Monday, February 29, 2016

Intimacy: "Into me see"

By Sr. Judy Donohue


I find intimacy a call of my heart.  Jesus had three close intimate relationships with the apostles: John, Peter and James. He also was a good friend of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. I just completed a four day workshop with Sr. Lynn Levo CSJ on Psycho-Sexual development. She stated “I need you to complete me, you need me to complete you.” We find ourselves in relationships. In my ministry at our assisted living center: Carrico Hall, I have enjoyed getting to know our sisters and share their life stories. I have sorted stamps, pictures, put together puzzles as well as shared vocation stories.  In these life experiences, I identify with some things in my own life.  Yes, I too was shy.  Yes, I wanted to avoid the call. Yes, I am often confused on what God’s will is.  Yes, God wants to direct us every step of the way and give us peace.  

In the novitiate, the inner journeying process helps us to find out who we are.  I am discovering many things about myself that I am learning to accept. Some good, some challenging. Mostly that I am infinitely loved by a great lover of a God. I am not perfect, but I am loved. God desires to spend time with us. God wants to know us intimately. God desires to be in the same room with us just as we desire to be with those we love. As I learn to be vulnerable, to self-disclose, and continue trusting the process, I am growing in intimacy.  We are frail, tender, sometimes weak human beings who need support. During this season of Lent, God is drawing us ever nearer to Godself with mercy that is greater than the ocean in depth, length, height and width. Thank God I am not alone. Thank God for the journey.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Fruits of Our Lives

By Sr. Annie Klapheke

“Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God, ‘I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me.’  And having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow down in his presence.”
Deuteronomy 26:5,10

I am currently in Antigua, Guatemala for a ten week language immersion.  When I heard these words from Deuteronomy on the first Sunday of Lent, they came alive in a new way.  Antigua is world-renowned for its celebration of Lent and Holy Week.  One of the traditions associated with these celebrations is the creation of alfombras.  These elaborate “carpets” are created on the church floors and in the streets using colored sawdust, flowers, seeds, vegetables, fruits, pine needles and other various plants.  The carefully crafted creations are, quite literally, an offering to God of the “fruits of the soil”.   

Here is a good reflection question for Lent:  Do I offer the first fruits of my life to God?  In other words, do I use my gifts first for the glory of God?  Or is my first priority to use my gifts to promote my own well-being, comfort and security?  As this verse from Deuteronomy reminds us, our gifts are not of our own achievement; rather they are products of the soil which the Lord has given us.  Since we have received without cost, we are to give without cost. 

How can we offer the fruits of our lives to God? 

Jesus offers some helpful advice:  what you do for the least ones, you do for me (Matthew 25:40).  During this season of Lent, may we recognize the fruits of our lives and offer them, first and foremost, for God and God’s people.



Alfombra in La Merced in Antigua, Guatemala (Annie Klapheke)

Alfombra in La Merced in Antigua, Guatemala (Annie Klapheke)

Alfombra in La Catedral in Antigua, Guatemala (Annie Klapheke)

Alfombra in the streets of Antigua, Guatemala (Annie Klapheke)

Alfombra in the streets of Antigua, Guatemala (Annie Klapheke)
Alfombra in the streets of Antigua, Guatemala (Annie Klapheke)





Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mirror

By Whitney Schieltz



One morning while rushing to get dressed for a busy day, I peered at my mirror and became frustrated by the array of prayer cards and saintly portraits obstructing my reflection.  Although my initial reaction was to push the hindrances out of the way, I suddenly realized that the mirror was a perfect metaphor for my transition into religious life and the Lenten season.

Living in community with five other women along the U.S.-Mexico border has certainly had its challenges, but it has helped me grow into a more humble, compassionate, and faithful person.  When I found my reflection behind the other faces in my mirror, I pondered the many people who have influenced my path to religious life.  From the friends and family who have encouraged my discernment to the saints whose lives have inspired me in deepening my relationship with God, I have never been alone in my journey; and in that moment, I gave thanks for the mysterious ways in which the Holy Spirit has been present throughout my life.

