Friday, March 24, 2017

Three Lessons

By Sr. Annie Klapheke

Some of my greatest spiritual lessons over this past year have come from some unlikely teachers:  women in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

About a year ago I become involved with the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP).  The mission of ISP is to offer retreats for men and women experiencing homelessness and/or in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.  These retreats integrate the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  Since becoming involved with this ministry, I have received far more than I have given.  As I reflect on my past year as an ISP team member, here are three important lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson 1:  We have more in common than we think
The first step to becoming an ISP team member is to first participate in a retreat, as a retreatant.  I remember feeling nervous as I prepared for this initial experience.  I was a novice at the time, and I remember wondering, ‘What will I, a nun-in-training, have in common with women in recovery from drug addiction?  Will they think I’m self-righteous or too na├»ve to relate to them?’  God answered my question in the first hour of the retreat.  The opening activity was to find a partner and spend five minutes each sharing about our lives.  My partner shared first.  She was currently living in an all women’s residential recovery center.  She talked about how much she enjoyed the bond with the other women in the program, how they lived together like a family, sharing duties and responsibilities and how they all supported each other in living their common mission to stay sober.  A group of women, living in intentional community, with a mission driven-purpose – it sounded awfully similar to religious life.  As I shared about my own experience of living in community with my sisters, and supporting each other in our mission to live the Gospel, my partner commented, ‘Wow, I never thought I’d have something in common with a nun.’ 

This lesson can be applied in so many areas of life.  Often we look at the ‘other’’, focusing on the obvious external differences, and these felt differences can lead to resistance or even fear.  But when we take the time to share our stories with one another, we often find we have more in common than we think, simply by our shared human experiences.  Imagine how this lesson could transform hearts around issues such as racism and anti-immigrant sentiments?

Lesson 2:  The true meaning of poverty
I’m not talking about material poverty here.  I’m talking about poverty of spirit – the kind of poverty that Jesus blessed, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3); and the kind of poverty I have vowed to live as a woman religious.  In this type of poverty, a person admits they are nothing on their own, but instead completely dependent on God.  These women know what it feels like to hit rock bottom, and it is from this place of complete emptiness and desolation that they begin their journey in recovery.  The first three steps of the 12-step program are 1) admitting your powerlessness over your addiction, 2) coming to believe that only a higher power can restore you to sanity, and 3) making the decision to turn your will over to a higher power.  These three steps also align with the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, which is also called the “Principle and Foundation”.  The goal of this first week is to recognize that the total purpose of one’s life is union with God, and everything in one’s life should be ordered to God’s plan.  One of the women on the ISP team has been in recovery for three years, and she often gives the witness talk on retreats.  One of her most compelling lines is, “I wake up every morning and as soon as my feet hit the floor, my prayer is, “God, today I’m doing your will, your way; your will, your way.”  She relies 100% on God to maintain her sobriety. 

As a healthy, well-educated, white, middle class US citizen; it can be easy for me, from my privileged vantage point, to fall into a pattern of self-sufficiency and independence – ‘I have it all together, and I can go it on my own’.  This mindset is the antithesis to my vow of poverty as a woman religious.  The women in the ISP program have taught me what it looks like to admit total helplessness, and to live a life totally reliant on God.

Lesson 3:  Gratitude
On the most recent retreat I led, I spent Saturday evening hanging out in the kitchen chatting with one of the retreatants.  She amazed me with her attitude.  “Every morning my alarm goes off and I just pop right out of bed with a big smile on my face.  I go bounding down the hall saying good morning to everyone I pass,” she said, “I am just so happy to be alive and to be where I’m at.”  These women’s lives are not easy.  The recovery programs are often very rigid and structured, and the women have very little autonomy or privacy in their day to day lives.  Even once they are living on their own again, many of them work exhaustingly long hours, with long commutes via bus or walking, making just enough money to make ends meet.  Not to mention that many of them bare the wounds of trauma and carry burdens of guilt and shame from their past.  Yet they live each day with such gratitude; grateful simply to be alive, to be sober and to wake up each morning in a clean, safe, warm bed. 

After making an ISP retreat, the women can continue attending monthly reflection nights for support and sustained spiritual nourishment.  So many times I have arrived at these Monday evening meetings feeling stressed or cranky about something petty going on my in my own small world.  But after two hours with these women, I’m reminded that the only acceptable attitude for the gift of life is complete gratitude, every day. 

