Called to Serve

I have had several projects this summer that have been challenging for me.
Some months back, I agreed to give some presentations, or take on other projects, and it seemed to be a good idea. I have the qualifications, and they fall within the scope of my ministry.
As each of these projects comes up on my calendar, I prepare for them. I reflect on the topic at hand and do some extra reading and research. This part of the project I enjoy the most, reflecting on challenges that religious life is facing these days, and offering my insights, and the fruit of the many conversations I’ve had, and experience of the communities I’ve worked with, etc.
And then when the actual moment comes up to lead the workshop or retreat, or to give the presentation, I realize that immensity of the challenge to offer something new on the topic of religious life. People are looking for insights, for hope, for inspiration. And so at this point, I realize that each person and each community is also on an individual journey. Each person has particular questions, particular concerns and particular insights. All I can do is offer what I have prepared, and pray with and for the group that they will hear whatever it is they need to hear. I also have the gift of hearing from them the new insights that they bring and the new insights that come up for them as our time unfolds.
I feel so privileged to walk with individuals and groups in the challenging times of their lives. In response, I want to do the best I can to accompany them and help them along the way.

The Visitation

I thought I would share some reflections from my first few days on retreat.  The series is incomplete, but, should be plenty for a start…

“Zechariah and I have given our whole lives in service of God. We were raised by faithful parents who themselves where raised by faithful parents. Why we haven’t been able to conceive, I don’t know. I’m sure they townspeople murmur–wonder what sins we’ve committed in some hidden life. But I know that’s not it. Maybe there is something wrong with my body or Zechariah’s, maybe God has different plans for us, I don’t know. But I do know I am called to trust. Most days, that trust is easy. And yet, some days, doubt creeps in. Maybe there is something I have done with which God is not pleased, some way I am unworthy or offensive. But, God always offers consolation, clears the cloud from my heart and mind and restores peace to its home. I am God’s and God knows that, and so I wait.”

“I don’t know if it’s harder for me or harder for her. The talk of women is different than men, yet we all talk, we all speculate, we all get pulled into hearsay and hurt. I know who I am, who Elizabeth is, who we are together. Our lives have not been without blemish, but certainly no offense large enough to keep us barren. I would love a child, not to squelch the chatter, but to watch Elizabeth grow in the light and life for which her body is made. To hold our child, to play, to soothe, to teach, to grow old watching, to know the love we know in God will live on. I pray to be patient and content and grateful for what is, to be about my priestly duties with grace and dignity. And yet sometimes I wonder at this plan of God’s for us. What more can I do?”

“That day in the temple was so unreal, yet so very real. I was focused on my duties and suddenly surprised by the presence of another. I obviously wanted Gabriel’s message to be true–but how? Why? Why me? Why now? My muteness was not punishment but another sign to help my disbelief. I wanted to believe, but only time would tell.”

“Zechariah came home to me mute. ‘Great, just what we needed, I thought.’ But his message was so strange and wonderful. I could tell he was bursting at the seams and yet trying to hold it all together in case, in case maybe… He was so gentle with me those next days, as if we might break me or the gift upon us. And when the time for my monthly cycle came and passed, we held each other, weeping silent teacher–grateful and hoping and grateful.”

“My stomach is fluttering. I like to think it is the miracle-child growing within me, but I know it’s just the nervous, excited energy of what I’ve just been told. It’s unbelievable and wonderful and overwhelming and joyous and so, so scary. Like I told the angel, ‘I am God’s servant.’ That is what I know my life is for, and I am happy to have it be so. But this is going to cause such scandal and hurt. Maybe Joseph and my parents will understand and maybe they won’t. Maybe no one else will take notice. Who am I kidding?! God, I could use a little help here, someone who will believe this for what it is. Ha! I am so sorry, God. In your compassionate love, you have provided everything. I will go to Elizabeth! She will understand. We can celebrate together this amazing work you are doing in us. How quickly can I go?”

