Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people..."

Luke 2: 10-11

I can hardly believe that it's been approximately 20 days since my last post. For those of you who may read this blog often (if any of you are out there...), please accept my apologies. It's been a full few weeks, without a doubt.

The last time I wrote I was in Dayton, Ohio. Being in Dayton was a great experience. The Marianist family (lay Marianists, Marianist Brothers, Priests and Sisters) is extremely active. The students at the University of Dayton (a Marianist institution) are highly active within the Marianist family as well. It was exciting to be a part of that for two weeks. The Marianist communities in the area were very hospitable -- inviting me over for supper and prayer, giving me free tickets to UD basketball games (which is a big deal there) etc. Hospitality is a large part of our charism as Marianists and it showed through during my time there.

I was also able to spend time with the other Marianist novices. There are two novices with the Society of Mary, the vowed male branch of the Marianist family. It was good to have people I could talk to who are in my age group who are also entering vowed Marianist life. One of the novices is a very good friend of mine. So it was good to spend some time with him and talk... about life as a Marianist novice, the future of the Marianist family, possible ministries in our futures, how our families and friends have supported us in our discernment etc. I never realized how important conversations like that are during times of discernment. Typically, I don't mind being the only person in formation - it allows for more "individual attention." However, when I have the chance to have conversations with people going through almost the exact same things... and growing in the same charism, there's a definite deepening of understanding.

My last week away from San Antonio was spent on retreat. I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time in contemplation and prayer at a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky - The Abbey of Gethsemane. It was a phenomenal experience. For those of you who know me... YES, I was able to spend the entire 5 days without conversation with other people (miracles never cease!). I tell you what, though, God and I were in constant conversation... about a lot. Through my time in quiet and prayer I was able to come to greater clarity about many things. For one, I felt strengthened in this vocation. Sure... I still have plenty of room for growth and learning, but that could be said for anyone in any state in life. Also, the night before we left the retreat, I was struck with an over-whelming sense or knowledge of the infinite love of God... and the fact that love and grace are not earned, but freely given. I can't explain how it is that it hit me so hard... being that I've "known" it all along... and I've even taught it in the classroom... but it hit me like a bolt of lightening. What a blessing!

I returned to San Antonio on Saturday night December 23 around 11pm. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were wonderful here with my community - lots of food & laughter, prayer and sharing. Although it was good to be away, it was also nice to come home.

I have to say, though... I may have found a new level of peace while I was away, but it seems that so many people in my life are not experiencing the same peace and are far from experiencing joy. I seemed to have come home to chaos in the lives of many people I love. That's difficult. There is nothing I can do to ease their pain or fix their problems... which, of course, being who I am can make me feel guilty for having peace in the first place. How can I possibly be at peace when people are suffering? To be honest, I struggle with this. Of course, my prayers are filled with intercession for those who have asked for my prayer support... and I have hope in God and trust in the love of Christ... That's all I can do, really. Sometimes that's a freeing reality and sometimes it's not.

So, there you have it, folks. An update from a novice who continues to grow in understanding of where God is leading her and how God is calling her to live in this world. Maybe one day I'll get it right... but until then I'll remember, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim good news of great joy that will be for all people."

Many Christmas blessings to you all!
Sr. Nicole

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.
Luke 3:4b

Happy Advent, everyone! Aw, yes. It's that time again. Time to await... and to prepare for the coming of Christ ~ Prince of Peace.

Now, I'm not sure about anyone else out there, but I get really bothered with commercialism at this time each year. Did anyone else experience Santa, red & green or Christmas sales before Nov. 1?! Yep... sometimes I just want to say, "Let me have Advent!"

I just wanted to get that out before moving on...

During this season of waiting in joyful hope, I turn my thoughts to Mary... and preparing the way. Yes, I know that typically people associate the above quote with John the Baptist. And rightly so. However, this year I'm a little more focused on Mary.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception - the patronal feast of the Marianist Sisters (since we are the Daughters of Mary Immaculate). This feast celebrates how the path for Christ was prepared from Mary's very conception. This Immaculate vessel would come to bare the Savior. That's an amazing realization when you really think it through.

Further preparations were made with Mary's, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word." Because of that yes, and no doubt helped by the way Mary raised Jesus in their faith, we are brought into this mission of preparing the way.

Yep, now it's our mission. "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path." That's our call. I see it as mine, anyway. But what does that mean, really. For me, it means two things...

1) On a personal level, it means to prepare a place within where Christ will be comfortable dwelling. I ask myself, "Is my heart fertile ground to cultivate the life of Christ?" If I have trouble answering that question (which sometimes I do), then there's is work to be done. Of course, there is always interior work to be done. Mary was the Immaculate one, not I. However, sometimes I am more aware than at other times. For me, Advent is a time to be constantly aware.

2) On a communal level, what can I do to bring about Christ's presence in the world and to those with whom I come in contact. That's also a part of my prayer this season. What is my call in this world? A world plagued by religious indifference, the pain of broken promises, the anesthesia of consumerism, and the exploitation of the gift of one's body. Well, I can start by allowing the Spirit to help me with the first issue - preparing a place within. Because if Christ isn't within, I can't do a thing to bring Christ to the world.

Those are my thoughts as we enter more fully into this Advent season.

On a different note... I'm sorry for the late post. Since I am traveling this Advent it's really difficult to stick to the Sunday posting schedule. Also, I will be on a silent retreat at a Trappist monestary during the 3rd week of Advent. So, chances are I will post next week and then during Christmas week.

Many blessings on you all this Advent!

Sr. Nicole

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nicole, celebrate the ordinary! God works through the ordinary, too...
Sr. Julie Hickey, OSU

With each session I am more and more convinced that my spiritual director, Sr. Julie, is a genius. Or, at least she shares excellent insights with me.

Lately, as in the past several weeks, I've been rather perplexed. Before beginning my first year of novitiate people would say things like, "This will be one of your best years." or "This year will be such a gift." Granted, these statements have proven to be true. However, I think, being who I am, statements such as these had caused me to invent expectations. Expectations that really weren't that realistic.

So far my first 4 months of novitiate have been grace-filled months. I've learned a great deal and grown in my understanding of God, myself and how our relationship "works," so to speak. However, there haven't been any angelic visions, huge spiritual awakenings, or booming voices directing me... Okay, perhaps that was a little over the top, but it's my way of making a point.

God is working in the ordinariness of my life.

I suppose most might say that my life isn't really "ordinary" at this point. Ah... but it is. I have a schedule... I work out... I pray... I read... I enjoy people's company... I talk to my family regularly... I have supportive friends who I see every once in a while... That's what I call fairly ordinary.

And God's been right there in the middle of everything the whole time.

