+ J.M.J.A.T. +

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Heart of the Matter

Last night I went to sleep with a heavy heart. I made the mistake yesterday evening of reading the article in Newsweek, "Bring the Pope to Justice," by Christopher Hitchens. After I read it I felt quite hopeless and very confused about what we would do next. While I find it very unlikely that anything Christopher Hitchens suggested be done to our Holy Father or to the Vatican would actually happen, I did feel the strain of the fact that legal action is being suggested against our Holy Father.

This morning I woke up still feeling that heavy hearted sadness about everything that has happened recently in our Church. The sun was just coming up and my bedroom was filled to the point that I could barely see anything because of the light. As I was getting dressed, I bent down to put my shoes on and noticed the shadow of just my Crucifix on the unfinished wood of my drawers. I stopped what I was doing to look at it and was filled with a sense of peace. A small sign seemed to be present in that shadow. Jesus is the only one that matters. He will take care of this too.

At Mass, as Father was pouring the wine into the chalice I felt drawn again to that Crucifix. I thought that maybe this time in our Church was the time to join in Christ's sacrifice and pour out our own blood with His. I feel that we are being emptied and when we are emptied God uses us in extraordinary ways. When the Holy Father was in the United States he said that our Church would get smaller but more faithful. I think that we are going to lose a lot but that the spiritual fruit of our suffering, sacrifice, and perseverance will be beyond measure.

I join my loses, my heartache, and my desire with all the Church and ask God to sanctify it and lead me to new and lasting life through death. Whatever happens let me make the fundamental choice to follow Jesus faithfully through the Church no matter what hardship occurs.

I don't know if any of this makes much sense but I feel very much at peace with whatever might come from the circumstances in our Church and our world right now. Jesus is in it all. Praise be to God for the good, the bad, the sad, the joyful and all things that can lead to holiness.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America

This is a picture of one of the items included in the Women and Spirit exhibit. I went to see the exhibit a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it ever since. It made me cry, smile, laugh, and thank God for His goodness to us for all this time. In the relatively short history of women religious in the United States there are stories upon stories of women answering God's call in the very radical way of total gift of self to His service. Their joy, suffering, desire, gratitude, confidence, prudence, prayerfulness, and dedication are evident in each section of the exhibit from the first contemplative community to arrive, to nurses in the Civil War, to sisters marching for civil rights. There was just too much to go into all of it!

I was especially touched by the above item though for both practical and spiritual reasons. Practically, this wooden box with three key holes was used to hold all the sisters important papers and valuable items. Three individual sisters had one of the keys and the box only opened with all three keys. As I have grown up in the age of computer passwords, debit pin numbers, and photo ID as ways of securing my identity and valuables; I found this form of protection intriguing, and it worked!

Spiritually, I was thinking of my own person, and my vocation especially as the box. The box holding all the valuable things that God puts into such a frail and weak person. His grace which gave me faith, gifts, talents, feelings, and desires are safely guarded in this sacred place. The question is, how do I retrieve all that God has given me in my life as a religious when I need to use these gifts of grace?

There are three things that are most dear to my life as a religious sister. These keys are the ways that God reveals Himself to me and how I respond to Him. First, and most importantly, is prayer. Without prayer, I would cease being a religious. I would just be someone who does good works. Prayer is the force for everything else I do and God is the foundation for my life. By realizing my need and my dependence on Him, He gives me all that I need. God is a provident and loving God and He never leaves us without.

The next key is community. The sisters with whom I live bring out different parts of me all the time! Some are good and some are bad, but the bad help me to know myself more so that I can continue striving for holiness. Without the key of community living I wouldn't have the vision and support of a group of women learning and growing together. Community is for me an ever changing example of Jesus; teaching, healing, correcting, recreating, and suffering with and for one another.

