Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Vocation of Location and the Presents of Presence

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Andrea

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

I grew up with several family members who were Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.  The one that was a regular part of my life as long as I can remember was my dad’s sister, my Aunt Jane. We became very close as I grew up, and I visited her in person whenever I came home from South Carolina. She was bedridden the last several years of her life and I phoned her every Sunday I could while I was away. Known in community as Sr. Mary Joseph, she was a brilliant woman who wanted to be a medical missionary. She was told by the superior at the time of her entrance (around 1940) that as soon as the Vatican granted permission she would be allowed to study medicine and pursue her call. That never happened for her and she spent her life teaching high school science instead. That was a great disappointment to her, and it took her whole life to come to peace with it, and to recognize the grace it provided. I was the lucky recipient of the wisdom her life had taught her. As I entered into discernment about religious life, she shared a nugget with me that I find guiding my life especially now.

Aunt Jane, or Sr. Mary Joseph
She had had a bad spell and thought that she surely was going home to God, but she rebounded and was rather disappointed to find herself back among the living. She said to me, “I wonder why God doesn’t want me yet. He has taken so many others, but not me.” The she told me that she spent a great deal of her life thinking that God had a big job for her to do, and anxious that she couldn’t figure out what it was. She finally came to understand that she would probably never know what that purpose was, but that it wasn’t a big thing like she had thought. It could have been something very small, something so small that she wouldn’t even think it was important. It could have been something as simple as a smile or a kind word to someone who desperately needed to be acknowledged and treated with kindness. That little gesture might have changed the course of their day, or maybe even their life. It could have rippled out beyond that person and affected untold others. She came to peace that whatever it was was not hers to know, and to trust that by putting herself at God’s service, God had used her for good.

As Sr. Tracy and I discerned the elements of religious life we wanted to incorporate into community living in Visitation House (the local house we started after first profession of vows), this wisdom of Aunt Jane’s translated into a sort of “vocation of location.” We wanted to live in a neighborhood in need where we know we won’t likely be able to make dramatic changes, but hope that our loving presence might make a difference. As sisters Annie Klapheke and Louise Lears joined us, we were provided with an opportunity to do just that. Two other sisters in the community had made it their special project to find us a suitable home and successfully persuaded a local developer to purchase a large old Victorian that he would rent to us.

Visitation House community (from left to right):
Annie, Louise, Tracy, and Andrea
We had no idea just how needy our new home in East Price Hill really would be. We have seen children waging rock-throwing campaigns at passing motorists and pedestrians, alcoholics passed out on the sidewalk and addicts barely able to stay on their feet. We often hear violent domestic disputes and street gangs fighting, and frequent gunshots against the backdrop of sirens. Though the description sounds pretty awful, there are some wonderful things as well and we are happy to be here. We may not be able to fix all the problems at this urban margin, but we are beginning to see ways to honor this vocation of location.

If you read Annie’s last blog, you already know about the woman she called “Sharon.” As I started to hand her a few dollars for food, I knew it was one of the opportunities that we were hoping for, and sat down next to her. As I listened to the horrible story of her life, I ached with her need and my helplessness. All I could do was just be there. At one point she turned her head away from me and said, “You make me cry.” I had heard a lot to cry about and wondered what I could be doing to compare and asked her why. She said, “’Cause you look at me like you care.” I told her I did care and how hard it was to see her in such pain. I told her that I believe that we are all sisters and brothers so when one of us is hurting, we all hurt. She asked for a hug and then headed down the street to get her “stuff” with a promise that she would return to the rehab center the next day.

I hope Sharon felt God’s embrace when I hugged her. I know I did, and though I was worried for her I marveled at the deep-down joy I felt at being granted the supreme privilege of seeing Sharon through God’s eyes and being God’s arms to hold her at a moment when that meant more to her than the money she got from me. What a gift!

As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that the “presents of presence” are just as generously showered on the giver as they are on the receiver, and many memories of those graced occasions came to me.

Sr. Kateri (on the left)
One of the most vivid memories was of a day not too long ago that I would describe as a pretty bad day for me. I had been with my cousin, Sr. Kateri as she received the news that she had terminal cancer. After staying with her a few hours, she was ready for a rest and I went downtown to work. I stopped to get something to eat and was met at the front door by a guy selling the publication produced by the Homeless Coalition to help people try to earn a little income. My heart was already broken wide open and I think I was still a little dazed at what was happening, so when he said, “Hey, little sister, will you help me out and buy a paper?” I didn’t think I had the energy to stop and talk with him. But I did, and am now convinced that God put him there just for me. His name is Andre; he only has a few teeth left, and obviously suffers from very poor health. But that man knows his Bible, and he was soon preaching about God’s love and saying things I really needed to hear. He likes to ask theological questions, and we had a great conversation sharing our favorite passages affirming the breadth and depth of God’s unfathomable, ever faithful, ever present love. Then Andre asked my sign, but before I could answer, he said, “Don’t tell me! I know! You’re an Aries!” I smiled in acknowledgement as he proceeded to tell me all about myself with pretty amazing accuracy. “You’ve got a tongue of fire hovering your head and your spirit is a fiery one! That passion gets you into trouble sometimes but you’re learning how to tame it without putting it out. Yah, you get it little sister! Amen!”

receiving the presents of being present
When I told him I didn’t have any cash for a paper, he said he’d take a sandwich from the shop instead. I took his order (three bean and cheese burritos and a quart of 2% milk). He had found someone else to preach to when I came out with his lunch, so I set it down next to him and gave him a quick hug. As I walked away towards my car, he hollered out in his big booming voice, “You sure are sweet, child of God!” I was grinning from ear to ear, knowing I had just a chat with God. In being intentional about being present to this homeless man, reduced to begging people for help, I had received the present of knowing God was right there with me and was strengthened for what lie ahead.

Receiving the presents of being present is as easy as practicing the vocation of location. Do it wherever you are in whatever way you can. It may not seem like anything earthshaking or significant, but it can mean the world to someone in need. And you will receive the greatest gifts of all!

1 comment:

  1. Great insight Andrea, thanks for sharing. Continued blessings on your vocation of location.

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