Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas season

I've been meaning to post here for ages, but time just got away from me.  December has been a whirlwind month for me.  The last weeks of school are always crazy, and I moved (literally all the way across the country) on Christmas eve.  Now I'm finally catching up on sleep and finishing my unpacking.  Plus, I'm catching up on California sunshine!

Since yesterday was the feast of St. John the Evangelist, I've been thinking about the beginning of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be was life,
and this life was the light of the human race.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
image from BC's Trinity Chapel, which used 
to be part of a Sacred Heart college for women

All semester, my tenth-grade students were asking me HOW ... most especially, how can Jesus be both God and human?  I avoided it to the best of my ability, mostly because I don't know how to explain to 15-year-old kids that some things are impossible to explain, especially when they're about God.

On one of the last days of class I decided to tackle the question.  We looked at the infancy narratives, and then I asked them to open to the Gospel of John, to see that there's no sign of the baby!

I love the connection between the Word that was God from the very beginning, the word by which God created all that exists in Genesis, and the tiny infant which is the Word's love flowing out to become one with us in our humanity.  If there's one thing I want my students to know, it's that God loves us so much that he allowed himself to be limited by our limitations.

Monday, November 28, 2011

We Wait!

The great church season of Advent has arrived.  It always makes me happy.  I've prepared a meager little Advent "wreath" in my prayer corner with stuff I found around the house.  I think I need to find a few more things, but the light is most important, and that has been established!

Advent is one of the most wonderful seasons in our church. The expectant waiting, hope, joy, preparations--all are pregnant with God's love for us, just as we celebrate Mary's pregnancy, bringing the Christ Child into the world.

I've been thinking about how I will teach Advent this week, to both eighth and tenth graders.  Such fun!  I found a book that reflects on Advent and Christmas music, and I think I will be using that.  (It's called O Come Emmanuel: A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas by Gordon Giles.)  It gives me a reason to listen to Advent music a bit today. 

What I really want my students to begin to see is the mystery that God comes into our lives in ways we never foresee or truly understand.  I want them to remember for a few minutes that preparing for Christmas is not about shopping, but about receiving and giving love--the love of God, and the love of the people who are part of our lives.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Feast of St Philippine Duchesne!

Happy Feast!  I'm traveling today, so I don't have much time...but a blog post in pictures to celebrate one of my favorite saints!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!!

I can't believe it has been two months since I posted something here!  But I have the perfect thing for Halloween...

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Mecca of Halloween:  Salem, Massachusetts!  I wandered the city, took a tour of The House of the Seven Gables, and witnessed some very interesting things as I went...Enjoy the pictures...

To the left here is some pilgrim.  I'm sure he's famous, but I can't tell you who he is!  He faces the Salem Common, and the statue is literally in the middle of the intersection.


This is the House of the Seven Gables, of Nathaniel Hawthorne fame, above and to the side.  It's a very interesting tour.  And, you see the wedding party that had rented the back lawn area.  It was a "goth" wedding--the bride is on the far left in the picture, in black with the hat. 

Now the cemetery in Salem is rather fascinating also.  It's very very old (at least by our American standards), as you will see by one of the gravestones pictured below.  But it's also a tourist attraction, so the graveyard is pretty full of people wandering around and reading the tombstones, taking pictures.  

 This images below was the icing on the cake.  Wedding pictures at a cemetery????

I have to say, I really enjoyed visiting Salem at the beginning of October.  I can imagine that tonight it's probably INSANE there, but when I was there it was just starting to pick up some momentum.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another Birthday!

Well, I should start by saying that it's not literally my birthday (that's in February, in case you needed to know).  But--yesterday was the anniversary of my entrance into the novitiate!  I'm officially a second-year novice!

(The pics are what my novitiate community sent me--the Elmo card cracked me up!!)

So, our formation program includes two years of the novitiate (sometimes called the noviceship, which I tend to make jokes about...falling overboard...needing a "captain"...).  The first year is bound by a number of rules, based on the law of the Catholic Church.  Basically, it's a time when the novice focuses on her relationship with God.  She does not do any sort of paid ministry (but she should do some voluntary ministry that does not carry too much responsibility, and that brings her in touch with God's people), and she spends more time in prayer than she otherwise has the freedom for.  Other things are included, like study of the religious order, its history and spirituality, possibly some study of theology (from which I was exempted because of my previous studies), spiritual direction, and language study.  
For me, that year was fantastic, and at the same time I was ready to be done with the introspection by the end!  But what a gift--to have freedom from serious obligations in order to spend time with God alone.  I can't tell you all the ways my relationship with God has been strengthened.  I am grateful, and humbled.

