Tuesday, April 26, 2016

New life: in Earth, and in me!

By Judy Donohue

In taking a walk this afternoon, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the springing forth of nature.  I saw eight turtles sunning on the bank of the lake.  I observed two Canadian Geese nesting, preparing for the little ones to come. The red buds are in full bloom; the dogwoods are beginning to come out. The beginning of leaves are forming at the end of tree branches. So exciting and encouraging.  God is renewing the Earth with spring growth!

Spiritual direction is also a springboard to new life. Having the accountability of talking to a spiritual director each month has increased my self-awareness. She is able to gently point things out areas in me that I am blind to.  This has been stretching and good, sometimes painful. 

Looking at my personal and spiritual growth over the past year, I see similar excitement in viewing the new growth from spring flowers and budding bushes. In the fog of the novitiate, I have wondered “Why am I going through this? Will this ever make sense?”  

As I see maturity developing, I am encouraged. I’m growing in knowledge on how to relate to people, how to be thoughtful of others, how to be less selfish. I am excited about growing in my ability to build community.  To be able to communicate my ideas, contribute my talents to my community being built with a greater noble purpose. Religious life is too grow together with others (lay and consecrated) in so many ways.  

While walking, I saw a mother push her one year old baby in a carriage.  I think how much her life has changed because of the birth of her baby.  She can’t do what she wants. She has to get up at night and feed her child.  She has to change, bathe, rock to sleep her infant.  She does this out of love.  God has put that maternal instinct in mothers/fathers.  She is glad to do it for the joy of raising a child.  In becoming a Sister, knowing God is forming me into a mature, loving, less judgmental person has been hard work.  But knowing I will be a better person, friend, sister, confident encourages me to persevere. 

My spiritual director encourages me to feel my feelings. In feeling my feelings, I’ve learn not to shut down my pain because it will come up somewhere else.  I give myself permission to feel my pain and with time, move on.  When you are driving on ice and start to skid, you turn the steering wheel toward the direction of the skid to recover.  If, out of fear, one turns away from the skid, you spin out of control and land in the ditch. So too with our emotions. As I turn to my feelings and feel them, I recover, but if I avoid them, I spin out of control.

One day, driving back from Evansville, Indiana, I stopped for a prayer break at St. Meinrad's.  While in the chapel, I looked out a window and saw a tall, stately pine tree.  I realized that this was once a seed that cooperated with the sun, water and earth around it.  It grew to become a huge, lovely creation. It did nothing on it’s own.  As I cooperate with the graces around me and relax, God makes me into who I am to be. Let go and Let God.

As I care for myself through spiritual direction, I am a better servant to those around me.  As we take care of the earth through what we buy and products we use, we develop integrity and pride in our community.  We have something to pass onto our children/nieces/nephews and grandnieces and nephews, not only in clean air but also with clean hearts of  great faith.  Celebrate new life!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why be a Daughter of Charity? It's What I'm Made For

By Kara Davis

This reflection is a response to a blog written by Catholic speaker and high school theology teacher, Katie Prejean.  She so eloquently described our universal call to holiness, our vocation of love, and her personal testament to the vocation of Holy Matrimony.  As I read her words, I couldn’t help but insert myself, and my own journey of understanding God’s call in my own life.  This reflection is meant to echo Katie’s insightful words, but under a different lens, the lens of the vocation of consecrated life.  You can read Katie's blog by clicking HERE!

“Why do you want to be a Sister?”  That is a question I hear a lot now a days as I dive more deeply into formation with the Daughters of Charity.  Most of the time, I look at my watch and ask the person how much time they have for an answer.  I could share the saga of my discernment journey, where my boyfriend of all people encouraged me to go check out the Sisters.  When folks as me, “Why do you want to be a Daughter of Charity?” I could tell the story of being casted as a Daughter of Charity in a play about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the very lines I delivered in the play prompted me to explore the call to serve Christ in the face of the Poor.  I could also go into my year as a Resident Catholic Worker at the St. Hedwig Haus of Hospitality, where I encountered Christ in the women and children who were in need of a home and support of a loving community.  I could possibly describe the deeply personal journey of discovering my deep desire to be made whole, a wholeness that only God could provide.  And yet sometimes, I simply respond with a half honest answer, “I want to be a Sister so I don’t have to worry about what to do on a bad hair day.”  (You know, just cover it up with a veil.)

I have come to accept that more and more people are going to ask these questions, especially after I actually become a Sister, and it has encouraged me to ponder a more concise, yet authentic response that does not take three hours to explain and is not so deeply personal that I am sharing my heart with a complete stranger.

One of my favorite definitions of vocation comes from Frederick Buechner, who states, “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”  It is a two-part discernment.  What is your deep gladness, the deep desire that God has placed in your heart?  And then, how is that deep gladness a response to the needs of the world?

God designs each and every one of us with a longing for this deep gladness, communion with Him.  By being made in the image and likeness of God, we are designed with a great capacity for love, for God is love.  St. Therese, The Little Flower, puts it best when she writes, “I realized that love includes all vocations, that love is all things, and that, because it is eternal, it embraces all time and place.  Swept up by an ecstatic joy, I cried, ‘Jesus, my Love!  At last I have found my vocation.  My vocation is love… I will be love.”

Indeed, we are all called to love and be loved, for we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.  We live out our call to love in a variety of ways, often through marriage, priesthood, religious life, or single life.  God gives us the gift of discernment and invites us to ponder how are we called to grow in union with Him, sharing His love in the world, and spreading the gift of God’s self with our brothers and sisters.

