Great video on vocations from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, CA.
A panel discussion and web forum on discerning a religious vocation hosted by Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann of Salt + Light Television.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Luke 12:34
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” I wonder how long it took those first sisters who arrived from Lyon to recognize Carondelet as their “treasure.” How quickly did they invest their hearts here in this small backwards settlement? This Fall, we celebrate our arrival here 180 years ago. But as I thought about our celebration, it occurred to me: we would not be celebrating their arrival if they had not stayed! So rather than reflecting on why those first Sisters of St. Joseph came, I wondered more: Why did they stay??? What kept those women here in this strange land, at that difficult time? What was their motivation? Their inspiration? What was the Source of their staying power – and ours?
When I wondered this aloud several weeks ago, Sister Marion Renkens had a ready answer: it was the
trip over that kept them here. With sea-sickness, a lack of privacy and a poor diet – not to mention the need to wear something other than their habits when they arrived in New Orleans – who would want to repeat all of that on the way back??
While I had to agree, it seems to me there was something more. Five weeks at sea and two more weeks up the river gave them plenty of time for contemplation. When those young, French women gazed out across the wide Atlantic, then up the long Mississippi, what were the dreams that beckoned, the values that held their vision, long after they arrived?
It seems to me it was more than the adventure of an unknown frontier, or the spiritual mission of saving souls. Perhaps it was an inheritance they had received at Mother St. John’s side, one she had received from a long line of dedicated women, extending back to that first foundation almost two hundred years earlier.
Could it be the six foundational virtues of the two trinities with which Father Medaille formed the first women, and Mother St. John undoubtedly taught her post-Revolution followers? Perfection. Self-Emptying. Unifying Love. Zeal. Fidelity. Cordial Charity. Virtue.
Yes. Virtue. Virtus. Power. Strength. Could it be the source of their strength and their staying power was found in their contemplating the virtues of the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity? — The legacy of Father Medaille and those first women – given to all of us who follow them.
As the six missionaries to the Missouri Mission filled their travel days contemplating the Holy Family and praying to the Holy Trinity, perhaps they found strength in the present and assurance for the future.
When they contemplated God the Father, the Creator of All, did they intuit the wholeness inherent in the virtue of perfection? The Missouri Mission would demand the whole of their lives – body, mind and spirit – as they confronted the unexpected hardships and unending work they found here in Carondelet. And a wholeness, a oneness with the land, with heaven and earth and with society, as the psalmist sings this morning. There was little appreciation for the delicacies of French life here in Carondelet! There was wood to haul for the fire and children to teach and scrub and feed, and the hearth to be tended while they cooked the food they had begged. There were sleepless nights on straw tics and mosquitoes and mice and humidity — and body odor.
Yes, it took strength of body, mind and spirit not to give up or give in. Lived imperfectly, they sought perfection, a wholeness of life that demanded they remain open and optimistic. And they stayed.
When they contemplated the Son – who emptied himself in human form, who humbled himself in love – did they find a model for their own humility, and their work in Carondelet? Humus, of the earth; lowly. Could it get any lower than to leave the art and culture of their homeland for the rough and tumble frontier life of the Missouri Mission? More than once we read of the sisters placing “ornaments” they had brought with them in the space they had created as a chapel. A humble piece of finery amid the stark reality of this new place; something that reminded them of home, of heaven amid the humble, human life on the frontier. And they stayed.
Did they contemplate the unifying love of the Holy Spirit as they passed the black children on the riverbank during their ride up the Mississippi? Could they have imagined that their first mission outside of Carondelet would be teaching liberated slave children and preparing slaves for the sacraments? They had come to serve the Indians. They would have to wait awhile to begin that mission of unifying love. Meantime, they would be met by school children waiting to be educated, and orphans wanting to be held. Was this long-held virtue of unifying love already moving them to reach out to whomever they met, wherever there was a need? Yes, they stayed.
