Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; 
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing....
Isaiah 9:1

Merry Christmas!

When I was younger, maybe in late middle school and through high school, I loved going to Midnight Mass. It didn't matter whether I went to my home parish of St. Mary's or the parish of many of my friends, St. Francis of Assisi. I loved that Mass. There was something magical and special about it.

Last night I was sitting in our Immaculate Conception Chapel at the University of Dayton at the "Midnight Mass at 10:30 PM" reflecting on the celebration. I was reflecting on something that I didn't quite get growing up. What's special about celebrating the incarnation so late at night? Why does it speak to me so? We gather during the darkest hour to celebrate the fact that into the darkness has come the greatest of Lights. God has chosen to enter our world. Our world is good, for all things created by God are good. However, our world has its share of dark moments and people who walk in darkness. Our own lives have their share of dark days or dark times. And it is into this reality of ours that God enters. If we let that soak in... touch our hearts... it's an awesome reality.

And what does that mean for us today? Meister Eckhart, a late 13th / early 14th century German Dominican priest, philosopher and theologian once wrote:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.
Indeed, how Marianist of him!

Our world and our lives are still in need of light - of joy - peace - comfort - love. What good is it if Jesus came then, but does not also come through us now? This is our call: to be Christ-bearers in our world today. That is very much in keeping with a Marianist perspective. For, as Marianists, we see our mission as continuing the mission that is Mary's - manifesting Christ in our world.

Celebrating today is important. It is important for us to remember that God became one of us out of God's great love for us. However, it does us no good as a people if our celebrations end today and have no lasting meaning into the days ahead. So, let us carry the celebration of Christmas forward so that Christ might be born in each day.

Many blessings for a peaceful and joy-filled Christmas,
Sr. N

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Let us imitate the love of our heavenly Mother and, like her, let us cheerfully render to all our brothers and sisters all the services we can, both for the body and for the soul. 
Ven. Adele de Batz de Trenquelleon
Foundress of the Marianist Sisters (Daughters of Mary Immaculate)

Happy Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception! 

Today is a special day for the Marianist Sisters. For this is the feast from which we get our name (Daughters of Mary Immaculate) and from which we gain our inspiration for mission. Mary - chosen from the moment of her conception, especially graced by God, completely open to the Holy Spirit -  so that she might bring the presence of Jesus into our troubled world, nurture the life of Jesus and teach him what it meant to be a faithful Jewish child, and point others to Jesus in order to say, "Do whatever he tells you." For us as Marianist Sisters we take Mary as our model of discipleship, our inspiration for how to be in our world, and our partner in continuing her mission.

Each morning all Marianist Religious (male and female) make an act of dedication to Mary. There are several different ones for use on different days. They all inspire me in some way, but one stands out as my favorite - the one for Sundays of Ordinary Time. It reads:

Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church,
today we join you in praising our God,
and rejoice with you in Christ our Risen Savior.
We, your Marianist Family,
seek to imitate your faith in God's promise,
your openness of heart,
and your listening to the Holy Spirit.
We joyfully dedicate ourselves to you
and to your mission in the Church.
Taught by Christ's example,
may we receive grace and courage
to minister to all people.

For me, this captures it all. We collaborate with Mary, we imitate Mary, and we dedicate ourselves to carry on her mission in the Church and in our world ministering to (and with) all people.

Last night we celebrated this feast liturgically with a vigil Mass at the University of Dayton. It was the closing of the University's "Christmas on Campus" - a day on which university students adopt children who live in poverty, bring them to campus and share with them in the traditions of the Christmas. The Mass last night was beautiful. The chapel, named for the Immaculate Conception, was packed. The choir was large and amazing. What was particularly moving for me was the music that was chosen. The choir led us in singing 3 different versions of Mary's Magnificat (2 during the prelude and one during communion). And the Mass began with what is quickly becoming my favorite non-Magnificat Mary song. It is appropriately titled "Song of Mary" by Dan Schutte. Some of the lines that always get me are: "Let us sing the praises of Mary, chosen as blessed from the least.... woman of strong and steadfast love.... friend of the poor in every age.... Blessed be the name of Mary, she who trusted the love of God."

Indeed. On this day in which we celebrate Mary, let us each learn from her to be strong and steadfast, compassionate, concerned for the poor, and always leading people to her Son.

