Change the Narrative: Celebrate our Differences

Throughout the history of humankind people have differentiated themselves from one another for various reasons. Unfortunately instead of celebrating these differences they have mostly been reprimanded and there was no acceptance or understanding leaving those people deemed ‘different’ excluded. Think about all the differentiations which we make and focus on in our daily life in the U.S. today: gender differences, ethnicity differences, spirituality differences, citizenship status differences, sexual orientation differences, ability differences, economic status differences, political party differences, and the list could go on. All of the differentiation have been made for exclusionary purposes by those ‘with the power’ and have created a sort of stratification system for people within all these categories so that some are  ‘best or morally right’ while others are ‘worst or morally wrong’.  This is a violent way to live and it is not the way to bring about the reign of our loving God. This violence is evident in the U.S. today and I personally find it unacceptable. I also take responsibility in my own life and look to see who I judge and discriminate against and work to change this in my heart and mind.

When we differentiate to discriminate against another we are not living as Jesus did nor carrying out the Good news of the Gospel. When people are hurting, dying, and families are being broken apart or other harms come into their lives because of discrimination then there is a major problem that needs to be changed and fixed. It is affecting all of us in the worst way no matter if you are at the ‘top of the hierarchy and deemed best or better’ or you’re deemed ‘lower’ in the stratification system. We all suffer on multiple levels when so much violence occurs.

Those in leadership or with power keep giving excuses and try to justify the madness and then the rest of us follow suit. To be sure, there is a myriad of people with power even beyond those in actual leadership who further perpetuate the justifications too. However, this is exactly where the narrative has to change. There can be no more, and as far as I am concerned, there are no more excuses and justifications. It is affecting our Churches, nations, states, and cities, and our Religious Congregations here and around the world.

In his book, “The Different Drum,” on Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck, says, “Genuine community is always characterized by integrity,” (p. 234). He goes on to note that when “discerning the presence or absence of integrity, you need to ask only one question. What is missing? Has anything been left out?” (p.236). When we truthfully begin to look at these questions as individuals and communities we will be able to honestly answer them.

When our Congregations gather for any event, it is generally easy to see who is missing and/or left out. We have to honestly answer these questions not only our future, but for the present moment too. The vocation team in St. Paul, recently asked all the Vocation ministers to examine how racism is affecting our vocation ministries. I am grateful for the question. I think we need to ask that question for every committee we have as a Congregation and for everything we do or plan on doing—who is missing or who is left out? And Why? For they will also be left out of what is being planned. The answers to these questions are not for one person or a select few to answer. They are something for all of us as a community to answer together.

Since I am a faith-filled person living in a religious community as a sister, I have hope that we can be vulnerable together, work through this and be able to walk with integrity into the future. I know this is hard work to do and I know there is resistance to this work because it makes us uncomfortable and it takes more time and energy.  However, this is what we must do and continue to do in order to bring about the reign of our loving God. God made each of us unique and different for a reason and loves each of us the same. So let’s change the narrative together and really start to celebrate our differences. It’s the only way Peace can begin to flourish in our hearts and in our world.

Peace on the journey fellow pilgrim, S. Clare Bass, CSJ.

 

Convent Camino

The Camino de Santiago, or just the Camino is a network of pilgrimage pathways leading the shrine of the apostle Saint James of Campostelo on the west coast of Spain. Since the middle ages, pilgrims have followed this path as a form of pilgrimage, penance or retreat. Today, there is renewed interest in the Camino as walkers travel from around the globe to take part in this ancient spiritual practice.
I have long wished to make the Camino, but have never had the opportunity. However, walking is one of my spiritual practices. I just walk and walk and walk – especially on retreat. There is not purpose or direction in particular. But it is a time to be free of the bounds of life and of ministry and to be emersed in God and in creation. I love the image of Camino as a time and space of openness to God, of discernment, and of spiritual clarity.
The Sisters in St. Louis are inviting women to join us for a Convent Camino. Based on the ancient spiritual practice, our Camino will bring us to several convents to enable participants to deepen their discernment of religious life. We will travel to three different locations for prayer, conversation and community sharing. Sisters from several more communities will also be present to help organize and present the various parts of the retreat. Women who join us will have the opportunity to come together with Sisters and with other discerners.
If you’re interested, or know someone who is, here is the link: http://bit.ly/2hdR4cR

We Are One

As Sisters of St. Joseph with a charism of unifying love, the idea that all things are connected resonates.  And I love when science backs spiritual, theological concepts.  For example, the law of conservation of mass-energy tells us that the total amount of mass and energy in the universe in constant.  I am made up of the same stuff as trees and flowers and birds and this stuff has been around since the beginning.  And when I die, the physical stuff of which I am made will be used to make something new.  Death into new life.

And this idea of oneness goes a step farther.  My physical being, physically affects those around me.  On some level, we have probably all experienced this.  If I’m surrounded by people who are always tired and complaining, it won’t take long for me to be tired and complaining.  As principal, I know that the energy and enthusiasm I exude will impact the teachers and, thus, the students.  How does that work?

This summer, I was learning a bit more about trauma and neuroscience when I watched this TED Talk/Youtube video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0pwKzTRG5E

Amazing, right?!

So, in this time of societal and world trauma, when things can sometimes seem hopeless and I wonder what difference I make, I remember that I do, very literally, make a difference every day, and I work to make it a positive one.

