, the powerful and the important, but not otherwise. They divide the world into those for whom it is worthwhile to work hard and those where it is not. Icy calculation is the issue. Their action is determined by cold calculation: who is important and who is not. They are not interested in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the captives, but only in hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and captive kings.

The righteous are not calculating. Wherever people are suffering, they want to help, alleviate, and serve. They do not ask who deserves it and who does not. The true separation that is found in this text is in the way of thinking of the second group. They have divided the world into the significant and the insignificant. This is the world in which they live.

Here we encounter an old, deep truth of the biblical stories: It is not God who makes the great division. We create our own separations and then live in the world we have created.


Erik Riechers SAC, November 22nd, 2020



Of Warmth and being sheltered


Outside it is getting darker and colder; the pandemic is intensifying that November feeling for many people and indeed more people are shivering and feeling alone and lost.

Let us tell stories of warmth and shelter against this:

I see a newborn child in front of me, wrapped in a hand-knitted blanket made of wool. The wise midwife has sensitized the mother: This child comes from a protective warmth of a good 36° C into this much cooler world. The young mother now takes care day and night that her child is surrounded by warmth. The woollen cloth is always with her when she carries him around the house. She is driven by conscientious care and I think of the words of the prophet Isaiah:  »Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?« (Is 49:15)

Motherly care is a divine care, the warming cover has something heavenly about it.

And I am wondering where I could give warmth but do not keep it in mind. How much cold there is in the world, because we don't even notice that we too could spread out »woollen blankets« and create a warm atmosphere. But we don't take them to hand, and no warm word comes over our lips.

Let us look again at the picture of the wrapped newborn. The warm blanket is not just laid over the baby, but he is enveloped, wrapped in it. The midwife also had a wise suggestion about this. This wrapping not only helps to keep the warmth in, but also to keep the baby completely by itself. It does not get »out of control« so easily when it becomes restless. It is also then safe and secure in the warming wrap. And when he is "in need", when he gets hungry, the mother is not far away.

We have long lived in a society of insecurity. Where do children find a shelter? They have no warm nest, no rituals that provide shelter - instead they are stuffed full with cold consumption.  When, as young people, they then let the problems of our world and their future draw near, they protect themselves through indifference or develop almost panicky fears, because they have not experienced that they are allowed to take shelter, that there is warmth and security - in and despite it all.

Thus, the view of the warmly wrapped child invites me to remember my own sheltering - come what may. At the end, the prayer of the 2nd Psalm, after speaking honestly about the realities of the world, says: »Blessed are all who take refuge in him.«

May we, especially in these dark days, pause again and again and look for the one who gives us warmth and with whom we can find refuge - come what comes! For it is still true: »Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.« (Is 49, 15-16)


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 20th, 2020



Living in Exile


I was recently approached by a young student who asked me if she could interview me for a school religion project. Although I am usually very reluctant to do such interviews, this one turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As soon as she began to ask her questions I was taken by her interest in the biblical stories. She did not simply ask me about my life, but very specifically about the role, importance and effect of the biblical stories in my personal life.

The question that most struck me was this one: »What is the hardest personal experience of your life that the biblical stories helped you to cope with?« If I was a little caught off guard by her question, she was most certainly stunned by my answer. »The biblical stories have taught me most about how to live in exile. Living in exile has been the hardest experience of life.«

Israel lives in exile for large parts of its story. Jacob lived 21 years in exile before he could go home. The Tora is rich in its storytelling tradition of teaching us how to treat those among us who are exiled, the foreigners and the strangers. Prophets wrote from exile. Psalmist sang from exile. And none of it is easy or comfortable.

The biblical stories have taught me that the experience of exile is an experience of accommodation. You learn to fit in, to speak a new language, follow new customs, and deal with utterly different perspectives and ways of thinking. The biblical stories to learn to make a contribution, to heed and respect the people and culture that has taken you in, to help build up the land and the life of its citizens. In this, Daniel and Mordechai became my friends and my companions.

