With Jesus, On the Way

3822365300_9898546ee8_zIt’s only been a few weeks since we closed our Easter season. Yet in today’s gospel, Jesus is beginning his journey to Jerusalem. It is the journey that fills most of our days as we follow Jesus in our ordinary ways. On the way, the disciples find no welcome for Jesus in the Samaritan village they enter. But Jesus reprimands his disciples who call for retribution. His way is one of non-violence; he remains focused on his mission. They continue on without pause.

As the journey continues, three would-be disciples approach Jesus; two ask to follow him, one is invited to do so. Their “yes, but” responses seems like reasonable ones: caring for their families first. It was the same request that Elisha made of the Elijah in the first reading. In response, the prophet said as much as, “Go on. Don’t let me stand in your way.”

But Jesus’ responses are a bit more cryptic. He does not deny the would-be followers their wish. Nor does he judge the sincerity of their desire. But in images that are familiar to them, Jesus makes clear what more will be asked of a follower of his. It is an apt continuation of last Sunday’s gospel, when Jesus instructed his friends: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Perhaps it is today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where we find the key to understanding Jesus’ puzzling responses on the road. Paul tells us, “You were called for freedom… [to] serve one other through love.” It is our free response that Jesus desires as we pledge to follow him. Following Christ is not a freedom from responsibility, nor a response made out of obligation. Ours is a free choice to follow his example and to love God and the dear neighbor. It is a free choice to embrace his mission and proclaim the Kingdom of God. It is a freedom realized when we give ourselves away in love.

We 21st-century followers of Jesus know where the road leads: it leads to the cross. We, too, know what we find on the way: our own rejection, exhaustion, hurt, poverty of place and loss of relationship. But we also know our commitment to Christ centers our lives; it is where we find our rest and our certainty of life’s purpose.

Ponder

  • How committed am I to following Jesus?

Do

  • Choose a practical way this week to “serve one another through love.”

–by Sr. Mary Flick csj

On the pilgrimage of Discernment

      The Pilgrim’s Blessing

                                              O God,

Who guides us on our pilgrimage of life,

Be for us our companion on the way,

Our guide at the crossroads,

Our breath in weariness,

Our protection in danger,

Our shelter on the path,

Our shade in the heat,

Our light in the darkness,

Our comfort in discouragement,

French_Ways_of_St._James.svg

A Map of the Camino Frances route, also known as The French Way.

Our strength in our intentions.

So that with your grace, we will be safe and sound on the journey

And filled with goodness and joy. Amen

(adapted from the blessing given to the Pilgrims on the Way to Santiago)

 

A good friend of mine celebrated the year of her 25th Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph by going on the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, or the way of St. James, in Spain. Specifically, she did the route known as the Camino Frances which is some 500 miles long. Recently, she shared the lessons she learned while on this physical and emotional journey. While I may or may never do the actual pilgrimage, as I was listening to Kathy that day I realized that I too am on a journey, a pilgrimage of sorts, trying to find my way and path in life. Currently, I am in formation with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and am a temporary professed sister. Kathy learned and shared many lessons, and I will share those which resonated with me on my journey of discernment. I see these lessons as applicable no matter what decisions life brings. However, my perspective is that of someone who is discerning religious life as a vowed and consecrated sister.

As she embarked on her journey, Kathy realized it was something she had to do by herself. Even though she knew she had the love and support of community, family, and friends, Kathy knew this journey was one to do on her own. Many years back, as I embarked on my journey of discerning religious life, I too knew I had the support of my loved ones, but I had to do this on my own. By “on my own” or “her own” I mean only with God and self. God is the ever-present source of love and inspiration for me. I also want to make a distinction that I do not do anything in isolation. I get input from community and many trusted friends and family. That was the first lesson: there’s a balance in life of when you need to do something alone or to be alone, and when you need others with you.

That brings me to the next lesson, “to walk your own Camino, and not someone else’s.” Read, “live your own discernment/life journey and not someone else’s.” Kathy shared how she met a lady on the Camino and they quickly became good friends. Soon Kathy realized she was so wrapped up in her friend’s ailments and journey that she was not being authentic to herself and her own journey. This was a major lesson for me on my journey of discernment too. It’s natural and easy to make new and good friends, especially when you embark on a new journey. As I made friends with the people who were with me, I got so wrapped up in their journeys I was not focusing on my own, nor being authentic to myself. A trusted confidante help me to see what I was doing. I changed some of my behaviors and began to focus again on my own journey. This lesson can be especially hard in religious life when your good friends leave the formation process. Nevertheless, I know we are each on our own, authentic journey and have to be true to ourselves.

Next, Kathy shared this quote from a famous Spanish Poet, Antonio Machado, “Wanderer there is no road; the road is made by walking.” The road or path is made because people started using it and kept using it. Over time, it becomes noticeable because of the pattern of walking and eventually it is a well-worn path. Thus, the road was made by walking. There is a pattern to discerning religious life and a path of formation that has developed because over time many people have used it. Upon hearing early discernment stories from my friends who are part of the religious life, there are similarities, and I am sure with better research one could find distinct patterns. The short version of my early discernment story is: thought to be a Catholic sister came to me and denial ensued, then there was much prayer and discussion. Finally, I came out of denial, was ready to let go, and took the leap of faith. The lesson here is that there are many others who have traveled down the path and sharing with one another is helpful as we create and walk the road together. I for one will never forget how helpful it was when I began to talk to others about discernment of religious life.