Maybe one day these three important lessons will take root in me, and I’ll finally learn to be like one of my new role models. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Living Water

By Sr. Tracy Kemme

The Gospel for this Sunday gives us a wonderful image for our Lenten journeys: living water.

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob's well was there.  Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.  It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"  For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"
Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." (John 4:5-15)

We prayed with this portion of the upcoming reading yesterday as a parish staff in a simple Lectio Divina style.

I have to admit, the first time we read the passage, the phrase that jumped out at me was, “Jesus, tired from his journey…”  The words brought me relief: “Oh, Jesus, you felt tired, too.”  March madness seems to have hit not only NCAA basketball but my calendar, too.  There is an overload of activity – Lenten commitments at the parish; activism, education, and accompaniment in the current immigration climate; continuing to settle into our new home and dedicating energy to build a new intentional community.  I’ve been feeling my resources wane and allowing myself to be irritable and negative.  I feel guilty confessing my exhaustion.  I know it’s a privilege to do meaningful work, and those who are the victims of oppression and injustice don’t have the option to give up because they’re tired.  Still, in my humanness, I sighed, “Jesus, I’m tired from the journey, too.”

The second time we read the passage, I imagined myself in the scene.  I became the Samaritan woman, my skin tingling under the high-noon sun and sweat dribbling down the side of my face.  I came to the well, wearily lugging my bucket as I had done so many other times, fetching the liquid of life from the only source in the village.  There sat a man with the kindest face I’d ever seen.

 When Jesus spoke to me, everything around me seemed to stop.  I felt overcome by peace and drawn to the compassion in his eyes.  For a moment, anxiety and fatigue subsided.  The focus moved from my weakness to his strength.  I sensed that he had something real and sustaining to offer me, something as real as a quenching swig of water on a sweltering day.  As Jesus described living water, I felt the urgent thirst that the woman in the story gives voice to, “Sir, give me this water.”

The third time we heard the words of the Gospel, I listened for the message Jesus might be trying to speak to my heart this day.  I heard one phrase so clearly, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."  It was not said in a disparaging way to make me feel little, but rather, it was a loving invitation to my jittery heart: “Tracy, remember who I am.  Look into my eyes, and see all of the gifts that I want to give to you.  I mean it.  Do you believe me?”  I realized that I did believe it somewhere deep down, but I had forgotten how to trust it.  I figured that with so much need in the world, I shouldn’t dare bother Jesus with something so petty.  Then, tenderly, he assured me, “Ask me for what you need.”

Something in my heart shifted, and even though my eyes were closed, the whole room felt lighter, glowing with golden warmth.  In my own preoccupations, I had latched on to a burdensome illusion that I had to do all of this on my own.  Here, Jesus brought me back to truth:  I am your source, a well inside of you that will not dry up.  Come to me, and rely on me.  As my spiritual director reminds me often, “If Jesus calls you to something, he gives you what you need to respond to that call.”

More powerful than a dismal reminder of our own weakness, Lent is an opportunity to remember, again, who Jesus is.  Yes, it is important to look sincerely inside ourselves throughout to season to see where we are missing the mark and how we can grow.  But we must do it in the context of knowing the “gift of God.”  As the Gospel so beautifully reminds us this Sunday, we don’t go the journey of transformation alone.  Lent is a call to believe, again, that Jesus is our source, an eternal spring welling up inside of us.  He wants us to return to him with our whole heart and ask him for our deepest longings.  He wants to nourish us, sustain us, refresh us, cleanse us, and fill us with hope.

Our Living Water is inexhaustible; there’s enough to go around for every person, for every day of life.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Prayer To End Slavery and Human Trafficking

Infographic from the Walk Free Foundation
According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million people are in some form of modern slavery across 167 countries. That means that there are more people in slavery today than at any time in human history.

Today we commemorate the life of Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – March 10, 1913), a celebrated abolitionist and humanitarian who escaped slavery and guided hundreds of other slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

In honor of Harriet Tubman Day, we hope you will join us in praying for an end to slavery and human trafficking.

Loving Father,

We seek your divine protection for all who are exploited and enslaved.

For those forced into labor, trafficked into sexual slavery, and denied freedom.

We beseech you to release them from their chains.

Grant them protection, safety, and empowerment.

Restore their dignity and provide them a new beginning.

Show us how we might end exploitation by addressing its causes.