Many blessings to you this day!
Sr. N

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, 
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another...
And over all these, put on love, that is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace to which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Colossians 3: 12-13a, 14 - 15

Ever since I was in high school, these words to the Colossians have held great meaning for me... somewhat like a compass or a guidebook. However, I have never found these words very easy to live by. Recently, I've been reflecting a lot about gratitude - not necessarily because of Thanksgiving, but that is a nice coincidence. :)

In the past few months I've invited a few of my colleagues and friends to begin a women's faith sharing group. We're fairly fluid in the way we've organized ourselves, but it's coming together. At our last gathering our focus was cultivating gratitude - how do we build a sense of thankfulness into our lives and live from that? One of the suggestions was to begin a gratitude journal - beginning each day by simply making a list of all the things one is grateful for that day. I did not take up that suggestion, although I like it. It seems to me that if I made a list of everything for which I am grateful, I'd run out of space fairly quickly!

God's blessings have certainly been abundant in my life - supportive family and friends, my community and the Marianist family... opportunities for travel and for education... ministry and service with and for young people... the lessons learned through tears and sorrow... laughter and hikes in beautiful spaces. Yes, I have been abundantly blessed in this life.

I'm sure all of us could recount many experiences and people for which we are grateful. And yet, in our society it is difficult to hold on to that gratitude. Our culture seems set up to make us believe that we do not have enough, we aren't good looking enough, our friends need to be a certain way... basically, that we and our lives are just not enough. There's always something telling us we need to buy this latest thing to make our lives more complete or more worthwhile. Of course, it's all craziness! Yes, there are many people who lack basic necessities and who really do need certain things. However, if we're honest with ourselves many of us who have access to the internet to read this post are not in that circumstance. But, we do have a call to be more like those who go without than to be like our culture encourages us to be.

A reflection I was reading recently states that the beginning of gratitude is recognition of our absolute dependance on God - for it is God who gifts us so abundantly and it is God alone who can bring peace to our restless hearts (and therefore our restless world). And until we realize that all good things come from God and not from the big sales at the mall, true and lasting gratitude will continue to be elusive to us.

Now, one might think that as a religious with a vow of poverty I might be somehow immune from the materialism and consumerism that is rampant in our culture. I do wish that were true! But, I, like you, am human and not perfect.  I do, however, recognize it as an issue and when I see it creeping into my life it does bring me to reflect on my vows, on the goodness of God... and then to laugh at my forgetfulness.

May this time of giving thanks be for each of you a time to cultivate deep gratitude... and may you know the abundance of God's love for you.

Blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Where else can you find such grace happening through such craziness? 

Bro. Tom Wendorf, National Vocations Director for the Marianists Brothers and Priests

There is no other way to describe the past several weeks than with the quote here from my friend/colleague Bro. Tom. God is so interesting. I am quite possibly busier than I've been at any other time in my life... my calendar is pretty crazy. And yet, God's grace abounds and, somehow, I do not feel at all frazzled.

It all came into focus for me this weekend. This weekend the Marianist Family celebrated the perpetual profession of one of our Brothers - Tom Farnsworth. Tom and I entered religious life in the same year and professed first vows within months of each other. The Mass was beautiful - the UD chapel was packed... The reception and dinner were enjoyable and up-lifting. Last night, after everything was over, another Brother says to a group of us, "I don't know how anyone can come away from a celebration like this and not be inspired." There are no more appropriate words than those.

In his homily yesterday, Fr. Marty (the Provincial for the Marianist Brothers and Priests) stated that what Tom was doing was rare - making a permanent commitment - to live forever witnessing to Christ in this way. And it's true. In our society it seems that people can be a little "commitment-phobic." And the way of a religious is not the way for many people. So, it is rare. For me personally, discerning if a permanent commitment will be the next step in my journey, I am all too keenly aware of that tendency. But, Marty also said that it is God who "makes a vocation"... essentially, it is God who calls and it is God who gives the grace necessary to keep saying yes... even in the midst of craziness.

Lately I've been reflecting on the concept of the "grace of state" - the grace that God gives someone so that the person can live faithful to their call, whatever that call might be. I am reminded of a quote from Scripture, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I believe that anyone who says yes to a life-time commitment has this kind of confidence... this kind of faith in God's providence. And so I ask myself, "Is this the kind of confidence I have in God?" Well... I know that's what I desire to have.