So, while I've been waiting for "something big," or expecting some huge awakening, I've been missing the opportunity to "celebrate the ordinary." *Sigh* Will I ever learn?... *Smile*

In two days I head up north. I'll be gone until December 23. And you can bet that the whole time I'm gone I'll be celebrating the ordinariness of life... (and perhaps with a little snow... which is a big deal for this Texas girl...)

Many blessings to you all!
Sr. Nicole

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Yes. It's odd that I begin with a movie quote... and such an inane movie at that. However, I think this quote sums up the past 2 weeks fairly well.

Shall I tell you about the last 2 weeks?

It all started on Thursday November 9. This was day 1 of the annual Marianist Formation Weekend. As you may know, the Marianist family includes Marianist brothers & priests (the Society of Mary... SM), Marianist Sisters (the Daughters of Mary Immaculate... FMI) and lay Marianists. Each year the Marianists bring together all the people in formation with the SMs and the FMIs. On Thursday it was the pre-novices/aspirants, the novices and our directors. On Friday the temporary professed joined us with their directors. We were together until Sunday afternoon.

Our topic for conversation over the weekend was Mary. I know... it's a little broad. We focused on what we could learn from Scripture about the person of Mary and what that means for us as Marianists. You see, we are called "Marianists" because Mary is our model of discipleship. Also, who better to teach us to be more like Christ than the woman who raised him?

Needless to say, it was a great weekend - wonderful opportunities for reflection, but more than that, there were great conversations going on. Many of you know that I am the only person in formation with the FMIs. However, the SMs have 4 aspirants, 2 1st year novices, 3 2nd year novices, and 10 temporary professed. I always look forward to spending time with these brothers (and perhaps some are future priests). When we gather I have the opportunity to discuss the charism, what it's like to be new to Marianist life, and religious life in general with people who are peers. That's a great blessing and a grace.

So, Marianist Formation Weekend was Nov 9-12. Monday November 13 - Wednesday November 15 was the Inter-Community Novitiate Program. In the ICNP we are now 9 novices. We used to be 11, but two of the guys have since left their congregations. So, there are 7 women and 2 men.

Anyway, our topic of conversation? "Being Sexual and Celibate." Yep... you read that correctly. The speaker, Sr. Lynn Levo, is a psychologist who works at St. Luke's Institute on the east coast... a sort of "rehab" place for clergy and religious. Basically, it was a workshop about celibacy, but it was so much more than what you might think. We talked about maintaining healthy friendships (including the importance of having intimate friends - emotionally intimate, of course). That was a large part of one of our days together. However, we also talked about boundaries and abuse. I won't go into any more detail, but I will say that it was packed with good information and food for thought.

Let's see... that was over on Wednesday afternoon. That night Gret and I finally came back home... but only for a little over 24 hours... if that. Thursday the plans were being put together for the annual Religious Formation Conference (RFC), which started on Friday. Sr. Gretchen was on the local organizing committee.

Friday's gathering was just for people who work in formation (i.e. formation directors etc.). However, I was also busy on Friday. I had the great blessing of attending a talk by Sr. Sarah Sharkey, OP on the Lucan infancy narratives. We started promptly at 9:30am... took an hour for lunch and ended a little after 3:30pm. What a day that was! If any of you ever get to hear this Scripture scholar speak, I highly recommend it. She was so good. Not only was she engaging (and quite entertaining, really). She's also a solid scholar. I can always get into things like that.

That afternoon I joined Sr. Gretchen at Our Lady of the Lake University where she was finishing her 1st day of the RFC. Saturday, it was my turn....

RFC on Saturday was open to anyone in religious life who wished to be there. The SM aspirants were there, as were sisters, brothers and priests from all over Texas (this was a regional RFC - region 12... the national one was last year). There were some "blasts from the past" for me there as well. People I hadn't seen in years. The topic... wow... I can't remember the exact title. We did social analysis and discussed our call in response to environmental issues and immigration issues.

I have to be honest. I wasn't really "into" the conversations. Maybe my brain was on overload. Maybe I needed an introvert break. I'm not real sure, but Saturday was tough for me.

However, that evening, we had a short gathering of women religious under the age of 50. It's called "Giving Voice." That was good. It was actually more like an informational gathering. We discussed what topics we'd like to share on in the future and how often we might want to get together. What a great group of women! I look forward to many future gatherings with them.

So... today was a much needed day of rest. I slept in until 8am! That's a rarity! I should have cleaned my room today, but I didn't. What did I do this afternoon? I went on the hunt for good winter clothes. Why?? Well, I leave for Indianapolis and Dayton on November 30. When you've lived in Texas your whole life, going north during the winter is something for which one is not really prepared.

Thursday November 30th I fly to Indianapolis. My sister, brother-in-law and their 3 ADORABLE children live there. I will be there until Sunday afternoon. On Sunday afternoon Sr. Leanne will pick me up on her way back to Dayton (she'll be in Indiana for a conference). Sr. Leanne is one of our sisters who lives in Dayton. Anyway... I'll be in Dayton for 2 weeks. While there, I'll be able to attend classes with the 2 SM 1st year novices. That will be a great opportunity. It will also be good just to be with our Dayton sisters.

Then... and this could be the best part... I'm going on a week long SILENT retreat at the Trappist monestary in Kentucky - Gethsemini. How awesome is that?? Of course, the 2 novices, the SM novice director & assistant director, plus one of our sisters will be with me... which is great. But the part that I'm looking forward to more than anything is the silence.

So, I guess it's not hard to see what I'll be doing in the next week and a half... as we celebrate Thanksgiving. I'll be giving thanks for a wonderful first few months of novitiate and I'll be slowing down - thankfully! Don't get me wrong... it's been a great 2 weeks. But, I'm ready to resume "novitiate as normal." :)

Have a very blessed Thansgiving everyone!
With many prayers,
Sr. Nicole

Monday, November 06, 2006

God, are you sure?

I know it seems odd for me to post something twice in one week, but I wanted to share with you something that I wrote this morning. I received a phone call from Sr. Gretchen asking if I would be willing to write an article for our archdiocesan news paper. They always publish a special edition to promote vocations in the archdiocese.

So, I thought I would share the article with you. Enjoy!

God, are you sure?

If anyone would have told me when I graduated from college that I would go on to enter religious life, I would have said, “Who? Me? Are you kidding?” And yet, here I am – a first year novice with the Marianist Sisters (the Daughters of Mary Immaculate). As I look back on my life, though, I can definitely see how God’s been guiding me in this direction a long time.

I’ve been Catholic all my life. I went to Catholic schools 1st through 12th grades and was active in campus ministry in college. Through all those years I never seriously considered religious life. For one, I always thought that religious life was only for the “really holy.” I had also imagined my adult life with husband and kids. Don’t all young women?

While I was in college I spent a great deal of my time doing ministry at the Catholic student center. Therefore, as the time for graduation approached I felt a strong desire to stay active in ministry as a career. A friend of mine at the time asked me if I had considered religious life. I blew him off. I planned to continue being an active, lay woman in the Church.

