Sunday, February 28, 2010
In Father's homily this morning he put the words "I don't want to leave here" into the mouth of Peter as he was expanding on the Transfiguration. It touched my heart deeply and I felt I really could cry but was silent because sometimes there aren't any words that express why something or someone is so important.
Maybe it is that sometimes there is so much to say and no words to express the feelings that God gives the gift of silence. I have felt before that feeling of not wanting to leave a place where God has shown Himself to me, wanting to stay forever. Why can't I stay forever? I think that the answer is that the silence in those moments prepares us for the time later to tell what we have seen.
God is so good for allowing those experiences but He allows them for the benefit of others in addition to our own salvation.
“What shall I say? Everything that I could say would fade into insignificance compared with what my heart feels, and your hearts feel, at this moment.” - Pope John Paul II
Friday, February 26, 2010
I know, it is only the beginning of Lent, but I think that this longing must be a gift from God for me this season. As I was shoveling this morning so that the sisters could get to Mass, and then after Mass to get the cars out, and then after that to do the sidewalks, I was thinking about the heavy burden of the Cross. Although my body is exhausted from all of this shoveling, my heart is heavy with the love with which I prepared the way for my sisters and the parish community. The reason I worked as I did was because I love them. I want them to be safe and secure.
It was well worth it because I could then watch out for them as we made our way slowly to Mass. A dear sister held onto my arm as I escorted her to the parish church. It filled my heart with joy to be with her and to be able to help her and to show her my love for her through my concern. I think that parents must feel like this quite often because of what they do for their children. I know that my experience today is a small reminder of the self-sacrificing love of Jesus on the Cross.
"And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News...God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him in a lasting way; and then in time, precisely through this all-surpassing love, he "gives" this Son, that he may strike at the very roots of human evil and thus draw close in a salvific way to the whole world of suffering in which man shares." - Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris.
Lord, may I be brought forward to the Resurrection of love and light and grace. Amen.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
But, my job is to teach math, reading, writing, and religion. What do we mean by religion? Certainly it is the truth as taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church without deviation! But it is also the spirit of Jesus in compassion, forgiveness, love, joy, comfort, security, trust, and mercy. So, what is the job of a religious woman in a school teaching religion? I would say it is a tall order because it entails showing Jesus in a concrete way to every student we meet. How do we keep order and discipline while showing compassion and love? It is difficult but well worth it.
Yesterday one of my students handed in a beautiful essay about why prejudice still exists in our world. I don't remember her exact words but she said something like, "We are all called to be like our Blessed Mother - loving, kind, compassionate, and always looking out for one another." Here is a city-kid, who has more than enough issues to deal with, worrying so selflessly about the future of our world, and entrusting it to our Blessed Mother. As I sat at my desk reading this honest essay I felt like crying. I realized how deep her faith was and how lovingly she entrusted all the problems of the world to Mary. The faith of children leads us forward.
My prayer this day is that I might imitate this child's love of Jesus and His mother, Mary, and give them all my difficulties, sorrows, joys, and achievements in the classroom. May I be a servant of each of the children I meet every day. Thank you, Lord!
Monday, February 22, 2010
On the first Sunday of each month our sisters have a retreat day with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and silence through the convent. Each retreat day I try to make a plan of one concrete thing I can do to practice the virtue of the month. This month for charity I am thinking of a person and not an act. It seems to me that charity is not something we just do for the sake of doing it, or because somewhere in our hearts we know it is right - although both of those are good starting points. I'm thinking though that right now, for me, I need to focus on what being charitable says. I think it says that someone has dignity, that they are a gift from God to the world, and that they are loved not for their abilities or specialty, but above all because they are a good creation.
Wow, that sounds pretty good to me... but does it ring true when I apply that to the sister who is cranky and seems perpetually upset with me? YES, it just doesn't feel as mushy inside. What I mean to say is that feelings are important to me, to you, and to everyone, but feelings only aide in the understanding of the self which is a necessary step towards holiness. I feel annoyed and frustrated when this sister is uncharitable to me. That feeling calls me ever deeper to give myself in love to her. It is the way of the Cross in community.