“I’m too excited for this journey to seem arduous. I wish I were already there, knocking on the door, being greeted with a welcoming embrace. Will we tell our news right away, blurt it out eagerly and with joy? Or will we wait, awkwardly holding onto the news, unsure if the other will believe? Elizabeth should be far enough along, though, that there will be no doubt. What if I show up and she is not with child? What will I do then? But she will be. I know she will.”

“My back was to the door when Mary arrived. Though we haven’t seen each other in ages and I didn’t expect her arrival, as soon as she said my name, I knew. I knew it was Mary and I knew, too, she had a blessing to share. When we hugged, I could feel the energy and life in her womb fill all the God spaces in me. John jumped as if ready to begin his own mission. Mary put out her hands, her eyes asking permission to touch my swelling belly. I took her hands and held them to the roundness, feeling again John’s movement in response. Confirming my suspicion, she then took my hands and put them on her own still-flat stomach. There was much to share and celebrate. I was so glad she had come.”

“As we approached the village my nervous energy made me giddy. I separated myself from the group and walked the short distance to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house. The gift of calm and peace and stillness washed over me as I stood at the door, washed away any anxiety of doubt. Slowly, I pushed open the door and there was Elizabeth with her back to me. I don’t remember if I said her name first or if she called mine, but no words were necessary. When she turned and I saw her rounded belly my whole being ached with love and gratitude. My trust was not childish. Everything was real. As we held one anothers hands to the life growing inside each of us, consolation swept my soul. The pain of need and isolation melted, a puddle around my feet. Safe and sure with someone who understood, I was suddenly exhausted. Elizabeth led me to her bed where, immediately, I slept.”



A Grammatical Perspective on Life Right Now

This past weekend was a great one full of love, laughter
and sharing life in the best sense of the term! 

On Saturday I was at an event and my brothers and sisters in the United Church of Christ had on these matching shirts with a huge punctuation on the front. I was not sure which one it was or why they were wearing it on the front of their shirts. Finally, I went up and asked someone what the meaning of their shirts were. The lady I asked looked at me with all seriousness and said it is a comma, because we want to let you know that God is not finished with you yet. It symbolizes the unfinished piece of artwork each of us are. I immediately knew that was the perfect message for me and it was Providential to be hearing it at that moment.

On Sunday, I renewed my vows of temporary profession of poverty, chastity, and obedience for two years. And when I heard the message from the U.C.C congregation I thought it was congruent to what it means to renew vows for me. In practical terms it means formation is not over yet. In a heartfelt manner it means I want to keep learning, growing, and living into being my most authentic self and being a Sister of St. Joseph. The unfinished business is in my life right now is pulling me forward as I evaluate and work through those things I need to change in my life. My comma which is now right after my renewal of vows is pulling me forward to that exclamation point of making final vows! If you take it a little further and think about it perhaps life is a little fuller of commas and semicolons then end punctuation marks. The end punctuation marks would then only signify those moments that you consider the most major turns or changes in your life and you want to signify the end of them.

No matter what punctuation mark you use to symbolize your time in life, the message as long as we’re living I think is the same: God’s not finished with us yet! Let your life stay dynamic! We can each do this by staying aware and alert of what my true motivations are in life. If we lose focus then life gets out of control and can become stagnant. Staying in touch with God, our source of love, is a factor in being able to stay focused and mindful.

Blessings on your journey fellow pilgrim, Sister Clare

The Celebration of Our Unity

By Mary Flick, CSJ

The Sundays which follow the close of the Easter season invite us to linger in the unity experienced on that first Pentecost. Two weeks ago, we heard, “They all were together in one place” when the Spirit descended, and the large, diverse crowd of visitors to Jerusalem “each heard them speaking in his own language.” Unity defines our origin as Church. On Trinity Sunday, we reflected on the unity of the Godhead – the oneness of relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. Today, we see the Eucharist as a celebration of our unity with God and with one another.