Help us reach out in support of victims and survivors of human trafficking.

Make us instruments of your spirit for their liberation.

For this we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Prayer from the USCCB's World Day of Peace 2015 handout

Friday, March 3, 2017

Planting Seeds of Contemplation in Our World Today

By Sr. Rejane Cytacki

In our current social and political climate I think it is important to stop and reflect on two values that are important to building healthy relationships and stem from the core of what religious life is all about: Community and Contemplation. These are not unique to Christianity but are found among all the world religions. Below is an excerpt I wrote for a planning retreat at my ministry site, the Eco-Justice Center.


Freedom, responsibility, dialogue and integrity are key ingredients to building community. They provide a context for sharing experiences with others in grappling with common issues.  These shared experiences help build relationships of trust through hospitality. Once community is built it offers companionship and support.  In today’s world we are called to broaden community to a diverse group of people: those who are present, those virtually connected, those of different faiths or no faith, and those of different cultures and races.  Dialogue helps strengthen a community that will welcome all with respect.

Here at the Eco-J we see community built among our volunteers and participants in our programming. We believe community includes both human and all life. We nurture relationships which enhance the wellbeing of persons, the earth, and all beings. All life is dependent on earth for nourishment and physical survival.


Contemplation means the act of looking or gazing attentively. Contemplation allows you to draw closer to the mystery of life through active silence. It helps integrate body, mind, and spirit. It can make you more attentive to being in the moment.  When you take time to contemplate in a group there is a sense of connection with others while you are sitting in silence. Often times a deeper dialogue results from a group spending time in silence first.  The silence allows us to be with others who share a similar contemplative openness and offers the hope that each will be led to new perspectives, mutual respect and understanding. We need more of this in our world today.

As part of National Catholic Sisters Week, a group of sisters who live in Wisconsin got together and created a Transformative Circle process and events are being hosted called Come Sit with Us during March 8-14.  This whole process revolves around contemplation and dialogue. I will be facilitating a circle at the Eco-Justice Center that explores Laudato Si and inviting youth to participate as well.  This is one way of planting seeds of contemplation in our world today.

Content paraphrased from brochures “Meeting the Charism Again/For the First Time” Dominican Values-Building Community and The Contemplative Tradition 2003.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hope and Love for All

By Sr. Paris Slapikas

For I was hungry, and you denied me food stamps; 

  I was homeless, and you gated your community; 

Jobless, and you demanded to see my green card; 

Naked, and you sexted me; 

Weak and you exploited me; 

Alone, and you avoided me; 

Poor, and you called me lazy; 

Sick, and you asked for my health insurance; 

Lost, and you laughed at me; 

Confused, and you mocked me; 

A stranger, and you told me to go back where I came from; 

In prison, and you patted yourself on the back for cleaning up the streets. 

A Refugee, and you turned me away; 

      An immigrant too poor to pay the cost of legal entry, 

but having the gall to desire a better life anyway, and you built a wall. 

      A Muslim, and you hated me. 

(Matthew 25: 35-49 updated)
- Fr. Joe Veneroso 

I can hardly watch the news without being saddened by the latest stories of entire populations of people (immigrants, refugees, gays, Muslims, those who are poor, etc.) being targeted by those in power.  Or, by those who simply act out of unawareness or fear.  Fr. Veneroso courageously sheds light on the experiences of many people across our country today.  I invite you to reflect on how you are being called to respond at this time.  

My prayer is this: 
May our lives bear witness to the Gospel in the midst of such political and social unrest.  May our eyes be open to see the needs of others in our midst and our hearts be moved to respond. May we seek to find ways to advocate and support those who are being marginalized.  And, may we be a source of HOPE and LOVE for all. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Casting My Lot

By Sr. Meg Kymes

On January 7th I made my vows for the first time.  Some of my family was able to come to celebrate this next step with me.  My mom’s cousin, Mary Margaret, came from Kansas City to Emmitsburg for my celebration.  After the Mass, Mary Margaret came up to me and gave me a huge hug.  With tears in her eyes she said, “I’m so proud of you!  I’ve never seen so many joyful women in one place.  I can see why you cast your lot with them.” 

In the weeks following my vows Mary Margaret’s words resonated with me.  I thought of the Apostles leaving their nets to follow Jesus.   The Gospel of Matthew tells us that, “Going on from there, [Jesus] saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”   Like the Apostles, I chose to follow Jesus call to me to leave my family of origin to “cast my lot” with the Daughters of Charity.   