I began my teaching career as a science teacher – mostly chemistry and a little biology. However, the principals at various schools kept asking me if I would teach in the theology department (I was working toward a masters in theology at St. Mary’s University). As it turns out, I spent most of my years teaching religion and working in campus ministry.

While I was teaching at Central Catholic High School I began to learn more about Marianist spirituality. Central Catholic and St. Mary’s University are owned by the Society of Mary – Marianist Brothers and Priests. The more I learned about the spirituality, the more connected I felt to it. It was as if everything I had always believed about God and the Church finally had a name – Marianist. I decided to become a committed Lay Marianist.

It wasn’t until I left teaching to become a college campus minister that the idea of religious life came to me as a viable option. A thought occurred to me – “Why not?” I thought I would be able to come up with at least a few dozen reasons why not. But I really couldn’t.

I suppose, like any young person discerning religious life, my first thoughts were of whether or not I could let go of the idea of raising a family and whether or not I was “good enough” to live the life. I mentioned to a good friend and mentor of mine, Fr. Mike Sis (now vocations director for the Diocese of Austin) that I was considering religious life. He let me borrow a book that helped put a few things in perspective – Vocations Anonymous by Sr. Kathleen Bryant, RSC.

In her book, Sr. Kathleen discusses her own struggles with discernment. One thing this book helped to see in a different light was family and marriage. She writes about the many ways that religious bring life into the world. Every person is called to bring forth and nurture new life. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be biologically. I had never considered that before.

I also had to struggle through the, “I’m not worthy” issue. I am constantly reminded of the fact that God doesn’t call perfect people. If so, no one would be called to religious life. One doesn’t have to be at a certain level of holiness to enter religious life. The person just has to be open.

Therefore, I entered the Marianist Sisters in the fall of 2005. This year I am discerning more deeply as a novice. Do I still wonder sometimes, “Why me?” Sure. But I trust in God’s plan.
God works in such amazing ways. One would think I would be use to it by now. But, I am continually in awe of the many ways God encourages, challenges, and supports - all in one situation!
Many blessings on your week!
Sr. Nicole

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!
Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Mark 12:31
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6
You know... this morning, before I had a chance to read the readings from today's liturgy, I woke up thinking about the definition of love. I woke up with a sort of need to reflect on 1 Corinthians 13. It is quite obvious to me today that God is calling me to really consider what it is to love, what/who I love, and how I live that out.
This morning Fr. George Montague, SM spoke about what it means to love God above all else - with every part of our being. He talked about the fact that whatever it is we hold as our first priority in life ends up being "our god." So, I considered, "is God always my first priority?" That's a difficult one. Are there times in my life when God is the first priority? I think I can say with some certainty, "yes." However, I can also say with some certainty that sometimes God's glory isn't my first thought.
Then, there's the more difficult question of love of neighbor. This is the whole reason I woke up with love on my mind. Right now, I have many people in my life who are in need of a loving friend. People all around me are attempting to struggle through life's difficulties - some of them quite serious. And I was considering this morning what it means to love them... how can I show the love of God to these friends of mine?
There are some who are just in need of a supportive listening ear. Sometimes I am able to do that. However, more often than not, I can't... because of time, because of the life of a novice, because of a thousand and one other reasons.
There are other friends of mine who actually need distance and time apart from those who are genuinely concerned - me included. While in many ways it's easy for me to separate myself from them (giving them their needed space) but, speaking from a purely emotional point of view it's not easy at all.
Lastly, there are those who can be difficult to love altogether.
Life can be so confusing at times... and so can love. And this is where I am this week. Relative to other weeks, this week has been a quiet one... Classes continue, reading and learning about Religious Life and the Marianist charism continues, and prayer continues. And yet in other ways, this week has been like no other. I feel that my life is fairly calm... and I'm thankful for that. But, there are more people than I care to count whose lives are anything but calm.
And what is my response? To love. And when I feel I just can't love any more? Love anyway.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I have loved you with an everlasting love.
I have called you and you are mine.
Michael Joncas - "I Have Loved You"
Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.
Mark 10: 49b
Lord, I am not worthy to receive You,
but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Looking back over things I've posted over the past several weeks, I've realized that I don't really say much about the externals of life. Why is that? Well, it's certainly not because nothing's going on, that's for sure! However, when I think about what's significant to me, what's going on internally always seems to "win out," so to speak.

So, today I sit at one of our community's computers and I ponder. What can I say about the last 2 weeks? Today is one of those days that I feel that so much can be said, that I'm not really sure where to start or what to say. I guess that comes from not having written last week.

There are 3 significant things that stand out in my mind concerning the past 2 weeks: 1) my class on mysticism (the Thursday night class at Oblate), 2) my monthly intercommunity novitiate gathering, and 3) a different intercommunity gathering that took place last evening.

However, before I continue I'd like to preface my comments with something. God has a funny way of getting a point across to me sometimes (more often than not). When there's something for me to learn or from which I should grow... I seem to be surrounded by it. I'll hear comments or read articles and/or the readings from the liturgy will all be "saying" the same thing. That's what the past 2 weeks have been...

Let's start with the mysticism class. First of all, the class has gotten much better as we are delving into the real "meat" of mysticism. We've been discussing the mystical journey as described by St. John of the Cross. The past 2 weeks have centered around the kenosis of Christ (emptying... see Phil 2:6-8) purification of one's soul, and the dark night of the soul. In the our class discussions we've talked about the need for purification & self-emptying. We've talked about the suffering that comes from the dark night... and the necessity of the pain. For, as my professor pointed out, "We must embrace the cross. For there lies our salvation."

Last week from Tuesday - Thursday I was with the intercommunity novitiate program. We were 9 novices and 6 directors. Our topic for the gathering? The enneagram. Yes... I know that some people haven't had great experiences with it for whatever reason. However, like the Myers-Briggs personality profiles or "True Colors" I found it to be a helpful tool. But, more than that, the sessions we had were very insightful. In the times given for reflection and conversation I learned a lot about myself. And something that was really helpful was a quote our presenter gave us from St. Teresa of Avila, "Self knowledge is the bread that must be eaten with each meal."

Lastly, there was the gathering last night. I was blessed to be invited over to one of the Ursaline Sisters' communities in town along with other sisters ( 1 Franciscan, 3 School Sisters of Notre Dame, 3 Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, 1 from the Congregation of Divine Providence and 1 Sister of the Holy Spirit). We came together to listen to an address given at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and for discussion. The speaker spoke about getting in touch with and staying connected with what she called the "original fire" - the raison d'etre of our particular congregations and of religious life in general. That "passion for Christ and passion for humanity" (a topic from a previous gathering of women religious) should be our reason for being... for getting up in the morning... for continuing.

