Wednesday, May 27, 2015

First Communion at St. Marks

By: Sr. Mary Ellen Lacy, DC

It is the season of first holy communions and Pentecost.  I recall a first holy communion day at St Mark’s Church in El Paso, Texas. I was sent there for six weeks so that I could learn Immigration asylum law at Las Americas Legal Assistance clinic.  Anyway, on this Sunday of First Communions, the plaza outside the church swelled with proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of the neighbor you once met.   Interspersed amongst them were the communicants, decked out in flowing white dresses and satin suits.   The girls posed sweetly for pictures with their friends while the boys ran and played as if they were on a football field. There was an excitement in the air and I wondered if they understood what was about to happen to them.   I wondered if any second grader could know.  In that same second, I wondered how many adults really appreciate reception of the Real Presence.  

As always, as I entered the church, I looked for my Jesus on the cross.  I love to stare at Jesus on the cross because I  love Him and the crucifix always heats up that love within me.  On that day, it stirred me to such a place that I could not help but swoon in the feeling for a bit.  I was held still in the feeling that you get when you can almost touch Him. Ya know how it is: you are locked into this fascinating intangible possibility, your senses are hyper alert and your chest fells like a balloon that is about to burst... but you know it won't.  Still, it is so wonderful that, in the back of your mind, you know it cannot last here on earth.  It is one of those Holy Spirit enabled glimpses of the Reign of God.   
As my heart filled with the joy of being with Him, my vision became both clearer and broader at the same time.  I gazed upon the crucifix and I noticed that there was an orange circular work of stained glass in the front wall, angled just a few feet above and behind Jesus.  In the center of the circle was a white dove whose open wings tapered into loose swirls, resembling white party streamers.  It appears as if the Holy Spirit is flying over Jesus, protecting Him and testifying to Him. My eyes continued to drift upward following a ray of light.    I saw that, just above this dove, is a glass ceiling.  At high noon, the blazing Texas sun shines directly into the church.  It reflected through the Spirit dove, onto Jesus and then radiated from Jesus upon the children who were about to receive our Lord for the first time.   If cinematography is important for movies, the guy who designed this church deserves some kind of holy Academy Award.  It was breathtaking! Amid this Pentecostal backdrop, these children would step up, recognize the body of Christ and accept responsibility for becoming It.  They would say Amen, so be it.   And they were doing this in absolute joy and excitement.

As the children marched up the center aisle to receive communion, I thought of that passage where Jesus is in the midst of the crowds.  The children want to come to Him but the adults try to stop them.  Jesus intervenes and tells them to let the kiddos come to Him.  Jesus loves children and we are to have the faith of a child.  My eyes filled and stung with tears for I knew Jesus was very happy at this exuberant procession toward communion with Him.  I just knew it.

In this season of Pentecost, it occurs to me that we must always receive our Lord amidst a Pentecostal backdrop in order to embrace the whole Jesus experience.  These kids may or may not have understood the theology, but they got the right idea.  Come to Me and  come to Me full of joy and expectation, for I am a nearby God who loves you.   They were open to the Spirit as well as His real Presence.  And like fertile ground, they held out their little hands and said Yes, grow in me.  These kids and families remind me that my daily communion with Jesus is a celebration that should be met with joy and expectant hope. I want to bask in the joyful light of the Spirit as I embrace Who I am called to be.  

I believe genuine acceptance of the Spirit and holy communion should ignite a change of behavior.  Each time I proceed in formation to receive Him, I am called to allow Him to fill and envelope me. When I say Amen, I say “Yes, I want to become a part of You who I love so dearly”. I say, “Yes, I want to be a part of Your community of Light.”  “And yes, I want to help bring about the Kingdom of God.”   

I pray to the Holy Spirit to keep me present to His Presence.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Archbishop Oscar Romero Beatified

"In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Oscar Romero knew how to lead, protect and defend his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole church".- Pope Francis

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Two Crosses

By: Sr. Salvatrice Murphy, DC
On the day I became a sister there was an Incorporation Ceremony before friends, family, and a whole host of Daughters of Charity.  I wore my full habit for the first time, and during Mass I had placed around my neck a cross marked with SV (for St. Vincent); it is the universal sign of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.  Worn by 17,000 sisters around the world, it is “a distinctive sign which identifies them as Daughters of Charity” (C.41).  Not quite as loud as a coronet, but still a visible sign.