The third key is mission. As I have grown as a religious, I have done things that I never, even in my wildest dreams, ever thought I would do. I am always in new situations with new people who have different needs and somehow the grace comes to respond. In the apostolate, I see Jesus as the sick, suffering, hungry, thirsty, naked, and uneducated. Somehow, they bring out of this weak sister love, compassion, passion, dedication, hard-work, and enthusiasm for the Kingdom.

Religious life is a lot about balance. Without one of these keys, I can't live up to the vocation God has given me. Authentic apostolic religious life is dependent on these three keys to living and growing towards holiness.

God, may my little box always be ready to open with the touch of your grace, so that all the gifts you have given me may be used for your greater glory and for the coming of the Kingdom on earth. Amen!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


"There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem,
and all were scattered
throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,
except the Apostles.
Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church;
entering house after house and dragging out men and women,
he handed them over for imprisonment.

Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city."

Today at Mass I was touched by this reading in light of a few different things happening in our Church these days. I feel that the whole Church is living through a time when it is necessary to live the Catholic faith more passionately than we have had to in quite a while. By passionately, I mean with a deep willingness to sacrifice for our Church, to do penance for our mistakes, to live as authentic Christian witnesses, and to constantly seek to follow the will of God. I am not saying that this passion is important only now, but that the circumstances in which we are living make it vital that we live with this sort of passion.

The first happening I was reminded of in this reading was the pressure on our Holy Father at this time because of the sex abuse scandal. From the Times Online, "Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church." We are being persecuted at this time and I feel so strongly that we need to offer up whatever we can for the safety of our Holy Father. In trying to keep the pope away from a whole section of believers, we are seeing the freedom to follow our consciences and our faith threatened. I do believe that this is just the first of many challenges we are soon going to see.

The next interesting thing I see happening has to do with the courageous decision of Bishop Brandt in the diocese of Greensburg, PA to withdraw diocesan resources from vocation promotion to any religious community who signed the NETWORK letter supporting the health-care bill. I am young in religion but I have yet to see any bishop handle the disobedience in religious communities with such prudence, respect, and authenticity. What I am impressed with is the way Bishop Brandt did not punish the sisters for their disobedience, but held them accountable to what they felt they had to do. They distanced themselves from the Church and the Church through Bishop Brandt allowed them the freedom of conscience to follow what they thoughts was right. However, they had to accept the consequences of distancing themselves from the Church. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a new trend in the way we handle these kinds of situations within our Church.

Altogether I think this is a wonderful time for the faithful and religious men and women in particular to rededicate themselves to the mission of the Church. This reading today gave me a lot of hope for this to happen. The eternal city will be one filled with great joy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It has taken me a few days to get around to writing but I really feel the need to address some interesting news unfolding about the apostolic visitation of women religious in the United States. The National Catholic Reporter released an article listing the communities that have been chosen to receive an on-site visit and a prayer for those communities and the visitors. The original article attributed both the list and the prayer to Mother Clare. Here you can read the retraction. I tried to post a comment on NCR's website, however, I was denied. While I don't have a copy of the exact wording of what I tried to post I would like to expand on some of my ideas here, since I was not given the opportunity there.

First, there are nineteen communities mentioned in the list of on-site visits. Of the nineteen; two or three wear visible religious garb, most (but not all!) are members of the LCWR, and many (again not all!) would not be considered traditional, but progressive. Any logical person who reads that these particular communities were the sole communities chosen by Mother Clare to be visited would conclude that the visitation is in fact a witch hunt, one that is out to reign in the sisters who are "unfaithful". Those of us who are past the whole conspiracy theory realize that cannot be true.

The list of communities while accurate, is incomplete. It is only a sampling of the communities that are actually being visited. Why would Mother Clare give an incomplete list? She wouldn't. The LCWR gave the list to NCR. This changes the whole story, the whole picture, of a major issue in our Church right now! The LCWR simply told NCR what members of that umbrella organization were being visited as far as they knew and offered a prayer for them. Now, the logical person reading this story realizes that there are communities out there who are being visited who are not on the list because they don't belong to the LCWR, or they are prudent enough to know to keep confidential things, confidential. It doesn't look like a witch hunt anymore, does it?