Now, I'm not going to lie and say that in my so busy life everything has been smooth and without issues. We all know that can't be true. However, in the midst of e-mails and phone calls, paper work and planning, teaching and meetings... God's there. What else is there to say, right?

I've realized that in my life God's grace is often manifested through relationships... through friends and family, community and the larger Marianist family, coworkers and strangers. In recent weeks this has again been the case. Late night conversations with other "young" religious ... coffee with another vocations director... video chats with friends far away... texts from family... shared prayer in community at the end of a retreat day... conversations about prayer and discernment... the celebration of jubilees and professions... bowling with friends... all of these have been experiences of God and bearers of God's grace.

Yes. Even in the midst of craziness - perhaps especially in the midst of craziness - God's grace is ever present. And that is something in which I can have confidence.

Blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Saturday, September 22, 2012

... decide today whom you will serve...
Joshua 24: 15b

Wow. It's been more than a month since my last post! With the start of the academic year and the transitions in our province, I hadn't realized how long it had been...  There is so much to say, I barely know where to start!

First, an update on the start of the academic year. It's so good to be in my second year back at a high school. Things go so much smoother in the second year of a new ministry. There are, of course, the normal transitions at the beginning of every year. However, it's less because I am not trying to learn all the basics - lines of communication, who everyone is and what they do, the rhythm of meetings etc. Now, it's just getting used to a new group of students and a few new responsibilities. There are two exciting things going on at school this year... One, I have an intern working with me. He's some what like a student teacher, except he's already graduated from college with a degree in theology. Before now I had never had a student teacher. So it's been an adjustment. It's a good one, though. Having him around forces me to be more reflective about how I teach and what my goals/objectives are. Not that I never gave that thought before, but it's good for me to make it more explicit and have to explain it to someone. ... Second, I'm helping coordinate a new project at school for our seniors. We're just doing a small pilot this year with a few students, but we hope to launch the entire senior class next year. The project is a humanities interdisciplinary research inquiry into an issue of social justice. I don't want to go into all the details, but needless to say, I'm excited!

Now, for an update on our sisters. In the 6 weeks since I've written we've chosen a new provincial, installed a new provincial council, and named a new province director of vocations. That last piece of information is the most intriguing for me, personally. I am now the new vocations director for our province - for a term of 3 years....

This is a fairly significant moment for me. Allow me to explain.

Several weeks ago - maybe two weeks after I posted last - I was struck by the Sunday readings. I thought about blogging that weekend, but I couldn't quite pull my words together - or better yet, it was just a little too personal. The quote at the top of this blog is from the first reading of that Sunday (Aug. 26th). I was more struck by the Gospel, though. It is the end of the Bread of Life Discourse from John's Gospel. Jesus has just finished telling a large group of disciples that unless they eat his body and drink his blood they will have no life within them. Well, as one would guess, many disciples choose to leave. I imagine them saying, "Forget this. This man is nuts." Jesus turns to the 12 and says asks them if they are planning to leave, too. Peter, being the bold one who typically speaks up first says, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

I read the readings on Saturday night... prayed with them that Sunday morning... and listened intently as Fr. Jim gave his homily. And it all brought me back to the same thing - Jesus asks us at different points in our lives to make certain decisions. Who are you going to serve? To what will you give your life? What about you - are you also going to leave? And in this year in which I face the prospect of perpetual vows, the questions seemed all too real. And they still do!

And now, I am serving as our vocations director. How did I discern saying yes? Great question.  I prayed about it for a few days. I asked a lot of questions of our provincial (which is funny because she's the same person I bombarded with questions before I turned in my paper work to enter the congregation... So, I guess she's used to that from me). And... the more I prayed about it the more excited I became and the more ideas came to me. I almost started planning things before I said yes. That's always a good sign for me.

So this is good. Is it scary? Yes. Do I know what the future holds? Of course not. Who does? But, I do know that I have found life in this life... and I have to trust that.

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!
1 Kings 19: 7b

Our readings today bring back great memories. These were the readings for the Sunday during my retreat prior to entering the novitiate in August 2006. On that retreat (at the Jesuit retreat house in Milford, Ohio) I spent a lot of time reflection on this reading from 1 Kings - especially on that line quoted above.

