Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gratitude for 2013

In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Grace and peace to you today!

It's been a while since I've sat down to type a few thoughts here in my blog. This is certainly not because I've run out of things to say! You may know that when I write, I'm fairly verbose. It's more because my life is much more full than it was when I began this blog. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may recall that I started this blog when I was a first year novice. Back then I blogged nearly once a week about my prayer life, what I was reading, living in community etc. It's now been about 7 1/2 years since I began this blog (under a different name) and life has changed a great deal.

Being that today is the last day of 2013, I've been reflecting this morning on the gifts and blessings of the year gone by. It's been year full of travel, wonderful people, extended moments of silence, deep prayer, deepening in my understanding of my various roles etc. And I've composed a list of  moments/lessons/events/people for which I am grateful. I thought I would share. By the way, these are in no particular order.

1. Friends
I am grateful for the many people in my life who challenge me to see things from a different perspective. Those who offer support when I feel overwhelmed by life. The ones with whom we share with one another our struggles, joys, hopes and dreams. The people who send random texts just to give me an update on their lives or to say they prayed for me that day. Many of these people do not live in the same city that I do and it is often difficult to maintain friendships across the miles (at least, that's true for me). However, there are those with whom the friendship is very well maintained. I am grateful for these people.

2. Saying "no" can feel very selfish at the moment, but sometimes it is the best thing - for everyone.
Of course, this is not a new lesson for me. In fact, it is one that I seem to learn over and over again. I suppose I'm a slow learner. Somewhere in my life I learned that to be a "good person" you had to say yes to everything that is good and everything that might be helpful to others. Serving on a committee? That's a good thing to do -  "yes." Giving a talk at a conference? That's a good thing to do - "yes." There are more good things/opportunities in this world than any one person should ever say yes to. Sometimes, it is better to say no - even though it might feel selfish or self serving. Because what can happen if someone is over-scheduled with many good things, is that that person can no longer do a good job at any of them - something has to give. And if the only person "hurt" was the person who says yes to everything, it wouldn't be as big of a deal. But, often others lose something also. Lesson learned? Goodness, I hope so.

3. "Pope hope" (as one of our Sisters often puts it)
Over this past weekend a friend of mine said, "You have a crush on the Pope!" And I, with head bowed, replied, "Yes. Yes, I do." I have always been drawn towards people who challenge me to be better in ways I had not previously considered. No one is challenging me more these days than Pope Francis. The more I read of what he's written or said, the more I feel called to conversion of heart. Conversion in my attitudes towards ministry. Conversion in my prayer life. Conversion in the way I live the vow of poverty. Conversion in the way I care for the poor and the marginalized of our communities. Lately, I've been reading (and praying with) the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. It seems that every word of this document cuts right to the heart and is causing me to ask some serious questions of myself. The true test will be, however, whether or not the document propels me to some sort of action beyond myself. That's the true test of conversion, no?  

4. The summer of 2013 
There are no words to capture the grace that was the summer of 2013. I am not sure there has ever been a time in my life that I have felt more grounded, free, at peace, and filled with joy. There was a 30-day retreat that brought me into deeper relationship with Jesus and with Mary - and a greater commitment to the Marianist mission. There was the celebration of my 38th birthday with some of my closest friends. There was the day I walked MILES all over San Francisco with one very close friend and one new friend. Then there was the time spent with about 70 other "young nuns" - deep in conversation about charism and the future, dancing for hours with no shoes on (and very sore muscles the next day!), praying together and having a blast. There were the days spent at Indian Lake with other "younger" Marianists - praying night prayer on a boat in the middle of the lake as the sun set will always be a highlight of those days - as well as Marianist karaoke and late night conversations under the stars. All of this was capped off by the celebration of my perpetual vows in August. What a glorious weekend that was! So full of joy. Definitely a wonderful way to bring an end to a summer full of grace.

5. 2013 was the year of publicity… I'm not a fan.
With newspaper articles, magazine interviews, photo shoots, and sharing my bio numerous times, it seemed that my picture and my story were "everywhere" (at least in my small world) for a while. This has never been true in my life until 2013.  And, I think I will be happy if it is not a major part of my life moving forward. The most awkward thing was the photographer who came to CJ to take pics for St. Mary's Univ. alumni magazine. I have never been so uncomfortable in my life! My students in my 5th period class seemed very amused, though. The lesson here? That's not the kind of life I want to live - I much prefer being under the radar.

6. Retreat work seems to be in my blood
In the spring of 1990 I attended my first retreat. From 1990 until this very day I have had a hand in planning and/or attending more than 5 retreats a year. I have come to the realization this year that this part of my life is probably not going away any time soon. Not that I ever wanted it to, but I suppose I assumed that I would "grow out of it" or "move on." Nope. It's in my blood. And I think it's a good thing.

7. Ideas and dreams are good things. However, bringing them to fruition may not happen or may not happen in my way or with my timing. And that's okay.
When I dream - when I think about the future - I tend to dream big. For the most part, in my everyday life, I am a realist - fairly practical and objective. However, every once in a while an idealistic side of me takes over and with wide-eyes and a bit of naiveté I want to change the world. My response to those who are more realistic than me is often, "Why not?" or "Who says I/we can't do thus-and-such?" And while there is a time and a place for such wide-eyed idealism, there is also a need for the balance of realism. That's a bitter pill to swallow for someone like me. But, it reminds me that I'm not actually the one in charge - thank you, God! I am grateful to those who do not laugh at the ridiculousness of my dreams, but gently pull me back down to earth and reality. But, the dreams are still there. And who knows. Maybe someone else will bring them to fruition at a later time. Or not. And that's okay.

8. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
With that being said, sometimes even when an idea seems preposterous or when the roadblocks seem insurmountable, we may be called to do it anyway. Trusting in God and taking a risk on an impossible dream may sometimes be what we are called to do. Of course, there is a certain amount of discernment that has to go into this. But, if one never tries… never steps out of the box… never takes a risk… then one will never know what could happen. This was made more evident to me in the purchasing and establishing of our discernment community, Annunciation House. Sometimes, you just need to take a risk - and trust that God will guide, provide and sustain.

9. Never underestimate people's capacity for generosity.
In relationship to #8 I would be remiss if I did not mention how grateful I am for the generosity of so many people in helping us establish Annunciation House. From all those who gifted us with dishes and bedding… small appliances and gift cards… to those who gave innumerable hours in cleaning walls, power washing the deck, moving furniture, etc. We are so very grateful. Personally, I was overwhelmed with people's generosity. I still am when I sit back and consider how much was given to us and how much practical support we received. Thank you all!

10. Community.
This year I am grateful for community. We are small, but that's okay. It allows for flexibility and deeper relationships. Perhaps it would be very difficult for someone to live in a community that is always in flux. However, I have found a lot of grace in that. We started with 2 - then we grew to 3. Now we are at 4 and may grow to 5 in 2014. And it's good. God has gifted us in many ways. It is a blessing to live in a community whose sole purpose is to be a place of discernment. Who doesn't need that in their lives, right?

And so, there you have it - random thoughts on the year 2013. Today I was considering the tradition of making New Years resolutions. I haven't done it in a long time. As of yet, I haven't made a decision about it for 2014. However, my hope is that in 2014 I will continue to learn and grow more and more into the person God created. Our world needs people who are perfectly themselves - it is only in this way that we can cooperate with God and one another in establishing God's kingdom.

Blessings of peace and joy to all who read this!
Sr. N

Friday, October 18, 2013

...nor shall they train for war again.

... they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another, 
nor shall they train for war again.
Isaiah 2: 4b-c

Would you believe me if I wrote that I've started several blog posts in the past month... but never had the time/took the time to finish them? It's a little ridiculous, really. I'm not sure I can name why I seem to put off blogging. Maybe it's because I treat my Facebook account as a blog. I suppose it serves the same purpose on some levels. However, as long as those posts can be (and those that follow me know that I am quite verbose!) they can't really take the place of a longer blog.

To say that there has been a lot going on in life, ministry, community, etc. would be an understatement of major proportions. What's been occupying my time? Glad you asked... Some of this may be a recap for you, but bear with me.

Some of you may be aware that I moved into a new community a little over 7 months ago. This community, Annunciation House, is a house of discernment - a place where women who are discerning the possibility of Marianist religious life can live for several weeks up to a year. And while this is our main ministry as a community, we also have our fair share of short term (2 or 3 days) visitors - most of whom are discerning with our community. This has been a graced development in the life of our Province. We currently have a discerning woman living with us and will soon have a second... plus several short term discerners. Our community life is rich - with shared meals and conversations about many things (poverty in the US, the call of the Gospel, faith, prayer, the news, ministry, work etc), prayer, Mass, and many community outings (AppleFest anyone?). We do live a grace-filled life.

Also, I am now working at 2 part time ministries. And in case you were not aware, this is a case where 1/2 plus 1/2 actually equals 1-3/4. It's crazy math, I know, but it's true! I currently teach 3 classes of 10th grade religion... which I love! I so enjoy teaching Scripture. I wouldn't consider myself a Scripture scholar, but I am a lover of Scripture and therefore have studied and prayed with Scripture a lot. My students do not always share my love of Scripture, but that's okay. At least many of them find some things in class interesting or challenging or even inspiring (although, that doesn't happen as often as I would like!). My other part time ministry is serving as vocations director for our Sisters and vocations coordinator for the Marianists in Dayton (both for the Sisters and for the Brothers/Priests). That's been really good, too, I think. I enjoy it and it's been fulfilling.

So, that's a brief update on life these days. Mix that in with traveling for conferences, vocation discernment events, getting together with friends, grading papers, going for morning walks (or the occasional run), and trying to motivate myself to finish writing thank you notes (I will be done by Christmas) you can see it's a full life. But it is a rich and blessed life. I wouldn't have it any other way.

And in the midst of everything, there is peace - a sure sign that God is part of this life I live.

Now, finally, I come to the quote at the top of this blog. This quote has been playing in my mind over and over again since yesterday. Allow me to explain...

Our community typically goes to a 7 AM Mass Monday - Friday with a community of Marianist Brothers/Priests at the University of Dayton (a Catholic Marianist university). Yesterday morning, just like everyone morning, I was chatting with someone on the way out of the chapel. As we walked towards the parking lot we saw a line of about 10 ROTC guys in their BDUs (camouflage uniforms) with automatic weapons. They were doing an exercise whereby they stealthily cross an area, then drop to the ground and practice firing by raising their weapons and yelling, "bang, bang, bang-bang-bang." It was a very disturbing post-Mass site. As we crossed the parking lot, one of our Sisters was standing in the parking lot - very still - and watching the men. I asked if she was waiting to talk to someone. Her response, "I'm praying for those guys."