While Daughters of Charity have been notoriously conspicuous throughout history (flying nun, anyone?), our vows have not been.  Known early on as servants of the sick poor, and having as our main purpose honoring God through service to the poor, Daughters make four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience, and service of those who are poor.  These vows are not public; they “are ‘non-religious’, annual, and always renewable” (C.28a)

When I pronounced my vows for the first time, I was given another cross.  Larger and heavier than the first, this crucifix was pressed into my hand in an inconspicuous gesture before Mass began.  Unlike the universal sign, I had not seen this on all Daughters of Charity.  After Mass one of the sisters came up to me and pulling at a chain hidden beneath her collar she revealed her own vow cross worn since her first vows many years ago.  It felt as though she was letting me in on a secret of her joy.  This unseen cross seemed right to me, though I couldn’t exactly say why.
The words came to me soon after when tragedy touched the place where I work.  A teen in our program had been killed.  Everyone was preparing to head out for a candlelight vigil to mourn and show support for the family.  I planned to go too- to be a visible sign along with the staff, volunteers and other youth.  But they needed someone to stay and keep the gym open.  Nearly everyone was going to the vigil; the gym was basically empty, but needed to be open to welcome any other youth who might arrive.  So I stayed.  A thought came to my mind along with the image of that sister’s well-worn cross: this is what it means to be a servant.  There is a time for public witness, but underneath the signs and symbols a Daughter of Charity is first and foremost a servant.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

YES! YES! YES! I Am Here

By: Laurie Parker

A couple months ago a teacher friend of mine told me a story.  It’s such a wonderful story I’ve been sharing it every chance I get, and with her permission I will share it now.

Ms. Morris teaches 5th grade. One day during Religion class, one of her students, a 10-year old boy, asked her if it was okay to question God, maybe even question God’s existence.  Ms. Morris, being an excellent teacher, responded, “Of course. God loves it when we ask questions, because he loves answering our questions! That’s how we get to know God better.”

She encouraged the boy to pray that night before he went to sleep, to bring whatever questions he had to God, and even to ask God for a sign. She explained that God's response might come in the form of song lyrics, a conversation with a friend, or text in a book he was reading—but most likely not in an audible omniscient voice. God speaks to everyone differently, but personally, she assured him. Ms. Morris, then, did some rather frantic praying of her own that night before she went to bed: “Okay God, I've done my part. I sent him to you; now it's time to do your part. Don't let him down."

The next day, the boy came to class and told Ms. Morris that he had prayed before going to sleep. 
"Did you get a sign?" she asked, curious.
"No, but that's okay," he answered, seemingly unphased.
The weekend passed, and the boy returned to school on Monday morning.
"Ms. Morris! I got a sign!" the boy beamed as he entered the classroom.
"What happened?" Ms. Morris wanted to know.

Apparently, there is a wrestler who, whenever he enters the ring shouts, “Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here!” to announce himself. The boy shared that he had attended his cousin's wrestling-themed birthday party that weekend, and when he walked into the party—still carrying his questions about God--one of the first things he noticed was a large banner, proclaiming, 
“Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here!”  "When I saw it,” he said, “I just knew it was God!" 

The Sign. This is a child, a concrete thinker.  He asked for a sign, and God quite literally gave him one.  I am reminded of how God speaks to all of us in the language we best understand.  I am a musician, and I know in my own life God often speaks to me through music.  During my discernment process, whenever I was uncertain or anxious, it always seemed a song would come on the radio that would somehow put things into perspective for me.  And when I reflect on the world today, how scientifically- and technologically-minded we are, I can’t help but think about how God speaks to us through these modes, as well.  When we look into our quantum sensors and telescopes and computers surely we are looking at God: in the mystery and uncertainty of the quantum realm, in the hugeness and incredibly beauty of space, in the connectedness of the Internet, God is there.  I truly believe wherever we turn our minds and our hearts, we will find God, whether we know we are seeking Him or not.  The signs are everywhere.  

Yes! Yes! Yes!  Often in our history, it seems religion has been more about “nos” than “yeses,” more about “Thou shalt nots…” than “Thou shalts…” and while parameters are good and necessary they speak very little of God.  It strikes me that given the chance to speak God immediately speaks in the affirmative: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”  There is something quite joyful about that affirmation, and I am reminded of e.e. Cumming’s poem:


I thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


There is joy in creation.  While it may not always seem that way on the surface, we are a creation infused with God’s “Yes!”  We are called to be people of joy, living life to the fullest, not in a way that’s saccharine or blind to the world’s many troubles, but aware that come-what-may we are rooted in God’s love.  I think this is the definition of Christian life, the Good News, and (to get more specific to my life) I think it is the definition of vowed life.  The irony is that, on the surface, it is easier to see what religious sisters give up (celibacy, poverty, obedience), but I defy anyone to spend too much time with a group of sisters (at least the sisters I know) and not see all that they’ve gained.  It’s not always something one can put their finger on, but it is there, a subtle joy or peace.  Like any lifestyle, it has its hardships and sacrifices, but by and large the vowed life is a life of saying, “Yes” to God and one another, a life lived in the affirmative space. 

I am here.  Something about that phrase just rings true for me!  Maybe it’s because that’s the way some of the prophets (on their good days) have answered God, “Here I am.”  Maybe it’s because sometimes when I am sitting quietly in prayer that is one of the phrases that calls my wandering mind back to its center.  Or maybe it just reminds me of another man in another time who wanted to know more about God, and got the enigmatic response: “I am who am” (Ex. 3:14).  It’s a response that leaves us guessing, undoubtedly, because no language can truly capture the essence of God, but as Ms. Morris said, it is important to continue bringing our questions to God.  And perhaps if we can have hearts like children that are open and receptive, God’s “signs” (which I believe are always before us) will gradually become less enigmatic.  There is something special about that childlike openness.  After all, while God’s response to Moses remains mysterious, God’s sign to the questing 5th grader couldn’t be much clearer: “Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here!”

