Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ready to Set Sail

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC

Click HERE to learn more about Andrea
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The 2018 cohort representing eight countries and spanning across two generations.
Three years ago on June 27th, I made my first profession of vows along with my sole band-mate, Tracy Kemme. Having now fulfilled the canonically required interim period between initial and final profession, we were invited to participate in a program designed for women and men religious who are discerning a life commitment. Sponsored and organized by the Religious Formation Conference, the weeklong gathering provides time and space to reflect upon each of the individual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; the call, gifts and challenges of community/communal life; and religious life in its entirety as “A Prophetic Enterprise in the 21st Century.”

When I told people that I was going to a Life Commitment Program, many replied, “Oh, vow camp-I did that!” “Vow camp?” I thought. Would it be like boot camp? A rigorous and arduous final test of stamina and perseverance? Thankfully, no, not at all. Rather, it was a grace-filled and sacred time to reflect on my discernment journey with God, with wise seasoned “lifers” (including my own community-mate, Sr. Janet Gildea☺), and with a wonderful troupe of fellow travelers. It was a time to look at who God has called me to grow into through periods of both profound joy and painful challenge and disappointment. And it was a time to contemplate my desire and readiness to commit to doing this for the rest of my life. 

I have a sign taped to the computer on my desk at the Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center where I do my ministry that reads, Not for the Faint of Heart. More than once, I’ve found that to be quite a fitting description of the formation process and religious life, a life of intentional self-examination and commitment to continuous transformation and conversion. Despite the challenges, for me it is a life form as attractive as a light in the darkness is to a moth. At our opening session, Sr. Charlene Diorka, SSJ asked the group, “Why are you here?” The answer that popped in my head was, “Because I can’t help it!” I can’t resist God drawing me further and further into discovering God and my true self. Though fleeting, the moments of feeling in union with God are so intoxicating and blissful, they far outweigh the work it takes to get to them - the labor pains. I thought of all the people who have helped me get to this point, especially some of my sisters who have coached me through the toughest of growing pains. Sister of Charity of New York, Regina Bechtle’s poem below came to mind. Religious life is a life of labor, but it’s a labor of love. God’s love for us, and the reciprocal love of God by us.

Hard Labor

No C-section for this birth.
You will choose the riskier way,
the way of pushes, gentle or grueling,
of breathing in rhythm with pain.
You choose the wisest midwives,
doulas with muscled hands for you to grip.
They will rub fragrant lotion on pressure points
and murmur into your worst contractions,
“You’re doing just fine.”

You choose not to dull the pain
but to lean into it.
You labor, long and hard.
Somehow you know that waiting
is labor’s hardest part.

                                                            ~Regina Bechtle, SC

Sr. Charlene also asked us to select a picture that represents how we feel about religious life. This picture captured much of my feelings. It is a faith-fueled exciting adventure! Sometimes it’s smooth sailing like in the picture, sometimes the waters churn and get choppy. Though I can’t see where it is I’m headed, I trust that God is calling me, so I can take my hands off the wheel of the helm, throw them up in the air and let God steer the course! 

The last day of the program was a day with limited input and time for reflection and integration of all we had explored during the week. It was a beautiful sunny day, so I went outside and sat on a bench that was tucked beneath a cluster of trees. Again, I thought of the parallels between a woman laboring to give birth to new life, and religious life. It is the framework that allows me to bring to life the person God created me to be, and in response to be a life bearer to God’s people most in need along my way. As a soft breeze danced across my face, I leaned my head back and looked up. The perfectly formed opening to the heavens made by the branches above me made me laugh! It appeared like an invitation beckoning me forward. I imagined myself at the bow of my little boat, arms raised in exhilaration, as I sailed through, “Okay, here I come, God!” 


