Sunday, September 16, 2018

Throwing Words into the Fire


By Sr. Laura Coughlin, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill (Perpetually Professed)
 
Then Aaron said to Moses, “They gave me words, I threw them into the fire, and out came this paper!”

Ex 32:24 [Revised Late-Night Standard Student Version - RLNSSV]

Right now I have a headache, my brain hurts, my eyeballs have filed a complaint with OSHA, and I’ve been talking to myself for two hours.  I like to communicate with myself out loud when proofreading a paper or trying to pull a lecture together.  Sometimes I do it to refine arguments.  Over and over and over I throw my ideas into a raging fire and some “product” comes out.  For reasons I don’t understand, my golden calf often (almost always) moos better when I’m alone than it does when I give it to others.  How it saddens me that I can only be brilliant when I’m by myself!  It’s a strange cross. 
Yet if I’ve learned anything in the last five years of graduate school, it’s that interpretation matters.  So why not imagine that if our God is a jealous God then it may be that he wants to keep my brilliance all to himself!  Or perhaps he’s teaching me not to cling tightly to marvelous arguments.  Or maybe he’s saying, “give those words to me and I’ll know where and when to plant them.” 
Tomorrow I will teach college students Augustine’s Tractate 122 – an exegesis of John’s big fish story. 
Lord, teach me how to throw my words into the fire and offer them up to you as a sacrifice which pleases.    

The message of the cross is…the power of God.  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”

1 Cor 1:18-19 [NAB]

In Memoriam


As a final word, I’d like to share with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati my joy at having gotten to know one of your sisters, Terry Deri, over the course of this last year.  Terry passed away peacefully on Tuesday at Mount St. Joseph, the Cincinnati motherhouse.  Although having known her for only a short time, I will really miss her.  Terry was a sharp conversationalist, had a great sense of humor, and was a truly interesting woman.  She lived for a number of years in Peru and many of her favorite stories were from this exciting time in her life.  She worked as a counselor when she returned to the United States, and she had keen insights from this work into human motivations. 
Terry’s last sickness was painful and hard, but she was never without the aid of one of my own sisters, Cory, with whom Terry lived.  My recollection of Terry will hardly linger on her last illness, but on her wry smile, her sharp wit, and her insightful observations at particular points in a conversation.  Both sisters in their relationship of caring for one another, and in their extension of friendship to me in a time of hardship, have shown me firsthand how to carry a cross with joy.
Above is a picture of Terry superimposed over the thesis she presented to Loyola University in 1986.  This paper was one of Terry’s “products.”  She spoke of it occasionally as a moment of personal triumph.  As is evident in the picture, God took the ideas Terry had refined in the fire of her heart and moved them powerfully into the hearts of her examiners.  Then he moved those ideas through Terry’s life out into the world where they assisted others.  May she rest in peace forever. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Seeds of Regeneration, Seeds of Hope

By Sr. Kara Davis, Daughter of Charity Under 10 Years Vocation


The media has been flooded with articles, posts, videos, and letters concerning the recent unveiling of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.  First, there was outrage over the news of former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual misconduct, abuse of power, and promotion within Church hierarchy.  Then there was deep heartbreak and shock with the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, describing heinous crimes of sexual abuse against thousands of children by over 300 Catholic clergy, and the cover-up by Church officials.  Most recently, confusion and questions over “who knew” erupted from the letter issued by former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Viganò, calling Pope Francis to resign from the papacy. 

It is hard to believe this is real life, and not just a terrible nightmare that will be over in the morning.  I consider myself a glass-half-full kind of person, always trying to find the silver lining, focusing on the positive, and maintaining an optimistic view throughout the most despairing circumstances.  As a Daughter of Charity committed to serving Christ in persons who are poor, sometimes I feel like noticing the ray of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation as my full-time job.  But these days, it is difficult to find the sunshine, as this ferocious storm of scandal and secrets wreaks havoc on the Church I love so dearly and devote myself to as a Catholic Sister.  People have asked me, “So what do you think about all this?”  Well, this reflection is an attempt to articulate the fruits of much prayer and discernment, what has helped me process the emotion, and continue my journey with God rooted in faith and unwavering hope.