So... what's the connection? None other than this... this has been 2 weeks that have called me to take a good look at myself... in humility and in gentleness. And what have I come to realize? Exactly what's at the top of this post... I'm imperfect, but take courage because I'm loved... and I'm called. Yes... I knew that before, but it's always good to have a reminder. And the past 2 weeks it seems that God really wanted to make sure I got the message. *smile*
Many blessings and much peace to you!
Sr. Nicole

Monday, October 23, 2006

Looking for my lastest post???

Come back to the site over the weekend (Oct. 27-29). I hope to post a new one between now and then. But for now... know that all is well! Don't forget... feel free to e-mail!

Many blessings and prayers!
Sr. Nicole

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

O God, you are my God-- for you I long! For you my body yearns;
for you my soul thirsts, like a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
Psalm 63:2

God is not found in intellect & reason - nor in books will you find that for which you pine.
For what you long, gaze deep within.
When your true self is found, there will God be.
Sr. Nicole Trahan, nFMI

Living water flows forth from God - coming to quench the desert soul.
Open the gates, O heart!
Let the water flood your spirit -
refreshing - life giving - sustaining.
Sr. Nicole Trahan, nFMI

If there's still anyone out there who checks my blogs weekly, I apologize for this later than typical post. My weekend was rather full... and Monday was a "day of rest" for me. So... all I can say is, "better late than never?" *smile*

Last week, on Thursday to be exact, I took the advice of both Sr. Gretchen and my spiritual director. I went in search of my "right brain" creativity. There is a small town about 45 minutes away named Boerne (pronounced as a German word - "Burn-ey"). This town is what I call cute. It has antique shops that line Main Street - a nature center with walking trails - restaurants with porches to overlook the small river or grassy areas - and a beautiful Catholic Church.

I spent about 3 1/2 hours in Boerne last Thursday. I sat in the church for a long while... listening to the flow of the baptismal font and watching the trees outside. The weather wasn't nice enough that morning to venture outside. But... I was content. And as I sat... I let my mind wonder... and my guard down... and ended up writing a few thoughts. I suppose some would call it poetry. For me, it's just insights gained while sitting in the church. Actually, two of them came to me while in the car on my way there. Amazing what happens when you drive without a radio!

Then, after having lunch outside and meditating in the church (and a 15 or 20 minute nap in there somewhere), I went for coffee and desert at a restaurant where I could sit outside. I was there for probably about 45 minutes... writing a little more... sipping coffee very relaxed... and enjoying some of the best peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream I've had in a while.

So, why do I tell you this?

Thursday was a fairly significant day for me. Not only did I re-discover a creative energy that I had neglected, but that creative energy connected me with God in a deeper way. And that is a grace for which I am grateful.
So, the consensus is that I should take a day like this a month... or more if necessary. That's great... but perhaps I should stay away from the cobbler and ice cream in the future... *smile*

With prayers & blessings for you all!
Sr. Nicole

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:2
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life... Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?... Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Matthew 6: 25a, 27, 34a

Life is funny, you know. On the one hand, a person strives to be better - to be the best person he or she can be - to grow closer to God by doing all the "right things" - to be "perfect," so to speak. On the other hand, we are reminded that it's not by our efforts that God's grace is given. It is in total abandonment that we are open to receiving Grace freely given.

Total abandon to God. What does that mean? That's where my prayer has taken me this week. How does one do that?

I met with my spiritual director this past Thursday. She tells me, "Nicole... relax... just be." Yeah, right, like that's an easy thing for me! I'm sure those of you who know me are laughing right now. I don't even think the word "relax" is in my vocabulary!

Why the words of wisdom? Because, it seems, I'm trying too hard... and not allowing God to do what God needs to do. In my efforts at trying to be "perfect" (Am I growing enough? Am I learning as much as I possibly can? Am I closer to God today than I was 2 weeks ago? and other such questions), I'm getting in God's way... And causing myself a little undue stress.

Stress is a strong word. But I use it in its most mild sense, if there is such a thing. You see, I'm a bit of a perfectionist... and I kinda like being in control... otherwise, how can I assure that everything will turn out the way I want it? (written, of course, with ironic humor) Sometimes I think God must just say, "Ahh, Nicole... relax... I've got it." But do I hear that? Nope. I'm usually spending too much time telling God what to do. *smile*

Several weeks ago I wrote about the purpose of the novitiate process. In that post, I quoted Fr. Paul Molinari, SJ as stating:

Under the same divine action, as the novice enters upon this time of initiation, he or she desires above all to acquire that loving familiarity with Christ leading to that knowledge of the heart possessed because of the deep unitive love that is present.... Clearly, what is required is that the novice, first and foremost, be given the opportunity to come to know Christ, not in any abstract and theoretical way, but by entering into an experience similar to that of the first disciples...
The Novitiate: Initiation into Christ's Way of Life

At the time that I quoted Fr. Paul, I understood this to at least somewhat depend upon my efforts. As if I could "make" this happen just by pure will. Right now, I just shake my head. It's not by my work. I have to be open and be receptive to the Spirit who is already at work in my life. It's not a matter of "doing all the right things" and reading all the books I can possibly get my hands on about growing in my spirituality. It's about total abandon to God... and being responsive to God's gentle guidance.

Of course, me being who I am, these are difficult realizations with which to live (from a practical standpoint). I still ask myself (almost daily), "What, exactly, does it mean to abandon myself to God?" And, of course, I ask "How do I know if I'm doing it right?" How ridiculous! There is no "right way." This is not exactly a precise science where everyone can follow the same method to get to a desired outcome. Oh, how much easier for me if the spiritual life was a science...

And so... how am I at the end of another week? I'm doing well.

I'm starting to see life... discernment... God... myself... in completely new ways. I'm questioning... and learning to live without all the answers. I'm learning that sometimes ambiguity is a good thing. And... that I can't force myself to grow closer in my relationship with Christ. There are things that help, OF COURSE (prayer, Eucharist, quiet, reflection etc.)... but all of that just allows me to be more receptive to the Grace that is showered upon me at every moment. A person, no matter what personality type, can't control Grace...

As I type this post, I smile. God has such interesting ways of teaching & guiding me. For God's patience, I am grateful. I seem to be a slow learner... *smile*

Thanks for checking in!
With prayers,
Sr. Nicole

Sunday, October 01, 2006

If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) each quote Jesus speaking about denying oneself. However, Luke phrases things with a slightly different twist. Luke added a word to the sentence. And to me... it makes a lot of difference. What's the word, you ask? - "daily" -

Yep... one simple, five-letter word makes all the difference. In other words, denying oneself is not a one time thing... neither is carrying one's cross. It's a daily decision. And, I don't know if anyone else notices this, but it's not really negotiable, either. So... not only does one have to deny oneself constantly... and carry their cross... there's no "ifs, ands or buts" about it.