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Leaving It In God's Hands

by S. Carlette Gentle, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

Click HERE to learn more about Carlette
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Have you ever had those days, months or even year/s when you felt like nothing was going right no matter how hard you worked; trying to fix it all? Well I had one of those months recently. It seemed like everything around me was literally falling apart. I was frustrated but I tried to keep it together and keep things in control. I tried to handle it all but my “I can do this” power was running low. The car I use had to go to the mechanic because it was not working. One day turned into two days then, a week, then two weeks, then three. My laptop decided it needed a rest and gave me warning that the battery is about dead. The refrigerator and deep freeze at the convent both stopped working around the same time. The van that I use to transport my clients daily back and forth to their clinic appointments decided to quit on us and the mechanic told us it might take two to three months for the part to get to Belize if they ordered it. In addition to this, our community was planning our General Assembly in India and the visa that I applied for was late in coming and we only had about two weeks before we had to head to India and the visa had not come yet. I needed my visa in order to book my ticket. I tried to stay calm and in control but nothing seemed to be working out right. What made it worst, I was not sleeping at night worrying about what I could do to solve and fix any one of these problems. It finally got to the point where it seemed like I could no longer hold things together. I was tired, I was getting angry, my frustration was “off the wall” and I realized that maybe I am not the super woman I thought I was.

I decided to speak to one of our sisters about all that was happening in my life and, she listened intently and when I was finished she said, “Things are evolving, leave it up to God and get a good night’s sleep.” I thought to myself, evolving? “I need to get these things back to normal.” Anyway, I said, “thanks for the advice” and I tried to sleep that night. Well I could not sleep. I woke up at 4:30 that morning and sat on our porch. I watched as the sun rose while the cool morning breeze surrounded my body and caressed my face. I closed my eyes and savored the moment. After my prayer, I stood up, lifted my hands, raised my head to the sky and said, “Ok God I know I am not in control here. I leave it all up to you, I am letting go.” At that moment, the tension I felt behind my neck and head lifted. My shoulders loosened and it felt relaxed. I breathe in the fresh air of the Caribbean and felt God in the breeze. I could almost feel God saying, “Feel my presence I am here.” After my time with God, I felt like I was going to have a good day. I felt so comforted throughout the day, I thought to myself, “Carlette why do you always try to be in control when you know God is the one in control.” I went about the day saying, “I am not going to stress about anything, God is in control.” And, would you believe it, that day things started to fall into place. With the help of my community, the part for the van was ordered and a sister and her group was coming to Belize two days later so they brought the part needed. The appliance repairperson was able to come in on a weekend to repair both the refrigerator and deep freeze. I finally got a call saying that the car I used was actually ready. I received a call a couple days later saying that my visa arrived. The battery for my laptop was ordered and it was replaced. My ticket to India could be purchased because my visa arrived.

I continue to learn my lesson. Things may not always go my way as I plan them or even on my time. I continue to have faith and hope that God continues to make things evolve on God’s time, which may not necessarily be my time. World events today make me turn to God constantly because I feel helpless to address the needs of so many on every continent. I believe that I need to continue to do all I can to work with others to make a difference, and then go back to the porch and talk with God. I am learning that we cannot do it alone but, with God, all things are possible. I raised my hands to God and I said, “I got it, you are in control.” I continue to remember to do what I can and leave it all in God’s hands.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A different kind of Fourth of July

SC Federation First Professed

Last Fourth of July was remarkable.  Since the Shariff family’s arrival in April, we’d been bonding with them over delicious Somali food and tea.  Now, we invited them for a cookout to celebrate their first “Independence Day” as Americans.

The Shariffs spent ten years in refugee camps in Ethiopia before gaining passage to the United States.  Their youngest son was born in a camp and knew nothing else throughout his earliest years.  In fact, it was his innocent, impassioned begging that convinced the UNHCR representatives to approve the Shariffs for resettlement.  The two parents and nine of their eleven children flew to Cincinnati to begin their new lives in the spring of 2017.  They carried painful memories and trauma, very little money, and worry about what the future would hold.  But they also carried their strong Muslim faith, the hope and resilience that had gotten them so far already, and their unbreakable family bond.

Thanks be to God, the Shariffs came into my life on their second day in the United States.  Catholic Charities initially struggled to find housing for eleven people, so the Sisters of Charity offered them a home until they could get on their feet.  From the first encounter with them as they climbed out of the white van, their belongings in grocery bags, I sensed that they were something special.