Leaving campus on my way to the high school, I passed another Marianist community. The Brothers were gathered in their chapel praying morning prayer together. As I drove by I thought that at that moment they might be praying the Benedictus. One line of the Benedictus states, "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Peace. God will guide us into the way of peace. When, O Lord?

As I continued my short morning commute, it struck me that what I saw on my way out of Mass may have been disturbing, but what about people who see this everyday - and the weapons are not empty? It reminded me of being in El Salvador a few years ago and how common it is to see military men with loaded automatic weapons standing around on street corners as if it's no big deal. It reminded me of all the places in our world that face violence and war constantly. They live in fear - constantly. Again, I thought of the line from the Benedictus and asked, "When?"

Last night I finished reading a novel set in World War II Germany. The novel is written from the perspective of death personified. Death was the narrator. And while the book was very well written and a good read, I couldn't help but think of the fact that for so many people in our world, death is a daily part of living. And that fact does not sit well with me.

There is now a peace pole on the campus of UD. It seems odd that the peace pole and the ROTC guys share the same campus. My prayer is that peace will prevail... and we will train for war no longer.

Photo courtesy of the University of Dayton

Many blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N

Friday, September 06, 2013

What is the peace for which we pray?

Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.

Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. 

It is right and it is duty
Oscar Romero, Martyred Archbishop of El Salvador

Today marks a month since my last blog post. There has been so much good and so many things that I've wanted to share with you through a blog post. The past several weeks have certainly brought their share of blessings : the beginning of the academic year - on 2 campuses, the growth of our community at Annunciation House of Discernment, thoughtful conversations with friends both near and far, and more about my summer adventures. Oh, so much to share with you!

However, today I find myself unable to focus on those things - as good as they are. No. Today I am contemplating peace and the lack thereof. Contemplating why there is so much trouble in human hearts, violence in many places of our world, young people in our schools and on our streets who do unthinkable acts of violence out of boredom (...or depression... or rage), the lack of respectful discourse in our political landscape... and the list goes on.

For many years these things have troubled and saddened me a great deal. This is not the way God intended our world to be. This is not the Kingdom of which Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is in your midst." Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of good in the world and in my life. And for that, I am more grateful than words can adequately express. It is the good in our world and in human hearts that can allow us to hope. And "hope does not disappoint."

There is a saying, "The Kingdom of God is already and not yet." And while I've always understood this from an intellectual, theoretical point of view, I never thought much about the practical implications. But it is true. The Kingdom of God does exist here wherever there is goodness, love, compassion, faith and peace. But to the extent that there exists violence, hatred, war, oppression, indifference to the suffering of others, then the Kingdom has a long way to go.

In his Angelus address on Sunday, September 1, Pope Francis asked that all people of goodwill take tomorrow (Saturday, September 7) as a day of prayer and fasting for peace. He called us to be men and women of peace and to ask God to grant us the great gift of peace in our world. Indeed. However, what is this peace of which we speak? 

Pope Francis went on to state, "It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and among peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace." A culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue. How can we begin to build this culture and promote its growth? Cultural change is never easy, nor is it swift. 

I am reminded of a song from GIA (the publisher of the ubiquitous Gather hymnals), Do Not Fear to Hope. Allow me to share with you a few lines:
Do not fear to hope! Though the wicked rage and rise. For God sees not as we see. Success is not the prize. Do not fear to hope! For though the night be long,the race shall not be to the swift, the fight not to the strong.
No. The culture of encounter and of dialogue that leads to lasting peace will not happen quickly - especially if we always seek to "win" or to "succeed." The win-lose mentality is not one that promotes peace. Nor is the culture of peace build by people who only seek their own success regardless of the implications for others. These mentalities are so prevalent all around us, but it is certainly not a hopeless situation...

If we feel it is hopeless, we are underestimating many things. One, we underestimate the power of prayer. Sometimes people become discouraged in prayer - "I prayed for thus-and-such and nothing happened." And perhaps it's true that a situation doesn't change immediately. But what always happens is that those who pray are changed - hearts are opened, insight given, courage and strength to continue to do the right thing.... Second, I believe we underestimate what a small group of people can bring about. Sociologist Margaret Mead once wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." People say it so often that it's become cliche, but just because it's cliche doesn't mean it's not true. Lastly, it seems to me that people can sometimes underestimate what God can do. For what might seem impossible to us, is possible for God. Do we have the courage to trust that?

Tomorrow evening I will gather with faculty, staff, students and other Marianists (lay and religious) at the University of Dayton for a vigil for peace. And as we pray for peace in our troubled world and peace in human hearts, I will also pray that we not forget our role in building peace.  

Peace to the hearts of all who read this.
Sr. N

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

In response to the call of Christ, for the glory of the Holy Trinity, 
the love of the Virgin Mary and the service of the Church, 
in the hands of Sr. Franca Zonta, FMI, Superior General, 
I,Nicole Denise Trahan, freely vow to observe during my entire life 
chastity, poverty, obedience and stability 
according to the Rule of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate 
and in union of life with my Sisters.
Marianist Sisters - Vow Formula
Professed on Saturday, August 3, 2013

It hardly seems possible that a person can feel as much joy and peace as I have felt for the past several weeks. This past weekend, in the presence of over 200 friends, family, Marianists (both lay and vowed) I put my right hand on the Book of the Gospels, my left hand around a lit candle and spoke the above words. 