So, my March resolution is to look at everyone - whether it be a sister, a student, or a faculty member - as a special creation of God, good and important to His plan in the world.
Is there someone who you feel this way about?
"Friends on earth find such pleasure in being together, that they lose entire days in each other’s company: with Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament, those who love Him not get weary. After her death, St. Teresa who was already in heaven, said to a nun: ‘Those who are in heaven and those who are on earth should be one and the same in purity and in love; we enjoying, and you suffering; and that which we do in heaven with the Divine Essence, you should do on earth with the Most Blessed Sacrament.’ Behold, then, our paradise on earth; – the Most Blessed Sacrament."
Sunday, February 21, 2010
In my community weekends are a little more relaxed - sisters who work as DRE's in the parish need to be at certain Masses, sisters who work with different language groups must be at their Masses, and those of us who are signed up as lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, or cantors have to be at the Masses for which we have been scheduled. I went to the Saturday evening Mass because I was reading. This morning when I woke up, naturally (what a treat!), I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee and a little breakfast. When I walked into the kitchen there were sisters in various stages of getting ready for the day - some had already been out food shopping, some were about to leave for Mass, some were just getting home from Mass, and some were on their way to get some things done in school. The atmosphere was so beautiful though. There was a joy on each of our faces that showed that we were happy to be where we were doing whatever we were doing to serve God's people this day.
Someone was making bacon and eggs and another her specialty pancakes and as soon as I, the youngest of us all, walked in I was offered any of those possibilities and more in the charity of my sisters! I opted for toast and cereal, but I was so grateful for my sisters for their warmth and love.
When I was a brand new postulant my directress told me that the way we show our love for our sisters is through anticipating their needs and serving them. I have found this to be true of every sister I have met and every community in which I have lived.
I believe, after careful observation, that the way we anticipate and serve is where our holiness is. Each person is called to a different path of holiness, for example St. Therese and her little way, St. Francis de Sales and joy, St. Bernadette and suffering and healing, St. Maria Faustina and Divine Mercy... Some things that other sisters anticipate, I would never even think of! The same goes for me. We each have a unique way of showing our love through anticipating each others needs and serving one another.
They say humility is being honest about ourselves. In the spirit of humility I must say that I am a wonderful cleaner. I will clean anything and everything. There isn't a squeamish bone in my body. Today I had many opportunities to anticipate the needs of my sisters and serve by pitching in to clean! What I am absolutely hopeless at is cooking! I wouldn't know how to cook a piece of chicken if it flew in and gave me the directions! Thank God that there is a wonderful sister who has taken responsibility for the meals and preparing the food out of love for me. Otherwise, I would eat cereal for every meal!
When I checked my mail "cubby" this morning, there was a pretty flowered envelope with stickers in it for school. Whoever put it there didn't sign their name or leave a note but she anticipated a need of mine (the kids, no matter how old they are, LOVE stickers) and she provided out of her poverty, a special, encouraging gift for me. This small act left me feeling grateful and close to the love of God all day long. We can never underestimate the goodness of our actions and the way they will touch the heart of another.
Today was a lesson for me on the community of the entire world and how we can show one another the love of God through our anticipation of one anothers' needs and serve each other out of our own poverty. Thank you Jesus for this message of love.
“What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!”
-St. Teresa of Avila
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I don't know why this is coming to me today but I am just so surprised at God's great love for me. How can He possibly love me with this deep love? H ow can I possibly join my will to God's? It seems unbelievable and impossible to ever reach the perfection that allows us to make God's will our own. It does require heartache and self-sacrificing love. Lord, know that this servant is ready to give anything to do your will!
Today I spent most of my day in school. Yes, I know it is Saturday. It is always a nice day to spend in school. There is so much quiet and it is so nice to get my lessons planned and organize all of my things for the coming week. I can really concentrate on the ministry to which I have dedicated myself, the ministry to which God has called me, to educate children in Catholic Schools. I love them do much. I wish I could do so much more for them, but I know that I am doing God's will by teaching them in the best way that I can. I am so grateful to Him for allowing me to do something I love and to feel the love from each of His little ones who need me.