In the coming weeks, the Sisters and the Shariffs became family.  Our admiration and affection grew as we heard their stories and felt the warmth of their love and hospitality.  We delighted in watching them courageously dive into their new lives.  They wasted no time researching schools, jobs, drivers’ licenses, and more, their faces often brilliant with joy and determination even after all they’d been through.  When they found a house to rent, we kept in touch and visited.

Then, on the Fourth of July, we drove three cars over to bring them back to our place.  They smiled brightly at our welcome sign written in Somali.  They tried our grilled halal chicken and veggies, potato salad, corn on the cob, and fresh watermelon.  We played games, and the girls gave us exquisite henna tattoos.  We finished the day with Annie’s lovely American flag cake and ice cream – a Shariff favorite.

It was the most meaningful Fourth of July of my life.  Celebrating our beloved new Americans was the perfect alternative to the militant false patriotism that tends to characterize this ambiguous holiday.  Our friendship with the Shariffs shows me the best of who we can be as a country and as a human family.

This year, the Fourth of July promises to be similarly profound but tinged in sadness.  Lazaro, a well-known and much-loved Holy Family parishioner, moves back to Guatemala on July fifth after eight years in Cincinnati, working sixteen-hour days at two cleaning jobs and leading the parish charismatic group.  The money he earned has supported his wife and five youngest children in his humble, hill-country town of San Miguel, and now, he says, it is time to return home to them.  He leaves his three oldest children here, and they’ve invited me to a farewell cookout on the Fourth.

Amalia, Lazaro’s oldest daughter, clutched my hand after Mass on Sunday.  We had blessed Lazaro at the close of the liturgy and now were gathered at a pizza party in his honor.  Her forlorn eyes misted as she whispered, “I don’t know when I will ever see him again.”

Amalia hasn’t seen her mother or five younger siblings since she migrated to the U.S. as a teenager, and this week, she effectively loses her father, too.  Our current immigration policy allows no path to citizenship for people like Lazaro or Amalia, and their undocumented status prevents them from visiting.

And so, instead of cheering our country on “Independence Day,” I will mourn its injustice.  I will sit in lawn chairs with Amalia and her two other siblings, sharing a meal of carne asada as they soak up their last afternoon with their Dad.  Then, at 4:30am on Thursday, I’ll pick them up and take them to the airport for Lazaro’s 7:00am flight.
Our laws have caused Lazaro and his family suffering.  As long as we put off comprehensive immigration reform, they will be divided.  But that seems to be of little concern to our nation who is now actively dividing parents from children at our borders.   All of this shows me the worst of who we can be as a country and a human family.

When Pope Francis addresses Congress in 2015, he said, “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).  This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us."

The Pope's challenge could inspire us to a different kind of Fourth of July.  Rather than a day to reinforce a propaganda-laden image of the United States as the “greatest country in the world,” this could be a moment to pause and decide who we really want to be.  Rather than immaturely crying, “America first!” we could act for the common good.  Rather than independence, we could work toward interdependence.  Rather than simply admiring fireworks in the sky, we could ask God to enkindle a fire in our hearts to work toward the Kingdom. Rather than letting history unfold as it will, we could choose to celebrate what is good in our country and adamantly resist what is evil and unjust.

This is the question on my heart this Fourth of July: What kind of a country do you want to live in?  And what are you doing to make it that way?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Let's Get Creative

By Sr. Whitney Schieltz, SC Federation Canonical Novice

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

      Click HERE to learn more about Whitney

I often use the word creative to describe myself; and this past year as a canonical novice has been an opportune time to explore the importance of creativity in my life. When I think of what it means to be creative, the first activities that come to mind are painting, sculpting, writing, and even cooking—activities that are completely within my control and can be done in a short amount of time. However, this spring I have found a new creative outlet—one that requires patience, dedication, and letting go of control and the idea of perfection—and that is gardening.