The day - indeed, the whole weekend - could not have been more perfect. So much joy! It is difficult to put it all into words and it almost seems too big to really take in. There is much for which I am grateful and so much that I could say. It's hard to know where to start... However, I think a good place to start would be to share with you my comments from the dinner that followed the Mass on Saturday. It won't be exactly what I said - because I ad libbed a little here and there - but the general gist is there.

What does one say on the occasion of her final vows? Where does one start? The first thing on my mind and in my heart is an overwhelming sense of joy and of gratitude. There are so many things and people and events for which I am deeply grateful. 
First of all - thank you to all of you. One for being present on this joyous occasion, but more than that thank you for your support, friendship, companionship, challenge, and affirmation over the years. While all of you have played and continue to play an important role in my Marianist life and faith journey, there are certain groups of people present here that I'd like to acknowledge.  
The first would be my family. I am so grateful for your presence here and also fro the ways that you have been supportive - challenged me - and helped me to become the person that I am (At this point, I introduced my family that was present). One thing that is somewhat difficult is the physical absence of my mom who passed away in 1999. However, I know very well that she's here. I'll tell you a little story that helps me to know that.
I don't often remember my dreams. Truth be told, I don't remember much of anything usually. But I remember one dream very clearly from my pre-novitiate year. In my dream I walked into the living room of our old convent in San Antonio. And there in the living room was my mother - asleep on the couch. She rolled over and woke up and I said to her, "When did you get here?" And she said to me, "Don't you know? I've been here the whole time..." So, I know that she is present here with us now. 
Secondly, I am deeply grateful for and indebted to the Marianist LIFE Program. LIFE, for those of you who may not be familiar, is the program for high school students that has a number of objectives. One, is to immerse students in the Marianist community and charism - to teach them what it means to be a follower of Jesus as a Marianist. Second is to help them examine the relationships in their lives with self, others, and God. The last objective is to give them the tools and help them develop the skills necessary to be Marianist leaven in their home contexts. 
I first became acquainted with Marianist LIFE in 2001. And my first reaction was, "Who are these crazy, super liberal people?" But the Spirit of God and of Mary are stronger than my biases and these people became like family. And for the next 11 years I was associated with the LIFE program - serving on the coordinating team for 9 of those years. Every summer I moved to Camp TECABOCA in the hill country outside of San Antonio for 14 days of hard work, sweat, laughter, tears, prayer and living community. It is because of Marianist LIFE that I was drawn to the Marianist family. It was at LIFE that I made a public commitment as a lay Marianist. LIFE changed my life. And it was because of LIFE that I am here today (at this point, I asked all those associated with LIFE to stand and I said...) Thank you for teaching me what it means to be Marianist.
As Sr. Gretchen alluded to, the path from when I entered the Sisters to this day is relatively long. I entered in the summer of 2005 - 8 years ago this month. And in those 8 years so much has happened that perhaps would not have if not for those who had a hand in my formation. Working as pre-novitiate or novice director or serving as a mentor for those who are temporary professed is most likely not an easy thing.... especially if you're working with someone as independent and opinionated as I am. So, I want to say publicly how much I appreciated the support, challenge and companionship of Gretchen and Laura. Thank you for your patience, guidance, and your listening. And in that vane, thank you to all my Sisters. Each Sister of our tiny Province has had an impact in some way on who I am as a Marianist Sister and a woman of faith in our world and in our ecclesial context. Thank you for your love. Thank you also to Sr. Franca who is here with us tonight. It is a blessing to have you here and I appreciate it a great deal.
As you may have noticed when I introduced my family, God did not bless me with any brothers. However, now I am blessed (said with air quotes) with 100s of them all over the world - many of whom are present here and have become dear friends over the years. I once joked that if I ever wrote a book about my relationship with the Society of Mary it would be called, "Truly My Brothers," because that is who you are for me - with your relentless teasing, coupled with your concern for me personally and for our Sisters. I am always touched by your generosity and do not know if I could have made this journey without you.
There is a lot more that I can say - there is so much for which I am grateful - but I think the most important thing is my relationship with God and with Mary, without which none of this makes any sense at all. It is because of Mary's presence in my life that i have the humility and courage to say "yes" to God alone.
In conclusion, I have a few questions for you. For how many of you is this the first time for you to witness and celebrate someone professing vows as a Marianist. (show of hands) Well I hope it's been a good experience and that we haven't scared you away! For how many of you is this the first time to be at an FMI profession (show of hands)? And for how many of you is this your first time to be a part of the final vows of a Marianist Sister? (almost everyone raised their hands, including me).
Yea, me too! But my deepest prayer is that this is not the last one we have the opportunity to celebrate. And I have confidence that there will be others who make a commitment as a Marianist Sister in our Province. But it will take something from each of us gathered here. The most important thing is prayer. Let us pray for all those contemplating the possibility of Marianist Religious Life. For, as Pope Francis has reminded us, vocations are born of prayer. It also takes a willingness to invite people to consider this life and then to walk with them as they discern. So, even though I'm the vocations director, it is not up to me. It is up to God and is dependent on the cooperation of all of us. I look forward to collaborating with you in that. 
Okay - one last thing. You may have noticed a large empty space over to my right. If you guessed it's a dance floor, you've guessed correctly! After the conclusion of our program, if you'd like to join me in celebrating with a little dancing I invite you to do so! We have the ballroom until 10:30. And even if you aren't the dancing type, I invite you to stick around and talk with people and hang out for a while.
Thank you again for being here tonight and may each of you be abundantly blessed in the ways you most need.
For those of you who are unaware, at final vows the Marianist Sisters receive a silver ring which we wear on our right hand as a visible symbol (and tangible reminder) of our commitment. We have the tradition of inscribing something inside the ring. The words inside my ring are, "God alone" and are taken from one of the most used phrase in the writings of our foundress, Venerable Adele de Batz de Trenquelleon. Since I am no longer a "new sister" I have decided to use these words in the new title of my blog - "God Alone: The Continued Journey of Sisterhood." Thank you to my Giving Voice friends for helping me brainstorm a new title!

