Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

Jesus... Stephen... the apostles... Paul... Agnes... Felicity... Perpetua... Joan of Arc... Marianist martyrs... Martin Luther King Jr.... JFK... RFK... Archbishop Oscar Romero... Ita Ford... Dorothy Kazel... Jean Donovan... Maura Clark... Dorothy Stang... and countless others... Murdered for speaking truth... asking for conversion of hearts...

The day after I returned from El Salvador our nation commemorated the life and vision of Martin Luther King Jr. I was struck last week by the fact that so many people in our history as a people of faith and in our so called secular history have been murdered for speaking uncomfortable truths. Killed for standing up for the rights and dignity of the people around them... asking for conversion of hearts to love for all people.

Today the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul - one of those who once persecuted and murdered those who spoke uncomfortable truths. His conversion is a sign that hearts can indeed be converted. He was eventually killed as well.

"Unless a grain of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die it remains but a single grain with no life." That was the theme of the prayer service our community celebrated when I entered formation with the Marianist Sisters in 2005. I believe that I've come to a deeper understanding of this phrase in recent years. At the time of my entrance to the Sisters I understood it in its spiritual sense... in a Pauline sense... dying to one's ego and false self in order to rise as a person more Christ-like. While this is true, it is also true in a real, physical sense.

Sometimes speaking out for the rights and dignity of self and/or of others can result in death. It happens over and over in our world... People in power do not like being asked to change. Well, truth be told, a lot of people are not eager to change - be it behaviors, attitudes, routines, etc. I, personally, am not crazy about change at all. But, if people stopped speaking out... stopped standing up for truth, justice, peace... what a terrible world this would be. And conversion of hearts would be more difficult.

We are called to follow the examples set by those who lived in love, spoke the truth, and stood up for those who were oppressed. I think I have to recognize that sometimes that leads to unpopular opinions (and sometimes worse than that) of those who enjoy the status quo... First, I have to be converted... to love, to insight into injustice and to courage. Then, to follow the examples of those who have gone before us.

As we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul today, may we pray for continual conversion of hearts... that eventually justice and peace might flourish in our world.

Blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It seems to me that we must not become discouraged
if we encounter some obstacle in the way of necessary change.
Never has change been done and never will it be done without difficulty.
With patience we will come to an end of all.
Blessed William Joseph Chaminade

Today is a special day in the Marianist family - the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of our founders, William Joseph Chaminade... whose cause for canonization continues to move forward. I've not written much about him in the past as far as I can remember. That is unfortunate, really. For he really is someone to be emulated in many ways.

I'll give you a short version of his role in the foundation of the Marianist Family...

He was a diocesan priest in the Diocese of Bourdeaux, France when the French Revolution began. When religious and priests were being targeted and persecuted he decided to continue ministering to people incognito. At the time he was spiritual director to Marie Therese de Lamorous - another of our founders. To make a long story short, he was exiled to Spain. He arrived in Zaragoza, Spain on Oct. 11 - the eve of the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, a significant feast for the city. It was there in Zaragoza - praying in front of a statue of Our Lady of the Pillar - that Chaminade was inspired with a vision. We do not know exactly what the vision was, but we do know that he found the inspiration to bring faith back into France upon his return in new ways - new times call for new means (a paraphrase of one of his quotes) - through communities (sodalities)...

Upon his return to France, in collaboration with Marie Therese (who was ministering to people in her parish in the absence of ordained or vowed pastoral ministers) he began to form sodalities - small communities of younger people - that they might grow in faith, find support for one another, and "multiply Christians." Adele, our 3rd founder - a young woman in the French countryside - was doing the same thing with young women. The two became connected and together the 3 of them helped birth what we know now as the Marianist Family.

That was the very short version... :)

Now, what does all that mean for now? There are a few things that stand out to me...

- New times call for new means. He was a person who was not afraid to think outside the box... way outside the box, actually. He had been a parish priest... and not that he abandoned the parishes, but he believed that the ministry of parishes had to be supplemented with something. He petitioned Rome to become a "Missionary Apostolic" so that he could have freedom to move around France creating these groups.
- Speaking of thinking outside the box, his main collaborators were an older, single lay woman (Marie Therese) and a much younger woman who was to become the first superior of the Marianist Sisters (Adele). This was the early 1800s! That's revolutionary, really.
- He faced many obstacles in his life, but did not lose faith and trust in the God who called him to the work - and he wholehearted placed himself in the hands of Mary.