At the same time, exile is a process of fidelity. The biblical stories have taught me to stay true to my heritage in the midst of a dominant culture. It has taught me the importance of standing by my deepest first loves and precious ways of life that have fostered, nourished and carried me. While living in exile, it is a constant struggle not to abandon, forget or neglect the precious heritage of our origins. That is particularly difficult in a place where no one else shares or understands that heritage. Thus; I learned to sing with the Psalmist: »If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.« (Ps. 137, 5-6)

In all the years I have lived in exile, I have learned most keenly a lesson deeply rooted in the biblical story: exile is a place of brokenness and incompleteness. Like all exiles of the Bible before me, I will never truly be fully accepted as part of the people and culture I find myself in. Exiles may be welcome guests, accepted and well treated, but at the deepest level they always remain outsiders, foreigners, »not from here«. My accent, the smirks at my repeated errors in the speaking of German, my cultural preferences and my often differing perspective often become reminders of my exile. I have lived and worked in this land for 15 years, but as soon as I differ from the dominant opinion it is immediately attributed to my being a foreigner.

The young student was deeply affected by my answer. Then she said: »You know, you don’t have to even leave your family or your homeland to feel like an exile. You just don’t have to fit in, and already you’re in exile!«

She is absolutely right. And to all those people who live in exile within their own families and cultures and homelands, I can highly recommend the three great lessons of the biblical stories:

Grow into the world of your exile and make a contribution. At the same time, remain faithful to your soul, to the most holy moments and convictions of your life. And learn to live within a broken and incomplete experience without letting it convince you that you are a broken and incomplete person.

The young student thanked me and ended the interview with a lovely compliment: »I don’t care what people think about the way you speak German. But I want to tell you, that you knew how to speak to my heart.« And that makes me feel at home while living in exile.


Erik Riechers SAC, November 18th, 2020



»A Picture is worth a Thousand Words«


We humans love pictures - ancient cave drawings already bear witness to this. In our time we seem to have become addicted to them. For a long time, only trained photographers were able to take and develop pictures. Most of us still remember sending holiday films to the lab and waiting anxiously for the finished photos. Today, almost everyone has their pictures in their pockets thanks to our smartphones. We often capture moments faster than we can take them into our hearts and share them with each other: views of peaks and sea surf, sunsets or exotic markets, fixed rope routes, beach pictures, especially many fall pictures of home in these quiet weeks - what have we not already collected in this way.

When we later take the time to immerse ourselves once again in our photographs - perhaps in an album - we often have the same experience that I describe from my own experience. When I look at photos from a very intensive trip to Israel years ago, for example, the picture shows me a certain situation at the time, but my inner eye sees more. I suddenly see the face of the Bedouin boy who was standing close by when I photographed the herd of goats.  Or when I look at the group photo, behind the smiling faces I see one or the other sad story that I got to know during the common pilgrimage. I am glad about the memory pictures, they help me, but they do not show the whole reality.

Yes, pictures can even distort, colour and falsify reality.

Our whole world of social media is full of images that show how people want to be seen. Millions of young people are posting themselves on Facebook and Instagram and just as many are eagerly clicking through this flood of images, waiting for approval, being rated and judging others.

How do we deal with pictures? What can they do and what not? Do they really say more than 1000 words?

For a long time now we have been capturing striking moments of our lives with pictures. Have you ever looked for a photo for the obituary of a loved one? We would like to have a beautiful photo, but it should be honest and authentic, show these people how they were, express something typical about them.  They should be seen as we knew and loved them. How much effort it takes to find such a picture, and in the end it is only an approximation.

Newborns are photographed a lot. Already on the second day professionals come to the clinic to take perfect pictures. At home, almost every hour, the parents experience moments that are so unique and new that they capture them and send them to their families and friends. This is very beautiful and delightful, and yet I am reminded of what a young mother said during this time: »"Now we have already taken so many pictures, but it is always only partial. No picture shows our child as it is. The picture is always just a miniature perspective - our child is much more!«

This thoughtful pause of the young woman leads me to the word of the Scriptures that we should not make an image of God, which we then worship as a cult image, and then attach it to God to make him tangible. (Dt. 5:8)

Should we not take this into consideration for images of human beings? For we hold pictures in our hands and have pictures in our heads and then pin people down to them. We saw a raised eyebrow and hold fast the image of an arrogant person. We perceived a tired face and categorise the person as old or dull or lacking in energy. We are impressed by a radiant face and believe that the whole life of this person is easy.

Yes, pictures are good, important and enriching. But let us not predetermine reality based on a picture that always shows only a moment, tells of an episode. Let us remain open and wide: behind every picture there is a much bigger story!

A human life is more than 1000 pictures.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 16th, 2020



Refusing to put a brave face on it

33th Sunday A 2020   Mt 25, 14–30


Today’s Gospel awakens automatic interpretations in us. We are used to interpreting this story as a warning against wasting our talents. In this interpretation we see the third servant as the scapegoat, as the one who acts wrongly, does not assess the situation correctly and therefore wastes the trust of his master and disappoints his expectations.