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A summer full of grace...

... it is not merely enough to piously desire holiness; 
we have to take means to put it in motion. 
We must get rid of all that might jeopardize or destroy 
the fullness of Jesus' life within us - a hard and long work of renunciation, 
but one that can be accomplished with the help of Mary. 
We must conform our ways of thinking, feeling, willing and acting to those of Jesus 
a still harder and longer task... 
All this presupposes that we keep Mary in the midst of our spiritual work.... 
Without her, we cannot succeed; with her, we cannot fail.
Fr. Emile Neubert, SM
Devotion to Mary

Much grace and peace to you!
I hope you have a little time on your hands... this one's rather lengthy!

It's been a while since my last post. It seems that most of my posts in the past several months start with that statement. With the ending of the school year and all it that it involves, I wasn't able to post before embarking on my almost 30-day retreat. Yes, that's correct. This summer I was on retreat, in preparation for my final vows, for close to 30 days. It was mostly silent, but not completely. I talked to people at meals and had a few hours of frivolity (watching the Spurs, of course!). But mostly, I spent the majority of my days in prayer... reading... journaling... and exploring my prayer daily with 1-hour meetings with Sr. Gretchen who guided my retreat.

So, what exactly does one contemplate over the course of nearly 30 days? Well, to launch into detail, I would have to reproduce my journal from the experience. I filled almost every page of a brand new journal and used all of the ink a new pen.  Therefore, I will spare you every detail.

The name of the retreat is the Spirit of Saragossa. It is a retreat designed specifically for Marianists (male and female religious branches) around the world as we prepare for final vows. The name of it comes from the fact that one of our Founders, Blssd. William Joseph Chaminade, received inspiration to found the Marianist Family while in prayer before Our Lady of the Pillar in Saragossa, Spain. The retreat, then is meant to tap into that spirit of devotion that inspired WJC.

The retreat began with a week long all-province retreat. Most of our Sisters were able to join us at the Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center in Houston (which I highly recommend - beautiful property and the best "retreat food" I've ever had). The retreat was like doing the whole 30 days in a week. It was very fruitful for us as a group and for me as an individual.

One of the many beautiful gardens at the retreat house.

Our Sisters on retreat.
Along with Bro.  Les who was a co-presenter with Sr. Gretchen and Fr. Tim who was our chaplain.

The focus of the retreat is the Marianist vow of stability - the fourth vow that we take in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that all religious take. There are other congregations that profess a vow of stability - that is to remain in their monastery for the rest of their lives. However, being that I belong to an apostolic congregation, the meaning is different for us.

Marianist stability is about a fundamental relationship - our relationship with Mary. Mary who is our mother, our model, our support and the means through which we are brought to Jesus. Marianist vow to  love and be devoted to Mary and to her mission - to bring forth and to nurture Jesus in our world. It's more than that, however. And it's the "more than that" that I find difficult to articulate.

On this retreat I spend several days on each of 4 mysteries of Mary - Mary at the annunciation, Mary at the foot of the cross, Mary in the Cenacle with the apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and Mary at Cana who says to us, "Do whatever he tells you." With each mystery there was a certain focus: the call to stability as a permanent commitment (annunciation), stability as love for Mary and living as the beloved disciple (Calvary), stability as love for the Daughters of Mary (Marianist Sisters) and the importance of our relationship in community with Mary (Cenacle), and stability as sharing in Mary's mission of giving Christ to the world (Cana).

The Marianist Sisters profess stability at first vows. However, I can honestly say that stability means more to me now than it did at that time or at anytime during temporary vows. The book I quoted at the top of the page, Devotion to Mary, was written by a French Marianist Priest in the 50s. I read it while I was on retreat because it fit so well into the purpose of the retreat. That book, combined with the grace-filled times of prayer, has had a significant effect on my spirituality and my relationships with both Jesus and Mary, but Mary especially... I will leave it at that.

On a few occasions, during the private portion of my retreat, I ventured from our house in San Antonio, to other locations for prayer. On one such day I went to Boerne (pronounced "burn-ie"... it's German, I think). It was during one of the days that I spent with Mary in the Cenacle - praying for openness to the Spirit and for union with our Sisters around the world.