Certainly, they felt the zeal of the boy Jesus – the passion, the fervor, the energy in their young, fresh limbs and lungs. Sister St. Protais, the youngest, was 22 – still a novice – when she arrived. Even the oldest, the 32-year-old Sister Felicite, was “handy with a saw,” as her students knew! But it was not just physical energy. They had volunteered for the hardships of this unknown work and mission. In those early days, they found themselves doing whatever woman was capable of. But they had been chosen, not only for their physical strength. Certainly, there was a fervor of spirit that kept them turning to prayer as often as they turned to their neighbor – the neighbor who often served them. Likely, it was only through prayer that they could reconcile in those earliest of days that they did not go out to the poor – they were the poor! They lived the poverty they were tending to. In Carondelet they found there were no Haves and Have-Nots – they all were Have-Nots. Not even that sent them back to the comforts of France. What’s more, they soon found that not even the Missouri Mission would be big enough for them. They would enthusiastically respond to the invitation of the bishops, and the many needs across this vast land. Women of passion, of fervor, of zeal – the zeal of the boy Jesus. And they stayed.
How often first sisters must have looked to Mary, with whom they had a special kinship. Mary, the lone woman in those two trinities, who bore the strength, the power, the virtue of fidelity. Fidelis. Faithful. It was a part of Mary, who she was, a way of life. A faithful, faith-filled woman for whom God was primary, a God she knew daily through her family, her work, her neighbors. Perhaps it was Mary and her model of fidelity that kept those first sisters faithful in the midst of tension: Dealing with the rough missionary, Father Saulnier (salu-nE-A’). And with the rigid and controlling Father Fontbonne. Women confronting the tensions of being women in a patriarchal church and society. Not to mention the tensions of finding enough food to keep themselves strong. Amid the tension and the poverty, they were faithful. And they stayed.
Then there was their namesake, Joseph, and the virtue, the power he shared with them in cordial charity. Cordial – warmth. Charity – love. Warm love. A womb love. The likely origin of their compassion and hospitality. For these Sisters of St. Joseph, it was not a matter of entertaining guests with their extra. It was a matter of sharing what little they had with whoever needed it. Especially the children for whom they cared, and whom they taught. A love as big as the outdoors they confronted each day, a world hungry for love, inside and outside their log cabin. Yes, with love for God and the dear neighbor, they stayed.
“Where your treasure is, your heart will be.”
Where is your treasure?
What holds your heart?
Why have your stayed?
What virtue is the source of your staying power?
What will be your legacy to those who follow this Way of Life, our Way of Love?
by Mary Flick, CSJ
The spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph is rooted in the spirituality of St. Ignatius. In this short video, two sisters explain this….
by Sr. Amy Hereford
I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase in latin: Fuga mundi (flight from the world), and what it might mean.
Originally, it was used by the mothers and fathers of the desert in reference to the flight from a corrupt and persecuting world to live a more authentic Christian life. To be sure, the persecution was extreme, leading to the martyrdom of many early Christians. It was illegal to refuse to sacrifice to the gods of Rome because of one’s belief in Jesus Christ. Some Christians fled to the desert for safety.
Once the persecution let up, the empire did an about-face and legalized Christianity. At that point many people flocked to join the Christians, and many did so in name only. The ranks of the Church were flush with new Christians, some of whom were unwilling or unable to embrace a true conversion of life. Some Christians wanted to sell all, give to the poor and devote their entire lives to prayer and gospel-living. They chose to leave the mass of unruly new converts to Christians – to flee the world – and try to live more authentically Christian lives.
This was the historical origin of fuga mundi or flight from the world. Not surprisingly religious life took up this phrase to describe the vocational journey of coming away from society, family, friends into a monastery or religious community. It was a separation from an outside world. Along with that separation came an implicit judgment that monastic life or religious life was superior: a purer and more radical form of Gospel living.
With the renewal of the Church and of religious life occasioned by the Second Vatican Council, the term fell into dis-use and sometimes it was positively rejected. We should not reject or denigrate “the world”, but embrace it as Jesus did, reach out to the world in compassion and share the Gospel.
The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. (Vatican II: Gaudium et spes)
I believe this is an important move in the life of the Church: the turn to the world, with the eyes of Jesus. Yet, I think the early Christians were on to something important as well when they thought of flight from the world fuga mundi. It all depends on what you are fleeing from and what you are fleeing for.
There is much to embrace in a world created by God, loved and redeemed by Christ, our common home that we share with our sisters and brothers in the human community. All this I can embrace with love and compassion.
Yet there is also a darker side that I would flee, just like my early Christian sisters and brothers who fled persecution and corruption. I would flee from consumerism, from racism, from wanton environmental degradation, from violence, from sexism and from every form of dis-respect and abuse of the poor and vulnerable.