You might wonder what brought me to these reflections. It's not often that I begin my blog with a brief exegetical statement (yep... I'm even making up new words...)... Well, I'm glad you asked...

It seems to me that before this week I'm not sure that I ever really understood what Jesus meant. No, that's not right. It's not that I didn't understand. It's just that I hadn't ever really lived it... or understood it from a practical perspective. What does that mean day in and day out? What does that mean in the context of religious life? I suppose you could say that I came face-to-face with the fact that academic or theological knowledge/understanding doesn't mean much of anything until you really examine whether you are living the reality.

Before people start wondering... no... I'm not carrying some heavy burden. Nor am I going through some difficulty. I'm just honestly looking at myself... hearing this call to deny myself... "knowing" (from an academic perspective) about the vows... and saying, "Are there things in my life that don't live up to this?"

The vow of obedience, in my understanding, is a call to listen and respond to God's promptings. It is the humble realization, also, that I may not be able to figure that out alone. God speaks through the people in our lives. That's a fact that I'm sure many wouldn't argue. And so, in community life there is shared discernment. I can no longer make decisions as if I'm a singular, autonomous person living her Christian life on her own.

Now... that's all well and good in theory until a person is challenged. And yes... I am challenged - daily (in a good way). I should have learned this lesson long ago: things don't always happen the way I want them to. Duh. But the thing is... the vow of obedience (again in my limited understanding) is a complete denial of self will. It's not my will that matters. I've known that for a long time. It's just a lot more difficult when my will doesn't seem to match God's.

I find myself saying to God at times... "But God, I really want..." or "God, I can't do that/ not do that/ give that up/ go here..." And sometimes I hear myself praying, "God, why would you want such-and-such? Wouldn't you rather x-y-or-z??" As if God will one day say, "You know, Nicole, you're right." *smile*

On Wednesday of this week I went to the 12:15 Mass at St. Mary's Univ. because we don't have a community Mass on Wednesdays. As I was praying before Mass began, a song refrain came to my mind... and it wouldn't go away. "Father, I put my life in your hands." It's from John Michael Talbot's rendition of Psalm 31. That became my prayer. To put my life... my will... my all... in the hands of God.

I'm sure there are other times in my life when I've made some form of that statement my prayer. But this time I think it was different. It was as if I wasn't the one controlling the words. They were welling up within me without much thought on my part.

But, that was Wednesday... and as is written in the 9th chapter of Luke's Gospel... denying oneself and taking up one's cross is a daily thing...

And so... my journey of self discovery and "God discovery" continues. And what an interesting (and quick!) road it's been so far. I can hardly believe that it's already October. I understand that as an indication that things are going well. And, indeed, I believe things are going very well for me here.

Thanks for checking in. Feel free to e-mail me at

With many prayers,

Sr. Nicole

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wow, God! You did it again.
Sr. Stephanie Morales, FMI
How you've made good of this mess I've made, is a profound mystery.
Contemporary Christian band, Caedmon's Call
Not because of who I am, but because what you've done.
Not because of what I've done, but because of who you are.
Contemporary Christian band, Mercy Me

As I sit today to write this post, it seems that our Sr. Stephanie has given me the best way to begin. In deed... wow.

Friday marked the end of my first month of novitiate. Can you believe it? It's already been a month? I can hardly believe it. One of our Marianist brothers, Bro. Mike Sullivan SM, always tells me, "Take advantage of this year, Nicole. It's going to fly by." How right he is! If the whole year goes by like this, it'll be over before I know it. So, I had better allow God to make this year what it needs to be!

As I reflected on Friday what the first month has been like or what has happened, I had a little trouble putting it into words. This has been a month of self discovery like none other in my life thus far. The question is, however, has this self knowledge led me to a deeper understanding of who God is and how God works in my life? In a word, yes. Can I explain it? Not well. *smile*

On my page I have a list of various quotes. One of the quotes from St. Francis of Assisi is, "If God can work through me, he can work through anyone." Another quote that comes to me is said to be from St. Augustine, but no one can say for sure. "God writes straight with crooked lines." God works wonders... in my life and in the lives of those around me. And usually, it's in spite of us... not because of us. You know what I mean? God has blessed me abundantly. Why? It's certainly not because it's deserved. It's because it's who God is. What a fascinating point to ponder (well, for me it is).

Yesterday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sr. Stephanie's and Sr. Rose Marie's first vows. And what a celebration it was! We had a beautiful liturgy... with over 275 people present! Fr. Quentin Hakenewerth, SM was the celebrant and homilist for the liturgy. He came in from Mexico especially to celebrate this milestone. His homily was great... engaging... spirited... and just "right on." I'm a little biased, though, because I'm such a fan of his numerous books.

After the homily, Sisters Stephanie and Rose Marie renewed their vows. It was so moving. Sr. Stephanie teared up a little... Now, I'm not one to cry, but I just couldn't help myself. I couldn't help but think, "In two years, I'll profess the same vows." That, my friends, is incredible.

At the end of the liturgy, Sr. Stephanie spoke to the assembly. And she started off with, "Wow God! You did it again." And throughout her comments she kept saying, "Wow, God!" I was moved. It's because I could say the same for my own life... "Wow, God!"

Anyway... after the liturgy, of course we had a party. It was in the University Center at St. Mary's Univ. It was full of people... great, live Hawai'ian music (you see, Sr. Stephanie is from Hawai'i and her nephew has his own Hawai'ian band here in San Antonio)... good food... lots of laughter and the sharing of stories. We even had Hawai'ian dancers! You just can't beat it. What a beautiful day it was.

The only thing one can really say at the end of this weekend, and for me at the end of my first month of novitiate is, "Wow, God! You've done it again."

Many blessings on your week!

Sr. Nicole

Monday, September 18, 2006

"You have made me for Yourself and my heart is restless until it rests in You."
St. Augustine of Hippo

For those of you who read my blog weekly (are there some of you out there?), I apologize for the late post. Last week was an odd one for me and by Sunday the last thing on my mind was posting. *Sigh* but, I'm here now... and not all together sure exactly what to say!

I chose the above, often quoted, phrase of St. Augustine's because it pretty much sums up last week for me. Having come to a stopping point on a work project in the house, with Sr. Gretchen down with a terrible case of strep throat for several days, my class at Oblate not getting any better, and with several outside community activities my routine was really messed up.

Thursday - Sunday I was pretty restless. And I'm not altogether sure restless is the right word. Distracted? Maybe that's better, but not quite. It's difficult to articulate, for sure. Being the "creature of habit" that I am, once I've established some sort of routine, I am fairly comfortable. When the routine gets thrown out... without any to take its place... or when things seem out of balance... I have a hard time concentrating.

