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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Homeless Husband

Well, tonight I was very upset during Mass.  I decided to go to the Saturday Vigil Mass because I have been sick with a cold this week and a sleep in tomorrow is exactly what I need.  On my way over a man came to ask me for prayers.  There are many homeless people who live around the convent because of our location and I make it a point not to ever turn them away from me.  They want to know the sisters love them and care about them.
He didn't ask me for any money.  He just wanted to pray together.  I took his hand in mine and he closed his eyes while I said a few words for both of us to God asking for help and thanking Him for our lives.  He smelled of alcohol and after I prayed with him he hugged me and thanked me for caring.  I was reminded of Father Damien and the lepers.
When I reached the doors to church an older woman scolded me for speaking to him.  She told me he was a drunk and a good for nothing freeloader.  He didn't belong here in our parish.   I was quite angry, and told her that Jesus had no home and relied on the people in the towns He visited.  I also told her that love had no limit and that he asked me for prayers only.  I almost told her my natural father is an alcoholic... thank God I controlled myself!
However, when the Gospel began about Lazarus I came close to crying.  Are the homeless not allowed to attend Mass?  Can they not be in the presence of Jesus unless they are cleaned up and straightened out?  Are they outside of salvation's reach because they don't have a house to live in?  And what about that woman who scolded me... will she be accepted into the Father's house after denying this man prayer?  Will she be able to look Jesus in the eyes after turning Him away?  Her disgust and hatred was so evident, it was sickening.
When I got home, I told the sisters all about it and I was glad they agreed with me.  We have problems with security in our house.  It isn't safe sometimes because of the amount of people living in tents and other haphazard structures around our convent so I was worried they might have the same feeling about this poor man.  However, they agreed.  I shouldn't have even second guessed them.  He is a human being.  He deserves and needs love.
Anyway, I realized when I got home that I could look my husband in the eyes because of what I said to that man today.  I don't care about that woman's hatred for this poor soul or what the more well - to - do members of the parish thought of seeing me conversing with him and holding his hand because the only person who matters is Him.  I truly believe that Jesus has much more in common with that homeless man than He does with the people who tell him he doesn't belong.  He loved. He asked for help. He accepted charity. He forgave. He prayed.
Lord let me do the same.  Let me never become so complacent and particular that I cannot accept the ways in which You decide to reveal Yourself to me.  Never let me deny Lazarus a drink of water, a bite to eat, a prayer to share.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Everyday Life

Well, I was thinking about the enormous amount of things I am so blessed to get to include in my day and I thought I would share a little with you of what a typical day for me is like.  During the week, I wake up at 4:30 and get dressed quickly.  It is the least favorite part of my day.  If I could change anything in the world, it would be that in the morning you would wake up dressed and washed and ready to go.  The prayers I say as I put on my habit in the morning are so beautiful, however, being human, I don't remember even saying them when I make it to Chapel because I am usually so tired!

I spend an hour in prayer in our convent Chapel before morning prayer in common with the sisters.  Sometimes I pray my Rosary, my stations, journal, or spiritual reading.  What I don't do in the morning I do at night.  We always say the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross.  I live in a small house right now and none of us are good singers.  Thank God He loves us whether we are good singers or not because some days just starting the hymn is a comedy.  The General Superior doesn't ask about musical skills before she changes us under obedience.

After prayers, we have to drive to the next parish over for Mass.  Each day after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we renew our vows privately in our hearts.  Usually I put my face in my hands so that I don't get distracted as I remember those words I have said each day that are the very meaning of my life, and the very meaning of the Eucharist.  These words, which I so often say without the reverence they deserve, shape my whole life and my every day.

When I get home from Mass, I pick up my school bag and off I go!  I have a half-hour to set up my SmartBoard, my laptop, and other classroom resources before my little children of God show up.  They come in like a flash of lightning and they actually are not little at all.  I teach middle school.  So, you can imagine how their entrance each day goes!

I try all day to talk some sense into preteen boys and girls - mostly a futile task - and love them.  Those are my two jobs when I am at school.  However, in addition to that, they confide in me, they laugh with me, they cry with me and they share their lives with me.  What a gift from God!

After school, I pack my bag and scuttle home after my desk looks somewhat neat and clean.  I unpack my things, do a little work, and go to Chapel for evening prayer.  After vespers, we eat dinner together.  I clean the kitchen after dinner because it is my charge.  If I don't have a parent, school, or community meeting (which seems rare sometimes) I go watch the news with the nuns and then get in the shower and put my pjs on.  This is one of my favorite parts of the day! Ha!

I might do some schoolwork, go to the community room with the sisters, or go to chapel after this.  Either way I always end the day in my bedroom praying compline and doing a little spiritual reading before I hit the hay.  As I fall asleep I start my second rosary.  My guardian angel always finishes!