The quote and my meditations on it often come back to me during busy weeks or times that my personal prayer is unfocused or scattered. For me this isn't about food, although one does need that kind of sustenance for the journey. But it's about other types of sustenance - prayer, quiet, Eucharist, friendship... those are equally important for the journey, no? Otherwise, the journey is too long, too hard, and altogether without direction. In my journal from that retreat I wrote, "Drink deeply from the wellspring of prayer, Nicole. Or this journey will be too long." And how true those words are!

Yesterday we celebrated the 70th, 60th, 50th, and 25th jubilees of many of our Marianist brothers/priests and two of our sisters. Sister Marie celebrated 60 years of vowed life and Sister Mary Louise celebrated 50 years. It was a marvelous celebration - a moving Mass with vow renewals, good music and a lot of people; a laughter-filled reception full of people I hadn't seen in months or years; and a nice dinner. It was a lovely evening, really. As each person renewed his/her vows, they also said a prayer. The prayer was a thanksgiving for God's faithfulness, asking forgiveness for their past infidelities, and requesting the grace to remain faithful for the years ahead. And what occurred to me as I watched this was that without many such prayers throughout life, the journey is just too long.

Later today I am going to a prayer vigil for the Sikh community with one of our sisters. We will gather with others from the Dayton community to pray for peace, healing, an end to senseless violence, and tragedies such as the recent shootings. What a drastically different thing to be about today compared to yesterday's joy. And yet, to me the underlying necessity of prayer stands out in both situations. The violence will not cease in our world without people of prayer working and praying for it. Yes, it takes both - hard work on behalf of peace and a disposition of prayerfulness.

And so... Drink deeply from the wellspring of prayer, my friends. Or this journey will be too long.

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
Ps. 145
(Responsorial Psalm for Sunday July 29, 2012 - the 17th Sunday Odinary Time)

Every once in a while something strikes me. The Mass readings for a certain day will hit me as particularly appropriate for life at the moment. The readings for tomorrow are like that for me at this time - God provides what we need - sometimes in unexpected ways or when it seems impossible. Our God is a God of surprises, indeed.

I last blogged about 10 days ago. Since then I have been in Cleveland accompanying one of our sisters. Sr. Audrey has had a rough several years. Without going in to too much detail, she has had a mysterious ailment of the lungs and a series of infections that have been terrible. Earlier this summer she came back to Cleveland because of a recurrance. She had a number of surgical procedures and was in and out of ICU. After approx. 5 weeks in the hospital, she is now in a transitional care facility receiving physical therapy and nursing care. Many of the other sisters have been here with her during the summer - taking turns. When I leave in a few days I will have been here for a total of 2 weeks. And... surprisingly to me... the days have been full of grace.

That's what summer has been for me - a time of great grace. And sometimes grace comes in expected ways like when I'm on retreat (3 times this summer!) and sometimes graces surprises me like when I'm just being present to someone - or changing her socks - playing a game of UNO - or exchanging stories about life.

God gives us what we need - in abundance as the Gospel for tomorrow points out.

At the same time that I've been here in Cleveland, many of our sisters from around the world are gathered in Rome for our 31st General Chapter. There they are discerning the direction for our Congregation for the next 5 years.

A sister from my community, Sr. Laura, is there. And our Provincial, Sr. Gretchen, is there. However, she is no longer our Provincial as of a few days ago. She was elected to our General Administration (GA). Which means she is moving to Rome to serve the needs of our Congregation at large. Another one of our sisters, Sr. Estella, was serving on the GA for the past 10 years and will be coming home.

We knew Estella was coming home. Her 2 terms are up. However, Gretchen moving to Rome is quite the surprise. We know that the Spirit of God leads us and has led to this outcome. But exactly how things will unfold for us here in the U.S. is, as of yet, unclear. That is why the readings for tomorrow seem appropriate - God provides in abundance. We don't need to know the details of how. There is no need for doubt about that - even when things are unclear or something doesn't even seem possible. God finds a way.

Someone in my life - I can't remember who - says often (with a sly grin), "God's always up to something." Indeed! And I am thankful for that!