Perhaps I should explain my week a little...
  • Sr. Gretchen and I had class together on last Monday, but didn't meet again until this morning.
  • Tuesday was the Patronal Feast of the Society of Mary (the Marianists brothers and priests) because it was the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary. Also, the celebration was combined with a "good-bye, good-luck" celebration for one of the brothers who was just elected to the General Adminsitration in Rome.
  • Let's see... Wednesday... I have no recollection of Wednesday. That should tell me something, shouldn't it?!
  • Thursday was Oblate day... To make a long story short, I ended up meeting with the Assistant Academic Dean for about 45 minutes. The actual Academic Dean will be meeting with my professor in the next few days. Need I say more about that???
  • Friday Sr. Marcia, Amiee and I did faith sharing on the readings for Sunday's liturgy. That was nice.
  • Saturday, after helping Sr. Stephanie with arrangements for the jubilee celebration on Saturday the 23rd, Sr. Marcia, Amiee and I went bowling. We also had ice-cream from Cold Stone (yum!). If Sr. Gretchen would have been feeling better, she would have been with us on both Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Anyway, Saturday evening I had "permission" to go to dinner and the A&M/Army football game with my friends Robert and Terri Cooper. That was fun. But... the game started at 8:15 and, since it was televised, lasted until midnight. I didn't get home until 1am!
  • Sunday morning before Mass, I helped Sr. Durie bake bread. That was cool. After Mass and lunch, Amiee and I went swimming (as per our normal Sunday schedule). Sunday evening we had our "Spaghetti with the Sisters" with some students from St. Mary's University. We had about 12 students over for prayer at 5pm and dinner following. By the time everything was cleaned up, it was after 8pm...

Looking back on last week, I completely understand my sense of being scattered... Lesson learned? I hope so! I guess the week was just a little too full of "stuff" for me. It's no wonder I was distracted in my study & prayer! By Sunday night, seriously, the last thing I wanted to do was talk on the phone, write e-mail, post a blog or socialize. I needed my introvert re-charge time! *smile*

With all that being said, however... I still wouldn't say that the week was bad. I had a good week. It just wasn't as productive as it could have been.

Before ending, I'd like to comment a bit on the format of this blog. Those of you who know me well must know how annoyed I am at the fact that on some of my posts I can't seem to separate the paragraphs. I use a lot of formatting when I type. And when I'm typing a post, I see the formatting... but when I actually post it, *poof* it disappears (usually). So, just FYI, I'm trying to fix the problem, but it's not something I wish to spend a lot of time doing. Today, I played around a little with the html code stuff. Yeah, so I have no idea what I did, but for today the paragraphs are separated and I'm happy about that.

I pray that all is well with everyone. I hope to hear from you soon.

With prayers and blessings,

Sr. Nicole

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"Thank you, Lord, for teaching me humility."
Rudy Reyes, Jr.
"What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him..."
Isaiah 64:4
Each Sunday the Sisters in my community take turns doing the cooking. That is, except Sr. Durie because she cooks all week. Anyway, this Sunday was my day. At 12:15 we usually have a very large, nice meal with wine. However, I decided that instead of cooking the normal kind of lunch, I would make brunch instead. My menu?... pancakes (both plain and blueberry), scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey sausage, fruit salad, and kolaches (sometimes spelled kolaces - 1 1/2 doz. apple filled, 1 1/2 doz. cream cheese, and by request, 1 doz. prune).
Several years ago, Jason and Nathan Swoboda's grandmother (Mrs. Parma) gave me her recipes for kolaches (a Czechoslovakian pastry popular around some parts of Texas). But I never made them. One, the recipe is intimadating and two, I never had the desire to make them when I lived alone (the dough makes 4 dozen!).
Since I had never made them before, I asked one of our Sisters, Sr. Eileen, if she would kinda help me out. We agreed to meet in the kitchen on Saturday morning at 9:30. Everything went really well. The dough did well... I learned how to kneed and tell when it was ready... the fillings turned out well... we had fun... Finally, they were ready for the oven at 2:15pm. The recipe said that it should take 10-15 minutes to bake on 425. So, I put all four sheets in... checked them after about 7 minutes, they weren't quite done ... I opened the oven about 2 minutes later... and there seemed to be a little smoke coming from the oven. I took them out. The tops were beautiful... the bottoms... HARD AS ROCKS! Why? Well, supposedly you're only supposed to put one sheet in the oven at a time because of the air flow (or something like that). Since I had pretty much filled the oven to capacity, the air flow wasn't able to "do its thing" and the bottoms were burned.
Needless to say, I was not too happy.
My friend Rudy has a saying in times like that... when things aren't turning out the way he'd planned or if something goes wrong ... "Thank you, Lord, for teaching me humility." Saturday, standing in the kitchen with kolaches burned on the bottom... I said that several times...
Anyway, everything turned out fine in the end. I spent about 30 minutes this morning cutting the bottoms off the kolaches and the rest of the brunch turned out fine (except I skipped the blueberry pancakes and stuck with plain). I did learn something in the process of all of this... faster doesn't necessarily mean better.
That might seem trite, but it's true. Speed and quality are mutually exclusive. This isn't only true for cooking, either!You see, I'm able to apply that theory in many ways. This whole year is designed for a person to slow down... to take things in... to let God work in the quiet. If I'm always trying to hurry things along I will have missed the whole point of novitiate!
Other than my misadventures in the kitchen and the wisdom gained through that experience, what else can I say about this past week?
I visited with my spiritual director on Thursday for the first time in about a month. Wow, did she ever get an ear-full! That's why she's there, though. We had a great converstation about the many graces in my life... and the transitions into a new lifestyle... and the challenges thus far. She put things in perspective for me. Apparently, I kept repeating the phrase, "It's different than I had expected..." or "It's good, but different..." or other such statements. After a while, she had to point it out to me. I hadn't even realized that almost everything I said had that little attachment! And you know... it's true. Who could ever really imagine what God has in store for us? In one of his letters St. Paul says something to the effect that what we see, we see dimly as through a fog (exact words, I'm not sure).... Isn't that true? God leads us... and we might think we understand where the road is going or what might happen in the journey, but we really have no idea. And so, all I can do is respond to God's grace and promptings... and with a grateful heart just take it all in. I'm not saying it's easy!I like having an idea of how things will turn out or what's in store... I kinda like being "in the know." But... I'm trying...
Well, that's all for now... lest I start complaining about my Thursday night professor...
Until next week...
Many blessings!
Sr. Nicole