But as natural as this interpretation has become for us, it is powerfully flawed. This interpretation is based exclusively on our current understanding of the economy and the world. It ignores the world in which Jesus originally told this story. Equally important is that it ignores the life of the storyteller himself, namely the situation in which Jesus finds himself while he is telling the story.

We have read this story with the assumptions of modern economic theory. In our world, wealth is something that can, indeed should, be increased through work and investment. Even more, we admire such wealth and see it as legitimate and right. These are the assumptions that I have spent years bringing to the text. This was not surprising, because they are also the unquestioned assumptions of the world in which I have spent my whole life. Therein lies the problem. Not that I had my assumptions, but that I did not question them.

For Jesus and his listeners never lived in the world of my unquestioned assumptions. They lived in a society that was based on agriculture. In their world, wealth was not an unlimited possibility that could be increased and multiplied by hard work and wise investment. In their world, wealth was a limited commodity. There was only a certain amount of wealth distributed throughout the world. So if one person suddenly had more of it, it meant that another person automatically had less of it.

In the world of Jesus, the »gains« of the first two servants are due to the impoverishment of another person. We see this world view in the parable itself. It is repeated and escalated in the Master's answer in Vv28 and 29.

»So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.«

If I had just quoted this from the economic platform of a political party, would we accept it so casually?

The third servant says, »Here, you have what is yours.« He gives the Master what belongs to him, not what he has taken from others, so that the man who already has abundance is not given more.

We should not ignore the Master's suggestion either, for he is steeped in corruption and misconduct. »Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.« The first two servants promptly played according to the rules set by their master and paid him back the money with interest. But usury was expressly forbidden to the people of Israel.

If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.

Exodus 22: 25

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.

Levitikus 25: 36-37

You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.

Deuteronomium 23:19.

All this gives us a very different perspective on the third servant. Instead of seeing him as a man lacking in initiative, one who wastes talents, we now see a man who is deeply afraid of his master's power politics. Despite this fear, he refuses to play the game. He will not become an accomplice to the machinations of his master. He is not willing to play along, because playing along means exploiting others to make a profit for oneself. Despite peer pressure (the other two servants are playing along) and despite the threat of punishment for not meeting his master's expectations, he does not give in.

Instead, he exposes the Master and his way of life as false and names the corruption of the powerful: »Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seedOnly thieves, corrupt people and exploiters reap what others have sown and gather the fruits of the labour of others. In reality, this servant speaks truth to power. He also suffers the consequences, as so often happens with whistleblowers. He reminds us that such an attitude can be costly.

The whole story reflects the attitude and situation of the narrator, Jesus. He does not play along either. He refuses to participate in a religious system that is corrupt and calls corruption by its name. And he is punished for it. If he had been willing to make common cause with the religious, political and social powers of his time, he would have had a much easier life and would certainly have been praised by these powers as a »good and faithful servant«.

The third servant is presented to us as an example of the attitude of Jesus. He can give us something to think about in connection with crises and our way of dealing with them. 

He speaks to us of the need to bear witness to the underlying injustices and inequities in a system or situation, even if everyone else is willing to play along in the hope of gaining personal advantage. And he shows us how hard it is when this makes life difficult for us.

However, and perhaps more importantly, this story should make us more alert to the worldviews, assumptions and prejudices we carry within us. We bring them with us (often unconsciously) to this story and to all other life stories. My world and my experiences are not determinative for the whole world and every experience. A different perspective gives a different interpretation. And different understandings will challenge us to pay attention to our own assumptions and perspectives when we try to read a particular conflict situation.

We are facing the current crisis with many such assumptions. If economic stimulus packages are passed one by one; if small sports clubs are closed down in a lockdown while multi-millionaires are allowed to continue to earn football players; if some businesses are allowed to stay open while cultural events are cancelled altogether: then we see the assumption of a society: the main thing is that the economy is booming. Could or would our understanding of this crisis be different if we did not just look through our usual special lenses?

Are there other perspectives and interpretations of life and the crisis that might be worth trying and absorbing instead?

It is much easier to read the parable as a lesson about the use of our talents than a call to step out of systems that are inhuman and exploitative. But this parable begins with the words: »The Kingdom of Heaven is like...« We should ask ourselves, which interpretation better reflects the heartfelt concerns of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven?


