Monday, March 26, 2007

Some may boast of prowess bold
of the school they think so grand,
but there's a spirit can ne'er be told:
It's the spirit of Aggieland!
We are the Aggies -- the Aggies are we.
True to each other as Aggies can be.
We've got to fight boys, we've got to fight!
We've got to fight for Maroon and White!
After they've boosted all the rest,
they will come and join the best.
For we are the Aggies -- the Aggies so true, we're from Texas A.M.U.
The Spirit of Aggieland
Alma Mater of Texas A&M University

Yep. You've guessed it (if you didn't know already). I'm a maroon-bleeding Aggie. And, obviously, proud to be so.

As you read the words of the above, please keep in mind... A&M used to be an all-male, military institution. Hence, the "we've got to fight boys." And while that may no longer be true, there is one thing that definitely is true... There is a spirit there in my beloved "Aggieland." And it's a spirit that can't quite be described. As we used to say while I was in college, "From the inside looking out, it can not be explained. From the outside looking in, it can't be understood."

Now, what needs to be explained is 1) what in the world has possessed me to write about Texas A&M and 2) I understand the spirit of Aggieland on two levels... school tradition and Catholic presence. Let me first explain why I'm talking about A&M to begin with...

First, as some of you may know, Texas A&M made it to the NCAA "Sweet 16" for the first time since 1980 this year. I wasn't able to watch every game completely, but I watched the second half of several games... and read the sports page everyday to keep up with the team. You see, some of you may not know this, but I'm a HUGE fan of A&M basketball and football. I wish I could say baseball too, but I'm only a fan of high school baseball (yes, odd, but what else is new?). Anyway, our house here was filled with excitement as some of the Sisters joined me in routing for A&M... the Cinderella story of basketball. When we lost to Memphis by one point, in fact, I was watching the game with Sr. Laola... we had a blast, but were saddened by the loss. .

Secondly, three of us from our community are preparing to go to College Station, Texas (otherwise known as "Aggieland") over Palm Sunday weekend to meet with a young women's discernment group. You see... not only is A&M a land of tradition and school pride... it is a fervent ground for spiritual development..

Now a few words about the spirit of Aggieland. While I was in school, A&M was considered to be Texas' friendliest campus. This might still be true today, but I'm not sure if people still talk about as much as they did while I was a student. A&M is steeped in tradition. One tradition is that Aggies say "Howdy!" to all that they see... on campus or not. So, it's not unusual to be walking on campus and someone acknowledges your presence by smiling and saying, "Howdy." It's also a way that many speakers begin their public addresses... and the crowd responds, "Howdy!" Some visiting priests to the Catholic Center (and the bishop of the Diocese of Austin) begin their homilies by saying "Howdy." It's a fun tradition. Other traditions include different yells for each class year. Everytime something good happens or an Aggie wishes to show support for something, there is a distict way that it's done -- dependant on whether the person is a first year student, sophomore, junior, or senior/graduate. For those who are seniors or who have graduated, the yell (called a "wildcat") is "WHOOP!".

Okay... that's enough Aggie tradition for one post. However, if you're interested, please see the Texas A&M website at

Now on to the other Spirit in Aggieland... that is the fervor that surrounds St. Mary's Catholic Center located approximately 1 block north of the A&M campus. .

St. Mary's Catholic Center was my home away from home during my 4 years as a student at A&M. It was also the first place I worked as a college campus minister after leaving teaching, but before entering the Sisters. So, believe me when I say, there is no place quite like St. Mary's.The former director of campus ministry there (and pastor of the Church for 13 years) is a graduate of Notre Dame... he used to say, "There are more active, Catholic Aggies here at St. Mary's than there are active Catholics at Notre Dame." He was very proud of that... as were we.

Not only is there a lot going on (retreats, prayer groups, discernment groups, RCIA and confirmation classes, a Catholic sorority, Knights of Columbus, service groups, Bible studies, small Christian communities...), but it's the spirit that underlies everything that makes it different from other campus ministries.
There are nearly 100 "Aggie Vocations" to the priesthood and religious life; and in the last nine years alone, 75 Aggies have entered seminaries, convents and monateriers around the world. In addition, this year 14 former students, a record number, have entered formation for the priesthood and religious life. However, instead of listing everything about this place, I encourage you to go to the St. Mary's Catholic Center website at: Check it out for yourself.

Anyway, it's no wonder I'm excited about going back to College Station this weekend. Not only will I be able to share this place with 2 of my Sisters, but we will be able to make a connection with the discernment group and with others who might be interested in learning more about who we are.

College Station, Texas may not be very big or exciting by some people's standards... but, it will always hold a special place in my life... it was the place where my spirituality was cultivated, my love for God and ministry nurtured, and my vocation fostered. .

Indeed, there's a spirit can ne'er be told...

Many blessings on whoever reads this!
Gig'em and God bless!
Sr. N

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Lord sets prisoners free;
the Lord gives sight to the blind.
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down...
the Lord protects the stranger, sustains the orphan and the widow...
Psalm 146: 7b-8a, 9a

Yes, it's rather odd that I post on my blog on a weekday morning. However, a number of things have converged for me and prompted me to post this morning. I'll explain...

As you know I've been studying the vow of obedience lately... listening to God (in the many ways that God communicates) and then acting out of love on what God is "saying" in life. Therefore, I have been reflecting lately on how well I listen... how well I respond... In addition, studying this vow brings me face-to-face with a different reality... I am not in control. Yes, I know, I've written several times about that particular topic. It seems that it's a big lesson I'm learning this year - There are a great number of things I do not control... Learning to be "okay" with that has proven difficult.

