Blog of Ewa Bartosiewicz

Author: Ewa Bartosiewicz (Page 2 of 3)

To act or to pray?

Maria and Martha. Contemplation and action. It is difficult to remain indifferent to today’s Gospel. Many times for me it was a remorse: “I should pray more.” Today I am convinced that this conclusion is not always appropriate. I think the best part Mary has chosen is not just that she listened to Jesus instead of running around the house, and Martha’s mistake was not at all that she worked too much and didn’t have time to sit at the Master’s feet.

The key to this story may be Martha’s attitude and the fact that she has taken the worst part by far. She decided not only to do what she clearly did not enjoy, but also tried to force others to do so, causing them to feel guilty. Don’t we all know such attitudes? I have met many people in my life who have done a lot, but it did not give them life at all, only bitterness. However, with great determination they tried to convince the whole world that this was what they had to do and looked down on those who had chosen a different path. I have also met people who were convinced that intense action is wrong because it always leads to empty activism and lacks depth. But will we only gain depth by multiplying the hours of prayer? Not always!

It seems to me that the line between the best and the worst is not the line between prayer and action, but the line between being with God and being next to Him. You can act without God, but you can also spend long hours in prayer without God. So what matters? To be here and now with all of ourselves every minute of our day. Then joy and peace will come, and God will make sure that everything is done. Easy! But how difficult to implement 😉

The apostol with a past

Today we celebrate the apostle Matthew. I must admit that this is my favourite character from The Chosen series for various reasons, but the most important thing for me is that I started to look at this apostle with much more realism. I knew very well that Matthew was a tax collector and that it meant working for the occupant and collecting high taxes from his Jewish brothers. I also knew that tax collectors often dictated much higher rates than the Romans demanded to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. It seemed to me, however, that at the moment when Jesus said “Follow me” and he got up and followed him, the whole reality changed forever and Matthew became a friend loved by everyone … it couldn’t be so!

We often wonder if Matthew was worthy to be looked at by Jesus; we ask how it is possible for someone so rich to quickly decide to change their whole life. However, we probably rarely realise how much regret the Jews must have felt towards Matthew for the tremendous betrayal he committed while collaborating with the occupier, and how hard it was to forgive him. Certainly, the apostles reminded Matthew of his past!

Each of us has made mistakes in our lives that become a huge burden after many years. Sometimes we are directly reproached by others, and sometimes we are so unable to forgive ourselves that despite repeatedly entrusting it to God in confession, we are unable to close a chapter. I think that today, while celebrating together with Matthew, we can ask him for his intercession in this particular matter – so that our past does not obscure our present. God always sees us here and now. May we be courageous in building God’s world, remembering that our history (whatever it may be) has shaped us in such a way that we want to follow Jesus today. That’s always worth celebrating.

Unreliability of human plans

Recently, in Sunday’s second reading, we read the letter of St. James. This letter has many interesting threads – more and less known. While praying today with this letter, my attention was drawn to a fragment which was given the title “Unreliability of human plans” (Jas 4: 13-17):

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”— you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.” But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.

After 2020, we cannot pass by these words indifferently. In the pandemic, many of us lost loved ones, jobs, and money, but it seems to me that every single one of us has lost our plans. It turned out that in the 21st century we cannot predict everything, we cannot deal with everything. Probably for a short time, but still, we’ve learned a little bit of humility towards the unknown future.

Yesterday I found out that my uncle from my extended family died after a very short illness lasting only 3 months. In one moment, not only his plans, but also his family, friends, co-workers’ plans proved to be unreliable… Nobody is ever ready for death. It is hard not to reflect on the fragility of life at this point.

In Spanish, the phrase “hasta mañana” (until tomorrow) is often used with the addition of “si Dios quiere” (if God wills it). I like this saying very much, because it makes me realise that although I have a million plans for tomorrow, next month and in half a year, which I always don’t have enough time for, ultimately life is not in my hands and the only thing I can do is trust in the One who has it in his hands entirely. He sees the big picture, so I can focus on being here and now.