–S. Sarah

Gift of a Lifetime

–by Sr. Amy

We gathered to celebrate on the evening before Sr. Mary Flick (royal blue shirt) makes her final profession as a Sister of St. Joseph. Sr. Sarah invited us each to bring a card, a prayer and small gift. Some were funny, some were profound, some were touching. All together, they said that we have walked with Mary for these past years from tentative probing of inquiry, through the deliberate ‘getting to know you’ of candidacy, through the deepening discernment of novitiate and through the growing confidence of her  years in temporary profession.

We celebrated Mary’s upcoming final profession in which she definitively says yes to the journey so far and to the unfolding journey of a Sister of St. Joseph. We also celebrated the lifetime profession of every other sister in the room. Each of us has given our lifetime gift and each of us in turn receives and holds the lifetime gift of the others. Each sister’s life is unique, each sister’s gift is unique, and as we gathered, we celebrated the richness of that diversity and the deep mutuality of our community.

Jesus says:

There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

 In religious life, this gospel-promise is lived out in a particular way. “The young and the old, the frightened, the bold, the greatest and the least….” We come to walk together, we share a feast, we share a journey, we support one-another in hope, in challenge, in service.

Each time we celebrate a sister who takes a step forward in her formation journey, we renew the deepest and highest gift we share. The gift we give for a lifetime, the gift we receive for a lifetime, the God who is the author of all giving.

Thank you Mary for this opportunity to remember, celebrate and grow.

“The More”

The Sisters of St. Joseph claim Ignatian roots.  St. Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuits.  Thus, the Sisters of St. Joseph share many connections with the Jesuit spirituality, one of which is the idea of Magis, or “The More.”  But, what does “The More” really mean?

When I consider my myriad roles as principal, vocation minister, discernment house coordinator, Giving Voice leadership team member (the list could go on and on), most days I can’t possibly think of anything more.  Thankfully, this idea of Magis or The More, is not about doing more.

Interpretations vary, but the idea of Magis is related to discernment.  When we are discerning between two or more good things, all else being equal, we are to choose the option, at the service of faith, that will have the wider impact.  In a sense, we must work smarter, not harder.  The More calls us to deep contemplation, to a quality of work and relationship that brings people to our personal, incarnate God.  It calls us to look beyond the immediate need to what will have long-lasting, universal impact.

Saying for sure, “This choice is the More,” is impossible; we can make discern decisions based only on the light we have at the time.  Thankfully, Ignatius and many other wise and faithful followers have given us many tools that make the light a little brighter.

Blessings on whatever discernment you may be about in service of our God for the universal good.

–S. Sarah

 

Geger, Fr. Barton T., S.J.  What Magis Really Means.  Xavier University.  http://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/news-events/documents/WhatMagisReallyMeansPublishedCopy.pdf

Going Deep with the Solar Eclipse

NASA’s picture of the layers of the Sun.

We’re all ready for the Solar Eclipse 2017 here in Missouri! There’s so much going on in the world right now it’s hard to know what write about. I just looked at NASA’s webpage for the Eclipse event and learned that during a Solar Eclipse scientists can see the most inner part of the Sun which are called the Corona and Chromosphere. This is important scientifically and you can find out why at NASA’s webpage. The significance of my sharing on it is what I believe to be a key to finding our meaning in life and also a key to each and every person’s success. This isn’t anything new that I’m sharing. It’s something I have been researching lately for professional reasons and need to do more of in my own life too.

So here’s the crux of the matter: When the moon passes over the Sun we see the INNER part of the Sun we’re never able to see otherwise. When people are vulnerable with one another and share deeply we see the INNER part of each other or what Thomas Merton and many others call the Real Self. The Sun’s mask is taken away during the eclipse and our masks of superficiality are taken away when we go inward, connect with our real self, and share deeply. The best way to get in touch with our real self is through practicing Contemplative Prayer. I suggest reading among other books, Thomas Merton’s “New Seeds of Contemplation” for an explanation of what contemplative prayer is.

When we are able to take off our outer or surface masks such as masks such as competition, selfishness, pettiness, anger, and fear to name a few we go to the next level of being so to speak. Even though we become more confident in our self we are in a vulnerable position because we are exposed. This is also where we connect with the Divine Presence in our lives. It is where we find true love in the deepest sense of the word. See God is love and already knows this part of us, but we have to take time and really connect their too. I have learned all of this throughout formation and am still learning and working on it! So by no means am I an expert in this matter, just someone who’s hoping to help the cause of making the world a better place.

The key to finding meaning in our lives which I mentioned earlier can be found if we learn to connect with our deepest and truest selves and keep doing so throughout our lifetimes. It’s definitely not a onetime deal! It is not an easy thing to do but if more and more of us do it this will add so much love to the world. And that’s what we so desperately need today—a groundswell of LOVE. Not the romantic type of love, but the deepest love which allows for deep connection. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it. In this love is where we are able to see the oneness of the Universe and the oneness of the human family and all of creation. We see how we’re all connected. We honor and respect the unique diversity and abilities among us. We go beyond ourselves. We have healthier relationships and relate to each other in a better manner. Doing these actions keep us grounded and keep hope alive.

It’s a process. Take it one day at a time–because really that’s all we can do!
Blessings on the journey fellow pilgrim! ~Sister Clare

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.
Peace,
Amy

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.”

–Sarah