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Tribute to my mother

By: Marie Flowers, SCN

Moments and memories

Offering your life

The glue of our family

Holding and nurturing

Emphatic love

Releasing us into the arms of God

Monday, May 4, 2015

Discernment: Navigating your vocation, one step at a time

By Kara Davis

“I feel God calling me to religious life, but I don’t know many sisters.  Where do I begin?”   Those were the panicked thoughts that raced through my head when I began seriously discerning a religious vocation during my time as a student at Eastern Illinois University.  God had been whispering to my heart for several years, but as a teenager, I chose to ignore Him.  However, God never abandoned my call, and as I prepared for graduation and making the next good step in my life, I knew I had to actually spend some genuine time in discernment.  So like any good college student, I “Googled” what to do.
I read about local Nun Runs, where discerners traveled together to visit a variety of religious communities.  During these busy weekends, women were able to pray with sisters and learn about several different charisms, apostolates, and ways to experience community life.  I chose to participate in the Indianapolis Nun Run, and it opened my eyes to the variety of ways I could be called to religious life.  In addition, I was able to meet other women my age who were also asking God the tough questions about vocation.  After the experience on the Nun Run, I wasn’t completely sold with the idea of being a Sister, but I opened my heart further to the possibility and I basically told God, “If this is what you want, then make it happen.” 
God didn’t take too long to get busy, and before I knew it, a friend of mine was writing a play about the founding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.  He was advertising for talent at our Newman Catholic Center, and was very insistent that I audition for a part in the play.  Although I was a senior in college at this point, and definitely had enough responsibilities to occupy my time, I agreed to try out for a part in the play.
After auditions the cast list appeared with the roles, and there I saw my name next to “Sister Rosalie Rendu.”  I was casted as a Sister, and not just any Sister, a Daughter of Charity!  I had been in communication with this community for several months and made a visit with them, but their charism was service to the Poor, and I wasn’t sure if that was something I was called to do.  I decided to do some research about my real life character to better understand my role in the play.
Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu and Blessed Frederic Ozanam 
after a showing of "The Apostle of Truth" at Eastern Illinois
University Newman Catholic Center in Charleston, Illinois.
As the story goes, Frederic Ozanam was a young college student who felt the burning desire to serve the Poor in his community, however, when he showed up in a neighborhood where he wasn’t accustomed to visiting, wearing a top hat and innocent smile, the local people did not trust him and drove him out of the neighborhood.  Frederic was young and willing to serve, but he didn’t know what that looked like for him exactly, so his mentor brought him to Sister Rosalie to learn how one must serve the Poor.
As I was reviewing the scene with Sister Rosalie, Frederic, and his other young companion, I knew this play was not just about Frederic Ozanam learning how to serve the Poor.  It was about me too.  In the  play, Sister Rosalie tells Frederic, “All you must do is be kind and love, for love is the first gift to the Poor.  They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than all else you can bring them.  Everything else will follow naturally.”  It was like Rosalie was telling me, “Hey Kara, you think you don’t have what it takes to serve the Poor?  You can love, right?  Just love the Poor and see what happens.”

So again, I told God, “If this is what you want, then make it happen,” and again, God handed me a grace-filled opportunity to fall in love with Christ in the Poor.  The St. Hedwig Haus of Hospitality was in need of a Resident Catholic Worker, and I had decided to stick around Charleston for graduate school, studying speech-language pathology.  I didn’t have any housing plans yet, so I was invited to pray about living at the Catholic Worker House.  I immediately dismissed the idea and filled my head with numerous excuses.  I knew that living at Hedwig would be challenging, and I knew that living at Hedwig would be distracting from my studies.  However, in my discernment, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sister Rosalie’s message about love.  What if love could consume all the messiness, challenges, and distractions?
Members of the Catholic Worker 
Community at the St. Hedwig Haus
of Hospitality in Charleston, Illinois.
I committed to living at the St. Hedwig Haus for about a year, and I will say it was the most challenging experience of my life, but also the most grace-filled.  I lived in a house with women and their children who were in need of a home supported by a loving community.  Of course there were moments of heartbreak and times I questioned if this was really where God wanted me to be, but then I remembered Sister Rosalie’s words, “All you must do is be kind and love…” and eventually I was able recognize Christ as a regular guest at the Haus.  My experience at Hedwig helped me to discover my call to give myself to Christ in the Poor, and ultimately guided me towards the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Currently, I am a Pre-Postulant in the community, living in New Orleans, LA.  This is the first stage of formation, and includes living with the Sisters, praying with the Sisters, and even going to Mardi Gras parades with the Sisters.  Throughout my nine months with the community, I have received affirmations that this is indeed what God wants for me, and He is making it happen one day at a time.  Discernment may feel like a race, but if you take the time to embrace the journey, God’s whispers will powerfully resonate within you, guiding the next good step.