So, a new year of the novitiate begins.  I am now in active ministry, teaching middle and high school religion, until the end of December.  Then, I return to my semi-contemplative state, and to study of the history and spirituality of the Society of the Sacred Heart.  I emailed my community this morning that I feel like a new woman--and it's true!  Much has changed in me, and all the change has brought me closer to God's beautiful desires for my life.

Amen!  Alleluia!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Community and Care

I finally saw the film Of Gods and Men this morning, and I think it will stick with me for a while.  If you haven't seen it, you should!  It is incredibly beautiful.  (And with that warning, I'm going to reveal a bit of the ending--though it's something I was glad I knew before I watched it.)

The film tells the true story of a Trappist monastery in the 1990s in Algeria.  The small group of French Trappists, who had been in this little village for over a century, was targeted by a group of terrorists during the civil war, and eventually killed.  The story is not about their death, but about their life with God, their love, and their commitment to each other and the surrounding community.

Several touching scenes show how the monks respect and care for each other, though I don't really want to give away too many details here for those who haven't seen it.  There is, however, a sense of the deep compassion they possess for one another, and the acknowledgement that each one's talents and needs, while different, are equally valued and respected.

Discernment in community becomes a central piece, as they decide whether to stay or flee the mounting violence.  Near the beginning, the prior makes the mistake of deciding for the group--there is beauty in his ability to humbly acknowledge his mistake and to allow the monks to discern together.  (Part of the Rule of Benedict asserts that the abbot is to bring serious matters to the whole community, weigh their advice, and then decide, for "the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.")  Beautiful, too, is the transformation that occurs within each member of the community as they grapple with their fears and the life that lies before them.

I think the film presents a beautiful image of religious life at its best:  a community that cares deeply for one another, respects each individual's needs and gifts, prays together, and serves God's people with commitment and tender mercy.  And if I ever get to teach the Rule of Benedict again, I think I might have to use this film!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hiatus Over!

To all my faithful readers, a great apology is in order.  I am so sorry to have left the blog behind!

But it was a necessary thing.

The last month and a half has been filled with good things.  I had a three-week-long retreat, a service project, and a meeting with younger women religious.  For now, I'd like to pass on a link to the Giving Voice blog, which chronicles my adventures of the past few days. 

We had a weekend with 150 sisters ranging in age from 24 to 88, and guided in conversation in part by Sandra Schneiders, IHM.

So, take a look!  The blog is here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Living in Community

I've just been reading Ruth Burrows, The Essence of Prayer, and I've been thinking about this quote (p. 169):  

"To expose ourselves generously to the demands of community life; to refuse to shirk them in any way is to expose ourselves to God, allowing Him to purify us through others, shatter our illusions with humbling self-knowledge, divest us of everything selfish and enable us to love others with a pure, mature, disinterested love.  Surely this is true for whoever would follow Our Lord closely, whatever their form of life."

How true is that?! 

I've been struggling with community living a bit lately--in part because I'm spending a lot more time at home, recovering (still!) from surgery.  So I think I need to make this quote my mantra for a while.

Burrows writes in the context of a Carmelite monastery, where most enter expecting solitude, but where there is also structured and required community time.  Time with others that cannot be missed.

One of the things I'm learning is that piece of "humbling self-knowledge."  For me, that's usually about my reactions to other people.  I know that when I'm particularly tired, or sad, or distracted, or any other number of things, that's when I'm most difficult to be around.  To get out of that, sometimes it takes a very strong movement of my will..I just need to decide that I'm not going to act that way.  It demands that I be in touch with how I feel and how others perceive my reactions.  Not an easy thing, that self-knowledge, especially when the self I see is not being very nice (even if I might feel justified in my negativity, which I sometimes do!).

The other piece of that quote that strikes me is the ability "to love others with a pure, mature, disinterested love."  To me, that's about doing something for someone else just because it's the right thing to do.  It reminds me of my best friend and her newborn.  She's permanently at his side right now--he needs her selfless attention.  That is pure love.

Community certainly is an experience of growth in God.  I would add to the quotation that part of that humbling experience is allowing ourselves to be loved and cared for by others.  Being open to another's love is sometimes harder than loving.  In doing so, we recognize our own loveable-ness.  If we are paying attention, we also see that they love us even though they know our faults.  