Many blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The world doesn't need another Mother Teresa.
The Church doesn't need another Francis of Assisi.
The world/the Church needs you.
From a poster at Mary's House - the Marianist Family Retreat Center 
Cape May Point, New Jersey

Reminders, reminders and more reminders. Every once in a while reminders are very good. Apparently, I need reminders more than most. My summer's been full of 'em!

Last night I returned from my 3rd (and last) retreat of the summer. I was part of the staff for the 3rd week of family retreat programs at the Marianist Retreat Center in Cape May Point, New Jersey. It was a wonderful week. There were a total of 7 families on retreat, plus there were 3 families working on the staff. It was there that I read the above quote.

There have been many times in my life that I've lamented not being Mother Teresa... or Dorothy Day... Mother Adele... Oscar Romero or Martin Luther King Jr.... I'm not Edith Stein or Therese of Liseaux... nor am I "Sr. So-and-so" who lives down the hall from me. Nope. I'm just plain me. And believe me... some days I embrace that easier than at other times. In my laments I've often said, "I can't because I'm not..." Perhaps that is true sometimes. But it isn't true all the time. And, of course, I "know" that. But every once in a while a person needs a reminder.

My summer has been full of little reminders... reminders of gifts from God and reminders of challenges to embrace. Here are just a few...

  • I do not read enough. 
    • I love to read, but for some reason, I don't read as many books as I used to. Nor do I read journal articles (unless someone recommends them on Facebook). Earlier in the summer I read a book a co-worker let me borrow. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Dunn. Not only did this book challenge me and inspire me, it opened my eyes to how much I miss reading books like this. It is books like this from which a person's world view can expand and clarify one's own mission. Thank you to Molly for letting me borrow the book!
    • I also read a little bit of fluff also - Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe. Yes. I did. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. :) Thanks to Toni for this read.
  • Never take for granted the gift of uninterrupted silence/prayer.
    • Silence is a luxury. It is a gift. It is also necessary for the spirit. While on retreat I had the great gift of hours each day spent in prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, journal writing - and just being. There is a certain amount of clarity that comes from sitting perfectly still for an hour or two. If there is ever a time that can happen during the academic year, I will not take it for granted!
  • Praying near water does wonders for the soul.
    • On the first retreat the retreat center was on a creek. The second retreat center was on a large river. The last one was on the Atlantic Ocean. Each place had it's own particular beauty. And each gave my spirit a unique gift.
  • Stewing over imperfections (mine or others') does nothing good.
    • So, why not look at unique gifts instead (mine and others')? Perhaps that will do much more good - for me and for the people in my life.
  • The sunscreen/bug spray combo in 80% humidity makes a quick run nearly unbearably hot.
  • The Marianist vow of stability thwarts one's tendency towards instability.
    • As you read that sentence, it might seem obvious. However, I had honestly never thought about it. Each of the vows seems to be opposed to a "value" of our society (i.e. poverty stands opposed to materialism and upward mobility, obedience stands opposed to individuality and selfishness, and chastity stands opposed to objectification and being ruled by one's desires). I honestly had never thought about what stability stands opposed to... commitment-phobia! Duh.
  • Growth in holiness is not only (and maybe not primarily) for my benefit or for the work I do. But for the people with whom I live and with whom I interact.
    • Another "Duh" moment. It's not about me. How many times am I going to need that particular reminder?
And so, there you have it. The lessons of summer 2012 (thus far).

If you don't mind... I have two prayer requests before I sign off...

One, currently, Marianist sisters from all over the world are meeting in Rome for our General Chapter. This is the meeting of leaders from each region that happens every 5 years. Two American sisters are there (Laura and Gretchen). It is at the General Chapter that the direction of our Congregation is set for the next 5 years, our general leadership is chosen and various issues discussed. Please pray for their openness to the Spirit of God in their deliberations and process.

Secondly, tomorrow I leave for Cleveland. One of sisters has been very ill while I've been galavanting across the US. I will be with her at the Cleveland Clinic and then as she enters a rehab facility. Please keep her and all of the Marianist US sisters in your prayers.

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."
Thomas Merton

Back from my unintentional blogging hiatus. One may wonder what precipitated such a lengthy hiatus. Sometimes I wonder the same thing! Yes, the spring semester was very busy with travels, meetings and end of the year craziness at school. However, that's really nothing new in my life. And yet, the hiatus lingered. There were times I thought, "I should blog." Then I would reflect and either I had so much to say, I didn't know where to start or I lacked a certain since of inspiration for writing.

