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

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

      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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sheltered And Nurtured By Love

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

      Click HERE to learn more about Romina

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Mother robin warms her newly hatched babies,
watchful of strangers coming too close.
Sisters at our Mother House in Cincinnati (and those who live close by like me) recently had the wonderful blessing of witnessing a beautiful manifestation of Spring before our eyes. A robin laid her eggs on the ledge right outside of one of the windows on the second floor of the building and sisters and visitors watched each day as the robin sat on her eggs until they hatched. When she picked the location of her nest, the poor robin probably didn't realize how much attention she and her babies would get as "visitors" came and went to check out the babies' progress. When sisters and guests peered at the baby birds, mother robin would often fly to a tree branch, but she would never go too far. Here is a series of pictures showing the newly hatched chicks and their growth over a period of approximately two weeks. I didn't discover them until three of the four eggs already hatched so there are no egg pictures. One egg failed but all three surviving siblings did very well.

As I reflected on this beautiful witness of new life after a cold dreary winter, I can't help but make an analogy between the mother robin and God. There are times in our life when we experience "shocks to our system." It was a certain shock to the system for those birds to be out of their shell and unable to move or fly on their own while in the nest. They were exposed to the elements and were totally dependent on their mother for survival. I saw how that mother robin kept a close watch on her young ones. They were noticeably bigger each time I stopped by to take a peak and I knew they were not wanting in anything whether it was food or the protection of their mother's body against the cold of those stormy evenings.

I am even more strongly convinced now, as I near the end of my time in novitiate, that God has been like this mother robin who so lovingly held me in the safety of her love as she nourished and fed my soul each day. In a way, it was a shock to the system to be in novitiate, unable to move and fly but waking up to self-knowledge and awareness. But somehow, I was given the assurance that all shall be well because my mother was always there, watching, caring, and loving me through it all.

Newly hatched baby robins


And growing...

We hardly fit here anymore!

The time has come to leave the nest.
On to new and bigger things!

Thursday, May 10, 2018


By Sr. Laura Coughlin, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

Last week I finished my first year of doctoral studies in theology at the University of Dayton.  My brain is tired, but in spite of this, I still find my days rich with new intellectual and theological material.  Next year I will be teaching an introductory Religious Studies class at the university.  The opportunity to teach was one of the main reasons I found UD to be an attractive program.  In our department’s case, UD does a great job preparing us to teach from the discipline in which we are being trained. 

Yesterday I attended a workshop at the Dayton Woman’s Club hosted by the Humanities Commons program here.  The program aims to help students inquire deeply into the question of what it means to be human.  The inquiry is carried out in an enriched cross-disciplinary setting which is why a large number of professors from varied disciplines were gathered at the workshop. 

(see more about this program here: Humanities Commons)

We used our time together to discuss the 2018 program whose theme varies from year to year.  This year the Humanities Commons will base its inquiry in the classic Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, and in a Dayton Ballet performance called Dracula: Bloodlines.  Both the novel and the ballet will be a reference point throughout the year for classroom learning about issues of power and vulnerability.  Workshop attendees were asked to think about how the theme of 2018-19 might find its way into lesson plans when the students return in August. 

So I am thinking about Dracula, and about power and vulnerability.
And one of the handouts we received noted that “power need not be oppressive…and vulnerability need not be weakness.”  And that got me thinking about the authentic human reality, the ideal human life, in other words, that can be found in the dialectic between power and vulnerability. 

Maybe a first assignment could be something like this: Write a rich description of the ideal that lives between the power and vulnerability present in each of the following situations?  How do the actors in these excerpts reconcile vulnerability and power such that he or she better understands what it means to be human?

* * *

“I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

Jesus in John 10:17-18

* * *

God said to Abraham: “Please take your son.”
Abraham said: “I have two sons, which one?”
God: “Your only son.”
Abraham: “The one is the only son of his mother and the other is the only son of his mother.”
God: “Whom you love.”
Abraham: “I love this one and I love that one.”
God: “Isaac.”

Genesis Rabbah[1]

* * *

“On August 26, 1832, a request was made that four of the [African American Oblate] sisters might nurse the indigent sick with cholera, a disease that had reached epidemic proportions [in Baltimore]….When [Father Joubert] asked for volunteers, all stood up.[2]  [He] chose the four to go, one of whom had not yet made vows.”[3]

At some point after 1843 this same community was told by the Archbishop of Baltimore, Samuel Eccleston, that “there was no need for black religious and that they might do well to disband and become domestics.”[4]  Their community was saved from this fate by a caring German Redemptorist, Thaddeus Anwander, who pastored them under the tutelage of St. John Neumann.

Excerpted from The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by Cyprian Davis, OSB

* * *

“Facing a firing squad is a pretty good test, I guess, of your theology of death.  I didn’t exactly pass the test with flying colors…The first thought I actually remember thinking was a question:  ‘Is this the end, Lord?’  I know I started the act of contrition, but I remember the sensation of realizing that another part of me could not understand the words I was mumbling.
I suspect that most of my panic…was due to such animal instinct in the face of a sudden and totally unexpected physical danger…For the thought of death itself does not terrify me.  The good news of Christianity is…that death has no hidden terror.  Christ’s…death and resurrection [was] the central act of salvation.”[5]

Excerpted from He Leadeth Me: An Extraordinary Testament of Faith, by Walter Ciszek, SJ

[1] Kessler, Edward. "Bound by the Bible: Jews, Christians, and the Binding of Isaac." In Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, 11-28. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, 16-7.
[2] Ouch! - It is noted in this same passage that the Sisters of Charity had been asked for eight sisters and had only sent four.
[3] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (Crossroad, 1990), 101.
[4] Davis, 103.
[5] Walter J. Ciszek, SJ and Daniel L. Flaherty, SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1973), 165.