Erik Riechers SAC, November 15th, 2020





My head

is never empty.


new thoughts come up.

They create



I feel

delivered up to them.

Often they drive me

into heaviness,

into darknesses.

Powerless I am drawn

into a whirlpool.

How do I

get out again?


Then I remember

an exercise that I had almost forgotten:


» Be a doorkeeper of your heart and do not let any thought in without questioning. Question each thought individually and say to it: 'Are you one of us or one of our enemies?' And if it belongs to the household, it will fill you with peace. But if he is of the enemy, he will confuse you by anger or excite you by lust. «


Thank you, Evagrius, desert father,

I will start practicing



Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 13th, 2020



May his Memory be a Blessing


It was with great sadness that I received an email from London on Monday evening. It informed me of the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He died on Saturday at the age of 72.

We became acquainted through the planning of a convention in which Narrative Theology was to serve as the platform by which Christian and Jewish believers entered into dialogue with one another. Our contact consisted of several phones calls and a number of email exchanges. I never had the privilege of meeting him face to face.

In our telephone conversations I was impressed by the sheer warmth and generosity of the man. He, in turn, was deeply appreciative of how we took the stories of God seriously. He particularly loved the fact of our deep appreciation of the Old Testament and how seriously we took them.

My fascination with this man led me to read more of his works. And there my fascination ripened into deeper respect and, eventually, reverence. The deep Jewish love for the Stories of God shone through him. He had a mastery of the technical side of biblical exegesis, but never assumed the cold, analytical tone of the exegete. His voice carried the warmth of the biblical storytellers.

Hear it for yourself. Here an excerpt from his article »A Nation of Storytellers«.

»The great questions – »Who are we?«, »Why are we here?«, »What is our task?«, – are best answered by telling a story. As Barbara Hardy put it: “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticise, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative. « This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is: not a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about truth as system than about truth as story. And we are part of that story. That is what it is to be a Jew…By making the Israelites a nation of storytellers, Moses helped turn them into a people bound by collective responsibility – to one another, to the past and future, and to God. By framing a narrative that successive generations would make their own and teach to their children, Moses turned Jews into a nation of leaders.«

I mourn his death. The world is a colder place without him. And for me personally, it has become a lonelier place, for we live in a world in which the Stories of God are not often taken seriously. The loss of a storyteller of God is a grievous loss indeed.

Zichrono livracha. (May his memory be a blessing).


Erik Riechers SAC, November 11th, 2020



From lamentation to dance


Many years ago I experienced a woman, long widowed, who withdrew completely after the accidental death of her youngest son.  From then on, her walk to the cemetery was part of her daily routine, she only opened up to her closest family, her formerly beloved piano playing and singing had fallen silent. She did not moan, but she often lamented and cried. And so it remained for a very long time. She avoided going to church on Sundays, because she was uncomfortable with all the people - especially on holidays. Instead, she preferred the manageable weekday services. Even on All Saints' Day or All Souls' Day she went alone to the grave in the morning, she never took part in the official blessing of the graves. In these years of her mourning I was impressed by how firmly and faithfully she remained in her relationship with God, despite it all, never opting out. She felt seen by him and also expressed her sorrow and sadness before him. She knew that she had nothing to hide from him. She did not work through her grief, as we often speak of »grief work« today. No, she lived through the grief. It belonged to her. And she took her time.

A few years later, her eldest married and this celebration filled her with joy. Indeed she enjoyed it, just as she enjoyed her first holiday trip in a long time. Then her grandchildren were born. How do they speak of their grandmother today as adults?

They tell stories of a cheerful woman who always entertained them with her stories and poems and with her singing! They remember that there was no domestic celebration that she had not embellished with her piano playing. A Christmas Eve without their grandmother's »Christmas angel« at the piano was unimaginable long into her old age. She could take the worries of her growing grandchildren seriously and then gently guide them into lightness of being. And she was able to rejoice from the bottom of her heart, enjoying a meal together just as much as an excursion or her classical music in the afternoon.

Her life became a testimony for the verse of the psalm:

»You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!«

(Ps 30, 12-13)

The older she got, the more grateful she became. She never denied the heaviness in her life, but also not the beauty and happiness. It all belonged to her and she had gone through everything with her God.