Then there was a significant lesson on facing the daily journey versus the long journey and staying focused. Yes, Kathy wanted to finish the 500 mile journey. She knew she could only do it one day at a time.  The focus each day was knowing her limits and how many miles she could accomplish or needed to accomplish. Yes, I want to ultimately be a Sister of St. Joseph for the rest of my life. However, I can only do that by committing each day to live the vows I made at my first profession as well as committing to live out of our charism as best I can. Each day I also have to be focused or the daily events of life such as cooking, praying, and working will not mean much.

Which brings me to the final lesson to share: “You don’t arrive, you’re always arriving.” Kathy did make it to her destined end point, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela but the next journey began as soon as she had ended that one. She now had the journey back home.  I was dismayed when I first heard that discernment does not end with formation, at the time I will make final profession of vows, but it is instead a lifelong process.  Now I can see the wisdom in that statement. I do want to always be arriving, ready for whatever may be next. In order to be able to move forward in a healthy manner, I acknowledge endings, let them go, and do not dwell on them. We have a statement as Sisters of St. Joseph that goes along with this perspective too as it states we are moving always towards the more. Movement towards the more speaks volumes to me as I try to guard myself from becoming complacent and it inspires me to keep growing and learning.

First Profession Family picture

Sister Clare with her Mother Susie, Father Mike, Sister Michele, Bro-n-Law Brett, nephew Dylan and nieces Mia and Elena on her Profession of First Vows, June 29, 2014.

The blessing I shared at the beginning asks God to be all that we might need on the journey. A strong relationship with God is the way to survive and make it through the journey. As I reflect on my pilgrimage of discernment and formation upon my two year anniversary of First Vows I am grateful for what is and has been, and am focused on what the more may be calling me to.  Blessings to you on your journey fellow pilgrim!

~Sister Clare

Responding to Political Discourse

The Fist   by Mary Oliver

 

There are days

when the sun goes down

like a fist,

though of course

 

if you see anything

in the heavens

in this ways

you had better get

 

your eyes checked

or, better still,

your diminished spirit.

The heavens

 

have no fist,

or wouldn’t they have been

shaking it

for a thousand years now,

 

and even

longer than that,

at the dull, brutish

ways of mankind—

 

heaven’s own

creation?

Instead:  such patience!

Such willingness

 

to let us continue!

To hear,

little by little,

the voices—

 

only, so far, in

pockets of the world—

suggesting

the possibilities

 

of peace?

Keep looking.

Behold, how the fist opens

with invitation.

 

I am disturbed, God, of course by the shooting in Orlando, but also by the discourse of family and friends following the tragedy (I know this says more about me than it does about anyone else).  It has provided a perfect political storm–gun violence…in the hands of a Muslim…shooting gays.  Add to it the election rhetoric already agitating the masses and social medial was bound to implode.

Yet, must the conversation about violence beget more violence?

Unease and discomfort are typical and potentially even helpful feelings when engaging in conflict or confronting assumptions and bias.  They are helpful when I own them in myself and when I honor them with awareness and care in another.

How do I share my opinion with and move to understand those with a different perspective?  I try to start with a question, something  genuinely don’t know that will help me see what I might not see.  And then, I ask another question, again to understand from where the other person is coming.  The third question may then relate to my opinion and how or why it is different than the one we have been discussing.  This curiosity is followed with a story, a personal example illustrating why I hold the belief I hold.  For example, I remember discussing immigration with a relative.  I simply told stories of the amazing people with whom I lived and worked, shared who they are and their dreams.  Issues look different when real lives are attached.

I can truly understand the point of view of relatives and friends who do not want additional gun regulations.  A fear pervades that if the people cannot protect themselves, the government could use force against its citizens.  Could that happen?  Yes.  Could someone walk into my house right now with a gun and use it against me and those I love?  Yes.  Could I potentially stop such an event if I, too, carried a gun?  Yes.

Why then do I think differently?  I refuse to live in fear.  I would much prefer to give the government–give people–the benefit of the doubt.  I believe, by living in fear, I give life to the fear until it becomes a reality.  Why choose hate when I could choose love?  Why choose separation when I could celebrate the oneness in God in which we are held bound?  I don’t think guns are necessary–any of them.  I am not afraid of Muslims and do not attach the actions of a few to the faith of millions praying to the same God who hears my prayers.  And I believe that love belongs to God and I will celebrate love with whomever is bold enough and committed enough to advertise it with their lives no matter one’s sexual orientation.  And, as Mary Oliver says, I will not shake my fist, but patiently open to the “pockets of the world suggesting the possibilities of peace” and put myself there.

–Sarah

Sustainability Tour

This weekend is the Sustainable Backyard Tour. Terry Winklemann organized the tour several years ago to help folks in St. Louis learn about sustainability practices from their neighbors. Sustainability is often about making small choices in our daily lives and implementing them on the ground, where we live.