As I visualized those people from my past and present—individuals who have helped me in some way—I also imagined the unknown people whom I may someday be able to help.  Looking back at me in the mirror was a young woman who puts the needs of others before her own wants and needs.  She was a woman who understands that God lives in the interactions we have with one another and in the love we share with the world.  She was a woman unafraid and unselfish.  She was the woman I hope I am brave enough to be.

With Lent beginning, I continue to reflect on the ways in which I am growing into a more loving disciple of Christ.  Much like my addition of inspirational images and messages on my mirror, I intend to add to my daily routine instead of focusing on the traditional Lenten practice of subtraction.  I am going to spend more time in prayer, more time in nature, more time getting to know the people around me, and more time living in the moment with a joyful, loving heart.  As my formation in religious life progresses and new challenges and frustrations arise, I look forward to the ways in which I will continue to grow and reflect on God’s graces in my life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent

By Melissa Catherine Fisackerly


Today we begin the holy season of Lent. This is perfect since it is the Year of Mercy. We are asked to be more merciful to our sisters and brothers. Pope Francis tells us in his message for Lent, "God's mercy reminds us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help ourselves and our neighbors in body and spirit."

Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I experienced Lent to its fullest potential with my parents. When I was younger, I treated Lent as a "holiday." At school my friends and I would gather at lunch or recess and asked each other, "what will you give up?" - Broccoli, homework, school lunch, or how about going to school. Looking back, I realize my literal experience of Lent as a turning point in my faith life. I can assure you two things, one is that the seed to know more about Lent was planted inside of me and two, Lent is something I want to be interested in, benefit from, and even value what will be a life-changing experience with God. 

So what is Lent? How do we observe Lent? Why do we observe Lent? In the south, some people view Lent as a time to recover from the Mardi Gras week(s), while others truly observe the sacredness of what calls us forth as Catholics. Lent is more than just giving up chocolate, carbs, beer or social media, which is not a bad idea. The externals can get in the way of the focus of fasting, moderation and self denial. A good example is: if I give up my Facebook/computer time, I'm helping my family, friends, and community by being more present. That's a work of mercy. If I give up sweets it doesn't help anyone but me. To "give up" something that helps others not yourself, that's real sacrifice. During these next few weeks of Lent, I hope to go deeper in my relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. What can you give up to help someone in need? How will your relationship with God differ 40 days from when you started Lent? Something to ponder...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

To See as God Sees

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC

Hola from Guatemala! Thanks to my community, I’m in the middle of a four-week Spanish immersion program in Antigua, Guatemala. I’m getting seven hours of individual instruction a day and boarding with a native resident, trying to get a good start on learning America’s second language. I studied French in school, but realized Spanish would have been much more practical as soon as I started teaching and the migrant population that came to South Carolina during the harvest season began staying in the area. Besides teaching in “migrant school” during several summers, the Spanish-speaking students became a growing part of our regular student body. The need to be able to converse, even minimally in Spanish has grown increasingly obvious ever since. The students I taught in El Paso during formation, the women and children of Proyecto Santo Nino, in Anapra, Mexico, the immigrants settling in Cincinnati from Central America, and the issue of immigration reform as an area of focus where I work (the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center) all are compelling reasons for taking the plunge here in Guatemala.

In addition to learning to hablar EspaƱola, this experience has given me another opportunity, one that I wasn’t expecting. Working like a maniac before I left so that my absence would be as unproblematic as possible, I didn’t have too much time to reflect on what I was entering into until I finally plopped my frazzled self down in my window seat on the airplane, took a deep breath or two, and said a quick prayer for the safe keeping of all those I was leaving behind and a safe journey for myself.