She remains a great example for her grandchildren and they keep her last words to them in their hearts: »I would still like to stay with you.«


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 9th, 2020



Don’t forget the Oil

32nd Sunday A 2020    Mt 25, 1–13


In 1985 Neil Postman wrote a fascinating book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it he wrote:

»When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.« (p. 190)

»The kingdom of heaven will be like this.« When a parable begins in this fashion, we should not lose sight of what Jesus is focusing our hearts on. The kingdom of heaven always consists of two parts: the inner consciousness linked to an external action. This kingdom of heaven, the inner consciousness linked to an external action, is incarnated in Jesus. He offers it to us, his apprentices.

The turning point in the parable comes at this point:

But at midnight there was a cry,

»The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.«

At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps,

and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones,

»Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.«

But they replied,

»There may not be enough for us and for you;

you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.«


All ten women have been waiting for this moment. Now it is time for the lamps to give light. But the lamps can only shine if they have oil. The foolish have no oil and ask to borrow some. The wise refuse for seemingly foolish reasons. They seem to care for themselves rather than share with those in need. Instead, they suggest to the foolish, »go ...and buy«. In this brief and enigmatic exchange, the foolish show their stupidity and the wise show their wisdom.

The truth of the oil in this story is: everyone must have their own oil. The lamp is a metaphor for the inner life of human beings. Every person has a lamp of inner life. The oil is the symbol of that, which must fill the inner life of a person if it is to have a radiant, luminous effect on the outside world at some point.

Each person must supply this oil from his or her own life. The inner life of a person is like a lamp that has to be filled. But with what? These are the oil questions of the inner life: With which resources do I fill my soul? What do I read? What do I occupy myself with? With which topics do I wrestle? What do I absorb within myself? What am I open and receptive to? You cannot develop spiritually by accepting someone else's inner life and actions as your own. Every person needs oil for himself or herself. The path of each person is unique, each lamp produces its own wattage.

The foolish do not know this path of individual maturation to become a new person in God. They know only the way of going and buying, of seeking what they need outside themselves. »Going and buying« is an image for an inner life that is directed and focused outwards. And this strategy of »going and buying« is deeply rooted in people who live from the outside to the inside. They believe that if the outer world is in order, then the inner world will be satisfied.

In the first story of the feeding of the multitudes in the Gospel of Mark (6, 30-44), the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can »go and buy themselves something to eat!«. (v. 36) When Jesus tells them to provide food, the disciples say: »Shall we go and buy bread for two hundred denarii and give it to them to eat?« (v. 37) Jesus points out to them their own inner resources: »How many loaves of bread do you have? Go and see!« (v.38). But they insist that the only place where they can find food is outside themselves.

While Jesus gives the Samaritan woman to drink, the Gospel of John tells us that the disciples had »gone into the city to buy something to eat« (John 4:8). The foolish have no means of their own and are therefore addicted to going somewhere else for their livelihood. They cannot imagine any other way.

The parable shows us that there are some things that simply cannot be done or achieved at the last minute - for example, you cannot condense three months of study to the evening before an exam and expect to get a good grade. Some things require advance planning, preparation or practice if we want to use or apply them successfully in the hour when we need them urgently. If we did not take care of a deep and supporting inner life before the crisis, it will not be available to us in a time of crisis like this. This is what lamps without oil look like.

Secondly, the parable underlines that not everything can simply be borrowed from someone else when we need it. Things that can determine and guide our response to others in a positive way in this long and tiring time - generosity, kindness, grace, solidarity and helpfulness, a sense of the common good, etc. - must be things that we possess for ourselves, things that come from our own embodied, existential experiences with God and the world. We must continuously cultivate attitudes and habits such as hospitality and generosity that enable and support constructive and creative reactions when we find ourselves in situations of conflict and crisis.

What happens otherwise is that we never find the oil in our lives that can touch the deepest innermost part of ourselves and others. Given the power of our culture, we can go on like this for years until something in our life breaks: then the death of a loved one occurs; a relationship breaks and perhaps our heart as well; a diagnosis is pronounced with the word »incurable«. At some point, a crisis comes along that is strong enough to suddenly empty all the stimulation and entertainment in the world. Then we are forced to look into our own depths, and that can be a frightening abyss if we have avoided following it for years. It is always a shock when lamps have no oil, because then we do not have what we need to break the darkness with light.

The poet Rumi once wrote: »I have lived too long where I can be reached!« If we do that, we end up as the people who still have the lamps with them, but no oil: not bad, just busy; not immoral, just distracted; not soulless, just preoccupied; not profoundly contemptuous, just without practice.