Jpeg

Backyard Garden

I grow about a quarter of what I eat right here on a small urban lot. I also have native plants and eco-restoration projects. I have been a host on the tour for a few years. This year, I am not hosting, but I will be joining friends in the Dogtown Ecovillage to help them host at their house. They have food and herb gardens and native gardens. They also have a passive solar house. They made the commitment to build it from scratch. It is super energy efficient and also has solar panels and a solar water heater.

Generally a few hundred people show up at each site on the tour, providing an opportunity to share what we are doing for sustainability and also to learn from others what they are doing. Grassroots. Community-building. Simplicity. Positive. Dynamic. This is a project that is so simple and sustainable that it is a delight to participate.

Sustainability is a new frontier of mission. We are working to build a more sustainable world and help others to do so. This not only enhances respect for the planet and all God’s creation, it also helps the poorest and weakest among us, who are those most adversely impacted by environmental degradation.

There are so many things we can do to build a better world. Each of us can do something small and all together, it makes a difference in our common home.

Why Do I Sign Up for These Crazy Things?!

Last Wednesday I was asked to consider running on a six person relay team for the Go! St. Louis, KT82.  Each person would run three different legs of the race spanning 82 miles from St. Louis to Hermann.  Most of the race was on the Katy Trail with a few legs of wooded trail running mixed in.  Every runner would run a total of somewhere between 11 and 19 miles.  I knew the guys who were asking me were all competitive runners, so I messaged back, “I have honestly not done much running since Boston and don’t know how fast I’ll be, but if you’re still interested, I’m game.”  The Boston Marathon was a month and a half ago, and other than a few short runs with my middle school track team, I think I had gotten in only one run over five miles long since then.  Why would I say yes?  Better question, why does anyone set up these crazy races to begin with?  Who thinks, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to send 1,000 runners out in the rain and heat and have them run 82 miles?!”  Why do hundreds of thousands of runners decide to risk shin splints, stress fractures, blood blisters, and all sorts of other injuries to train for these kinds of races every year?  My family ran the Warrior Dash one summer as a “family vacation.”  Twenty thousand crazy people ran over obstacles and through the mud—many in costume—on a day when temperatures were over a 100 degrees for what?  A t-shirt?

When we started yesterday, it was raining.  We stood in our rain jackets and watched our first runner take the baton bracelet and start us off.  Six of us (the other 5 runners plus driver) jumped in the van and drove to the second exchange.  Nate handed off to Claire and our second leg was underway.  As we hopped back in the van, Nate grabbed a towel to wipe off the mud and grass covering his side from an early spill he had taken running down a wet, grassy hill in the rain.  By the third leg the rain had pretty much stopped, but legs 5, 6, and 7—wooded, technical trail running—were muddy fun.  I was the sixth leg.  It was two steps forward and one step back as I worked to maintain balance slipping and sliding as I ran up and down the forest trails.  While one often avoids the roots and rocks in the trail, they were my friends yesterday, providing something stable under my feet.  It only took about three minutes to decide it was much easier to just crash through the muddy puddles than try to maneuver around them; keeping dry and clean wasn’t an option, so I just accepted the fate and enjoyed the ride.  Sometimes when I’m in the forest like that, running fast and leaping around small trail obstacles, it feels like I’m flying.  Yesterday, it was still cool at that point, and I was, for the most part, running by myself.  I loved every minute of it!  I handed off the baton and took off my shoes before jumping in the van to drive to the next exchange zone.

And so it went for just under 10 hours yesterday.  One of us would run 5-10 miles in various degrees of mud and heat while the others drove and waited and cheered.  We would climb sweaty and smelly into the van, laughing and talking and teasing.  By the time we got to Hermann, we were spent.  Yet we crossed the finish as a team with arms high in celebration, high fiving as we got our finisher medals.

I could write volumes analyzing the lonely times on the trail, the things that go through my head, the sights and sounds, and aches and pains, and many people would never understand why it is I love these kinds of things.  I’m not even entirely sure myself.  Part of it is probably the competition—passing people on the trail and kicking it up a notch when the faintest sound of footsteps comes into earshot; there is something physically rewarding in the exhaustion and the sense of accomplishment.  Some of it is the beauty of nature.  At times the run was prayer.  The green of the fields, the birds in the trees, the blue skies and constantly changing clouds kept me grounded in the Creator.  Most of all, though, I think it is the people with whom I do these crazy things.  Of the seven of us who spent the day together yesterday, only a few knew each other well.  Some of us just met that morning.  Yet, knowing we were about a common mission, that we all signed on for this same crazy-fun thing, an instant bond was formed.  We shared jokes and sunscreen, stories and sweaty towels.  And it wasn’t just the others on my relay team.  Everyone out there yesterday seemed to have the same connection, the same united spirit.  Why do I sign up for 82 mile relay races in St. Louis in June?  Because it’s a way I connect with who I am and what I am capable of, with the gift of the trail beneath my feet and everything that surrounds it, and because I always know in a deeper way the ultimate reality that we are all one.

–S. Sarah Heger