I wanted to share the joy of Christ’s presence in my life in a special way.  In our vows, the Daughters of Charity pray, “In response to the call of Christ who invites me to follow him and to be a witness to his charity to the poor, I ... vow to God for one year, chastity, poverty and obedience ... and to devote myself to the corporal and spiritual service of the poor.” 

Like all the Apostles, I chose to cast my lot through God’s call to me to be a witness with others to God’s love.  I chose to cast my lot with the example of the Sisters I live with, the Vincentian Saints and Blesseds, and the other smaller saints that have influenced my journey.

From left to right:  Brent, Mary Margaret, Steve (Dad), Mom (Martha), Myself, 
Edwin (Brother), Natalie (Sister-in-law), and Margaret (Grandmother)

Friday, February 10, 2017

On Immigration, Formation, and Companions On The Journey

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso

Religious life formation is not for the faint of heart. I have come up with a long list of figurative language with which to illustrate the experience of formation. Novitiate is like being in timeout… for a whole year. Timeouts in the classroom are meant for a wrongdoer to have the opportunity to ponder and reflect on his/her faults. Just like timeouts, the space in novitiate allows for shadows to come up and be more glaring for an individual. Most novices, to begin with, might already be slightly at a loss with recent physical relocation, being away from typical support groups, culture shock, and a host of many other factors. Novitiate is like being in a pile of compost… it’s murky, dark, and smelly, with every inch of space filled with creepy crawlies. Novitiate is like… you get what I mean.

Besides being a novice, I am also an immigrant. The experience of being uprooted and replanted are not new to me. However, the uprooting and replanting in novitiate involves much more than a physical and emotional reorientation. The inner attentiveness to the spiritual work can sometimes feel so intense that one will suffer the urge to run away… for good. Still awaiting my US citizenship, being an immigrant during this time of President Trump is especially daunting. In addition to the limitations of the novitiate year to studies and prayer (with no real active ministry), being a permanent resident instead of a citizen of this country limits my political and civic participation as well. It is especially hard for someone who has been, for long stretches of time, all of the above: full time employee (teacher), active parish minister/community volunteer, and a full time graduate student. It is even more difficult when issues arise about matters I am most concerned about and prepared to contribute my voice to especially as a member of a religious community: immigration, climate change, education, human rights and all other life issues. The feeling of not being able to do much looms over like a cloud.

Though the space in novitiate may initiate feelings of aloneness, it is always good to remind myself that novitiate is not an individual journey. It is a process I am undertaking with supportive members of the community I am discerning with. Besides this wonderful group of women, my novitiate has also been a journey with intercommunity communities -- other novices from other religious congregations who are in the same boat as I am. Just in our small group of five women and three men last semester, 4 continents in the world -- Asia, Africa, North, and South America, and six countries -- the United States, South Korea, Philippines, Kenya, Canada, and Guatemala were represented. Each week, every person in the group grew more into a strong source of support for the others. At some level, we all knew what each is experiencing and are able to be in solidarity without need for explanation. Novitiate is an instant bond that we share this year as we continue to navigate the combined intensity of community life, prayer and study, as well as the complexities of immigration and being a foreigner in these lands during these times. Even sojourners need companions on the journey.

For all my rant about this period of novitiate, I can appreciate that it is, most of all, a time of transformation. Timeouts give an agitated or angry student some much needed time to cool off. Composting, as disgusting as it is to look at, smell, and feel, can produce a great deal of richness and nutrients to make fertile soil that will eventually bring good harvest. Even the creepy crawlies have the important role of being useful catalyst friends-- there to hasten the breakdown and radical change of the muck. Feelings of helplessness bring to front the difficult yet fundamental lesson that I am nothing but dependent on God’s mercy and grace. Sandra Maitri has some wise words to help with my novitiate journey at this time: “When we have stood in an unprotected way in God’s light… we are marked by an awareness that characterizes a traveler in a new land… have a heightened sense of the realities of our lives… able to name who we really are and who we are not-- our limits, traps, affections, falseness and unfreedoms come clear as do our beautiful gifts.” As vocal as I am about the challenges of this process, I also need to proclaim that I am truly and honestly grateful for this time of formation and God’s work in me. There is definitely more than enough good here to, in the words of our founder St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, “Hazard yet forward!”