Sunday, August 03, 2014

God gives the increase...

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them…. 
the disciples approached him and said, "… dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "…give them some food yourselves." 
But they said to him, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here." 
Then he said, "Bring them here to me."…. he said the blessing, broke the loaves, 
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 
They all ate and were satisfied.
Excerpts from Matthew 14:13-21

One year ago today I professed my perpetual commitment to serve God and our world as a Marianist Sister. It was a marvelous weekend-long celebration with family, friends, members of the Marianist family from near and far… There was a lot of joy in the celebration. And as I had the silver ring placed on my finger, the one with the inscription "God alone," I had absolutely no idea exactly how the year ahead would play itself out and how important that inscription would become.

Since that day one year ago it has been a wonderful year. But it's also had its share of challenges. But, challenges can be bearers of grace, as well. Perhaps we don't see it in the moment - as is my experience - but after the fact, if one is open one can see how grace was a by-product of challenges faced.

Yesterday I spent the day with other members of the Marianist Family at Indian Lake. It was a relaxing day of eating, talking, playing games, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and other water sports. It was a wonderful day. In the evening we gathered to celebrate Mass outside facing the lake. It was beautiful and the temperature was perfect. But the highlight was the homily given by our presider, my friend Fr. Chris. I found the homily perfect to pull together some thoughts I was having about the anniversary of my perpetual vows, the year gone by, and today's readings ...

In our Gospel the disciples are faced with people in need. The disciples know they do not have what it takes to meet the needs of the crowd. There's too many of them and disciples are so few and have so little. Who hasn't felt like that in their lives? The needs of the world are so great…. The needs in our own communities or families are often too great for what we can offer. Maybe we don't have enough time or enough resources… enough compassion or enough patience… Maybe we're not organized enough or intelligent enough… Maybe we feel that our mistakes have been too great. Whatever our reasoning, most of us can find a reason why we are simply "not enough" to meet the needs around us.

For sure I have felt that way many times myself - especially in the last year. I can list many traits and skills that I simply do not have enough of to meet the needs or complete the tasks expected (whether that's my own expectation or the expectation of others). People are often overly aware of what they lack. And I am no exception!

What is Jesus' response? "Bring what you have to me." And they do. He blesses it, breaks it, and gives it back to them so that they can meet the needs. This is a model for us, yes? It's true. We will never have enough or be enough to meet all the needs we see. We can't save the world. But that's not the call, really. I've said it before and I'll say it again - the world has a savior and it's not us. The call is to allow God to meet the needs and to bring salvation by using what little we have. God blesses what we offer - breaks it open (our very lives if we allow it) - and gives it back to us so that God can work through us.

This is perhaps something we can know intellectually. However, if we do not take it to heart and base our lives on it, the life of discipleship can be disheartening or discouraging. Our first reading tells us though that if we listen and follow… if we continue to bring our meager offerings to God… if we keep doing what we are called to do… we will be renewed. But the trick is in offering what we have to God - not pretending that everything depends on us or living with the illusion that we have what it takes. We don't.

It reminds me of a prayer often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero (but was actually written by an American bishop - Ken Untener):
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificententerprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way ofsaying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection.No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, anopportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the masterbuilder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

If there is anything about which I need to keep reminding myself it is this prayer. And our readings for this weekend. There are many things that call for our attention in this world, in our everyday lives. And we simply cannot meet them all. But it is God who gives the increase and it is God who meets the needs. Perhaps we just need to offer what we have to God and then get out of God's way!

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Monday, July 14, 2014

Calm in the midst...

Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.
Meister Eckhart

What a whirlwind summer it's been so far! It has been a summer full of blessings (which I said about last summer), but completely different from last year. The day after school was out I left for Rome (see last blog post)… Then it was off to St. Louis for a service immersion trip with students… Then Frankfort/Chicago for retreat and a workshop on Ethics in Vocation and Formation Ministry… Yesterday I arrived back to Chicago for the weeklong Orientation for New Vocation Directors. When I get home from that I'll prepare for a trip down to my beloved San Antonio for the Marianist Lay Network of North America Assembly. Then it's off to be on retreat with our 2 pre-novices. By the time that's over I'll have approximately 10 days before going back to school. So, as you can see, whirlwind is an appropriate moniker!