Sitting at Cibilo Creek...
 this was before I got lost trying to find the car. 
You have to know... Boerne is one of my favorite little Texas cities. While there, I went to Cibilo Creek Nature Center and sat by the creek for a while... watching the butterflies and enjoying an atypical cool breeze. I saw a deer on my way to the creek and beautiful wildflowers. Then... on what should have been my 10 minute walk back to the car, I got totally lost... and ended up walking for an hour. But it was okay, had I not gotten lost, I never would have stumbled upon a great little "water fall"...

This picture does not do it justice.
Isn't that a great metaphor for life? You can have plans... and if you follow your plans exactly, you might miss something beautiful.

Once I finally left the park and had some lunch. I went to pray in one of my favorite Churches in Texas - St. Peter the Apostle in Boerne.

The openness, the sound of the baptismal font... it 's a very peaceful place.
It's a great place to contemplate being open to the Spirit.

This is the Eucharistic chapel at St. Peter's..
While I was praying - asking for openness to the
Holy Spirit, I looked over my should to the left... and this is what I saw.
When I was a novice, on my "desert days" I would sometimes drive out to Boerne just to sit in this Church while I prayed. The windows on the left side of the picture face out onto large hills (or small mountains?) - a beautiful site.

Before I knew it, the retreat was over. A month can go by very quickly. Especially when it is full of grace and many blessings. I finished the retreat exactly one month before my final vows. That was a significant day. One month before I say "yes" for the rest of my life to Mary's mission, to Jesus, in union of life with our Sisters. 

Both Blssd. William Joseph Chaminade and our Foundress, Adele de Batz de Trenquelleon said that as daughters (and sons, for the Society of Mary) of Mary we should be ready to go to the ends of the world if God so calls us. To this, I say yes!

I had planned to discuss other aspects of my summer in this blog... but it is already quite lengthy. I will blog again soon. However, this is probably the last time my blog will carry this title "The Life of a New Sister." As my friend, George, pointed out to me, "New sister?? Don't you think it's time to change the name? I mean, you've been around forever!" So, the name will change... 

Many blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N

Sunday, May 19, 2013

.. Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, 
"Peace be with you.... As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 
"Receive the Holy Spirit."
John 20:19b, 21b-22

Happy Pentecost!
Grace and peace, love and joy to you on this great feast of the Holy Spirit!

As far back as I can remember, I've had a special affinity for the Holy Spirit. My prayer has often been directed to the Spirit. I pray for the Spirit's guidance and wisdom, for strength and right-judgement. I pray that others may be open to the Spirit. And I have a strong sense of when the Spirit is active in my life.

This weekend has been one of those weekends during which I have been keenly aware of the work of the Spirit. Yesterday one of our Brothers professed his first vows in the Society of Mary (the Marianists Brothers and Priests). Celebrating someone's vowed commitment is always a joy-filled occasion. Yet, this entire weekend has been permeated with a certain spirit both tangible and difficult to describe.

As I consider why this might be true, several things come to mind...

First, because our newest temporary professed brother is originally from a city not far from here and he graduated from the University of Dayton not that long ago, the celebrations this weekend have been filled with the laughter and conversations of many of his friends and family. I had the greatest conversation last night with some of his younger cousins at the Novitiate... dozens of fairly recent UD grads were present, adding to the vibrancy of the celebration.

Second, the homily given by the Director of Novices was very well balanced between humor and sincerity. He told wonderful stories about our brother and also made a beautiful connection between the profession of vows and the Feast of Pentecost. It was simply beautiful.

Personally speaking, it was very good to be surrounded by so many people who are important in my life. Anytime the Marianist Family gathers it is a moment of great grace for me. I was constantly reminded this weekend of how truly blessed my life is that I share it with the Marianist Family.

The Mass was held at Queen of Apostles Chapel on the property of Mount Saint John - down the hill from the Novitiate. The Chapel is build in a completely circular fashion with fantastic acoustics. There were more than 200 people gathered in that Chapel - all of them fully participating in the Mass with their enthusiastic responses and full-voiced singing. That combined with the fact of the brass quartet, cello, violin, and flute... AWESOME. How could a person not be aware of the Spirit's presence there?

I cannot let this blog go by without mentioning the wonderful spirit of the Brother who professed. He is truly a Marianist Brother in every sense of the word. I consider it a great blessing to know him, to have worked with him when he was a student at UD and to have been a small part of his discernment journey. The Marianist Family is richer for his presence.

Finally, it cannot be ignored that this celebration of vows was on Pentecost weekend. I realize that the Holy Spirit is always present and active in our lives and in our world. However, I also believe that there is a special grace associate with the Spirit on this particular feast. It was evident in every way this weekend.

Yesterday, during the sign of peace, one of our Sisters says to me, "You're next," referring to my final vows on August 3. This is a perfect weekend to begin praying that the Spirit might bless and guide the final stages of this part of my journey.

Blessings of great peace and joy to all who read this!
Sr. N

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam! - Habemus monialis!
We have a Pope! - We have a nun!

What a day today has been! 3-13-13... It has been a very moving day, actually.

This morning, while my students were working on proposals for their group semester project, I was typing an e-mail. I noticed that an e-mail came in. Being the curious person I am, I made sure the draft was saved and went to my inbox. I had received an e-mail from our Superior General, Sr. Franca, in Rome. The subject line? "Good news." I knew what it was immediately.