10 years later…

Today I read the story of a 19-year-old Simon, who left Poland for the Vatican on a pilgrimage without money. He said that he had met such human kindness that although he sometimes slept at bus stops, sometimes he also ate like a king. It reminded me of the stories of Kinga Choszcz (a polish traveler), whose stories inspired me to embark on my own journey. Today it has been exactly 10 years since I got on the plane and wrote on FB: “I’m flying, flying, flying :)”. I landed in Kenya, where I spent 11 life-changing months and wrote almost 130 blog posts about it (unfortunately without English translation 🙁 but if you want to use GT, you can start here).

I also set out on my pilgrimage across Africa with no money, but I know exactly who supported me on this path. Every month, over 30 friends helped me financially so that I could eat and pay those who hosted me. Their generosity allowed me to leave a some money in all the places I stayed, hoping that it would strengthen the good work I witnessed.

Today I know that I would not be the same person if it were not for my African adventure. To a large extent, it has shaped my heart that wants to accept everyone else as they are and try to understand what has shaped this otherness. Today I am a so grateful to God and everyone who was there with me personally and spiritually. I wish everyone could have a chance to experience such a pilgrimage!

The sun and the rain

On Sunday, I was returning from my last holiday trip, remembering many amazing moments of the last two months, but also thinking with curiosity about the upcoming school year, which promises to be fascinating for many reasons. However, I did not expect that inspiring experiences would await me on the regular S8 route between Wrocław and Warsaw. The sky in front of me was covered with soft round clouds, from behind which from time to time a timid sun peeked out and nothing foreshadowed a great downpour that hit the car window in an instant. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw an image like from a dark movie – a wall of rain and darkness. I had the impression that I was on a thin line connecting two worlds.

The simultaneous sun and rain reminded me of an important moment during my retreat. When I saw the exact same view outside the chapel window while praying, I realised how joy and pain intertwine in my life very often lately. A very deep joy, a feeling of incredible happiness, the thought of being loved, chosen and gifted; at the same time, a very acute pain, penetrating the deepest layers of my soul, making me burst into tearing tears at the least expected moment. They exist together and do not interfere with each other at all.

More than two months have passed since it is officially known that I have left the Society of the Sacred Heart. The pain is still the same, but there are also moments of joy. I received an enormous amount of support, which I kind of expected, because it is a human instinct to offer a helping hand to someone whose life has collapsed. However, I did not expect the two messages I received from my former students from the time of catechises in junior high school. Maybe some of you remember that it was a difficult time for me. Apart from many great memories of extracurricular activities, my memory of the religion lessons themselves is rather traumatic and one of the biggest failures of my life. I could not cope with the unruly youth, and the feeling of helplessness accompanied me almost every day. Now, years after those experiences, the rain and sun met again in one moment, because these two surprising messages have arrived. My students thanked me for my testimony of faith; for showing them a God who loves; for not being afraid to talk to them on difficult topics … I was shocked to read what they wrote! If it weren’t for the dark clouds that hung over my life now, I probably would never know about it.

I keep learning that rainy days are needed and do not exclude the sun shining at the same time. If these two worlds did not fit together, we would never have the opportunity to see a rainbow in the sky.

Under the fig tree

Today in the church we remember Nathanael, so we read this amazing Gospel passage, in which there are so many interesting moments: “Can anything good come from Nazareth”, “Come and see”, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no deception in him.”, “You will see greater things than this”… Each of them is suitable for a separate inspiration for prayer and reflection. Today I stopped at the words: “I saw you under the fig tree”. I am not the first or the last to wonder what actually happened underneath that tree and how much it must have mattered to Nathanael as he immediately recognises that Jesus is the Son of God. I think that the version shown in “The Chosen” (S2, E2) looks quite likely, where Nathanel experiences a situation in which his life fell apart. Under the fig tree, he says goodbye to his plans, asking God why they were ruined, since he was sure about serving Him all the time. There he also opens up to God’s guidance and finally allows Jesus from a suspicious Nazareth to assure him that he will see more than he can imagine.