Coupled with my study of the vow of obedience is the fact that there are many people in my life who are going through rather difficult times... whether because of broken relationships, confusion about their life's direction, the broken promises of important people in their lives, set backs, and/or tough decisions. Some of these people talk to me about what's going on... others don't because they don't feel they can... some would very much like for me to "fix it."

Then, this morning at morning prayer the second psalm we prayed was Psalm 146... a reminder that it is the Lord who raises up, who protects, who gives sight and sets free. I was struck by the awesome reality of that psalm. No where in Scripture does it say, "Nicole, you're in charge of fixing things." Or "Nicole, it all depends on you."

Nope... God's in charge.

There are a 2 main things on which these three realizations cause me to reflect: 1) Psalm 146 is very freeing and very hopeful. It's a good thing that God's in control... because heaven knows I'm just a fragile human who makes too many mistakes to count. 2) I am called to a humble recognition that I'm not God. I can't "fix" things. I have no control over the chaos in some people's lives... as much as I care about them and as much as I act out of empathy... I can only do what God has gifted me to do... nothing more and hopefully nothing less... and whatever good that comes is from God and the action of God's Spirit. Lastly, I should not be so harsh on myself if I can't fix every problem that's presented to me.

Ah, yes.... morning prayer today was a brief lesson in hope... and a lesson in humility - I am grateful to God for the gentle reminders. And, I will continue to pray for those who are struggling right now... I will do what I can... understanding that, in the words of Oscar Romero, "I am a worker, not the Master Builder"... and trust in God's guidance (for them and for me).

Blessings to all who read this...
Sr. N

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thus says the Lord:
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.
Jeremiah 7:23

Who knew that today's first reading would fit so perfectly with what's going on in my study of the vows?! Yep, you guessed it. I've moved on to the vow of obedience.

Approximately 2 weeks ago Sr. Gretchen and I completed our study of the vow of poverty - for the moment. You see, the study of the vows never really "ends," per se. Actually, the intense study is the "easy" part (if there is such). Now... I have to continue to grow in it... continue to gain insight and understanding... and continue the road of conversion. That is much more challenging than reading about it. *smile*

So, now our focused study has brought us to the vow of obedience. Great timing, really. This week we had our monthly intercommunity novitiate program gathering. Our topic for our time together? Obedience. Also, I think Lent is a particularly poignant time to study the vow of obedience. Why?

As far as I can tell at this point in time, obedience has to do with listening to God... in the MANY ways that God communicates with us (our community, Scripture, personal prayer, spiritual direction, etc.) and then responding out of love to what God is telling me or telling us. As I stated in my last post, Lent for me has always been a time to examine how I'm doing in relation to God... Am I responding as I should?

You see, examining how well one listens and responds to God is not just a skill for religious life. It's what the Christian journey is all about... what is God telling me and how should I respond?

However, what makes vowed religious life a little different is that we are a community - a province - a congregation - seeking to respond to God as a whole... for the benefit of the common good and of the world. I am no longer an individual seeking God's will... I'm a part of a group. That's a completely new dynamic for me.

I think that's one of the more challenging changes for me since entering religious life. I'm learning a new way of thinking about myself and about responding to God. No person, really, exists in isolation and I've always known that. However, now the reality is that what "I" do or don't do causes or could cause a bigger effect on many people. I'm not sure yet how to articulate that, but that's one of the things I'm sorting through these days.

And it all has to do with obedience. Who knew? *smile*

Many blessings to all who read this!

Sr. N

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.
Joel 2:13a

As promised, I have a few words about the beginning of my Lenten journey.

However, before I launch into that... I'm sure you've noticed that I finally learned how to insert pictures into this blog. For the longest time I had been trying to put a picture on my profile. But, because I didn't read the directions fully, I was having trouble. *smile* Now that I've learned how to insert pictures, be prepared to see more.

Also, in case you're wondering who the people are in the pic, I'm the one in the center. The two guys flanking me are the two novices with the SM (Society of Mary - Marianist Brothers and Priests). This picture was taken at the end of our week-long, silent Advent retreat at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. The gate leading into the monk's courtyard reads "God alone." That was a favorite phrase of our foundress Mother Adele (see post from Jan. 11, 2007 for information on her) so it seemed appropriate to take our picture there.

Now, back to Lent...

Some people say I'm a little strange. Lent has always been my favorite liturgical season (followed closely by the Triduum). You might ask yourself, "why?" Well, Lent has always been so meaningful for me. I was never much of an ascetic. Sure, I took on the usual "giving up" of something (and still do). But, I took on a different approach late in my college years. Instead of giving up something like candy or soda, I started really examining my life and saying, "what can be better?"

For me, Lent has always been a time to examine my relationships - with God, with others, and with myself. It's been a time for me to focus on bringing those relationships into "proper order." To reconcile all things to God and God's will for me. To rend means to tear apart, to separate, or to disturb (along with several other meanings). For me, Lent is a time to mentally "tear apart" so as to examine... and change.

This year is different, though. I have felt like this entire year has been Lenten, in a way. Because my Lent was always spent in self-examination and reconciling my life... and because that's what I've been doing since I entered novitiate, it's difficult to sense a real difference in Liturgical season. It's interesting... My year is very much about examining myself, my life, my relationships with God and with this community... and I'm thinking, "That's what Lent is for!" Hmm... but it brings me to another revelation...

Perhaps bringing all my relationships into "proper order" shouldn't be just relegated to Lent. Perhaps it should be a year-round practice...

Now, I find myself needing to create a new meaning for Lent... or better yet... finding out what Lent is for me... this year... as a canonical novice.

I haven't yet figured this out. But Lent is just beginning, so I have some time. *smile*

Blessings on your Lenten journey!

Sr. Nicole