Friday, February 19, 2010
After my hasty dressing, I made it to Mass with ten minutes to spare and I prayed my shorter Christian Prayer privately. The sisters in my community always say "You must have needed it, the community prayed for you today." It is true that I shared in the prayer of the community even though I was letting the Beloved speak to me even as I slumbered this morning. However, for my own peace, I tried to resume the same rhythm a normal day usually brings. I rarely ever oversleep but it always throws me off when I do. Once I got to school though things seemed to get back to normal.
When I got home from school I went to clean up the mess I had left my room in this morning. I made my bed and fixed the sink and checked if I needed to wash any of my habits or night clothes. At once I felt better for having put everything in order.
I started thinking about Lent as a time to stop waking up late and "just getting by" and to really clean up the clutter that begins to form in my soul. It is true that there is a lot of clutter that I have been just allowing to accumulate all this time. All year I have been saying, "I'll get to it when I have more time." I guess that is why the Lord has given us this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Some of the things I have seen in myself that have clouded my vision have been a focus on myself and my needs that leaves others out, the pain of broken family relationships, the resistance to change, the unwillingness to trust, and the difficulty of desolate prayer. I have put a lot of these things to the side for attention at some other time. The time is now. I know that Jesus is ready to help me clean up all of this clutter and put my life with Him back in order. It is time to get my priorities straight.
On top of that, I did get word about my assignment. It is a penance indeed and I will pray that I make an acceptable offering out of it, doing all for God's greater glory, with joy and simplicity.
This one seems appropriate for me today:
"Every morning to receive from the hands of Jesus Christ himself your own cross."
- St. Alphonsus
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Well, I had some really interesting happenings yesterday. The other day I blogged about not being sure of what the Lord desired for me to give up this Lent. I chose to give up snacking between meals – not to lose weight or eat healthier, but because that really is a sacrifice for me. I have a very high metabolism, haha, and am hungry quite often.
Anyway, yesterday I found out that there is a situation occurring that may cause me to be asked to help out in a different ministry because of a real need within my congregation. We are really stuck. As I prayed about it this morning I realized that whatever God’s will is in this matter, He is providing me with a very special sacrifice to make this Lenten season. If I am given permission to do this ministry, it will mean a lot of work, sacrifice, and hardship for me. The timing is bad and it is an unfortunate situation. If I am not given permission to do this ministry I will mourn the loss of the opportunity to really give of myself in a complete and trusting way to God’s people who are really in need right now. Either way, I know that what my superiors decide will be God’s will for me and I am at peace with whatever decision is made. The sacrifice of obedient suffering is being offered to me this Lenten season in a small way.
I pray that God will make me able to accept whatever His will is for me and to allow me to humbly serve Him wherever and whenever. Please join me in praying that God’s will be done.
"To look upon religious Superiors as the representatives of Jesus Christ... To obey without answering and without repugnance, and not to seek your own satisfaction in anything." Maxims for Attaining Perfection, St. Alphonsus
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
That brings me to a problem. I am still undecided about what to give up for Lent. Usually I don't find it this difficult but I just plain ran out of ideas. It isn't that I haven't been thinking about it and praying about it but nothing has really struck me as God's will for my spiritual life right now. Usually I am trying each Lent to correct something in my spiritual life that has fallen to the wayside but God has been so very good to me in these past months and I find myself very satisfied with my prayer life in a way that I haven't been before. I don't want to change anything because I'm happy with all of it. I guess that is human nature. I am grateful to God for His gifts to me in prayer but I know that I need to move beyond them to a self-sacrificing love.
Well, I am off to Vespers... maybe the Lord will give me a clear sign of what to do for Lent. I'll let you know tomorrow what I have decided.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Night and dusk are my two favorite times of the day for "resting" with the Lord. When I am on my annual retreat I always go to bed when it is still light out but you can tell the whole earth is settling in for the night. It is a special treat for me to go to bed so early and wake up refreshed and naturally. Before I fall asleep though, I usually look out the window and watch the light fade as I pray my rosary. It is a blessed time for me. After all, this kind of relaxing quiet only happens for seven days a year!