Sunday, September 03, 2006

So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart....
I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.
Hosea 2: 16 & 22
The essential is the interior.
Blessed Fr. William Joseph Chaminade
(One of the founders of the Marianist Family)
Under the same divine action, as the novice enters upon this time of initiation, he or she desires above all to acquire that loving familiarity with Christ leading to that knowledge of the heart possessed because of the deep unitive love that is present....Clearly, what is required is that the novice, first and foremost, be given the opportunity to come to know Christ, not in any abstract and throretical way, but by entering into an experience similar to that of the first disciples...
The Novitiate: Initiation into Christ's Way of Life
Paul Molinari, SJ
When St. John of the Cross says that mystical wisdom comes through love he means not our love for God but God's love for us. "We love because God first loved us" writes St. John; and St. Paul says that the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. The mystical life begins with a deep experience of this infusion of divine love.
Mystical Theology
William Johnston, SJ
I guess one could say that now that I've dealt with many of the practical things concerning the novitiate (selling my car, establishing a budget, learning boundaries and guidelines concerning how my time is spent etc.), I'm finally beginning to delve into what I call the "real work" of novitiate. One might ask, "What is the real work of novitiate?" I know I did!
Last week Sr. Gretchen gave me an article about the novitiate process by a Jesuit, Paul Molinari (quoted above). The article discusses the fact that the novitiate is a time to become more intimately aquainted with God through the person of Jesus. This, however, is not an academic pursuit or a time of biblical exegesis... but knowledge gained based on personal encounter. As I was reading the article, (which is quite good, by the way) I found myself making some connections that both surprised me, excited me and also overwhelmed me.
Most of the connections were to the class I'm taking at Oblate School of Theology here in San Antonio. The class is Mysticism. A better title for the course, though, would be Mystical Theology (the title of one of our texts). The working definition of mysticism we're using in class is a direct experience of God through love which leads to a type of knowledge of God that can not be gained through "studying" God in the traditional sense (as opposed to indirect ways of knowing God like theology, Scripture, beauty, God working through other people etc.). This semester we are delving into the theology of this knowledge through love. That seems like a contradiction... we're studying a knowledge that isn't supposed to be gained through study. Yep... it's a paradox... And probably more so because I'm not doing the greatest job at explaining!
Okay... so what's the connection? Novitiate is a time to draw away from distractions to enter a deeper relationship with God through experience of God... to enter the desert with Christ, if you will. In my mind, that's pretty close to the understanding of mysticism we're using in class.
So... am I going to come away from this year a mystic? That question makes me smile (giggle, actually)... we all know I'm no Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross... seriously, only God knows the answer... and I don't think that's really the point. The point, as far as I can understand it, is to come to know God better and to come to know myself better in light of that knowledge.
And so... how am I doing? Good question...
Well, I tell you one thing... I've learned more about myself in the past few weeks (counting the week I was on retreat in Milford, Ohio) than I expected. For example (to choose one of many), I made an interesting "discovery" just a few days ago...
I've always known that when it comes to how I process information, I'm an introvert. I think through things before I speak (and before I write...). And I need a certain amount of alone time to regain energy. I think, though, I must be the most social introvert immaginable! I don't suppose it's any secret to those of you who know me well that I enjoy good conversation... over coffee or a good glass of wine... There are some times that I have talked with people for hours at a time and not run out of things to talk about. Why is that important?... Glad you asked...
I'm not sure exactly how to explain this, but I'll do my best. I think one of the more challenging aspects of the novitiate will not be what I expected it to be. I thought it would be more difficult not to be doing ministry. And who knows, perhaps in a few months I'll feel that way (I'll let you know). However, right now the most challenging thing is remembering that conversation with people is good & spending some time with friends is a good thing ... 5 hours sitting in Starbucks with a few friends might be a little extreme right now.
Perhaps I should put it this way...
Before doing something like that maybe I should consider a few things... (1) how have used my time so far today? (2) are there people in my community with whom I could be spending time? (3) is 5 hours really necessary or can 1 1/2 do? Then... I should be a little more disciplined about watching the time. What I'm trying to communicate, although not very well, is that before now I was never very aware of exactly how I spent my time & why. I don't think I ever thought about it. Now... things are becoming a little more clear. And that, my friends, is a good thing.
Of course, I continue to work on my prayer life. I'm still a work in progress and thankfully, God isn't finished with me yet. But, I can't quite put that into words. I'm still "processing"...
Other than that... I continue to grow in peace & quiet joy (being the introvert that I am)... And, I continue to be aware of the grace that comes when you are "where you're supposed to be."
Thanks for checking in to see how things are going. Know that I am well... and please feel free to e-mail me at I don't check my e-mail as often as I used to, but I still do.
One more thing, if you'd like to see some of the pictures from my novitiate entrance ceremony, go to The pictures are on a website called "Facebook."
Hope to hear from you soon!
With Love and Prayers,
Sr. Nicole

Monday, August 28, 2006

"No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." ~ Matthew 6:24

"If it does not please you to serve the LORD,decide today whom you will serve..." Jeremiah 24:15a

This afternoon, I think of these quotes. Today I give up autonomous control of "my own" finances. Hallelujah! Yes, I know, it seems counter-intuitive that I would be happy about that. But as much as I hate balancing my check book, paying bills and sorting through the legal verbage of contracts (cell phone etc) - I give up that autonomy happily.

Okay... seriously...

Perhaps I should explain a little more. Last year as a pre-novice, I was living in community and participating in community without living as if I had taken the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability... Don't worry. As I get closer to vows, I'll explain those vows to the best of my ability. Now, however, as a novice I am now going to live as if vows had been taken... with all the "rights and responsibilities" that carries. Therefore, I will be on a budget, just like every other sister. Not everyone has the same budget as everyone has different needs, but everyone lives a life of simplicity and detachment to material things. Therefore, before going off to buy something I will now have to more seriously consider 1) the cost, 2) need or necessity?, and 3) motivation (with motivation being key).

Because I have yet to take vows, however, "my money" stays separate from the community money. After vows everything I earn and all cash given to me will go into the general community account. And no matter how much my paycheck says or how much cash people give me, I will still be on a budget (as are all the sisters). Everyone receives what she needs, but it's not dependant on how much she brings in or getting everything she wants. All assets are shared. This is part of what it means to live in true community.

"They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need." Acts 2:42-45
I hope that makes sense to all those who read this. If not, feel free to send me any questions. However, you can compare it to a married couple having joint accounts... well, in some ways it's the same.

I should be going now. There are many books awaiting me... and much to pray for/about. I hope all of you are well and I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to write anytime.

With many blessings!
Sr. Nicole

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Okay... I think it suffices to say that I have no idea what I'm doing with this blogging thing. But, it was suggested by a few friends of mine and so, here I am.

Here I am, having recently become a novice with the Daugthers of Mary Immaculate (more commonly known as the Marianist Sisters), and life has become a little different... exteriorly, actually, a lot different... interiorly, God's still working. :)

As many people know, my life has always been very full. This summer was no exception!
(The following information about my summer, is cut and pasted from an e-mail I sent a few days ago...)