My flight is not so easy as going to a remote wilderness and absolving myself of responsibility for the ills of ‘the world.’ My flight requires that I make choices. I am part of this society that perpetuates violence and oppression. I cannot stand by and innocently call others to task. I partake in the ills myself. Every purchase I make, every bit of food I take, every cup of water I drink comes from this society that is both created and loved by God, and deeply compromised in its living. So my fuga mundi calls me to flee every form of violence and injustice, and to call others to the same. My fuga mundi calls me to solidarity with those who suffer from violence and injustice.
My particular call at this time is to free myself from chocolate and caffeine that is produced by slave labor. And some much of it is. Fair trade costs more – so I will have to consume less. But how can I justify buying cheaply, when my purchase is made on the backs of child laborers and underpaid farm-workers and even people working in slave-labor conditions. I love my chocolate! But not at that price. So this is the world I am choosing to flee now. There are so many other choices I can make: fresh, local and organic foods, reducing travel and energy consumption, reducing use of plastics and non-renewable resources, becoming aware of slave-labor practices in the supply-chains of stores and products and avoiding them.
I can flee the world without going to the wilderness. But sometimes it is by taking some time physically apart in prayer and reflection that I find the courage to live my flight in the midst of a broken world.
I celebrated my birthday last month, and along with it, had to renew my drivers’ license. I always laugh at the sign test. I can’t quite understand why they take the words out of the signs. I never come across a stop sign that doesn’t have the word stop in the middle. Regardless, a big, red octagon means stop. We have ascribed meaning to this particular color and shape.
We have lots of other symbols as well: recycle, no smoking, restrooms, etc. Some symbols make total sense, for example, a picture of a trash can to indicate there is a place to through trash away. However, three green arrows in a triangle is a little more abstract. How did we decide this means recycle?
Some symbols have the same meaning in different parts of our country and world. In most places, for example, a red heart means love. However, I’m not sure there are any truly universal symbols. If someone grew up in a remote, isolated location I’m not sure a heart, a big, red octagon, or even an arrow pointing in a certain direction would hold any meaning. We have ascribed meaning to these things based on a common experience and understanding.
What happens when multiple meanings are ascribed to the same symbol, or when the experience of one person or group doesn’t fit with the meaning another group is trying to ascribe? For example, the cross is, for Christians today, a symbol of resurrection and hope. In another time and place, wearing a cross necklace would have been akin to wearing a little electric chair around one’s neck.
Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player with the San Francisco 49ers, started a controversial movement when he chose to kneel during the National Anthem. In the last five weeks, dozens of professional athletes and teams–as well as amateur ones–have taken a knee, raised a fist, or remained seated during the National Anthem. I understand the perspective of those who find this disrespectful. For many in the United States, the National Anthem is a symbol of freedom and–especially for those who have or have had family in the military–a symbol of those who gave their lives fighting for those freedoms.
And I understand (as well as my white, educated self can understand) those who kneel, raise a fist, or don’t stand. If they put their hand over their heart and sing the anthem they are professing receipt of freedoms they have not received.
Maybe they are intending to disrespect the lives of those who fought and died. I haven’t asked. But maybe, in a way, they are respecting those lives, insisting on the fullness of the freedoms for which they fought.
Because my skin is white, I don’t worry if I get pulled over, or if my dad or brothers get pulled over. Because my skin is white, I probably wouldn’t get arrested for shoplifting if I opened my drink while I was shopping intending to pay at the checkout. Because my skin is white, my family did not face difficulty purchasing a home in whatever neighborhood we desired, in a school district that would prepare me well for whatever further education I would want to pursue. Because my skin is white, it’s assumed I am educated. Because my skin is white, I can run to the store in grungy sweats and not be stereotyped.
I am grateful for these freedoms, believing this should be the experience of everyone. But it’s not. I sometimes wish I could give them up to be in solidarity with people whose skin doesn’t look like mine. But I can’t be not white. I can’t uneducated myself.
I can, however, work to understand and change the systems that keep people oppressed.
Racial conversations and actions always make me uneasy because I don’t want to say the wrong thing or offend someone unintentionally. I’m already asking myself what I’ll do the next time I’m at a sporting event and the National Anthem is played. My gut is that I’ll stay seated. I have to agree that the freedoms for which our country stands have not been fully realized. I hope my black sisters and brothers will see my action as commitment to a shared journey, and I hope they’ll help me understand my role in what the Sisters of St. Joseph call the mission of unifying love.