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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!

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