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!”

Friday, February 3, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

With most of America, I’ve been watching the news carefully these last two weeks.  Images of marching women – more than a million of them gathered together to assert hard-won rights – impressed me. 

I was energized by their solidarity, amazed by their command of an audience, humbled by their support in other countries.

I was NOT convinced by their insistence that a woman’s freedom relies on the right to end her unborn child’s life.

I’ve also watched the airport protesters chanting their outrage over the seven countries ban

Five days ago, those inconvenienced by the executive order were greeted with a sea of friendly faces in various American ports of call. 

“No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!” they chanted here in Boston. 

Again I was filled with joy, and again I thought about my own resistance to welcoming large numbers of people who seem to threaten our identity as a Christian nation, something I have more or less taken for granted most of my life.

What do we do with cognitive dissonance? 

…with feeling sorrow because a coming together of women in a show of power can’t eliminate the most self-destructive, disempowering act a woman can make?

…with feeling joy that people are leaving their autonomy to step out with others in favor of more others in order to eliminate the word, and the experience, “other”? 

…with feeling fear that new arrivals will move from there to here, but will not adapt to here?

…with feeling hope that they will?

…with knowing that Elizabeth Seton once described herself as a citizen of the world.

…with knowing that Elizabeth Seton wanted her sisters to be children of the Church.

…with wondering how to make these two dispositions of our foundress a holy solidarity in my own life.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Their Dignity

By Victoria Hood

Please read the following poem (which I wrote) in the context and consideration of my current ministry, which is working with adults in the Kansas City, KS, area who have developmental disabilities. Thank you.

Their Dignity

A person’s dignity, is a winter coat
enveloping their body in warmth
Protecting them, a warrior’s shield
from the harsh and cold reality
Everyone deserves and needs one
but money does not grow on trees.

When fine motor skills
elude individuals
Help the feeble and young fingers
pull zippers up to chins
Snap the hood
then teach them why they should
Put gloves in their pockets
for waging snowball wars.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day Prayer

Today, the United States officially receives its 45th president.  After one of the most divisive elections in national history, we hope and pray for healing among all people and that our government will be moved by the Spirit to work cooperatively for the common good.

The following is an adaptation of the prayer for civil authorities composed by Archbishop John Carroll for use on the occasion of the inauguration of George Washington in 1789.

      Almighty and eternal God,
      you have revealed your glory to all nations.

      God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
      through you authority is rightly administered,
      laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.

      We pray for the president:
      Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
      the President of these United States,
      that his administration may be conducted in righteousness,
      and be eminently useful to your people over whom he presides.
      May he encourage due respect for virtue and religion.
      May he execute the laws with justice and mercy.
      May he seek to restrain crime, vice, and immorality.

      We pray for the members of Congress:
      Let the light of your divine wisdom
      direct the deliberations of Congress,
      and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws
      framed for our rule and government.
      May they seek to preserve peace, promote national happiness,
      and continue to bring us the blessings of liberty and equality.

      We pray for state and local officials:
      We pray for governors,
      for the members of the legislature,
      for judges, elected civil officials,
      and all others who are entrusted to guard our political welfare.
      May they be enabled, by your powerful protection,
      to discharge their duties with honesty and ability.

      We likewise commend to your unbounded mercy,
      all citizens of the United States,
      that we be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your holy law.
      May we be preserved in union and that peace which the world cannot give;
      and, after enjoying the blessings of this life,
      be admitted to those which are eternal.

      We pray to you, who are Lord and God, for ever and ever.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Responding to God’s Love

By Whitney Schieltz

This week we returned to Ordinary Time; and after spending the holidays with my family in Ohio, I returned to community life and ministry at the Border.  As I caught up with friends and coworkers, many expressed a relief and joy for things to be “back to normal” after the busy Christmas season.  For me, however, Christmas was the break from busyness, and getting “back to normal” is returning to that busyness.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, by Harold Copping
As an introverted Enneagram Nine, I am not fond of large crowds and am inclined to live life at an unhurried pace.  So as I reflected on this week’s Gospel readings, it was challenging for me to imagine myself in Jesus’s place traveling from town to town as “people kept coming to him from everywhere.”  This was not a new thought, however, since the fast pace common to apostolic religious life has been an ongoing concern in my discernment. I often wonder if I will fall victim to exhaustion if I continue on this path to becoming a Sister.  I wonder how I should respond to God’s invitation to serve.