This Lent I am in a different convent, with different sisters and a different ministry. However, Lent remains Lent and God remains God. I am anticipating beginning this great season of preparation and penance in this new place. Some things do not change though and they are that Jesus died for us and that He comes to us in the quiet and sometimes dark moments to call us closer to Him and to ask us to take up our cross and follow Him.
Only in this can we experience His glory!
"Often to make acts of love towards Jesus Christ. Immediately on waking, and before going to sleep, to make an act of love, seeking always to unite your own will to the will of Jesus Christ." -St. Alphonsus
Sunday, February 14, 2010
This got me to thinking about the nature of being a consecrated woman in our culture, especially as regards the vow of chastity. I think chastity is the core reason why we received so many little treats today!
Now before you say, "Sister is crazy!", let me back up and explain!
People hunger for a different love than the kind the world gives. They desire to love and be loved in return with a pure and simple gift of self. The witness of religious life in this regard is important. Because of my vow of chastity, I am a witness to this kind of love. I give myself to God alone, and because of that gift I love all with an inclusive and all-encompassing love. Hopefully, I am faithful to this love each and every day, but there is always a challenge to it also.
As I pray, and study, and serve this day, I ask God to let me be especially mindful of my call to love in a way that shows His face to the whole world. I ask Him to make me joyful, hopeful, and faithful to His presence in each and every person I meet to day. I thank Him for allowing me to see today that my love does touch others by my presence, my words, and my actions.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
The way other sisters are responding to the portrayal of religious life on the Oprah show is very unfortunate. One quote from a comment on Sister Julie's blog over at www.anunslife.org was, "I feel a great sense of disappointment for myself and the hundreds of thousands of women religious within the U.S. whose lives are likewise dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel but cannot identify with the lifestyle of the Sisters portrayed on Oprah." I find this problematic because there are essential elements of religious life that transcend particular communities, apostolates, and cultures. If religious women are living religious life authentically, with the mind and heart of the Church, we should always be able to identify with the lifestyle of one another. Is my congregation exactly the same as these wonderful Dominican Sisters? Absolutely not! Do we have a lot in common? YES! This is one of the beauties of religious life.
Some of the issues which many religious women are labeling as contrary to their experience of religious life are habits, prayer, community, theology of religious life, and apostolates. In 1983, the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes set forth The Essential Elements in the Church's Teaching on Religious Life which dealt with all of these issues.
First, habits. Some sisters seem to think that wearing a religious habit is an optional part of religious life and it is a disservice to those religious who do not wear a habit to present it as an essential. Simply put, this is incorrect. The Essential Elements have this to say about the religious habit, "The totality of religious consecration requires that the witness to the Gospel be given publicly by the whole of life....To ensure this public witness, religious willingly accept a pattern of life that is not permissive but largely laid down for them. They wear a religious garb that distinguishes them as consecrated persons." It is unacceptable to choose not to wear the religious garb that distinguishes us as consecrated persons.
The other habit issue was its description as a wedding dress. Personally, I do not think of my habit as my wedding dress. I think of my habit as a blessed sacramental which points to a reality outside of this world. That is that every person has been created for union with God, a union that most nearly mirrors marriage. God has called me to be a sign of this marriage, this covenant relationship that is the goal of all life. That is why I wear the habit. I hope that when people see me they see that relationship and think of the God who desperately loves them. The other reason I wear a habit is poverty. Clothing is expensive and it takes time and an investment of energy and self to choose appropriate and becoming clothing. My habit is simple, modest, and becoming. It speaks of my state of life and offers a unique gift to the world of solidarity with the poor and complete dedication of self to God and to the Church. I think that this is a view that most habit wearing religious can share.