The summer started with a week long trip to southern California at the end of May. There was a vocations retreat that I and Sr. Vange (our provincial and vocations' person) were helping with. The retreat started on Friday evening, but we flew out on Monday morning. This was to allow time for me to see the Marianist high school next door to the Marianist brothers' and for the final arrangements for the retreat to be made. While I was there, I got to visit with a friend from college who lives in LA and whom I haven't seen in over 4 years. That was a blessing! The retreat went well as did my visits with a few people I know who teach at the high school and my friend, Steve. Anyway, we came back to San Antonio the following Tuesday morning.

Wednesday was my last day at work. I miss the daily interaction with the students, but I think the new people in the office are doing really well. Then on Thursday the staff of University Ministry took me out to eat at the Cheesecake Factory... one of my favorites.

The following Monday I left for Indianapolis, where I stayed for a week with my sister and her family. That was a real gift! We didn't do anything special before my niece was baptized... we just hung out at home. I helped with the kids etc. The following Sunday, Rachel was baptized (the Feast of the Holy Trinity). That was wonderful. I'm glad I was able to be there and celebrate the occasion with everyone. Joe's extended family was all there and it was good to see them again. I hadn't seen them in two years.

The next day, I think, I caught a 1pm Greyhound Bus for Dayton, Ohio. It was my first time to travel by bus and it wasn't that bad. I had a book with me - Holy Longing by Ron Rohlheiser, OMI. It was a great book. I gained quite a bit of insight from it. I also listened to good Christian music, so it kept me from focusing on anything that might have been unpleasant in the journey. The trip to Dayton was only about 2 hours, which surprised me.

Something else that surprised me is that I really enjoyed my time in Dayton. Let me explain... I knew that I enjoyed the sisters there, that wasn't the issue. I just wasn't sure about Dayton itself. People around here don't really consider Dayton a great place and I expected some amount of racial prejudice. However, I found none and had a wonderful 2 weeks. I was able to spend a significant amount of time getting to know each of the sisters in the community, I had dinner at the brothers' novitiate (which is on the same property as a retreat center and the place where I was studying... BEAUTIFUL grounds), and I had time to catch up with various brothers & priests that I don't see very often. In the midst of that, I was able to finish reading the biography of Adele - our foundress (approx 400 pages or so) and talk with one of the foremost Marianist history scholars. I did this during a 5-day self-directed study at the North American Center for Marianist Studies. What a great place! Not only were the people there hospitable and kind, they were extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I enjoyed my studies there a great deal.

Okay... on Friday June 29 (I think), Sr. Laura Leming and I started our drive to Cape May, New Jersey. We drove from Dayton to Philadelphia that first day. We had a great time. We sang to her cds and talked the entire 9 1/2 hour trip. We stayed over night with a friend of hers in Philly (Sr. Laura is from Philly) and went out for great ice cream that night. The next morning we drove the final 3 hours to Cape May.

Cape May is a really cute, Victorian-styled town at the very southern tip of New Jersey. The Marianist Family Retreat Center is actually further south in Cape May Point (about 5 miles from the city of Cape May). Cape May Point has beaches on the east that border the Atlantic ocean and on the west that border the bay between New Jersey and Delaware. And south... the beach there is where the ocean and bay converge. Very cool. I had the great opportunity to swim in the Atlantic for the first time. I was in Cape May for 2 weeks. The retreat center has week-long retreats for families all summer. I worked the first and the second family retreats. What a blessing that was! I worked with pre-teens both weeks (children ages 8-12) and also did the music ministry the second week.

The way the retreat works is every day has a theme (welcome, communication, forgiveness, commitment and commissioning). Each day we would have a talk & skit (I was the mom in the skit everyday all two weeks... I'm not exactly a skit person, but it was fun), then peer group time. In the small groups the young children had age appropriate conversations and then did a project. The older children and parents had typically small group discussions. Then there was family time when families would meet about the topic. The afternoon had 3 hours of free time for families to go to the beach or to "town" to shop. In the evenings we had different prayer services and family prayer time. Then peer group socials and lights out (at different times depending on age). It was a great experience because 1)I've never seen a family retreat, so I learned a lot, 2) It's been a long time since I've worked with kids so young... now I see that I can still do it, and 3) the lay Marianists on the east coast are amazing.

Then, it was back to San Antonio. I flew out of Philly on July 9th. When I got home, I had a ton to do... laundry, sorting through mail, and final LIFE prep. It was a lot. Rudy came in to town the following weekend and we worked on LIFE stuff from then until LIFE actually started.

So... LIFE... we had a great year! We had a smaller number of students (69) and moderators (11), which I really think made a huge difference. I was able to get to know the students a little better than in previous years. Also, the team worked extremely well together. I won't bore you with details about LIFE, as this is already an epic novel!

So... on to the next thing...3 days after all the LIFE meetings etc. were over, I left for Orange. I spent 5 days there just hanging out with my dad and friends Nikki & Shelby. It was good to be there. I think that was the only time all summer that I watched any tv (for longer than 20 minutes), but I really wasn't interested too much.

Then... it was off to Dayton again. I flew out of Houston to Dayton on Friday August 11th. Then the next day I went to the jubilee celebrations for all the Marianists in the Dayton area celebrating an anniversary. What a great celebration! It was a lot of fun and very moving. The next day I left for retreat in Milford, Ohio with the 2 (now) novices from the brothers. It was a week long at a Jesuit retreat center. It was perfect. I came away from the retreat not only refreshed, but graced... I had wonderful prayer time there and was really able to reflect on the many ways God has blessed me through the past year... and how God might be challenging me in the coming year. Also, I established a good friendship while we were there. What a blessing!

I returned home last Saturday afternoon and hit the ground running, so to speak. With family and friends arriving and arrangements being made for Tuesday's celebration, there wasn't a lot of time to just relax. Thank God for the week of retreat before hand!!!!!

And what can I say about Tuesday? It was beautiful. I certainly felt held in prayer all evening. We had a total of 25 people present (that's including the sisters)... so 15 guests including my sister, Grace, my Goddaughter, Rachel and my dad. I have not felt so supported before. It's difficult to put into words, but it was just very uplifting. The dinner was great... the prayer service was moving (well, for me...) and sharing desserts after was a very joy-filled time. So much laughter... some tears... and lots of love. What a beautiful evening!

So... that was my summer!

Sr. Gretchen and I worked out a daily schedule for me for at least this semester. Each day is different, but includes working out, reading, reflection & personal prayer, working on Spanish, a 1-hour meeting with Sr. Gret, and working in the house.

On Thursday evenings I am taking a class at Oblate on Mysticism. I'm excited. I'm not taking it for credit - just auditing for my own enrichment. Our first class was this past Thursday. I think I'll enjoy it. It's actually on mystic theology and so far I'm enjoying the book (Mystic Theology by William Johnston, SJ). The professor will take some getting used to, though.

So... there's my update. Sorry for those of you who've heard all this before. But I thought this was a good place to start. I'll try to post weekly... we'll see how that goes.

Keep in touch!
With love and prayers,
Sr. Nicole