The past several weeks have been packed both with incredible challenges and times of great joy. There has been some angst surrounding the current situation of the Church in the US - the relationship of the LCWR and the Vatican, caustic relationship between the Church & civil society (politics), the current events in the Church of Philadelphia, etc. There are struggles in community life - that's typical of community life, really. And this is not to mention the personal struggles of people who are close to me - the mother of my closest friend from high school passed away and I could do nothing for the family except pray, there were friends far away experiencing bouts of depression and challenging situations.... Then there were the moments of joy in celebrating milestones, welcoming a good friend back to the Dayton area, times of prayer and conversations on retreats/weekends away, celebrating first professions...

Through it all - the ups and downs - maintaining a sense of balance became more of a necessity than a preference. Usually when people consider living a balanced life they try to spend equal energy (or sometimes equal time) on the various aspects of life. It's like trying to keep several balls in the air assuming that all the balls are of equal size and weight. For me, however, over the past several weeks I have reaffirmed the primary role that prayer and quiet have - that ball, if you will, is a little bigger and carries more weight. Of course, this is not anything new. I suppose I've been reminded in powerful ways.

Also, I've been reflecting on the role of inspiration in life. I've always said, I cannot write unless I am "inspired." I say that about a lot of things, really. I say I have to "feel" something in order to move or to be moved to respond. The thing is, however, that sometimes things have to be done based on duty, responsibility, or commitment. Again, this is not a new concept. It's part of growing up, of maturing. Perhaps I'm a little slow on the uptake, but reminders of this were of great value these past several weeks.

Balance, order, rhythm, harmony.... These are what allow for peace within even when everything without is going crazy. Stability. With the ups and downs of life and the ins and outs of people, sometimes a sense of stability can be difficult. Prayer and being centered in the person of Christ are the only ways to remain whole and open.

Currently, I am about to begin my second full, silent retreat of the summer. How did that happen, you might ask. Believe me, I asked the same question! The first retreat was with my fellow Marianists in formation. What a time of grace that was! It was just before the first profession of the 4 new temporary professed Marianist Brothers - a weekend packed with deep joy for our Marianist Family and for the Church (for more on that, read the following blog: http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/marianist-brothers-vows-reminder-joy-religious-life). Now, I am with a different set of peers as we reflect on what it means to be called to leadership in the Marianist family - responsibility, commitment, balance, order, stability. I have to admit, entering the summer I didn't like the idea of spending so much time on silent retreats. However, I embrace this time as an opportunity to be centered and listen for that still, small voice.

I hope this marks the end of the blogging hiatus....
Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique
but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God.
Into the Silent Land
Martin Laird, OSA

This year during Lent I decided to pick up two new pieces of spiritual reading. The first book, by James Martin, SJ, was My Life with the Saints. An excellent read that is both memoir of his discernment journey and stories of saints that have touched his life along the way. I highly recommend it! The second book, Into the Silent Land, by Martin Laird, OSA, is of a much different sort.

Into the Silent Land is a guide to contemplative prayer. It’s not a how to, necessarily, although it could be. It’s also not an academic book about the theology of contemplation, although there are certainly some elements of that. It is more an in depth look at the human person in relationship to God. At least, so far in my reading of it.

The book is based on the fact that union with God is not something that we acquire or work for, but something that we realize or of which we become aware. And while that’s not necessarily a new insight or idea for me, the simplicity with which he states it - very matter-of-fact - caught me and when I read it I realized just how much I needed that message...

I've been doing a lot of thinking/praying lately about relationships - with God, with self, with others. That's what I do during Lent, typically. And in my prayer I've noticed that my fundamental premise has become one of alienation. Meaning, the belief that I am somehow separated from God (and consequently self) and that union with God must be worked at.

Laird's book reminded me of a few things. Allow me to quote something at length:

Union with God is not something we acquire by technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of separation is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word. This illusion of separation is generated by the mind and is sustained by the riveting of our attention to the interior soap opera, the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads. For most of us this is what normal is, and we are good at coming up with ways of coping with this perceived separation. (Laird, 15)

I don't know about you, but that description of the mind as a cocktail party (many conversations and a lot of noise) or as the playing of a soap opera (replaying old conversations, imagining situations and outcomes) is so true for me!! I am constantly replaying things in my mind or imagining how much easier things would be if they went my way or thinking of what I would say if I had the courage to speak up.... Does that resonate with anyone else?