Dear sisters and brothers, when the groom arrives, or the crisis, it is not the best time to start practising.


Erik Riechers SAC, November 8th, 2020



What we do not need at the moment


Many years ago, when I was still a student of theology, I had the opportunity and the privilege of attending a lecture series on Liberation Theology. The guest speaker was none other than Gustavo Gutiérrez, a man often described as the father of liberation theology.

The entire series of lectures was very daunting, because this very soft spoken man never once let up in his honest, brutally frank assessment of the problems that theology faces when it seeks the liberation of the poor. At one point he remarked that he often encountered a great enthusiasm for the theology of liberation until the moment came, when one had to face the existential issues from which people needed to be liberated.

But he did not spare us. He described scenes of stomach churning violence against the poor when they dared to seek a liberation from oppression and a betterment of their situation.  He told us tales of poverty that shook us to the marrow of our bones. But he also told the tales of the oppressors, of the greed that drives them to sacrifice human beings for a little more profit, of the suppression of the most basic rights of human beings to keep the poor in line through fear and intimidation, and of the human rights violations as common in some places as traffic violations in our countries.

One of the participants in the lecture series was particularly and deeply affected by the stories and the storyteller. On the last day there was a question and answer hour in which anyone who so wished could ask Gustavo Gutiérrez a question. This young man, inflamed and enthused by Gustavo Gutiérrez’s words, rose, went to the microphone, but he did not ask a question. Instead he made a statement. It went something like this:

»Every word you spoke was brilliant and seared my soul. Now my heart is burning with the desire to help. I want to come to Peru, I want to be part of a theology that liberates. I am heartily sick of living here in Canada, of the whole decadence of the West. I have had it with all the consumerism and the luxury and society that cares about nothing else. I cannot stand to live here any longer, in a world where egotism is king.« His statement was considerably longer than the words I remember, and as it continued, it back more and more a tirade against the land in which he lived and his fellow citizens. The tone got ever sharper and fury, frustration, resentment and anger became the central themes of this words. When he was finally done, he simply said that he would come to Peru and live with the poor.

The room was stiflingly silent. Many found the moment awkward, others felt personally attacked by his comments and still others felt helpless in the face of so much anger. All of us, faculty as well as students, were at a loss for words.

But not Gustavo Gutiérrez. In the same soft spoken voice he gave his answer, which I give to the best of my recollection. »This is about the Kingdom of God.  If you wish to come to Peru, because you love the poor and because you love the Kingdom of God, then you are heartily welcome. But if you would like to come with a bellyful of rage, frustration, anger and hatred against your own country and its people, then stay at home. We already have more than enough rage, frustration, anger and hatred of our own.«

We would do well to heed these words in this time of Pandemic. Rage, frustration, anger and hatred will not lead us to the Kingdom of God, and thus, they cannot lead us to the solutions, healing and life we crave.

Erik Riechers SAC, November 6th , 2020



Light in dark times: Lantern windows


During these weeks a small movement has been created and is spreading especially among families and in kindergartens: the action »Lantern Window«: »Hereby you hang one or more lanterns in a window that is best facing the street and make them shine with light bulbs or LED tea lights. Then evening strollers, young and old, can marvel at the fantastic lanterns.  Since the St. Martin's procession is unfortunately cancelled in some towns this year, this is a nice alternative, especially for children, to go for a walk with their handmade lanterns and admire the illuminated lanterns in the windows. In the spirit of St. Martin, we want to give hope with the help of the lanterns, in these difficult times.«

When I read this in our local paper, I immediately felt like making a lantern again after many years and putting it in the window as a sign – others will follow. The reactions of my daughters in Stuttgart and Canada were similar and they remembered many lanterns they had made as children.

In fact, in this year during these weeks that by nature grow increasingly dark, for many the days have grown darker still; existentially threatening, emotionally difficult, socially poor in some circumstances - all a potential breeding ground for frustration and emptiness, for sadness and even depression.

To rise up against this, igniting lights and making them visible was already our thought on Monday: »Enkindling a light is not particularly difficult, but keeping a light alive is a skillful and challenging task, even an art form. We see this as the imperative of this hour. We must protect the flame of hope from every headwind of passivity, indifference, lack of perspective or even despair that blows towards us.«

I am also occupied with the topic of making lanterns. Almost every kindergarten and primary school child loves to choose a lantern motif and then get involved. How proudly the finished lantern is later shown and (usually) with what joy it is carried through the dark streets! The effect of the light is embellished and enhanced by a variety of colours and shapes. All this is also possible this year - even without the official St. Martin’s procession! And maybe it is even more necessary than ever!

