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.