So thank you Jesus for the weekend! I am exhausted just from writing this and need some major rest.  On Saturday the parish mass is at 9 am!  So goodnight and God bless!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Nature of Sacrifice

This weekend I was at a community meeting and it became painfully clear how much we need to talk about what sacrifice and hard work really are.  After enjoying a wonderful day with my sisters, we had Mass in our Chapel at our Motherhouse.  The priest who said Mass was just wonderful - a Redemptorist like our dear founder.  He was, maybe not so prudently, saying that religious women have done more for the Church than anyone.  The heart of his comment was really to let us know his gratitude for us and the gratitude of the Church for our sacrifice and our hard work.

I'm not sure quite how it happened next but all the sudden from behind me I heard a clap.  Someone was actually clapping out loud during the homily.  While I was immediately disturbed by sister's lack of etiquette and reverence, I pondered from where her reaction came.  I found myself meditating on the sentence, "Because we have sacrificed so much..." and I realized that the way I finish that sentence is, unfortunately, different from the way she does.

The way I finish that sentence is "I still haven't given enough, I need to give more, Christ calls me to continue, our Blessed Mother aids me in my perseverance, we must give it all, we have to keep serving, we have to keep going."  The way my dear sister finished the sentence is "we deserve a break, we deserve respect, we deserve more freedom, we are finished our work, we should relax, we should take a break, we should be put on pedestals and not be expected to live the harsh, difficult, and radical life God has given to us."

I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't upset me that any of my sisters feels this way... it profoundly does.  It breaks my heart that some of their hearts have become so hard.  At the same time I realize she didn't just decide one day to wake up and think this way.  It probably started with a superior who made her go to school when she had the flu, then a pastor who didn't support the school, then an older sister who yelled at her for nothing, a principal who put all the responsibility of the school on her shoulders.  Soon enough, she saw other sisters moving into their own apartments, taking on prestigious positions, and earning their own way.

Fortunately, her position is not one that many of my sisters share, but it is painful nonetheless.  It is painful both for her and for the rest of us.  I don't know how anyone else felt after the little outburst.  It was little because no one joined her.  However, I felt called very much to pray and think about sacrificing more and about protecting my heart from the hardness that can come from being treated with a lack of charity.  We are all human and our sisters will always fail.  I will always fail them.  But it is Him who does all things in us.  We do not need to worry.  We do not need to take all of these things on our shoulders.  He who has called us will see us through.

I leave this little reflection feeling very much at peace and very much dedicated to continuing to sacrifice, especially for my sister who needs my prayers and my love at this point.  It is so easy to see her as "other" and as "outside" the group.  Her views may be, however, she is still vowed in the same way I am and I am still responsible for her, as she is for me.

Community is the place where we lead one another down the road to Heaven.  God gives us those who need help and those who can help us wherever we go.  Sister may never know this but God was able to use even this for His good because He was able to remind my heart to trust, to love, and to give unreservedly so that I never lose sight the purpose of my life.      

Thursday, September 16, 2010

First Full Week of School... ahhhhhh

Tomorrow the first full week of school comes to an end and I am overwhelmed yet peaceful and happy at the same time about how the week has gone, and how the weekend is going to come!  Quite frequently these days I have felt the uncontrollable urge to cry... and not because I'm having a bad day like I did before.  I could chalk it up to the very human feeling of lack of sleep and overwhelming circumstances, however, it seems more like a heightened emotional state.

I am in a new convent, teaching in a new school, living with new sisters, praying in a new chapel, and living basically a totally new life.  I just feel so touched by the small things, whether they be sad, happy, difficult, simple... they are all just such vivid feelings.  My children are especially big reasons for my tears.  Middle schoolers... anyone who has children in that age range or have taught them certainly understands my feelings.  They can be so profound, so needy, so loving, so compassionate, so mean, so sad all at once and it changes so frequently.  I almost feel like they are rubbing off on me!

Really, I know that I have been given such a gift and a privilege to walk with them as their teacher, as someone who loves them and desires all the best things for them.  It gets my emotions all riled up, because they have so much potential and they don't know it.  But, I love them.  That is what I promised to do and I know that there are many people in their lives who have not promised to do that in the same way and they get messages all the time that they are no one, that they do not matter, and that they won't be anything important ever.

It just breaks my heart and at the same time I can see so much in their eyes when they look at me, when they realize that they learned something, that they pleased me, that they are having fun, that they look like little children sometimes, even when they are in trouble.  I know that every moment is essential to their formation as Catholic young men and women.  They just always make me want to cry! :)

This weekend I will be at our Motherhouse for some community meetings and with a friend of mine for some fun.  Hopefully, both will help me unwind!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bad Day

I always hate it when this happens, and I never want to admit it but I am having a terrible day today!  It's really all very silly except that it is the first week of school and so I'm already a little bit on edge.  Here is how it started...