If my community can love me with all my faults and not-nice moments, how much more does God love me with all my spots!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye

I really don't like goodbyes.  Really.  I say them, and tears fly, and the world looks rather bleak for a while.

One thing I'm learning about religious life is that it's about availability to do whatever you are called to do in the interest of the Kingdom of God--and that this availability necessarily demands many hard goodbyes.  It means being able to go wherever God calls you.  At the same time, it means building relationships with those with whom you live and minister. a relationship, and then say goodbye to the one you love.

What I still am working to grasp is that the one you love is still with you--in your heart, but also available through phone, skype, email, whatever!  That the goodbye is not forever and not a complete separation.  The bond of love in the Heart of Jesus is still strong.

Today we say goodbye to one of our community members who's been here on sabbatical from the Korean Province.  She has been so much fun, so prayerful and loving, such a wonderful person to be around.  Life here just won't be the same without her.  I have learned from her about generosity and joy, about the Sacred Heart, and about our internationality.  I am so grateful that she has been with us.

At Mardi Gras!

She will remain in our hearts!  And maybe I'll get to visit her in Korea one day!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Love is Strong as Death

Today we celebrate the feast of our foundress--Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat!  Happy Feast!

I'm stuck on the first rite of the mass (the introductory verse that we usually skip):

"Set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm, for love is strong as death."  (Cant. 8:6)

Love is strong as death.  Over the past several months, I've been pondering how love can conquer our fears, that my fears are eased when I remember the love of Jesus.  What do I have to be afraid of when I am filled with God's love--a love that is far stronger than all else!

And yet, I do have fears. We all do.  Fears of failure, of disappointment, of loss, and of death, to name a few.  One of the most beautiful things about the Society of the Sacred Heart for me is the element of love.  Sophie founded a community of women who are devoted to sharing God's love with all they meet.  Women who help every person they encounter to know that they are loved.  It sounds sort of lofty, that goal, but I think I entered the Society in part because I saw it in action:  I felt loved by the sisters I met.  I felt God's love in their love for me.

My fears are still there, but somehow the challenges of life seem less overwhelming when I know that I am not alone, that I am loved, that Jesus is with me through it all.

On another note, I share the picture above because I think it is so lovely!  This is a window in the Sacred Heart School in Chicago (Sheridan Road) in honor of Sophie.  Sophie grew up on her family's vineyards in Joigny, France. She loved to be with her father in the vineyards, and the image of the vine and branches became one of her favorites.  In fact, the gospel for the feast is John 15:1-12:  

"I am the vine and you are the branches. ... As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.  ...  This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you."

May we grow ever more aware of God's love for us 
and the presence of Jesus in our hearts.
May we be able to share more fully the love of Jesus 

with those we meet, a love that casts out fear.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Sacrament of the Sick

The last two weeks have been challenging to say the least.  About two weeks ago, I had to have emergency surgery to remove my appendix.  Pretty common, I know, but still, surgery is scary!  I'm never really sick, and I'd never been to surgery or even admitted to the hospital before.

I was scared, to say the least.  But I was also in pain and sick, and so I could ignore the fear in order to just let the surgeon do his work.

Somehow the hospital didn't get a record that I was Roman Catholic, and so no chaplains visited me, until a few days later when they visited the other person in my room. Fr. Jim brought her communion, then asked me who I was and offered me the Sacrament of the Sick and Eucharist. He anointed me, said the words, and I burst into tears, my first since the surgery.  I was so immediately relieved, and also suddenly aware of how frightened I had been for days.  I felt God's presence with me, the warmth and love flooding over me with the prayer and the oil.  Remembering that feeling still brings tears to my eyes.

Sickness makes us feel helpless, vulnerable, dependent on those around us and on God.  Although I'm physically getting better, I know I need to think more about this experience, pray more with it and the lessons the vulnerability offers.  One of my friends told me that God loves me even when I feel like I can't do anything--what humility it takes to accept that love when I feel I have nothing to offer in return.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rain in the forecast

It's supposed to rain tonight, and basically all weekend. 

I love rain.  I grew up in a place where rain was less common than snow, and when I lived in the Midwest and Texas I came to know torrential downpours for the first time.  I loved it, the power of it, especially when I could watch from behind a windowpane.  Now that I live in Southern California, basically in the desert, it's a special treat to me to have rain.

But there's a crimp in my pleasure now.  I spend Friday afternoons with homeless women, hearing their stories.  Rain is not something you love if you have nowhere to go.