When I was poking around with some extracurricular theological studies in college, I was introduced to the concept of “kenotic caritas” in my Moral Theology class.  We read a chapter titled, “Love and Liturgy,” by M. Theresa Lysaught, and this article changed the way I approached the Eucharist and viewed our vocation of love.  We are all called to participate in God’s love, a love that does not merely give, but gives all.  We are all called to that self-emptying, prodigal love, which seeks not its own interests, but pours out in love for the other.   

I was so drawn to this call of kenotic caritas, and felt that God had created me with a great capacity for this self-emptying love.  I felt as though God had attached me to a special faucet where I could fill and refill my cup as I emptied it out to others.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the vocation of consecrated life is a call “to follow and imitate Christ more nearly, and to manifest more clearly His self-emptying is to be more deeply present to one's contemporaries, in the heart of Christ” (CCC, 932).  The call of consecrated life is a call to incarnate God’s kenotic love in the world, to meet the world’s great need for love in an absolute, total gift of self.

To do that, I will give myself completely to God, in community, for the service of the Poor.  Consecrated life is the vocation to which God has called me.  The call of a Daughter of Charity will allow me, the future Sister Kara Davis, to increase in love, grow in authentic holiness, and draw more deeply into communion with God.

The life of a Daughter of Charity will require humility, an awareness of gifts received by God, gratitude for these gifts, and putting them to use in service.  Humility also requires an acknowledgment of my own human limitations, a difficult reality for a young person ready to take on the world’s deep need.  I am reminded that I am but a mere servant in the hands of God.  The life of a Daughter of Charity will require simplicity, an authentic witness true to the call to self-emptying love in the context of the community.  Simplicity is a readiness to seek God in all things.  Finally, the life of a Daughter of Charity will require charity, the kenotic caritas that flows from a total love of God, poured out to the Sisters and those whom we serve.

Consecrated life brings me into closer union with God, loving in the complete, self-emptying way for which I am created.  I do not have to become a Daughter of Charity to serve the Poor.  There are plenty of people who serve the poor who might be married, have children, or live the single life.  I also do not have to become a Daughter of Charity to live in community.  There are intentional communities all over the world that live together and pray together.  I also do not have to become a Daughter of Charity to surrender my life to God.  There are religious congregations, secular institutes, and a number of other formal ways I could give myself to God.  However, when all three come together:  Given to God, in community, for the service of the Poor, there you will find a Daughter of Charity.  There you will find a servant of the Lord wrapped in humility, simplicity, and charity.

So now, when I am greeted with the question, “Why be a Daughter of Charity?” I might still share about my journey of discernment, the play, and the Catholic Worker House, maybe even the convenience of a veil on a bad hair day, but my first response will be, “Because it’s what I’m made for.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

On the Way

By Whitney Schieltz

Last weekend, the theme for our Future of Charity gathering was The Appearance on the Road to Emmaus.  I spent much of our time together, and the time since, pondering the passage: Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way…?”  It got me thinking of the way that has led me to where I am today and where it is taking me.  Growing up, God was not a part of my life; or should I say, I was ignorant and indifferent to God’s presence in my life.  It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began to feel the love of The Father, the friendship of The Son, and the mysterious workings of The Holy Spirit.  Fast forward a few years, and here I am as an Affiliate with the Sisters of Charity.  Me!  Considering religious life!  How did I get here?  If I’m really meant to be a Sister, then why hasn’t my heart been burning for God my whole life?

Recently, while reading James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage, one particular line jumped off the page at me.  It was Matthew 14:31, “Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”  Although I had heard that verse many times before, in that moment I could feel myself, like Peter, being tossed around in the waves, gasping for air as I struggled to stay afloat.  Then, looking up, I saw the smile of a friend who knew me better than I know myself—a friend who has been with me my who life.  But instead of questioning my faith in him, I heard Jesus challenging me with something else: Why do you doubt yourself?  Why do you doubt the road you’re on?

Why was I doubting?  Before moving to El Paso last October to begin my Affiliate stage with the Sisters, I had a lot of concerns about how I would adjust to the changes.  As a Midwesterner my whole life, the thought of relocating to the Southwest was hard to imagine.  On top of that, my complete lack of Spanish skills made living on the Mexican border somewhat daunting.  In the past six months, however, I have undergone personal and spiritual growth that I probably would not have experienced back home.  When I thought of the two travelers on the Road to Emmaus, they were not standing still.  Jesus was walking with them just as he has been walking with me my whole life, whether I realized it or not.

Even though I knew I would be stepping well outside my comfort zone this year, I took that step because I knew it was what I needed to move me forward.  I needed this new experience to grow—as a person, as a woman, as a friend, as a daughter, as a sister, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Ending up here was not by mistake.  And this time has not changed me into a different person.  It has given me the opportunity to discover and embrace who God created me to be.

This week was the 6-month checkpoint for my Affiliate period, which means an evaluation by my director and local community, as well as a serious conversation about whether or not I am ready to begin the application for Novitiate.  Among my many considerations while weighing the options of staying in Affiliate another year or moving on the Novitiate, one of the most important questions I asked myself was: Where do I have the most potential for growth?

When I think of how much I’ve grown in this time as an Affiliate, I recognize not only my progress but also my potential to grow even more—in my personal life, in my spiritual life, in my community life, and in my ministerial life.  So although I am looking forward to discovering what lies ahead along the way, for now, I am excited to extend my time of growth, discovery, and discernment as an Affiliate in El Paso.  And knowing that Jesus will be walking with me, my heart is finally burning within me!