Okay, next issue... Prayer. Again, from the Essential Elements, " The first and principal duty of religious is assiduous union with God in prayer. They participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice daily insofar as possible and approach the sacrament of penance frequently. The reading of Sacred Scripture, time for mental prayer, the worthy celebration of the liturgy of the hours according to the prescriptions of proper law, devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and a special time for annual retreat are all part of the prayer of religious. Prayer should be both individual and communitarian." In the Oprah segment, the sisters prayed communally in their own religious tradition. In my community, at night, we don't do a procession to the altar to begin Grand Silence. We don't chant the Office. We do faithfully pray the Office, using a Church approved translation, together in common and we do have silence at a certain time. Although there are differences between the two congregations we can certainly identify with each lifestyle. In my community we are required to pray the Stations of the Cross each day privately. Other communities don't do that, and that is okay. It is all a part of our religious family traditions. I am not a Dominican, but boy am I grateful for their gift to the Church! What is not okay is never going to Mass because of the "male hierarchy," failing to pray the liturgy of the hours because of it's "non-inclusive language," changing readings that are challenge the way some congregations have interpreted religious life. It absolutely is essential to pray in religious life in a certain way. There are options but some things are necessary to religious life.
Living in community has been an issue of contention for quite a while. Sister Julie, over at A Nun's Life, which is a blog that I enjoy frequenting although I do respectfully disagree with her viewpoint, says this about community, "There are also many ways to live in community, not just under one roof. Again, it’s not that one way of life is better or worse or more authentic or not — rather it’s that there is a diversity of ways to live religious life." Now contrast that statement with this one from Essential Elements, "Religious should live in their own religious house, observing a common life. They should not live alone without serious reason, and should not do so if there is a community of their institute reasonably near." It seems very clear to me that living in community is necessary for religious life. Is it difficult to live in community? YES! It is difficult because it requires a lot of patience, charity, and selflessness. I am in my twenties and I have a full-time ministry to which I am brand new! There is a sister in her eighties who does not. She needs someone to carry something upstairs for her, or to go dig her car out of the snow (I have been working on that one all morning.) Meanwhile, I had a whole plan for the day... well, the plan goes out the window because my Sister needs me. I need her. She supports me with her life, her wisdom, and her kindness. I can support her by my gift of time and self. This self-denial, and self-gift is part of the journey, at least for me, to holiness.
On Oprah, the Dominican sisters were having recreation when Lisa Ling arrived. They were playing games with one another and it was beautiful to see them spending time together and enjoying one another. In my community we do not have scheduled recreation because our apostolates sometimes require us to be over in the parish church preparing little ones for the sacraments, or teaching adults at night how to speak English. Does that mean we don't see one another and don't spend time together? No! It is simply another way that does fall withing the bounds of living community together. We plan to throw a convent party when it is a sisters birthday or feast day. When something happens to a sisters family, we gather to support and comfort her. When we have a snow day we go have a snowball fight and make hot chocolate to warm us up. We eat together, work together, pray together, and, of course, play together!
As far as theology of religious life goes, I could talk about this for years and not have it all verbalized but what I do know is that as religious we are bound to Christ in a spousal way. I prefer not to use the phrase Bride of Christ. I do not think it is inaccurate, and I never mind anyone else using it. However, it conjures up for me images of wedding dresses and fairy tales. Spouse of Christ, however, is what I consider myself. I am married to Jesus and I have responsibilities and duties to that spousal relationship. I am called to be chaste - to give myself completely to Him. I am called to be poor - choosing to live the same life as He did, even unto death. I am called to be obedient - always allowing Jesus, the Church, and my superiors to guide me and to go serve those who are most in need.
I do not wish to be "judgmental" in an uncharitable way of the sisters who I am positive have a love relationship with the Lord and are genuine in their beliefs in religious life. What I do wish to do is make a distinction between what is essential and necessary in religious life, and what is not. Some things are not a matter of the diversity of religious life, they are a matter of disobedience to the Church. All the faithful are called to obey the Church. The Church has made extremely clear what religious life is and what it is not. Things are getting quite heated with the Apostolic Visitation taking place and I just wish that once and for all sisters can make a decision. Are you a part of the Church or not? And if not, there is no judgment, but find a place where you can authentically live this style of life with integrity. If you want to be a part of the Church then come, let us be faithful, and let us build up the body of Christ instead of tear it down with our words and attitudes.