Each of us has moments in our lives when we cannot understand why our history unfolded this way and not another. We may feel that everything is going in the opposite direction to what we previously recognised as God’s way. Meanwhile, maybe this is the moment when Jesus tells us clearly: “You will see greater things than this!”. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but ultimately He will show us a perspective much broader and more amazing than our narrow and human imaginations.

The key to this story, however, may be “no deception”. It seems that coming to God in simplicity, telling Him what hurts us the most and at the same time opening ourselves to the unknown, will be closer to God’s way than forcing Him to implement even the most pious, but still our, plan.

Pilgrims of the last hours

Today’s Gospel about the workers of the last hour reminds me of my personal pilgrimage experience from 3 years ago. Today I wanted to share with you what I discovered then:

“The alley towards Jasna Góra in Częstochowa, 8:15 am, there is still a pleasant chill of the morning in the air. I walk proudly at the front of the pilgrimage, with a lively step, because the painkillers for my tendinitis already started working. In my heart I carry many intentions, but also the hardships of the last days of the journey. Suddenly, in the midst of the thoughts of meeting the Marry and Jesus, for whom I am going on this pilgrimage and to whom I have devoted my whole life, a completely different idea appears. I thought of all the people that have joined us during the weekend or even on the last day before entering Częstochowa and were now walking with us in the same alley. After all, they did not have to endure the terrible heat, they did not come to the medics in the evenings with symptoms of allergy to asphalt, their legs did not hurt, they did not have corns on their feet and they were not taken them from the route by an ambulance. They did not fold wet tents and they were not bitten by mosquitoes during the evenings. So how can they come to Jasna Góra Monastery with us? Will it be fair?

And then suddenly I felt terribly stupid, because as never before, I understood the parable of the workers of the last hour (Matthew 20: 1-16). I saw myself claiming my due so perfectly, even though I had an appointment with God for a denarius. And I got much more than a denarius, because it was not in Częstochowa that was the best, but during the whole journey – I met beautiful people, I experienced the real closeness of Jesus in my suffering, I had the opportunity to share my relationship with God and talk to people who were also looking for Him. I experienced a lot of joy and selfless help, I praised God with all my heart by singing and I laughed every now and then. Did I really envy those who came on the last day and entered Jasna Gora among us? Not at all!

That day I understood how perfidious Satan’s whispers can be, how he easily manages to reduce my thinking to a simple comparison. However, when I start to think about it, it turns out very quickly that whoever came on the pilgrimage at the last day, actually wanted to go from the beginning, but did not get any leave from work; the one who asks for something to eat on the street has never dreamed of being homeless; the last-minute convert is not the most lucky one, because he missed out on a lot of good, investing in everlasting parties.

There is only one question worth asking – am I living the best I can? There is a saying that goes, “If anyone judges your way, lend him your shoes” and there is a lot of truth to it. Looking with jealousy or pity at another person, I have no idea what he has gone through in life and whether the path he is going is the best one. But surely then I do not have time to love him which is the most important.”

The converted wound

We are celebrating the Ignatian year – a commemoration of 500 years since the conversion of St. Ignacy Loyola. It turns out, however, that in Spanish this anniversary sounds a bit different, because it’s the 500th anniversary of “the wound” of St. Ignatius. It has been 5 centuries since the founder of the Jesuits was wounded by a cannonball during the defence of Pamplona. This was, indeed, the beginning of his conversion, because reading the lives of the saints during the convalescence pushed him into giving his life completely to Jesus, but nevertheless this “wound” matters. Sometimes you has to travel 2,500 km to discover such a simple truth.

I have received a gift from God to celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius in Pamplona, ​​where it all began for him. This is also where I started my retreat, which was a time of healing wounds and regaining spiritual strength before the long journey that awaits me (if I follow Ignatius’ footsteps, it will really be a veeery long way). Jesus’ feet also accompanied me. Those that walked many miles on earth, were anointed by a friend from Bethany, carried the weight of the cross… and then were immobilised by sharp nails, but only for a short time, just to walk the earth again very soon. This time different, converted, resurrected. Still hurt though.