Now what it looks like is bad and biased reporting in which the process of an apostolic visitation is being twisted and harmed. I am disappointed in NCR for their bad reporting and distortion of these events. I am more disappointed with the LCWR for their lack of prudence and sensitivity in dealing with this issue of visitation. As a religious woman, I intend to use this visitation as an opportunity to show my love for the Church and my desire to be a true, faithful daughter of the Church. I also intend to speak up when an injustice occurs such as this one. I will not be represented by LCWR or NCR and I will not allow this kind of information to float around without trying to correct it.

I also suggest forgetting the prayer suggested by the LCWR. Instead, let us continue to pray the Visitation Prayer given to us by Mother Clare.

O Virgin of the Visitation,
compelled by the Holy Spirit,
and with Jesus hidden beneath your Heart,
you arose in those days and, with haste,
went to your kinswoman Elizabeth,
to serve her in her time of need.
Elizabeth acknowledged your faith,
and a new song came to flower on your lips;
thus did you magnify the Father
whose mercy is from generation to generation.
Visit us now, O Mother of Our Lord,
and obtain for us a quickening of prophetic grace,
that we may serve our sisters in faithfully loving the Church,
and love the Church in humbly serving our sisters,
and so, under your gracious protection,
again and again repeat your words:
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done unto me according to your word.”
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!

Please pray for all religious women, that we may be faithful to our calling and that we might all grow in charity and virtue. Amen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Behold, my heart...

"O Jesus … remember that you did promise that when you would be elevated on the cross, you would draw all hearts to you. Behold, my heart, softened into tenderness by your death, will no longer resist your calls. Draw all its affections to your love. You have died for me, and I wish to live only for you… .I thank you for the light which you give me, in making me see in these wounds and lacerated members, as through so many lattices, your great and tender affection for me… My Jesus gives himself to me, and I give myself entirely to him… .Come, O Holy Spirit, and inflame our hearts with the love of you."

-St. Alphonsus

He is risen! Alleluia! Last time I posted I was really having a difficult time with following my dear Savior's will. However, Easter has brought with it the peace of doing God's will and not my own. It is amazing how the Church seasons embrace all our human frailty and emotional need at different times. I really identified with the death of Jesus in these days because I was feeling a deep loss in my own life. I also felt a sense of insecurity and unknowing - I'm sure much like the feeling of the disciples when Jesus was crucified. However, at the Easter Vigil, Jesus gave me the grace and the desire to offer my heart to Him in the same way that He offered His spirit to the Father. As the candles were lit, I gave myself over to Him. In that moment I experienced the rebirth of Easter. Problems don't cease to exist, but a joy and peace encompasses them and holds them in the hands of the Father. New graces, new experiences, new adventures occur... there is no longer death, but new life! Who would ever think that this would be the way God would choose to work in our hearts?

It is all about our hearts though. It is all about vulnerability and openness to God's touch in the most personal places of our lives. He touches our desires, our needs, our sadness, our joy, and our pain in ways that inflame the love within us. Today I want to thank Jesus for joy and sadness, for life through death, for peace in difficult times, for allowing me to change and be myself, for being with me when I'm not with Him, and for waiting at my tomb to tell me to rise and set out again on another adventure with Him.

It seems to me more and more all the time that this life with Jesus, especially in my life as a religious, is one big adventure and just when I think that it can't get anymore loving, anymore exciting, anymore passionate, sacrificial, energizing, and life-giving He takes me to a whole other place, a whole other level. I can never understand His will and I can never know the love He has for me without looking upon the Cross and entering the tomb.

Jesus, let me love you with my whole heart. Let me trust in You. Let me grow into the person you desire me to be. Let me give of myself, holding nothing back. Let me follow wherever you lead. Jesus, be with me. Amen