The quote from St. Augustine (pictured above) reminds us that seeds of hope come forth from righteous anger and courageous action.  We should be outraged by the disturbing truths surfacing about the Church.  Yet, what fruit do we bear from that anger?  Does it fester and turn sour, or does this beautiful anger lead to action and new life?  During these troubling times, celebrating the Eucharist and meditating with scripture and the saints has helped me transform anger (with sister courage) into hope.  The daily readings at Mass provided wisdom and encouragement in unexpected ways and with impeccable timing.  The lives of the saints (those canonized and not) who responded to the evils plaguing the Church in their time inspired perseverance and a sense of communion.  Sure, I’m still heartbroken and angry, but now able to recognize that God is with us in the struggle.
~*~
The Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a Wednesday, my regular day to lector at mass.  Earlier that morning, I read through the first reading to make sure there were no big words I would get up there and butcher.  As I skimmed through the passage from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (34:1-11), I immediately felt a connection between God’s message to the shepherds of Israel, and what I had been holding in my heart over the past couple weeks.  I felt as though Ezekiel had taken the words right out of my mouth, giving voice to the anger, disappointment, and frustration I had buried deep inside me.  Fear and sadness gripped me as I trembled at the thought of sharing these words out loud (remember, I prefer the sunshine and try to avoid hard feelings like this).

As I sat in the pew before mass, the familiar knot creeped into my stomach, my heart sunk into my chest, and a stubborn lump settled in my throat.  I sat there desperately trying to hold the pieces of my brokenness together.  Why do we have this reading on my day to lector?  How am I supposed to proclaim the Word of God when I can barely catch my breath?  I stood at the ambo in front of the assembly, praying for a miracle.  With hands shaking and heart racing, I took a deep breath and began to read:

Thus says the Lord God:  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!
How dare you, shepherds of the Church who have looked after yourselves!

Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.
Aren’t priests and bishops supposed to serve the People of God, especially those who are most vulnerable among us?  You have silenced survivors, protected predators, and covered up crimes, but the children you have failed to safe-guard.

You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.  You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally… 
You did not empower the victimized, nor hear the hurt, nor acknowledge the injustice.  You did not bring back those marginalized, nor seek those rejected, but you turned a blind eye, quietly and secretly.

…because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  Thus says the Lord God:  I swear I am coming against these shepherds.  I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves.  I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths.
Because of this, evildoers, remember God’s promise:  I am coming against these false shepherds.  I am claiming my daughters and sons, holding them close to my heart.  My children shall be safe, no longer prey for wild beasts.

For thus says the Lord God:  I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
The goodness of God will look after and tend the Church.  Goodness abounds within and among us, showering seeds of hope.  May this Divine Goodness deliver us from evil, and lead us along the pathway of peace, justice, and fidelity to our call of service.                                      
                                                ~*~
"Good Shepherd" Artist: St. Louise de Marillac; Retrieved HERE 
My conscious experience of the Catholic Church, and perhaps for other millennials too, has always been shadowed by the association with child sex abuse scandals.  I say conscious experience because I was in sixth grade when the investigation of the Archdiocese of Boston was made public in 2002, and the bishops gathered in Dallas to establish the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  I understood that there were bad priests in the Church who were harming children, so we had classes at school to learn about “safe touches” and physical boundaries, and then what to do if we felt unsafe with an adult.  However, the reality of child sex abuse by clergy was not the only hard lesson I learned in sixth grade. 

Earlier in the school year, on September 11, 2001, I added the word terrorism to my vocabulary.  I was completely shocked that people would fly airplanes into buildings on purpose.  I had trouble accepting that humans were capable of such intentional destruction and harm to other humans (…and then we learned about the Nazi concentration camps in history class).  During that critical “coming of age” time of my life, I lost my childlike innocence and learned that evil was something very real and alive in our world.  I had no clue that philosophers had been writing about the problem of evil for centuries, grappling with the same questions my teenage brain couldn’t understand:  If God is so loving and powerful, why do such bad things happen in the world?  I know, I should have just stuck to listening to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears on my portable CD player.

At thirteen years old, I already understood that the Church was flawed, wounded, and in need of recovery.  Priests and bishops were never presented to me as demi-gods incapable of sin or human error.  I believed most clergy were good, holy men doing their best to live their vocation with fidelity, but I was not naïve to that fact that some clergy were the very opposite and capable of grave evil.  I was blessed with extremely positive experiences of Church throughout my life, while participating in youth ministry as a teenager and getting involved at my Catholic Newman Center in college.  I felt God calling me to serve the Church, and the more I asked God "how," the more I discovered my vocation as a Daughter of Charity.  I have been “Sister Kara” for two years now, and through the ups and downs of initial formation, I have stayed firm in that commitment to the community and the Church.  So now I find myself posed with questions like, “How can you serve such a corrupt Church?  How can you belong to such a dishonest institution?”  My first answer is Jesus, but I respond, “Because Christ has called me.”  But when that doesn’t seem to satisfy the inquirer, I add, “And the Church I serve and belong to is so much more than the worst actions of some of its members.”