Pondering these questions, I remembered what Fr. James Martin, SJ, shared in his discussion of similar worries: “There is good news and there is better news.  The good news is that there is a Messiah.  The better news is that it’s not you!”  So looking back at 
Wednesday's Gospel, instead of identifying with Jesus, I looked to Simon Peter's mother-in-law for my cue of how to respond to God’s call.  After Jesus healed the woman, she immediately responded with an act of service.  God was not asking her to compete with the miraculous works of His son, only to spread His love by serving those around her.  She did in that moment what she was able to do.  And that is what God asks of us.

Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife, by John Bridges
God’s love is also what we need to restore us in times of exhaustion and distress.  As Jesus was fully human, he too was no stranger to these feelings and needed time away from the crowds to recuperate.  After many healings, “he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”  Through prayer, and through his Father’s love, he was restored and able to continue in his mission.  He always responded—even when he might have preferred to be alone.  And God will always respond when we call out to Him.

So now I ask myself: Am I ready to step out of my comfort zone and into the crowds?  Am I willing to put the needs of others before my own desires?  Am I willing to risk exhaustion in response to God’s love?  Do I trust that God will restore me when I turn to Him in prayer?  
How am I responding to God’s love?

Friday, January 6, 2017

My, How You’ve Grown!

By Sr. Andrea Koverman

Typically reserved for young children, this is not a comment most adults are accustomed to hearing.  It’s a joyous exclamation that gives expression to the wonder we experience when witnessing an infant transforming into a toddler, a child, an adolescent, an adult.  I’ve had the happy good fortune of sharing my office for the past few months with the precious new son of the director of the organization where I minister, and I have said those very words to him myself!

2 months old
5 months old

 So, I was surprised when Sr. Annina Morgan, still one of the sharpest dearest wisdom figures in my community at the age of 100, recently said something similar to me. I was one of many joyful people gathered to witness Sr. Annie Klapheke professing her first vows in early December, and went to say hello to Annina before the ceremony began. I remarked at what a happy occasion it was and how it seemed only yesterday that I was doing the same as Annie. I leaned down to kiss her velvety cheek and when I drew back and looked in her big brown eyes, she said, “But it’s already been more than a year—and look how you’ve grown!” Followed by an invitation to reflect further on that with, “How have you grown this year, Andrea?” She never lets an opportunity like that slip by!

Srs. Annie Klapheke and Annina Morgan

Musing and praying with that question has occupied my spirit ever since. Much more helpful than my typical where-have-you-failed-end-of-the-year reflection, this how-have-you grown reflection feels more fruitful already.

I have to admit that I am glad to see 2016 go. I can easily generate a list of blessings, joys, and gifts that I received during the year, and I am genuinely truly grateful for each of them. But, it has been a year of considerable loss and sorrow for me as well; things I never dreamt would happen have, and people I wasn’t ready to lose have gone. Sometimes I have felt like the battered little fishing boat out on the Sea of Galilee with a sleeping Jesus seemingly unconcerned or unaware of the storm I was struggling to weather. Mercifully, those moments pass relatively quickly, and hindsight helps me see how those painful experiences have helped me to grow in faith and trust in God. Like a best friend who just grows dearer and dearer, it is love that sees me through and love that gives me confidence that as Julian of Norwich said, “All is well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” come what may.

I know my heart will continue to break as I endeavor to live out my community’s charism of responding with care to the needs of our time in ways that are sure to feel risky. In his homily at my mother’s funeral now several years ago, Fr. Gino looked at my brother and sister and me sitting with our arms around each other and told us we would have to make a conscious choice that day. Rather than allowing our hearts to close in an attempt to avoid the kind of pain we were feeling, we would have to choose to love again, which with all certainty would mean we would suffer again. 

On January 4th, we celebrate the feast day of the foundress of my community, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who relied on God’s grace to give her the courage and strength to choose to love again each time she experienced a fresh heartbreak. That grace saw her through the deaths of her husband and two children, through the rejection and scorn of family and friends when she converted to Catholicism, and through the many obstacles, hardships and disappointments of starting a new religious community. “Be prepared to meet your grace in every circumstance of life,” is a commonly cited quote of hers. In reflecting on the year behind me, I whisper a prayer of thanks for the grace that leaves me with a heart in tact and open to love despite my own heartaches. I wonder how “prepared” I am to meet God’s grace for whatever is coming next, and I pray that I am even more aware of God’s gift of readily available and always accessible grace in the year to come.

Like I used to tell my students, hoping to do well is not the same as being prepared to do well—that takes effort. How can I prepare to meet God’s grace? Just as it is with any relationship, the most important thing is time. Time for talking, praying, listening, meditating, just being and enjoying each other’s company. In the busyness of life, I’ll have to make it a priority to invest the time with God that will allow our relationship to deepen or it won’t happen. Making the effort it will take to grow in awareness and reliance upon meeting my grace is at the top of my new year’s resolution list! What’s at the top of yours?