It is difficult for me to describe the emotions I felt as I read that I have been accepted for Perpetual Vows as a Daughter of Mary Immaculate. The Sisters have said yes to my humble request to remain a Marianist Sister for the rest of my life. Wow. Just typing that is exciting and makes me smile. I think the best way to describe how I felt was joy. Plain and simple. No more hypothetically speaking... no more "if I am approved..." That's fantastic. :)

Then, while meeting with 2 coworkers in the library, another co-worker who had CNN.com open on her laptop turns to tell us, "White smoke... we have a Pope." Thankfully, I didn't have a class during the last period of the day. So I spent the next hour staring at my computer screen with yet another co-worker waiting for the announcement. In fact, I'm not sure many people at school who were not actually in class got any work done during the last period of the day. In our office, everyone's live feed kept freezing (rebuffering? rebuffeting?). It was exciting and nerve wracking. The hour seemed to pass very slowly.

Then... there was a shadow... a movement behind the white curtains on the balcony. Here it comes. The news feed all of us were watching, NBCnews.com, was odd. The translator said, "We have a Pope." Then there was silence. After the silence, he heard that his name would be "Francesco." Who was it? What's the name? What did they say? Then, we saw his picture and his name. An Argentinian none of us had ever heard of. He had not been in any of the lists of Papabili I had seen. After his comments, prayer and blessing, I Googled him (of course!). I wanted to know something about our new Pope.

I didn't do any in depth reading, but what I did read was edifying.

Our Sr. Laura said it well on her recent Facebook update: As Cardinal, Bergoglio became known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle has contributed to his reputation for humility. He lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop's residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation, and he reportedly cooks his own meals.

This was backed up by everything I read. He was an Archbishop "of the people." Someone who traveled to the parishes to get to know the people he served. He was pastoral and concerned about the poor of his country. Our Sisters in Argentina have met him and have been in meetings with him. Their sentiments are positive. To sum it up, "Bergoglio is known for a simple lifestyle and for dedication to social justice."

This disposition was evident in his comments from the balcony. His prayers for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His request for the prayers of all of us... his comments about the journey all of us travel together... and his appeals to unity. Lastly, I read (again on Facebook) that he took a city bus tonight back to the hotel (not really sure that's true, but it fits what I've read).

Therefore, it makes sense that he would take the name of Francis after St. Francis of Assisi. Francis who loved poverty. Francis once said, "Poverty is the way to salvation, the nurse of humility, and the root of perfection. Its fruits are hidden, but they multiply themselves in infinite ways." Francis was also a man of peace and humility. And the one to whom God gave the mission of rebuilding the Church.

There is more that I can say. However, there are others who have said it better...
I got a phone call this afternoon from a friend in Rome who happened to be at St. Peter's for the announcement. I invite you to check out his blog: Bro. Bob's blog.

I leave you with Pope Francis' final words from the balcony, "Good night and sleep well."
Blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Friday, March 01, 2013

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 
(i.e. one of my favorite 80s movies)

March 1... March 1. ... Maybe if I keep repeating that, the reality will soak in...

Would it surprise any of you if I said I have no idea where February went? If you have tried to keep up with what's going on in my little corner of the world, then there's no way you could be surprised. 

In the course of the last month I have traveled from one coast to the other (within a 7 day period, actually), led two retreats, attended a conference, participated in a number of meetings, completed an interview for Vision Magazine, and tried to keep up with life at work, in community, and in vocations ministry. Needless to say, it was quite the month! Not just for me or for our community, but for our whole Church as we move into this time of transition. Oh, I forgot to mention... WE BOUGHT A HOUSE! Woo hoo!  

Today I am a little reflective about the month gone by. That is, what did I learn aside from the fact that it's probably not a good idea to go from New Jersey to California in a week....

1. There is a lot in my life for which to be grateful. Top among those are the people with whom I am blessed to share this journey. And even though my friends and family go weeks without hearing from me (in some cases, months!), I do not take them for granted. They keep me grounded... they pray for me (thank you!)... they help me laugh, to process, and in general help me stay faithful.

2. Were it not for prayer, I would be a crazy person by now. Perhaps I should say, I would be a crazier person. :) Each day I wake up at a ridiculously early time (by most people's standards). Why? If I don't spend time in personal prayer alone in the morning, I won't do it once the day gets started. This time of prayer gives me a focus... a grounding for my day. In response to someone's question about how much one should pray, St. Francis de Sales offered this word of advice, "Every Christian needs a half-hour of prayer each day, except when he is busy, then he needs an hour." To be fully honest with you, I do not spend an hour in the morning. However, I do recognize the need for a deeper prayer life when the externals of life are chaotic and/or busy. Otherwise, how would someone make it?

3. Being with the Marianist family ~ other vowed religious and lay Marianists ~ is very important to my sense of being a Marianist. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, working with other Marianists always seems right. I suppose another way to say it is, "I am because we are." When the Marianist family is working together in a common mission, ministry or endeavor it seems to me that it is the way it's supposed to be. 

4. Buying a house is a very involved and slightly stressful process. I lived on my own for several years before entering religious life, but I was a renter. Truth be told, I didn't mind apartment life, but my dad was always on my case about "throwing money away" and having nothing to show for it. Well, I am very glad that I didn't try to purchase a house when I lived alone ~ it's overwhelming! Thank you, God, for the fact that we are a community moving through this process and not just two Sisters left on their own (which brings me back to point #1).

