Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gratitude for 2013

In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Grace and peace to you today!

It's been a while since I've sat down to type a few thoughts here in my blog. This is certainly not because I've run out of things to say! You may know that when I write, I'm fairly verbose. It's more because my life is much more full than it was when I began this blog. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may recall that I started this blog when I was a first year novice. Back then I blogged nearly once a week about my prayer life, what I was reading, living in community etc. It's now been about 7 1/2 years since I began this blog (under a different name) and life has changed a great deal.

Being that today is the last day of 2013, I've been reflecting this morning on the gifts and blessings of the year gone by. It's been year full of travel, wonderful people, extended moments of silence, deep prayer, deepening in my understanding of my various roles etc. And I've composed a list of  moments/lessons/events/people for which I am grateful. I thought I would share. By the way, these are in no particular order.

1. Friends
I am grateful for the many people in my life who challenge me to see things from a different perspective. Those who offer support when I feel overwhelmed by life. The ones with whom we share with one another our struggles, joys, hopes and dreams. The people who send random texts just to give me an update on their lives or to say they prayed for me that day. Many of these people do not live in the same city that I do and it is often difficult to maintain friendships across the miles (at least, that's true for me). However, there are those with whom the friendship is very well maintained. I am grateful for these people.

2. Saying "no" can feel very selfish at the moment, but sometimes it is the best thing - for everyone.
Of course, this is not a new lesson for me. In fact, it is one that I seem to learn over and over again. I suppose I'm a slow learner. Somewhere in my life I learned that to be a "good person" you had to say yes to everything that is good and everything that might be helpful to others. Serving on a committee? That's a good thing to do -  "yes." Giving a talk at a conference? That's a good thing to do - "yes." There are more good things/opportunities in this world than any one person should ever say yes to. Sometimes, it is better to say no - even though it might feel selfish or self serving. Because what can happen if someone is over-scheduled with many good things, is that that person can no longer do a good job at any of them - something has to give. And if the only person "hurt" was the person who says yes to everything, it wouldn't be as big of a deal. But, often others lose something also. Lesson learned? Goodness, I hope so.

3. "Pope hope" (as one of our Sisters often puts it)
Over this past weekend a friend of mine said, "You have a crush on the Pope!" And I, with head bowed, replied, "Yes. Yes, I do." I have always been drawn towards people who challenge me to be better in ways I had not previously considered. No one is challenging me more these days than Pope Francis. The more I read of what he's written or said, the more I feel called to conversion of heart. Conversion in my attitudes towards ministry. Conversion in my prayer life. Conversion in the way I live the vow of poverty. Conversion in the way I care for the poor and the marginalized of our communities. Lately, I've been reading (and praying with) the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. It seems that every word of this document cuts right to the heart and is causing me to ask some serious questions of myself. The true test will be, however, whether or not the document propels me to some sort of action beyond myself. That's the true test of conversion, no?  

4. The summer of 2013 
There are no words to capture the grace that was the summer of 2013. I am not sure there has ever been a time in my life that I have felt more grounded, free, at peace, and filled with joy. There was a 30-day retreat that brought me into deeper relationship with Jesus and with Mary - and a greater commitment to the Marianist mission. There was the celebration of my 38th birthday with some of my closest friends. There was the day I walked MILES all over San Francisco with one very close friend and one new friend. Then there was the time spent with about 70 other "young nuns" - deep in conversation about charism and the future, dancing for hours with no shoes on (and very sore muscles the next day!), praying together and having a blast. There were the days spent at Indian Lake with other "younger" Marianists - praying night prayer on a boat in the middle of the lake as the sun set will always be a highlight of those days - as well as Marianist karaoke and late night conversations under the stars. All of this was capped off by the celebration of my perpetual vows in August. What a glorious weekend that was! So full of joy. Definitely a wonderful way to bring an end to a summer full of grace.