So, I've been spending some time during the second half of Lent (since returning from the Los Angeles Religious Ed Congress) trying to ease the chatter of the mind. Maybe that's why I haven't blogged recently.

As Lent draws to its close today and we enter the Triduum Season - the shortest of all Liturgical Seasons, but one that is packed with meaning - may it be one of rich prayer for us all... and a recognition that our union with God is already a fact.

Many blessings to all who read this,

Sr. N

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The final word is love.
Dorothy Day

Next week we will begin the season of Lent. Seems like we just celebrated Christmas, but here we are: mid-February with Lent around the corner.

I've always had a real appreciation for the season of Lent. The infinite mercy of God and my constant need for it is typically at the forefront of my mind and has been since I was a teenager. As I've gotten older, though, the meaning of Lent has expanded for me. Now, I consider my response to God's love and mercy. God is "kind and merciful, slow to anger." ... Okay. Now what does that mean for me in my daily life. Does it make a difference?

It's during Lent that I take stock of life and relationships. How am I doing with being a person of love and compassion? How do I live out my love of God? Dorothy Day once wrote, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." I'm not sure about you, but the truth of this quote scares me a little and challenges me.

Earlier this month I was part of an e-mail exchange with two former students of mine. We were discussing the meaning of love, friendship, relationships and ultimately the human condition. The exchanges were very lengthy and ranged from the philosophical and theological to the mundane. The exchanges challenged me and offered excellent points for reflection. What does it mean to love others in the day-to-day, concrete situations of our lives? Believe me, the answers are not as clear as we would like to think.

In recent years my reflections and prayer during Lent have also been shaped by my formation process with the Marianist Sisters. You see, the timing works out that it is always during Lent that I write my annual letter expressing my desire for the next stage of formation or a renewal of vows. The writing of the letter is a process of discernment in and of itself. I am asked to consider my life in community and in ministry, my living of the vows (poverty, chastity, obedience and stability), how I live out our mission and how I sense my call to religious life as a Marianist. And really, it all boils down to love - in the concrete, day-to-day messiness of life. The final word is, indeed, love.

On a side note, next week the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will launch a new blog/website - Being Catholic. Several weeks ago the Archdiocese asked me to be one of the contributing bloggers. My first post should go up on Ash Wednesday. Chances are it will be a reflection on Lent, love and/or conversion. Please be sure to check it out: http://www.Being-Catholic.org

Many Lenten blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

Happy February! It hardly seems possible that February is here... especially since here in Ohio the weather is unbelievably temperate. And yet, here we are... the start of a new month.

I've been doing a lot of thinking/reflecting/praying about balance lately. It seems to me that in recent years we hear a lot about the importance of living a life in balance. We hear it in health news and in spiritual reading... in books on leadership and articles on religious life. I seem to be surrounded by messages about balance. Therefore, I pray for the grace of finding balance.

A metaphor that people often use to talk about a balanced life is that of someone juggling. There's a ball labeled "prayer" and another labeled "community." There's one labeled "ministry" and one for "rest." Then, of course, there's "friendship" and "solitude"... "intellectual growth" and "care for self"... the list is actually endless.

What has often occurred to me, however, is the fact that those balls are not always all the same size... some weigh more than others depending on other life circumstances. So, for me the question isn't "How do I keep all the balls in the air... all the time." But, "Which ones are the most weighty?"...

The issue for me isn't so much one of "balance"... that terribly elusive ideal. But, rather, prioritizing and then saying "no". I absolutely stink at prioritizing things. I just want to get that out there. I'm good at addressing those things that seem urgent... and every once in a while the urgent things are actually important. However, there are important things that are not necessarily "urgent" that I can't seem to get a handle on. You know what I mean? It seems to me that I could even go so far as to say that I find motivation in urgency.

That's bizarre, isn't it? Has that been influenced by the culture? One in which instant gratification, stress and caffeine seem to be the fuel of choice? Or is it a question of maturation? There is much to ponder on this oddly warm February day...