5. Every change in the community creates a new community. In the past month, our community has seen a lot of change... and that's not going to change anytime real soon. One of our sisters, Mary Louise, moved to San Antonio. It's an odd thing not to have her around the house anymore. I could always count on her for a good laugh and playful (and often snarky) banter. She always "got" my sense of humor. Not only that, though, she is such a wise & practical presence. Then, just this past weekend, another of our sisters, Audrey, moved into assisted living at Mercy Siena - the same place to which the Marianist Brothers in the area retire. Audrey is a model for many of prayer, living the vow of poverty, and always seeking growth. So, to be without both of them is... different and I miss them. However, we also have Sisters Marcia and Estella living with us now at least for the next several weeks, which has been very good. Next week, a Brazilian Sister from our General Administration in Rome will move in with us while she studies English at the University of Dayton for a few months. Meanwhile, Marcia and I are soon to move into our new community to start our house of discernment - at which point, Estella will return to San Antonio. We're all about adaptation and change these days! And while change can be challenging and adaptation can be slow, it doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Good things are often challenging. That's my experience, anyway.

6. I am moved by the example set forth by Benedict, Pope Emeritus, stepping down from the Papacy. For me, this has been an extraordinary example of humility. I realize that opinions on his Papacy run the gamut,  but I would venture to say that few Catholics have not been effected by this almost unprecedented event. Let us continue to pray for our Church in this time of transition.

And so, there you have it. The past month in a nutshell. And while it was a full month, it was also a blessed month that was full of graced moments. I'm glad I stopped every once in a while to look around - otherwise I may have missed it.

Blessed Lent to you all!
Sr. N

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, understanding, my entire will.
Give me only your love and your grace. That's enough for me.
Your love and your grace are enough for me.
Song by John Foley, based on the Suscipe, a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Wow. A lot can happen in a month. This is something I've always known to be true, but it hit me in a different way yesterday.

It's been a month since the last time I blogged. That was not my intention when the new year began. I thought to myself, "I'm going to update my blog more often." But since I've been doing the daily Facebook reflections, which are really sort of mini-blogs, I haven't had the words (or the time) to write something longer. However, today I woke up with the realization that I have a lot to say!

You may be wondering what's been going on. Of course, there's my typical travel schedule with retreats, presentations, and visiting friends. However, there's been so much more than that. I believe that all of the goings on of the past several months came to their climax yesterday. Yes, we're now in the  dénouement stage of many things (thank you to my 7th and 8th grade English teacher for that word!). And although my friends all know that I have a terrible memory for some things, January 26 2013 will be a day that I remember for the long term...

As many of you know, our community in Dayton has been planning for some transitions for a while now. One of our Sisters was asked to move to San Antonio and two of us are planning to start a new community. This has all been months in the making. Well, years, really.

Sr. Marcia moved to Dayton from San Antonio to be a member of a new community with me. The new community will be a house of discernment. A place where women can do long term live ins (anywhere from 2 weeks to a year) as they discern the possibility of Marianist religious life. We've been searching for a house for a long time. And every house we've looked at we've always come away with, "Yeah... it could work, but..." and then a long list of reasons why it wasn't the right house. Now, some people believe me to be a patient person. However, after several months of not much, patience was wearing thin. Then came Thursday. We went out with our realtor and a contractor to look at 2 houses. I was surprised to find out that we were actually going to look at four. Well, thank God! The 2nd house we went to, which had previously been my favorite, we could not see. The owner told us they had 2 offers on it. I was disappointed. The 3rd house did not strike me as appropriate - a little too small, cold feeling, inhospitable, odd floor plan... So, I was not expecting a whole lot from house #4. But as soon as we walked in I said to myself, "This is it." ...

Fast forward to yesterday morning. After a few e-mails from Sr. Marcia and I with our Council, a phone call to our realtor and the contractor, we were sitting at our realtor's office signing paperwork to make an offer on the house. I've never been involved in buying a house before. It was a little stressful. What if our offer is too low? What if they don't like the terms? What if we could get it for lower than our offer are we going to pay too much? What's fair? What's just? What's reasonable? What makes sense for a Religious Congregation? We finally settled on an offer and left it in the hands of God....

When we returned home it was time to bid farewell to Sr. Mary Louise who was soon to board her plane for San Antonio. It was difficult. She has been mentor and friend for all of us here in Dayton. She will be missed tremendously. However, we trust that God is with her and with us in this time. We are in the hands of God...

After Mary Louise's departure, I sat down to finish a very important letter. Right after the new year I went on a private, silent retreat. It was on that retreat that I began writing my letter to our Superior General to request Perpetual Vows as a Marianist Sister. I didn't finish the letter on retreat because I needed to wait until I had "official" verbal support from the community. Then life just got a little too full and I didn't feel like I had the interior space to compose such an important document. But, yesterday I decided was the day. I finished my letter and e-mailed it off. It is now in God's hands...

Just when you think the day cannot possibly have more important things going on, I got a phone call from our realtor. The sellers of the house accepted our offer and all the terms. If all goes well with inspections etc. we could be ready to move in 6 weeks. SIX WEEKS!!! After months of searching and some set backs, we now have 6 weeks.

And so, perhaps now you'll see why haven't posted in a while. It's been a whirlwind! And each of the events of yesterday reminds me of why I can say with confidence, "Give me only your love and your grace. That's enough for me."

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N