5. 2013 was the year of publicity… I'm not a fan.
With newspaper articles, magazine interviews, photo shoots, and sharing my bio numerous times, it seemed that my picture and my story were "everywhere" (at least in my small world) for a while. This has never been true in my life until 2013.  And, I think I will be happy if it is not a major part of my life moving forward. The most awkward thing was the photographer who came to CJ to take pics for St. Mary's Univ. alumni magazine. I have never been so uncomfortable in my life! My students in my 5th period class seemed very amused, though. The lesson here? That's not the kind of life I want to live - I much prefer being under the radar.

6. Retreat work seems to be in my blood
In the spring of 1990 I attended my first retreat. From 1990 until this very day I have had a hand in planning and/or attending more than 5 retreats a year. I have come to the realization this year that this part of my life is probably not going away any time soon. Not that I ever wanted it to, but I suppose I assumed that I would "grow out of it" or "move on." Nope. It's in my blood. And I think it's a good thing.

7. Ideas and dreams are good things. However, bringing them to fruition may not happen or may not happen in my way or with my timing. And that's okay.
When I dream - when I think about the future - I tend to dream big. For the most part, in my everyday life, I am a realist - fairly practical and objective. However, every once in a while an idealistic side of me takes over and with wide-eyes and a bit of naiveté I want to change the world. My response to those who are more realistic than me is often, "Why not?" or "Who says I/we can't do thus-and-such?" And while there is a time and a place for such wide-eyed idealism, there is also a need for the balance of realism. That's a bitter pill to swallow for someone like me. But, it reminds me that I'm not actually the one in charge - thank you, God! I am grateful to those who do not laugh at the ridiculousness of my dreams, but gently pull me back down to earth and reality. But, the dreams are still there. And who knows. Maybe someone else will bring them to fruition at a later time. Or not. And that's okay.

8. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
With that being said, sometimes even when an idea seems preposterous or when the roadblocks seem insurmountable, we may be called to do it anyway. Trusting in God and taking a risk on an impossible dream may sometimes be what we are called to do. Of course, there is a certain amount of discernment that has to go into this. But, if one never tries… never steps out of the box… never takes a risk… then one will never know what could happen. This was made more evident to me in the purchasing and establishing of our discernment community, Annunciation House. Sometimes, you just need to take a risk - and trust that God will guide, provide and sustain.

9. Never underestimate people's capacity for generosity.
In relationship to #8 I would be remiss if I did not mention how grateful I am for the generosity of so many people in helping us establish Annunciation House. From all those who gifted us with dishes and bedding… small appliances and gift cards… to those who gave innumerable hours in cleaning walls, power washing the deck, moving furniture, etc. We are so very grateful. Personally, I was overwhelmed with people's generosity. I still am when I sit back and consider how much was given to us and how much practical support we received. Thank you all!

10. Community.
This year I am grateful for community. We are small, but that's okay. It allows for flexibility and deeper relationships. Perhaps it would be very difficult for someone to live in a community that is always in flux. However, I have found a lot of grace in that. We started with 2 - then we grew to 3. Now we are at 4 and may grow to 5 in 2014. And it's good. God has gifted us in many ways. It is a blessing to live in a community whose sole purpose is to be a place of discernment. Who doesn't need that in their lives, right?

And so, there you have it - random thoughts on the year 2013. Today I was considering the tradition of making New Years resolutions. I haven't done it in a long time. As of yet, I haven't made a decision about it for 2014. However, my hope is that in 2014 I will continue to learn and grow more and more into the person God created. Our world needs people who are perfectly themselves - it is only in this way that we can cooperate with God and one another in establishing God's kingdom.

Blessings of peace and joy to all who read this!
Sr. N

Friday, October 18, 2013

...nor shall they train for war again.

... they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another, 
nor shall they train for war again.
Isaiah 2: 4b-c

Would you believe me if I wrote that I've started several blog posts in the past month... but never had the time/took the time to finish them? It's a little ridiculous, really. I'm not sure I can name why I seem to put off blogging. Maybe it's because I treat my Facebook account as a blog. I suppose it serves the same purpose on some levels. However, as long as those posts can be (and those that follow me know that I am quite verbose!) they can't really take the place of a longer blog.