That is why I love the action »Lantern Windows«. Thus, how about creating an adult version of this action? We invite you to do so: Wherever you see a beautiful lantern these days, take a photo and send it to us. We will post it on Twitter, accompanied by a »light-filled« quote.


Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 4th, 2020



Breath for the long march


»The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with weary feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.«


We placed this song from Tolkien's book The Hobbit over the Well Spring Days of last year. There we repeatedly spoke of the breath needed for the long march. A new lockdown begins today in Germany. In many variations and forms similar things are happening elsewhere in the world. We ourselves have noticed that we need a much longer breath than we thought we would in the spring. We feel how this lockdown is weighing on us, something we did not feel at the beginning of the crisis. Our inner reactions to both political decisions and irrational behaviour within society have a different quality than at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Although the crisis has been going on for a very long time, we must now be very careful not to fall into a trap. It is very easy to get the feeling that we are starting all over again. »Oh no, not again!« And there is a danger in that, because although this second lockdown reminds us of last March, the subject has changed. Seven months ago the main topic was how to get through this crisis. But now there is an additional theme, namely how can we keep hope alive until we get through this crisis?

When we sat together and thought about what we would like to write to you today, there were two impulses in us. First, we would like to repeat and renew our initial encouragement to you today. In our very first column of the series »May you be sheltered« we wrote on March 21rst, 2020:

»In some people there is the dominant impulse of »every man or woman for him or herself« and »save yourself if you can«. As people of faith and the People of God we must set a sign against this mentality. »May you be sheltered!« should be our call in this time. Let us protect and keep one another. That is what this column wishes to serve.«

We can repeat this today at the beginning of a second lockdown. We are tired, but not discouraged.



The second impulse came from a photo that Erik brought back from Brakel. There is a lantern house next to a statue of the Mother of God and Child. In this photo we also see an image of the way forward in the coming weeks.

It was built to protect the burning light. Many external elements, like wind and rain, try to extinguish the light. Enkindling a light is not particularly difficult, but keeping a light alive is a skillful and challenging task, even an art form. We see this as the imperative of this hour. We must protect the flame of hope from every headwind of passivity, indifference, lack of perspective or even despair that blows towards us.

What Rosemarie particularly noticed and liked while looking at the picture was the height of the lantern house. If we are to protect the light inside us, it will not be by hiding it. »Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.« (Mt 5, 15) This lantern house stands high and increases the light, making it visible. We see this, too, as an opportunity and a sacred task for this time. What burns within us in the lusty desire for love, life and faith, we must hold high. It is not a question of putting it away or hiding it. We lift our light even higher. It should also have something defiant, even challenging about it. We not only defy darkness, but also wind and rain.

The third thing we want to take away from the photo and share with you is the fact that the lantern house must not be airtight, otherwise the protection of the house will suffocate the very flame that it is to protect. What we build together as companions of faith is a house of light that breathes. We must nurture the light of belonging despite all distance. The culture of conversation must not be interrupted, because we wear masks but not muzzles. And even if this crisis is very demanding, we must not forget that there are still many important issues that must not be stifled by an over-fixation on Corona.

The pilgrims on the Camino called out to each other »Ultreja«. It means as much as »onward, forward!« In this manner, the pilgrims cheered themselves on with a word that gave them courage.

We consciously and encouragingly call out to you: »May you be sheltered«.


Vallendar, November 2nd,  2020

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

Erik Riechers SAC

Nächster Abschnitt

Socially distancing ourselves from holiness

All Saints 2020    Mt 5, 1–12a


When I read Rosemarie's reflection last Friday, one paragraph awakened a strong memory in me. »We should not place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance. Their lives were human like our own and they were children of their time, just as we are the children of our time. They can become our companions when we look at the sources from which they lived, how they were called and how they lived their lives with their God and ours.«

I thought back to an All Saints Day 25 years ago. Then the celebrant started the celebration with the sentence: »Welcome to the Day of Distancing«. Long before Corona forced to practice social distancing, we have practiced it with the saints. When we »place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance«, we distance ourselves from them.

The real question of the day is: what do the Beatitudes have to do with the communion of saints? They describe the culture that sanctifies a community. That is, blessed are