If the Church was simply a human institution, then sure, why would I dedicate my life to an organization with an extensive history of child sex abuse and cover-up?  But the Church is so much more than a non-profit charity, NGO, devotional hub, or religious club.  Instituted by Christ, the Church is a living, breathing, at times like this wounded body, comprised of very human humans striving for sainthood.
                                                     ~*~
          
Dorothy Day had a deep understanding of the role of saints, especially during times of confusion and frustration within the Church.  There were times priests and bishops challenged her way of radically living the Works of Mercy, her stand for social justice, and her position of non-violence and peace activism.  Two quotes from letters responding to friends questioning her affiliation and devotion to the Catholic Church come to mind:


“No matter how corrupt the Church may become, it carries within it the seeds of its own regeneration.  To read the lives of the Saints has always helped me.”  
(Dorothy Day to Karl Meyer, August 3, 1971)



“As a convert, I never expected much of the bishops.  In all history, popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy.  I never expected leadership from them.  It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”  (Dorothy Day to Gordon Zahn, October 29, 1968)

"Vincent de Paul teaches his priests"
Artist: Maurice Denis; Retrieved HERE
                                                                                  
Dorothy placed great emphasis on the examples of the saints, and how they responded to challenges and lived in fidelity during great times of trial and persecution, maintaining the fire and keeping the Church alive.  She is critical of clergy, even somewhat dismissive of their role and leadership, but let us remember that many popes, bishops, priests, and abbots are also among the saints.  In the 17th century, Saint Vincent de Paul helped reform priestly formation and establish seminaries in France after the Council of Trent.  In the 14th century, Saint Catherine of Siena urged Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome, thus ending the Avignon papacy.  Look up a Saint who took action when the Church was wounded throughout history.  Is there someone who inspires you and brings you hope in the challenges we face today?

To use a phrase I’ve found in several reflections, saints don’t leave, they lead.  Saints do what is right and stand for what is true, merely because it is right and true.  Saints bear the seeds of hope planted throughout the history of the Church, and will continue to bear the seeds of regeneration in our day.  Together, we the Church -lay, religious, clergy- can nurture the seeds of hope around us, and live in fidelity to our reality as the Body of Christ.

So, who are the saints we need among us as we face the challenges of our day? Courageous men and women dedicated to a wounded Church, willing to be vulnerable and invest in recovery.  They are survivors coming forward to share their stories no longer silenced.  They are true shepherds of the Church welcoming States’ attorneys to review diocesan records.  They are teams of laity and clergy creating new systems and protocols for reporting abuse.  They are the faithful holding all these intentions in prayer with great hope for the future.  Saints are men and women who humbly trust in the Goodness of God, the Divine Goodness that dwells within and among us, and who cooperate with that grace.
                                                                          ~*~
"The Great Love of the Good Shepherd"
Artist: Rebecca Brogan; Retrieved HERE





Ever since that morning with the Prophet Ezekiel, daily scripture has offered the glimmer of light I need to face the storm each day.  I am reminded that God is with us in the struggle, just as he was with the saints as they responded to all the storms scattered throughout history.  The wounded hands of the Good Shepherd are holding us closely to the heart of God.  It is from this intimate space that I have discovered the Divine Goodness active and alive in our Church today.  Good versus evil is a theme present throughout salvation history (might I also include Star Wars and Harry Potter?).  Christ, the head of the body, the Church (Col 1:18) the new Adam (1 Cor 15:45) reveals that goodness triumphs over evil, new life is born from death.  So, will we ever overcome the evil that has infiltrated the Church?  Hope tells me YES!  Hope tells me that with daughters Anger and Courage, we the Church, together, can heal this wounded Body of Christ.  The Goodness of God has planted the seeds of our regeneration.  In time, we will reap the fruits of the harvest, but for now, let’s help them grow.