Each morning Marianists renew our dedication to Mary and to her mission of bringing Christ to the world. I was struck this morning with the words of one of them that seem appropriate... I'd like to share it with you:
Mary, you pondered in your heart
all the awesome, confusing, and marvelous events of your life.
You considered carefully what God might want of you
and then abandoned yourself to God's goodness and your vocation.
Teach us to treasure and ponder,
to consider and surrender
so that, living religious life in your name and for your honor,
we might come to that blessedness
promised to all your sons and daughters,
the children of God.
Abundant blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Monday, January 16, 2012

We told our stories - That's all.
We sat and listened to each other
and heard the journeys of each soul.
Edwina Gateley

Right now I am on my way back to Dayton after spending the long weekend in Phoenix with 17 other women religious in their 20s and 30s. We came together at a small Benedictine Monastery tucked away in an ordinary neighborhood. There we prayed, shared our dreams, our hopes, our fears... laughter, tears, silence, and plenty of very loud moments! Essentially, we shared ourselves.

I arrived late Friday night - after the opening prayer and initial sharing. But, I was welcomed as always with open arms and open hearts. There were some women I had seen several months ago... others I haven't seen in two or more years... a couple that I've seen in recent weeks... and a few who were new to our group. And yet, I was home with them all. We came from several different religious communities - different geographical locations - different stages (perpetually professed, temporary professed, novices, and candidates) - and with different community experiences. And yet, there is something very deep that bonds us to each other.

Saturday morning we spent time in contemplative silence together - opening our hearts to God and listening for the still, small voice that is God. That was the perfect way to start the day. It may seem counterintuitive that we would remain in silence for the first 90 minutes or so of our morning, but that's what we did. And it was perhaps one of my better prayer experiences and a perfect way to enter the sharing of the day.

That night we gathered outside around a sometimes blazing fire, making s'mores, sharing laughter, telling stories... There was some singing... a little Lady Gaga on the iPod... and a genuinely good time.

Sunday morning we sat outside again in wonderfully temperate weather - prayed with a beautiful poem written by one in our group - and shared our dreams for the future. Many of us shared ministerial dreams - new ways of educating those on the margins of society, new ways of administering health care, exciting endeavors into eco-spirituality and care for the environment... Others of us shared about hopes for communities marked by a risk-taking spirit and a willingness to have a prophetic imagination. The conversation was rich with ideas and laden with hope.

Our official time together ended with Mass with the community that gathers each Sunday at the Monastery - people from the surrounding neighborhood. It was a beautiful liturgy... simple, but very nice.

Many of us stayed an extra night and departed today. I am grateful that was what I chose to do...

Last year, for whatever reason, I wasn't able to go to Phoenix for this annual gathering. There must have been some Marianist thing with which I was involved. However, my hope is that while I still fit the age category, I will not miss another gathering. I believe wholeheartedly that it is essential that those of us who are younger in religious life come together as often as is feasible - to dream together, to support one another, to ask questions about another's experience, to say, "No, you're not the crazy one"... to laugh together, shed some necessary tears... to listen together to God speaking through our lives.

The above quote from Edwina Gateley comes from the poem that shaped our weekend. It's a rather long poem, but I'd like to share it with you. It is perfect for what our time together was about:
The Sharing - by Edwina Gateley

We told our stories - That's all.
We sat and listened to each other
and heard the journeys of each soul.
We sat in silence
entering each one's pain and
sharing each one's joy.
We heard love's longing
and the lonely reachings-out
for love and affirmation.
We heard of dreams
and visions fled.
Of hopes and laughter
turned stale and dark.
We felt the pain of isolation and
the bitterness of death.

But in each brave and lonely story
God's gentle life broke through
and we heard music in the darkness
and smelt flowers in the void.

We felt the budding of creation
in the searching of each soul
and discerned the beauty of God's hand
in each muddy, twisted path.

And God's voice sang in each story.
God's life sprang from each death.
Our sharing became one story
of a simple lonely search
for life and hope and oneness
in a world which sobs for love.
And we knew that in our sharing
God's voice with mighty breath
was saying love each other and
take each other's hand.

For you are one though many
and in each of you I live.
So listen to my story
and share my pain and death.
Oh, listen to my story
and rise and live with me.

May you all be richly blessed,
Sr. N