In the midst of the craziness I am reminded of a line from the first poem I memorized in its entirety - "Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence." The Desiderata, a prose poem by Max Ehrmann, was a gift to my 8th grade class from our language arts teacher. I have never forgotten that first line. This line, and the entire poem really, has been a constant refrain in my life. It brings peace and calm in the midst of whatever is going on. If you are not familiar with the poem, please see it below.

As mentioned above I had the opportunity to make my annual retreat in Frankfort, Illinois this summer. I moved into a hermitage on the property of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart on a Tuesday afternoon… and immediately felt a sense of peace. The quiet and the lack of clutter provided space to reflect, pray, sing, and sleep - all the important pieces of a good retreat (for me, anyway).

Hermitage - Rivo Torto ("tortuous stream" in Italian)

While in my hermitage I had a few reflections, some mundane/trivial and others not so much…

This is how I spent most of my mornings…  
Book recommended by my spiritual director

I met with a spiritual director on 3 afternoons of the 6 1/2 days I was there. In our first meeting after she asked me to tell her a little about myself, she went to her shelf and pulled down a book - Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pictured above). What an eye-opening book. In this book there is a quote by Thomas Merton (the full quote is not in the book, but I find the full quote to be quite challenging), 
"To allow one's self to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit one self to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."
Let that soak in for a minute. Violence to one self. It's strong language, no? In a world that currently has so much violence, it is difficult to see that our culture's addiction to busyness is also doing violence. I sat with that quote for a long time. I sat with the book for a long time. The book made a case (a good case) for incorporating Sabbath back into our lives. To really "Keep holy the Sabbath" - a commandment we typically ignore. Sure, going to Church on Sunday is something many of us do, but how many of us actually allow the day to be different from the other days? Allow it to be a time for renewal, friends, family, fun, relaxation? With so much to do - laundry, groceries, cleaning, yard work, grading (for those who are teachers), homework (for those who are students) - how can it be that we can incorporate Sabbath? It doesn't seem practical, does it?  But the alternative is doing violence to ourselves. Wow. My hope is that moving forward I might be able to embrace the Sabbath differently moving forward - as a first step to being a person who brings peace to situations and people.

Also in this book was an Hassidic Poem that resonated with me…

The insight? "All of your words each day are related to one another. All of them are rooted in the first words that you speak." It makes perfect sense, no? 

A mundane thing I learned while on retreat? What to do if you buy too much fresh spinach to eat in a week…

Looks gross, but sooo good!
Hmmm… liquid salad! 
Yes I finally learned to make a smoothie with a vegetable. I know I'm a little late to this craze, but I was skeptical. But this ugly concoction of blueberries, strawberries and spinach (what would normally be a salad for me) was amazingly good - and a great way to not let spinach go to waste.

I have always known that music is an important part of my spirituality, but one thing I didn't realize is how much I would long to pray in song while living in a hermitage. Why didn't I bring my guitar?! That was the question I could not figure out how to answer. But… my spiritual director came through with a special delivery one day… Her guitar! No music, but that's okay. I was able to play things I remembered from memory (many, many songs I learned early on while working with Aggie Awakening) and a few I could figure out by ear.

Her guitar and a nice note to accompany it...

Something else I learned? How to unlock this kind of lock:

That has this kind of key hole:

I had all the windows open and the ceiling fan going one day. And the breeze was strong enough to shut the bathroom door. I didn't mind that. That is until I tried to go to the bathroom and realized it was LOCKED! No key… no people around… I was worried. I still had days of retreat to go - what the heck was I going to do without a bathroom!? The more things I tried the more I really needed in that little room. Luckily I'm pretty handy with a pair of scissors. That was an adventure…

I spend time with Pope Francis on retreat as well. I finally finished reading Lumen Fidei and re-reading Evangelii Gaudium. And I think it would do me a little good to read them again. Some things you can't read enough times.

And so, there you have it. A small update on summer and some insights gained. As promised the poem Desiderata is below my signature.

I pray that each of you may be richly blessed.
Sr. N

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; 
and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.Keep interested in your career, however humble; 
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; 
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. 
But do not distress yourself with imaginings.Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. 

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. 

Be careful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927