Click HERE to view the Leadership Conference of Women Religious statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy

Click HERE to learn more about Sr. Kara

Click HERE to learn more about the Daughters of Charity

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Late

by S. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

Click HERE to learn more about Romina

Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

This blog post is late. It was supposed to be posted last Wednesday and as you can see, I’m just posting it now. Three. Days. Late.

It is late because after spending an hour each way on the New York City subway and teaching socio-
SC Halifax community in Queens: (L-R) S. Cathy Stare,
S. Mary Burns, S. Joan Dawber, S. Marie Sorenson
emotional topics to students from K-12 for the past six weeks, I come home, eat dinner and collapse in bed.

It is late because community is a wonderful thing I’ve been blessed with this summer and relationship building and spending time with the Sisters of Charity of Halifax that I lived with in Queens for almost two months was something I didn’t want to miss out on. It is late because there are so many Sisters of Charity Federation members in New York to meet and get to know.
with S. Teresa Kotturan, SC Nazareth in front of
the UN complex
July Call to Action Rally against family separations in Bayside, NY.



The tardiness of this post can also be attributed to the fact that besides sisters, I also formed relationships with other wonderful teachers, mentors and volunteers. We had one goal this summer: to make RYSA 2018 (Refugee Youth Summer Academy) a fun, learning-filled, and unforgettable experience for the approximately 100 youth from all over the world, all recent arrivals to New York City. This blog post is late because as a member of the RYSA 2018 community, I wanted to make
IRC RYSA 2018 staff at Central Park
during the first field trip
sure I participated as much as I can to give our new students an opportunity to be prepared and successful in their new schools this coming Fall. We firmly believe they have a rightful place in their new country and are gifts to our community. Based on the selfies, tearful hugs, laughter, and lingering goodbyes after graduation yesterday, I think we made goooooaaaalllll!!!


A local Colombian coffee and pastry shop
on Jamaica Ave always tempts me to stop in
for a little (or big!) treat.


This blog post is late because it took time to really listen to the spoken, and many times unspoken stories, experiences and ideas of young people, both students and peer mentors. There is no other way but to take those long moments of sitting and praying while trying to hold the sacredness of it all in one’s heart. My blog post is late because space was needed to try to understand what was behind the smiles and the resistance. What does the silliness or the somberness tell us of each person’s struggles? It takes mindfulness to pause. One hopes and prays that whatever words were spoken and the presence that one provided somehow gave these gifted young people a little of whatever they needed at the time of encounter.

This blog post is late because I savored every food from home countries that the students and their families generously shared with us and with one another. I drank in the sight of this diverse group of wonderful human beings proudly wearing the colors and clothes
With Giving Voice sisters: S. Melissa Camardo, SC Leavenworth,
S. Vicki Wuolle, CSA and S. Jeannie Humphries, OSU
from their culture and walking down the fashion show aisle during International Food and Fashion Show Day. I marveled at how many languages we can speak and instead of bringing confusion and highlighting difference, they served as bridges for understanding, laughter and love. My eyes filled with tears of joy as I saw the world as it could be: a glimpse of the Kindom of God on earth where we build longer tables, welcome everyone and appreciate how beautiful our diversity is.

It is late because even after 20 years as an educator, the opportunities and chances to become a better teacher have not ceased. The colleagues, volunteers, and students have both affirmed and challenged me to become better - a better teacher, a better sister, a better global citizen and a better human being. It is late because I accepted the challenge and am definitely committing myself to it for life. I couldn’t be more glad I did.
RYSA has been an affirming
ministry experience for me.


I must admit that this blog post is also late because in the midst of it all, I found time for connecting with new and old friends, sightseeing in vibrant NYC, trying new food experiences and vacationing.

This blog post is late. I’m not making any excuses. I’m just giving the myriad of wonderful reasons for it and why my heart is overflowing with gratitude this summer.





Click on the links below for videos:
RYSA 2018 partners with Trip Advisor #WelcomeHome
The International Rescue Committee's RYSA Program

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ready to Set Sail

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC

Click HERE to learn more about Andrea
Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation



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 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 both the periods of profound joy and challenging painful 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 that is 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 deeper and deeper 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 was the one that captured many of my feelings. Religious life 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 container that allows me to bring to life the person God created me to be, and in response to be a life bearer to those of 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 canopy of branches above me made me laugh out loud! It was literally an open invitation beckoning me forward. I imagined myself at the bow of my little boat, arms raised in exhilaration, as I sailed on through, “Okay God, here I come!” 





  



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
Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation



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