I find inspiration in people who think outside the box - who ask the bigger questions - people who are essentially visionaries. And on this day, having been back from El Salvador for just under a week, I find myself pondering this idea of new times needing new means... of collaborating with seemingly unlikely people... of bringing people back (including myself) to the core of our faith - which, of course, is love.

On a slightly tangental note, Tuesday night at UD I heard Geoffrey Canada speak about education, children, schools... about needing new means in these new times. This is a recurring theme in my life these days...

I'd like to share with you a part of a letter Chaminade wrote to Adele the year before the foundation of the Marianist Sisters...

As to what in particular is to distinguish you from the other orders, it is zeal for the salvation of souls. The principles of religion and of virtue must be made known; Christians must be multiplied. ... what are we to do then? ... Your community will be composed entirely of missionary religious....

And that is what we seek to be - missionary religious. And that mission?

Our work is great; it is magnificent. If it is universal it is because we are the missionaries of Mary who says to us: "Do whatever He will tell you!" Yes, we are all missionaries. To each of us the most Blessed Virgin has confided a mandate to work at the salvation of our brothers [and sisters] in the world.

And so I ponder - what does Jesus tell me to do? In short, it boils down to love. To type that is so easy. How - concretely speaking? That's another question entirely...

Blessed Chaminade Day to all who read this...
Sr. N

Monday, January 17, 2011

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside,
but that will be only an initial act.
One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed
as they make their journey on life's highway.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar:
it is not haphazard and superficial.
It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last night I returned from my first trip to Central America. I traveled with 12 UD students to El Salvador for an immersion experience. To say that the trip was eye-opening, educational, moving, and inspiring are all understatements. It will be a long while before I can process everything. However, I would like to share with you all a few lessons learned... some serious and some not so much (as is my typical way)...
  • The Salvadoran people that I met are people of great resilience, hope, faith and compassion. They have suffered so much injustice through the years - and continue to suffer, truth be told - and yet they continue to believe... to work for justice... to care about the people around them. It certainly put things in perspective for me.
  • The men and women religious working in El Salvador have been key in some of the most desperate situations - people depend on them. They are trusted by people because they work for and love all people. And the religious I met are people of joy and hope - the type that is contagious for those around them. That's the kind of religious I hope I grow to be- unselfish, joy-filled... and working along side of those who are marginal in our society.
  • You don't need an alarm clock with a small town full of roosters.
  • Archbishop Oscar Romero may not be canonized by the institutional church, but he is a saint... and he, even in death (or perhaps more so?), is the hope of the people of El Salvador. Entering the home in which he lived and the chapel in which he was martyred, one can sense so strongly his presence... and his impact on the country. Amazing...
  • I met many women who are survivors of torture (some of them had been tortured many times) and rape at the hands of Salvadoran military people and law enforcement during the civil war years. Their stories - and their plea to help them close the "School of the Americas" or "WHINSEC" (www.soaw.org) will not soon leave my memory.
  • When entering the US upon returning from Central America, do not attempt to bring fresh fruit - even if it's "just an apple" - if you do not have at least 45 minutes to go through a separate security line. Also, don't attempt to throw said apple in the trash. The check point people don't like that.
  • The illiteracy rate in El Salvador is estimated to be 19%. Chances are that's a low estimate. Unacceptable.
  • Many people who live in the outlying areas depend on their coffee growing for income. Much of the coffee, from what I saw, is being grown on mountain sides where it is steep and difficult to harvest. Buying "fair trade" coffee would be so helpful to many of these people. Harvesting coffee isn't easy. And the big coffee manufacturers are not paying these laborers nearly what the work is worth. Something to think about.
  • US foreign policy is not something to ignore. Our policies and our lifestyle have a much larger, global impact than what we might realize. I need to pay more attention. People's lives depend on it.
  • You never know how much you miss something like oatmeal until you eat beans for breakfast for 10 days.
  • One can learn all about liberation theology, the history of a country like El Salvador, and be moved to feel many things. But it doesn't mean anything unless it translates to concrete actions. Those actions don't have to be big or dramatic. But, all the learning is for naught if something doesn't change. With learning comes responsibility - that's why people say "ignorance is bliss." Ignorance, however, is not an option. And therefore, neither is non-action.
I could write much more. However, I also know that not everything needs to be written now... I want to leave you with a quote from Dorothy Day. While I was gone I read some of a book with selected writings by Dorothy Day. Here's something that stood out to me:
Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other's faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.


Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N