In today’s first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses demands of the people, “Do not forget the Lord your God” who guided and delivered them from Egypt, who gave them drink and fed them with manna in the desert. Manna, a previously unknown food, became their food for the journey. The people, together sustained by what God had provided, moved forward together, supporting each other, discovering their identity as God’s chosen people.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes of the cup and bread shared at Eucharist, not as sustenance, but as the source of oneness. We are one body, Paul tells us – the Body of Christ. It requires eyes of faith to recognize Christ in the Eucharist. So, too, we must look with the eyes of faith to recognize Christ in our neighbors. Yes, our oneness, our unity, is what defines us as Church. In the Creed we profess our belief in “one, holy catholic, apostolic church.” We are meant to be one.

The source of this oneness is Jesus’ very self. In today’s gospel. Jesus does not give those who believe in him a perishable manna in the desert, but himself, a “living bread” from heaven. That “living bread” must be received with living faith to have its effect. That “living bread” is the source of eternal life, the source of a unity that is timeless. It is, quite intimately, Christ in me, and I in Christ. The cup and bread we share is our gateway to this intimacy of oneness: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The body and blood of Christ is true communion – union with God. And Jesus’ gift of his very flesh and blood offers us a solidarity greater than our differences. It is the food and drink that nourishes us again and again, on The Way.

Vow of Poverty – explained to wealth managers

I was recently asked to discuss the vow of poverty with a journalist working for a wealth management magazine. “Are you sure you want to talk to me?” I asked. Yes, we’re looking for different attitudes and perspectives. Well, yes, mine is different…

Here’s the article – some of the details aren’t quite right, but I think she did a good job of pulling parts of it together:

A Nun Tells Us What It’s Like to Live With a Vow of Poverty

As a Sister of St. Joseph, Amy Hereford lives a financial life that’s a lot different from most of us. But she thinks the lessons from it apply to us all.  Read more…

Emotions and Humanity

So often in life we are told it is the mature or professional or right thing to do to control our emotions.  And too often some emotions are given a negative connotation, or are seen or felt as “bad.”  Emotions are simply information.  They tell me how I feel about a situation or person.  And I know that to act out of an emotion without control can have consequences.  However, I wonder if we are denying others the opportunity to see us and thus treat us as fully human if we never express the anger, sadness, excitement, or joy that we sometimes struggle to contain.

I serve as the principal at an all-girls middle school.  Most days I love what I do.  And some days it is difficult.  This past week I was angry when a parent did something at minimum inconsiderate.  I didn’t say anything in the moment because I was responsible for the safety of too many students to be distracted and because I wasn’t sure I would respond in the super-professional way that might be expected.  I will probably follow up with this parent later on in what will be a very measured conversation.  But, does that measured conversation get across the hurt and fear and disappointment and anger that categorized the moment?  I can explain how I feel and felt, but it’s not the same.  I wonder if people feel it’s okay to treat “the principal” differently than they might treat “Sarah”, treat someone they see first as a role differently than they would treat a person?

Our brains are wired to be wary of those who are different.  Years and years and years ago when humans wandered in tribes, someone who looked different was very likely a threat.  Our brains still react accordingly.  Could we/would we recognize each other as the same through emotions to which we can relate?

It probably wouldn’t have been good to share with that parent all of the things running through my mind in that moment.  But, if I had it to do over again, I think I would have shared some of the emotion that she might have recognized in hopes that we could see and treat each other as people.  I’m sure there will be a next time.

–S. Sarah

Celebrating Sisters

–by Sr Amy

Celebrating Sisters was an online panel of the newer generations of sisters, sharing their best memories of religious life, their enthusiasm for religious life today and their hopes for religious life going forward. The recording will also be available after the live event.

What a joy to have the opportunity to reflect together about religious life! My life as a religious sister has given me incredible opportunities to grow in spirituality and in my relationship with God. I have had the opportunity to serve in various ministries and to receive so much from those that I serve. They really call me to a deeper and more authentic living of the Gospel. And finally, I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful sisters with whom I have shared prayer, community and ministry. They have inspired me, challenged me and supported me in so many ways.

I thank God that I have been called to sell all, give to the poor and to follow. And I thank God that I have received the promised hundred-fold in return.