Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love In Lent

By Sr. Judy Donohue, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Judy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Today, Ash Wednesday begins the wonderful though challenging season of Lent. Lent means spring, a time of new growth. It is exciting for me to focus on doing a positive action for Lent instead of giving up something. Maybe this Lent I will try to smile at 5 people a day, or create a gratitude list each night of 5 things. Whatever I can do to make my day more life-giving.

We are also celebrating one of my favorite Holiday’s, Valentine’s Day. When I think of Love, I see how important perseverance is to a maturing and developing love of others. Jesus’ 40 days in the desert was an act of perseverance to the call of God to stay the course. His examples inspires me when times get tough to keep plugging.

During Lent we persevere through the seven weeks of spiritual growth toward closer relationships with God and others. I have found it a great challenge and of significant value to persevere in my relationships at work, family and community life. Sometimes I want to give up when I have little hope, yet something happens, God gives strength and I learn to press on. Although it’s hard for me to change a behavior or to develop a new area of growth, it makes me become a better person.

One way to curb my strong penchant to judge is in giving others the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best in a person. I need relationships to help me grow in communication, love and humility. I’m learning one value of community is being there for each other. To stay committed through the good times and bad. To be vulnerable in sharing your weaknesses. Each day my awareness of building community is evolving. I pray to be open to all God sends me in loving others this Lent.

What is community for you? I see it’s different for different people.

This Valentine’s Day we remember those we love. May we also remember how much God loves us and that God’s love is a tender, kind and intimate love. This is very encouraging. May this Valentine’s Day strengthen our love and perseverance to love the creator of all LOVE.

Happy Lent and Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I Can't Be Me Without You...

By Sr. Whitney Schieltz, SC Federation Canonical Novice

Last week I joined other novices in St. Louis for a workshop on sexuality with Sr. Lynn Levo, CSJ.  Among the many dimensions of this subject, we learned that sexuality is about growing into communion and wholeness in and through relationship.  As Sr. Lynn reminded us throughout the week, “I can’t be me without you, and you can’t be you without me.”

symbols used in a social atom
In order to reflect upon the relationships in our lives—those that help us become more fully ourselves—we were each asked to draw a social atom.  Beginning with a blank piece of paper, we drew a symbol in the middle to represent ourselves.  Then we reflected on the question: What are the significant relationships in my life right now?  It was up to us to define what constitutes a “significant relationship.”  Using circles for females and triangles for males, we added symbols to the page to signify our family, friends, community members, etc.  Inside each shape we wrote the name of the person symbolized; and even deceased persons with whom we still feel connected could be included.  Other shapes we used were a circle/triangle combo to represent God and squares to represent groups of people.  The closer a symbol is placed to the center, the deeper we feel in relationship to that person or group.

Once we finished drawing our social atoms, Sr. Lynn had us ask ourselves to complete two thoughts: “I notice…” and “I’m feeling…” Some people noted the imbalance of female and male relationships, while others noticed that their family members were not the closest people to the center.  And the feelings people shared included joy, gratitude, surprise, sadness, and many more.  It was incredible how many awarenesses rose out of that simple activity.

example of a social atom (use names inside your symbols)

So now I invite you to make your own social atom.  Don’t overthink it.  Don’t worry about forgetting someone or about how close to place them.  Follow your first instincts.  And remember, this is about your significant relationships now, not what they used to be or what you hope they will be.  Then take time to sit with the result and ask yourself what it tells you about yourself and the people around you.  How does it make you feel?  Why?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Intentional Community for the Future (and Present)!

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Growing up, I can assure you: I never imagined that I would spend my adult years living with inter-generational groups of women.  So how did it come to be?

Ecuador 2008

Ten years ago this summer, I traveled to Ecuador as an international volunteer with Rostro de Cristo.  I knew that part of the experience would be living in what they called “intentional community,” but it honestly wasn’t the component that attracted me.   I wanted to serve others, practice Spanish, and grow in my faith, and doing that while rooming with other young people seemed like a good idea.  I quickly discovered that intentional community is more than sharing a roof and a bathroom.  It was a commitment to each other that transformed all of our other commitments.

In the early stages of building life together, community was easy, exciting, and joyful.    Of course, the honeymoon period ended eventually.  Sometimes, intentional community drained me.  After a long day of ministry, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around the dinner table for a long time and talk.  Sometimes, it broke me.  Sharing life in such an intimate way showed us our rawest selves; this vulnerability could be freeing and painful.  But once I felt the rhythm of intentional community for several months, and then years, I began to see its power.

Through the high points (celebrations and laughter), the low points (disagreements and tears), and all the mundane in between (peeling potatoes and brushing teeth), God was able to build something beautiful among us.  Communal prayer and sheer, stubborn fidelity sustained us.  When our time together in Ecuador came to an end, we knew we had become part of each other.  Intentional community was not for the faint of heart, but in the struggle was salvation.

After Ecuador, I moved into Casa de Caridad on the U.S.-Mexico border with Sisters of Charity Carol, Janet, and Peggy, who had been cultivating their intentional community for almost twenty years.  I was the recipient of their warm hospitality, a value central to their common life.  It was a new challenge, living with women of different ages, backgrounds, and levels of commitment.  But again, I found that the difficulties on any given day were part of a mysterious process of collective growth and transformation and that our commitment to one another bore more than enough laughter, joy, fun, mutual support, and love to go around.  

Three years later, Sisters Carol, Maureen, Nancy and Terry welcomed me just as generously into their community in Cincinnati.  They even moved to a new home with extra space to be able to do so!  With them, too, I found a treasure.  Their long commitment to one another had yielded love and deep wisdom that filled our home.


These relationships were what ultimately allowed me to say, “Yes!” to religious life.  I could serve and minister in a myriad of ways as a married or single woman, but I knew God was calling me to do life as a woman religious with other women religious in intentional community.