We all have wounds inside of us. Sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. But never so great that God could not turn them into glorious scars. This is what Cristóbal Fones SJ sings about, in this song (my translation below):

At the end of our life we will arrive
with the wound turned into a scar

Love will take its toll.
The road will leave us a thousand footprints.
We will stumble over the same wall.
Any disappointment will make a dent in us.
But we are children of a God that is in love.
Thirsty seekers of answers.
We are pure ambition that You sowed,
so that your kingdom would flourish.

We will fight to death with the ego.
We will feel that time is pressing on us.
We will hold on to our defeats.
We will lose the music and the life.
And yet, we will continue dancing.
Because that’s how we are, humans that belong to you.
Bearers of an unquenchable fire.
Believers in a world without borders.

We are excited about our fragility,
dreamers who do not despair.
We will never give up tomorrow
although today the storm touches us.
And if the motives crack
for having chosen your flag,
we’ll keep walking cracked,
because your Gospel is now our land.

The way of an ecological conversion

I came across the Global Catholic Climate Movement (now Laudato Si ‘Movement) a long time ago, around 2011, when my Kenyan friend Allen founded the movement operating in Africa (CYNESA). It aims to involve young Catholics in ecological activities. Since then, a lot has changed in the consciousness of the world (including the ecclesiastical one), and above all, Pope Francis wrote the encyclical Laudato Si ‘, which should lead us through the ways of properly understood ecology.

For a long time I have felt that Christianity and ecology go hand in hand (despite many opposing voices), because after all, taking care of the entire creation is part of our humanity. I tried to live this call in my private life, and in 2019 I was happy to take part in the spiritual journey related to our ecological conversion as part of the “Żyj Bardziej” project where you could buy a booklet with my short thoughts on the spiritual aspects of ecology along with other eco-surprises. At that time, in our parish in Poznań, we tried to introduce our parishioners to the issues related with Laudato Si’, as part of the eco group of the post-academic community Syjon.

Today, this time in Warsaw, I intend to continue to walk along a thin path between spirituality and ecological movements, which for many on both sides of political and social divisions seems difficult. For me, it is the most obvious place in the world and I am thinking of further spiritual projects that will allow us to better experience all the good that God has given us in other creatures. If this is also close to your heart, stay tuned, because something will be going on 😉 I also encourage you to sign the petition on biodiversity before COP15. This is an opportunity to include our Catholic voice in the discussion where the most important decisions are being made.

The wind blows where it wills

Today I decided to write a bit about where I am in my life, inspired by a video talking about how we rarely share what we experience when we are inside a crisis, however, this is the moment where many of us are. It’s a good time for supporting each other and reminding ourselves and others that the crisis will come to an end one day.

For as long as I can remember, the wind has been my favourite element. I love standing at the top of a mountain when it is free to blow through the slopes. I like to watch the trees bend under its influence and feel its breeze on my face. It is the wind that brings energy, puts things into motion and refreshes in the heat. Of course, it can also be destructive and ruthless in its power, which inspires respect. The wind also brings changes. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “the wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (Jn 3,8). Therefore, these changes are often surprising and difficult for us.

Wind and spirit in Greek (pneuma) are the same word. No wonder that sometimes we feel as if the Holy Spirit is penetrating our souls, captivating us and throwing in different places in life. It’s easy to talk about it when you’ve already walked through the desert and have been lead to the Promised Land. However, it is more difficult when you feel that the desert is just beginning. It is a difficult path, because the goal seems to be unreachable, since it is completely invisible on the horizon, and at night you feel frightened because the sounds of wild animals resemble demons. At this moment, you have to trust God and your intuition. Today I am exactly at this point – nothing at all is known and it can be hard at times, but I can feel the breeze of the Spirit on my skin. And that has to be enough.

However, the desert is not only a place where you can hear wild animals and see sand to the horizon. It is also (or perhaps most of all) a place of meeting God. Tomorrow I am beginning my retreat (this time not directly in the desert, but at the foot of the Pyrenees) and I know that He will be talking to me. I doubt that he will draw me a new plan and show me where to go, but he will certainly provide me with water and food to keep me going.

I promise my prayers and ask for the same!

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