As I began to relax, I thought about how much I love flying. I never fail to be amazed as I am lifted off of the ground and up into the friendly skies, but that is only part of what I love about it. As the plane ascends and reaches cruising altitude, I almost always have a sharpened sense of God’s presence there with me. Maybe it’s something left over from childhood when I thought God lived up in the sky in a place called heaven, but when I’m up in the heavens too, it’s easy for me to imagine that I’m a little closer to my creator. Looking out the window, I watched intently as I rose above the airport and surrounding neighborhood, and the city and urban sprawl began shrinking into a blur. Things look quite different from this elevated vantage point. I smiled to think that maybe I was seeing the world the way that God does. And suddenly, there it was: an invitation to try to do just that as I took up temporary residence in unfamiliar territory.

To see as God sees, to love as God loves, to be merciful and forgiving as God is merciful and forgiving is challenging because, as Isaiah tells us, God’s ways are not our ways. We have to recognize and actively choose not to act out of pride, ego, or woundedness in order to align our hearts with God’s. Not an easy task, and one I am constantly working on, but it’s what we are called to. Looking out the window again, I didn’t see my city, my state, my country. I saw God’s world--without the artificial man-made borders and barricades that serve political and economic purposes, but not those of God. The higher we went, the easier it was to see that we were created and meant to live interdependently within the bounty and diversity of all humanity and nature. It was so beautifully obvious looking down at all the water and vegetation, that God has given us everything we need to thrive; there is no scarcity to fear as long as we cooperate and share resources with one another.

I am determined to spend my month looking at Guatemala and its people through God’s eyes, to be conscious that each new person I meet is my sister or brother. It is an incredibly beautiful county, in which nearly every building is draped in a luxurious blanket of vibrant flora, and the markets are packed with baskets of more fruits and vegetables than I can name. Like it is in the U.S., it’s hard to understand how anyone could go hungry in this land of plenty. But, for many, especially the indigenous people, life is characterized by the extreme poverty, discrimination, and violence that have prompted them to flee in desperation to the States. I recognize my own vulnerability in witnessing theirs, and by looking into their faces, realize how deeply responsible we are for one another. I know that I will look at the immigrants and other people I encounter when I’m back in Cincinnati with a vision that is a little sharper than it was before I came, and hopefully, a little more in the same way that God looks upon us all, with compassion, concern, and love. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Love of God and Love of Neighbour

By Sr. Carlette Gentle

This week is World Interfaith Harmony Week.  What is that you ask?  It is an initiative that was started to call Muslims and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God and Love of Neighbour, without compromising any of their religious doctrines. 

“What a beautiful initiative.”  One that allows us to take the gaze and focus from ourselves and look out to others.  This is a task that might seem hard because we are trying to change years of what we have been taught.  Growing up, I had friends that came from different religious backgrounds but that didn’t mean a thing to me.  As I got older, I started to learn and understand the differences between the diverse religions. But even though I was learning about them and the different customs, the thing that kept me grounded was my friendship, the LOVE of my friends. I knew them before I knew about religion.  Therefore, our friendship stayed strong because we focussed on the human being, the person inside, the person I knew before stereo types of religion were placed on them, the person I know was praising the same God, but in different ways.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we did not have dividing lines?


I think of a world where the “Love of God and the Love of Neighbour”, is the center of all we do.  When we can all stop and take a look at what we are doing when we say we are praising God.  I think of a world where pain is created just by the natural process of life.  I think of a world where equality is evident and we are all equal.  I think of a world where the supply and demand for food is enough for all of God’s creation.  I think of a world where children can be children and not forced to grow up before their time.  I think of a world where we all strive to uplift and support each other instead of bringing each other down.  I actually dream of a world where we all strive for one common goal and that is to Love God and through loving God, we love our neighbours because God is present in each and every human being no matter who we are.  Wouldn’t that be a world at peace?  We would basically live for God and neighbour waking up every day striving to live for God through our neighbours.  I personally think this can happen and is happening.  Our little spark can become a wild fire.  So let us keep our sparks going. Soon there will be enough sparks that we can create our own worldly wild fire where Love of all is evident in the mix.