Current intentional community
Now, I can hardly believe it, but I’ve lived in intentional community for ten consecutive years.  I can’t picture my life as a sister without it.  It is the place where I grow into the best version of myself and know that I am loved even on the days when I fall short.  It’s the place where I learn how to love others just as they are.  We have a built-in, in-home support system and a bond that runs deep no matter how much we like each other on any particular day.

We share our spiritual lives, enriching each other with insights and ways of praying we’d never come to on our own.  We reflect together on the world and on our call to be agents of justice, and we show up together at Mass, marches, vigils, and other community events.  We encourage one another in ministry, and we walk together in continual discernment.  We become extended members of each other’s friends and families.  And, of course, we celebrate, play, get silly, and make memories we’ll still be laughing about years from now.

Intentional community takes extra work but it bears wondrous blessings over time, like a delectable homemade pasta sauce that requires lots of initial elbow grease and hours of simmering to yield rich flavor.  For the future of religious life, this kind of community is essential.  Which means that it is essential now.

My current community has made it part of our covenant to be a house of hospitality and discernment.  We recognize the gift we have found and want to share it with others, whether a young woman seeking God’s call, a partner in ministry, or a refugee in need of shelter.  And so, we are faithful to our commitment, as God is unfathomably faithful to us.

For your reflection:

An important part of intentional community is a commitment to growth and renewal.  A few Sundays ago, our intentional community gathered to reflect on our life together for 2018 using Jean Vanier's writing as inspiration.  I offer you the quotes for your pondering:

*It is when the members of a community realize that they are not there simply for themselves or their own sanctification, but to welcome the gift of God, to hasten God’s Kingdom, and to quench the thirst of others, that they truly live as community.

*We shouldn’t seek the ideal community. It is a question of loving those whom God has set beside us today. They are signs from God. We might have chosen different people…But these are the ones God has given us, the ones He has chosen for us. It is with them that we are called to create unity and live in covenant.

*Perhaps the most essential quality for anyone who lives in community is patience: a recognition that we, others and the whole community, take time to grow. If we are to live in community, we have to be friends of time.

*The process of becoming a community happens when the majority of its members make the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community.’

*Community is established by the simple, gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made of the small gestures, all the services and sacrifices which say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m happy to be with you.’

*Community is the place of forgiveness. There are always words that wound, self-promoting attitudes, situations where susceptibilities clash. That is why living together implies a certain cross, a constant effort and an acceptance that comes from daily and mutual forgiveness.

*The gift of community, of unity, will come only when all members of the community are truly themselves, living as expression of God’s love within them in the exercise of the gifts He has given them. The community becomes one because it is fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit who unites it.

*When it begins, a community is like a seed which must grow to become a tree. As it matures, and becomes a tree that bears fruit, it also must be a place where birds of the air can come to make their nests.

*A community which prays together, which enters into silence and adoration, is bound together by the action of the Holy Spirit. God listens in a special way to the cry which rises from a community.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hope Incarnated

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Thirty-two young women religious gathered in a circle.  At times, the room vibrated with roaring laughter, at other times we held sacred silence.  Whether laughing or in silence, the energy and the Spirit were palpable.
2018 Giving Voice 20's and 30's Retreat (provided photo)
I was at the Giving Voice annual 20’s and 30’s retreat.  Giving Voice is a national, peer-led organization for women religious under the age of 50 years.  Every year, the youngest members of this cohort – those in their 20’s and 30’s – gather for a weekend to share dreams, stories, laughter, tears and prayer.  This year, particularly, we came together to share hope. 

Our retreat planners chose the theme ‘Cultivating Courageous Hope’.  For our opening session, we were asked to bring a symbol which represented our own sense of hope.  As I packed my bag the night before retreat I pondered what I should bring.  With the prayers of the Christmas season still fresh in my heart, I went down to our basement and dug into a box with our recently-packed-away nativity scene.  I pull out the baby Jesus.  For me, the Incarnation is one of the greatest signs of hope.  God could have chosen to remain separate from us, guiding us and loving us from a distance, and communicating with us through prophets and angelic messengers.  But God chose to be in solidarity with us, as humans, in the flesh. 

And because of this, everything changed. 

If God could break the divide between heaven and earth and enter into the messiness of human existence over 2000 years ago, then there is no situation too dismal that God cannot enter into today – war, poverty, racism, the desperation of immigrants and refugees, environmental degradation, divided families and nations.  God can break into any of these situations, and that gives me great hope.  The Incarnation was not a one-time event.  It happens every day when we choose to act as Christ’s hands and feet in the world today.  I felt God incarnated in that circle with 31 other young Sisters.  I see these peers and know there is hope for the future of religious life. 

During the retreat, we reflected on passages that spoke of hope.  A quote from John Paul Lederach’s The Mortal Imagination caught my attention.  Lederach describes vocation as finding one’s voice.  He states:

“To deeply understand vocation as voice, we must go beyond what is initially visible and audible, to that which has rhythm, movement and feeling.  Voice is not the externalization of sound and words.  Literally and metaphorically, voice in not located in the mouth or on the tongue where words are formed.  Voice is deeper…Where you find that meeting place, the home where heart and lungs gather, where breath meets blood, there you will find voice.  When you find your way to that home, there you will find yourself, the unique gift that God has placed on this earth.”

Lederach’s words took me again to the Incarnation – “where breath meets blood”, where
spirit meets flesh.  A question came to me, ‘Did God find God’s voice more fully by becoming human?’.  As I think about my own voice, my vocation as a woman religious, I know it most fully when I allow God to enter into the ordinary parts of my life: ministry, community living, relationships with friends and family.  God incarnated is accessible at all time and in all places.  This gives me hope.