To say that there has been a lot going on in life, ministry, community, etc. would be an understatement of major proportions. What's been occupying my time? Glad you asked... Some of this may be a recap for you, but bear with me.

Some of you may be aware that I moved into a new community a little over 7 months ago. This community, Annunciation House, is a house of discernment - a place where women who are discerning the possibility of Marianist religious life can live for several weeks up to a year. And while this is our main ministry as a community, we also have our fair share of short term (2 or 3 days) visitors - most of whom are discerning with our community. This has been a graced development in the life of our Province. We currently have a discerning woman living with us and will soon have a second... plus several short term discerners. Our community life is rich - with shared meals and conversations about many things (poverty in the US, the call of the Gospel, faith, prayer, the news, ministry, work etc), prayer, Mass, and many community outings (AppleFest anyone?). We do live a grace-filled life.

Also, I am now working at 2 part time ministries. And in case you were not aware, this is a case where 1/2 plus 1/2 actually equals 1-3/4. It's crazy math, I know, but it's true! I currently teach 3 classes of 10th grade religion... which I love! I so enjoy teaching Scripture. I wouldn't consider myself a Scripture scholar, but I am a lover of Scripture and therefore have studied and prayed with Scripture a lot. My students do not always share my love of Scripture, but that's okay. At least many of them find some things in class interesting or challenging or even inspiring (although, that doesn't happen as often as I would like!). My other part time ministry is serving as vocations director for our Sisters and vocations coordinator for the Marianists in Dayton (both for the Sisters and for the Brothers/Priests). That's been really good, too, I think. I enjoy it and it's been fulfilling.

So, that's a brief update on life these days. Mix that in with traveling for conferences, vocation discernment events, getting together with friends, grading papers, going for morning walks (or the occasional run), and trying to motivate myself to finish writing thank you notes (I will be done by Christmas) you can see it's a full life. But it is a rich and blessed life. I wouldn't have it any other way.

And in the midst of everything, there is peace - a sure sign that God is part of this life I live.

Now, finally, I come to the quote at the top of this blog. This quote has been playing in my mind over and over again since yesterday. Allow me to explain...

Our community typically goes to a 7 AM Mass Monday - Friday with a community of Marianist Brothers/Priests at the University of Dayton (a Catholic Marianist university). Yesterday morning, just like everyone morning, I was chatting with someone on the way out of the chapel. As we walked towards the parking lot we saw a line of about 10 ROTC guys in their BDUs (camouflage uniforms) with automatic weapons. They were doing an exercise whereby they stealthily cross an area, then drop to the ground and practice firing by raising their weapons and yelling, "bang, bang, bang-bang-bang." It was a very disturbing post-Mass site. As we crossed the parking lot, one of our Sisters was standing in the parking lot - very still - and watching the men. I asked if she was waiting to talk to someone. Her response, "I'm praying for those guys."

Leaving campus on my way to the high school, I passed another Marianist community. The Brothers were gathered in their chapel praying morning prayer together. As I drove by I thought that at that moment they might be praying the Benedictus. One line of the Benedictus states, "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Peace. God will guide us into the way of peace. When, O Lord?

As I continued my short morning commute, it struck me that what I saw on my way out of Mass may have been disturbing, but what about people who see this everyday - and the weapons are not empty? It reminded me of being in El Salvador a few years ago and how common it is to see military men with loaded automatic weapons standing around on street corners as if it's no big deal. It reminded me of all the places in our world that face violence and war constantly. They live in fear - constantly. Again, I thought of the line from the Benedictus and asked, "When?"

Last night I finished reading a novel set in World War II Germany. The novel is written from the perspective of death personified. Death was the narrator. And while the book was very well written and a good read, I couldn't help but think of the fact that for so many people in our world, death is a daily part of living. And that fact does not sit well with me.

There is now a peace pole on the campus of UD. It seems odd that the peace pole and the ROTC guys share the same campus. My prayer is that peace will prevail... and we will train for war no longer.

Photo courtesy of the University of Dayton

Many blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N