"O God of love! O Love of my life! When will I be all yours in deeds and not only in words? You can do it. Increase my confidence... I want to love you with all my strength. I want to obey you in everything you desire, without interest, without consolations, without reward. I want to serve you through love, only to give you pleasure, only to please your heart that is so passionately filled with love for me... My Jesus, make me entirely yours."
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Speaking of silence, last night I watched the Oprah special on the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in which they spoke about many things, silence included. It was a wonderful program on those particular sisters and much of what they spoke resonated with my own life as a religious, especially their love for silence and recollection. The sisters said that there was an intense desire to leave the noise of the world for the silence in the heart that loves.
In my own experience of silence, it is last of all a physical reality and first of all a spiritual one. I live in a very noisy, urban neighborhood where silence is almost never physically present. However, the silence of my soul is one that swallows up all the noise of the world in a great offering of love and thanksgiving to the God who made all of us wonderful, noisy people! I often find myself in our beautiful chapel in sweet solitude when I hear a car alarm, horns honking, people yelling across the street, kids playing wall ball on the side of the convent, and those car radios that broadcast outside the car whatever the driver wishes the world to hear, and I smile because I hold all of those people in loving prayer and grateful thanksgiving. Wherever they are going, whatever they are doing, whoever they are I pray that they live with God each and everyday and feel His peace and grace in their lives.
One of the maxims of St. Alphonsus Liguori was "to love solitude, to be able to converse alone with Jesus Christ." I think solitude can be aided by our surrounding environment but most of all it is an interior disposition that grows as we feed our souls desire for quiet, loving, conversation with the Lord. As an apostolic religious, most of my day is spent with the people and sustained by prayer in community and private. Throughout the day though, I find that solitude does not leave me. It is in my single-hearted devotion to God and service of His people that solitude becomes alive. Solitude is acted out through my love and care for my sisters, in my apostolate, and in my interactions with everyone I meet. For myself solitude has become all about the motivation with which I perform all my religious duties. When I am not doing all for the Lord, I live a disunited, dualistic, broken-apart spirituality. I am scattered and unfocused. When I do all for the greater glory of God and the salvation of my soul, the integrity of my person as a religious woman remains intact and I do not leave the presence of my God, no matter where my physical presence is and no matter how much noise surrounds me.
Of course, poor sinner that I am, I fail in keeping this disposition all the time. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done and I find myself too busy to fertilize the carefully planted seed of solitude. It never completely dies, although I am sure it could, because God's grace has, through no merit of my own, sustained me. That is why I am so thankful to Him for this special snow day. To see His greatness in the natural world, and to be able to contemplate it in the quiet hours of this day is such a great gift to my soul. God always gives us what we need.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I decided to start this blog to share some of my thoughts especially on religious life. I find that this time is an exciting one to be a religious in the history of the Church. There are so many temptations to disregard God but in His grace they become opportunities for His glory to be made known in the world. God is so good to give us this free will to love Him. My vision for the future of the Church and of religious life in the Church is one of great hope and light.
I think that in religious life we are at a pivotal time, especially in apostolic communities. There is such a need for apostolic work of all kinds but there is such a shortage of vocations being answered. The apostolic visitation that is occurring now in America is a blessing to the sisters who desire to root out whatever harmful secular concepts have crept into our religious houses and to answer anew the call to the will of God. My vision for this apostolic religious life is one of fervor for mission, radical dedication to prayer, and deep desire for authentic community life, one in mind and heart with the Church.
In my short experience as a religious the joy of my life comes most especially at the end of the day when I realize for the first time that I have been awake for seventeen hours. In those seventeen hours God has touched me and I have touched Him. I have tirelessly prayed, worked, served, loved, comforted, laughed, studied, cleaned, and talked all for His glory. From my waking moment when I thank Him for His physical presence in the Blessed Sacrament right beneath my room, to prayer with my sisters, to Mass with the parish, to welcoming students to school, to teaching them reading and writing, math and science, to planning lessons, to prayer again, to charges, to recreation, and to late night studying and preparation for school, to that last moment when I pray, "May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen," I am continually offering the Lord a sacrifice of love and praise. He touches me in every moment and I touch Him. It is a beautiful life.