This morning at the crack of dawn, which is when I wake up :(, one of the sisters told me that I made the coffee too weak.  No good morning, no how are you, just that the coffee was not strong enough.  So I felt bad, but I felt worse when another dear sister in Christ came and told me that the coffee was too strong.  Now, I know, coffee is not the most important thing in the world.  There are people who are starving, who are in despair, who are uneducated, who need health care.... however, this morning all I could think of was this one pot of coffee and how mad I was!  I mean how can I make one pot of coffee both stronger and weaker at the same time?  Please, someone tell me how, I will do it!  But I can't, because it is impossible.  Isn't that insane?  I know it is insane, but somehow I have found myself in the middle of this day just wanting to go hide in my room with a cup of tea and have a little cry and go to bed.  

It isn't just the coffee, of course, but it is funny how one thing can become a catalyst of emotion for many things that have been building up.  I know I have a lot to bring to the Lord tonight because I'm being very hard on myself and I need His gentleness and compassion.  Someone told me one time that it is a sin to expect yourself to be perfect because you make Christ's death insignificant and unimportant.  If we were perfect, His death would be in vain.  So, here I am in the same sin as I always am, of wanting myself to be perfect.

Although I am always working on this it is much harder when you move to a new convent and new school.  I think people think sometimes when you are a sister and move somewhere that it's just part of the life and you get used to it.  But you really don't.  Each time it brings up new insecurities, failures, shortcomings, and a plethora of other awkward things.  Each time it also brings God's grace, and makes me pay more attention to the fact that I am in need of His grace.  I'm not perfect and neither are my sisters, my students, my school, or anyone else I meet.  

Please just say a prayer for me today.  I feel like a little kid at the end of a vacation; tired, overextended, thrust into a schedule, and having to follow rules that I don't like!  I must say it feels great to get this out in the open like this!  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dinner Out

I have mentioned before how nice it is in the summer to have a little extra unstructured time to have fun and be spontaneous.  Well, today I was working diligently on my lesson plans for the new school year when I received a call asking if I was able to go out to dinner with a priest friend.  I said yes, of course, and tried to get as much work done as I could before he came to pick myself and another sister up for dinner.  

I have heard some sisters from other communities say before that they would never be allowed to just go out to dinner... some even have it in their rule.  Not that it's a bad thing to have in your Rule, but it is part of my community's history to be hospitable in this way.  While I was in the novitiate a sister taught us Community History and one large part of that was that when our sisters were missioned to a foreign country they always made sure to be available when priests came, especially priests from their home countries, so that they had someone to talk to in their native language, to enjoy a meal with, and to pray with when they arrived.  It is so lonely to be in another country without a community and so the sisters were encouraged to always be available, even in the middle of the night to rise and make preparations to welcome one of their fathers.

Well, I was delighted with a visit from this very holy and fatherly priest.  So often in our world today priests live alone without much support.  Maybe we could all take the time to pray in gratitude for these holy men who have touched our lives, nourished our souls, and given us the grace to respond to God.  Maybe we could also pray for those men who have felt abandoned, broken, or alone and have left God's service, that they might know God's abundant love and goodness and, if able, return to His service once again.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your holy priests!  Send us more!  Amen!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Random thoughts

You know what?... I just love being a sister.  I don't know why, but some days I just feel overwhelmed by how awesome it is to be a spouse of Christ and a sister to His people.  Community, ministry, mission, obedience, chastity, poverty... what gifts they are!!  

As I have mentioned before, the summers are frequently chaotic as sisters are going on retreat, offering service in one of our many missions, and getting ready for another year of educational ministry.  Tonight our superior made hot dogs for dinner.  I love hot dogs!  It really is the simple things that make everything worth while.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner together on the porch.  As we shared all our adventures from the day, I felt so blessed to be on this journey with my sisters.

Speaking of adventures.... my adventures were many in number today.  I had to find some of the textbooks for my dear children, fix the showers in the convent, clean my charge, plan my lessons, meet with my superior, and decorate my classroom today.  It was wild.  As I reread everything I have done today I feel energized and excited because all of it was done in love and prayer for my sisters and for God's people.  

Tomorrow another adventure awaits me.  It is the last weekend before school starts and my dear sister - friend is coming to stay over at my convent.  I am going to pick her up and we are going to buy a few things for my classroom before grabbing a cheese steak (I am in Philadelphia :)) and coming back to the convent.  

Please pray for me as I prepare for school to begin!  I will be praying for you!