As the arrival of spring evoked conversations about what to plant in the raised beds around our house, I began reading articles and watching online videos about how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden. During my research, I came across numerous discussions about the physical, mental, and spiritual health benefits of gardening; but it wasn't until I actually dug in and began planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting that I realized how miraculous gardening is. As a kid, we always had a garden in our back yard, but I was more of a harvester/consumer than a planter/grower. Now, however, I understand what drove my mom to spend hours at a time kneeling in the dirt, pulling weeds, and dragging a heavy hose around.

some of the raised beds outside the Novitiate House

While my earlier ideas of creative projects focused more on the final product, gardening reminds me of the importance of the creative process. When I'm working in the garden, all of my senses are engaged. I feel the sun beating down and the breeze blowing by; I hear the birds in the trees and the airplanes overhead; I smell the flowers in bloom; I taste the dirt being stirred into the air; and I see the arrival of new sprouts and blooms. I am hard at work, co-creating with God, but I am also still and silent. It is a perfect place for meditation and prayer.

I'm especially fascinated by the potatoes!

It’s no wonder there is so much imagery of gardens, cultivation, and harvest used in scripture to deliver the Good News. My previous spiritual director often referenced these terms, as well; but it didn't really translate until now. Now that I have experienced the literal cultivation and tending of a garden, perhaps I will better be able to heed the wisdom of St. Teresa of Avila and tend the landscape of my soul.

"Beginners must realize that in order to give delight to the Lord they are starting to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of abominable weeds. His Majesty pulls up the weeds and plants good seed. Now let us keep in mind that all of this is already done by the time a soul is determined to practice prayer and has begun to make use of it. And with the help of God we must strive like good gardeners to get these plants to grow and take pains to water them so that they don’t wither but come to bud and flower and give forth a most pleasant fragrance to provide refreshment for this Lord of ours. Then He will often come to take delight in this garden and find His joy among these virtues." 
– St. Teresa of Avila

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Ministry of Presence

By Sr. Judy Donohue, SC Federation Temporary Professed

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      Click HERE to learn more about Judy

In my position as Life Enrichment (Activity) Assistant at Forest Springs Health Campus, in northern Jefferson County (Louisville, KY), I am very blessed to minister with residents during the Golden years of their lives. I also meet younger people during times of rehabilitation. All these people are vulnerable and are experiencing many of life’s transitions; the death of spouses, children or siblings, leaving your long time familiar home, health challenges, for instance: a stroke which may take away your right or left side muscle function, speech, etc. It can all be overwhelming.

It is a privilege to minister to these people and honor them as treasured children of God: to offer a smile, a hug or a listening ear to someone who’s world maybe turning upside down. This ministry is very challenging, diverse and fulfilling. My ministry includes leading exercises, arts and crafts, and sing-a-longs. I enjoy assisting with Happy hour when an entertainer comes in and preforms. I serve the snacks and refreshments. This is always an uplifting time. During Bingo, I may tell a joke to lighten the atmosphere. I do activity assessments as well as recruit people to come to all our activities. I’m getting to know the staff, offering them needed encouragement too.

God is showing me as I do activities for the residents I am also to be fully present to listening to their unsaid needs. What does “being present” mean anyway? I had a friend who was recently in the hospital. I visited her. I wanted to do things for her but she just wanted me to be with her. Deep down I knew being with her was what God was asking of me. God who is always fully present to us does not need to be doing anything. God does not need to achieve.

How can I be fully present to others without looking at my cell phone or wondering what is the next thing I need to get done? Let’s use Jesus as our example of being present to others. He gave his full attention, was interested in their needs. He knew their heart and provided for them. God is all ears. We are always in God’s full attention. S/He has no agenda nor distractions. I serve God by being present to others. I pray to be 100% interested in who I am being with today.

As I have often been challenged to live in the now, I’m understanding deeper what that means. To me it means not dwelling in the past or future but being fully aware and enjoying the present; making the most of today, this moment, enjoying the gifts of slowing down and taking time for the residents. One residents shared how she missed her church family, I affirmed how hard that is. Another resident’s daughter shared about her son’s overdose. I offered a prayer of comfort. By slowing down, I’m hearing what people need to say. Thank God for the gift of the ministry of presence.