I learn a lot from these women.  They are beautiful, and most of them don't know it.  Most of them have never been treated well, and some of them have been treated devastatingly poorly.  Often, I hear stories in which they are treated like objects; and sometimes I hear stories of the great kindness of strangers. 

Those who run the center tell me that they are glad I come because most of the women don't have anyone to talk to, and most of the volunteers and staff don't really have time.  Time is all that I have for them.  Time, and a smile or a hug, and some words of encouragement.  Sometimes they are sick or tired, or sad, and sometimes they are glowing with good news--an engagement, or a new place to stay, or a necklace given. I will never forget the incredible joy of one woman who was going to get new shoes on Christmas Eve.  Or the one who turned down the offer because she already had a pair.  (How many pairs of shoes do I have?)

And today, they were thinking about the coming rainstorm and whether they would have a dry place to lay their heads.  

I certainly think differently about the rain.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Adventures in prayer

I spent most of today at the botanical gardens, praying, wandering, watching, delighting. Life has been rather hectic lately, and I needed to root myself once again in prayer, in Jesus.  How lucky am I that I can spend a day with that as my primary task!  The life of a novice, I guess!  So, here I will share some pictures, and a few prayerful thoughts.

I was so taken by this tree.  It's called a Dragon Tree, because the sap is red, and they believed that it was dragon blood.  Weird.  The sign also said that the sap was used in the varnish for Stradivarius violins, giving them their characteristically reddish tint.

As I got closer, I saw how it was growing with those trees around it.  A tree in community!

Because we've been talking about community and studying how we as a congregation live in community, I found all sorts of meaning in these trees.  I sat under them for almost an hour, noticing how they rely on each other for support (notice how crooked they are), how their lives are intertwined, how they're damaged yet healthy.

Desert beauty!

I am always struck by the proximity of the ocean--and then I'm struck by its enormity.  I am so lucky, so blessed to be here.  This is the view from the top of the hill at the garden.

It no doubt inspired the sculture..

Unnoticed remains of a Valentine's Day party?


Now, who wouldn't find spiritual meaning in the next picture?  Life out of what seems to be lifeless... the circle of in the desert...I was amazed that the buds on the tree were barely visible, yet here was this beautiful bloom.  Even in southern California the trees know that this is winter turning to spring.

A last little friend.  I stopped because of the shape of the cactus (why are there those little balls and then that snake-like thing??) and then I noticed the lizard.  He (lizards are always "he" in my head) was about the size of a quarter. 

It was a good day.  I got some of my equilibrium back, some of my rootedness in God.  I left reminded that I am with the I AM, Yahweh, always, along with all of God's creation.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Light of the World! Salt of the Earth!

Today's gospel always make me think of the Godspell song....


Let your light shine!

The last week has been so busy for me.  My birthday was Tuesday (I'm 32!!) and my dad is here to visit.  Unfortunately, my classes aren't just canceled because I have a guest, so I've had little down time.  We've been having a good time--at the beach, at some of the sights around town, and with my community.  Having family meet community for the first time always makes me a little nervous, but invariably it's a good experience for everyone.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Final Profession!

My heart and thoughts are with a group of our sisters in Rome who will make their final profession tomorrow (Sunday)!  They come from all over the world, and have been preparing for this day together for the last several months.  

May their lives be filled with love and deep joy!

Some more information and pictures are found on the RSCJ international website, here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When in doubt...

I have the great fortune of living my novitiate within walking distance of the beach.  And it's southern California, so it's nearly always nice enough to go for a walk, even in January.  

My favorite part is that the beach always helps me get a little perspective on whatever might be bothering me.  There's something about the waves, the power of the water, that reminds me that I'm not in control of any of this, and that God can handle all of the "whys" in my head.  Plus, I can ask those whys out loud and no one but God (and maybe the gulls) will hear them!

(I took the picture in November, but it's my favorite right now!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Feast of St. Francis de Sales

A little quote to celebrate Francis de Sales' feast day...  

"But which are the virtues of the spirit?  There is faith which shows us the truths which are not accessible to the senses; hope which makes us strive for things invisible; charity which makes us love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, not with a sensual, natural, selfish love but with a love that is pure, firm and changeless, being grounded in God."

Happy feast to my Salesian friends!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Come after me"

I just spent two weeks with our retired sisters, and one thing everyone wants to hear is how I came to religious life-- the story of my call.  And then, lately, the Gospel readings have been accounts of the Apostles' call stories.

What's in a call?  As I told mine several times recently, I realize that my sense of being called keeps me strong in this not-ordinary way of living.  It's mystery to me how and why God called me to religious life, but knowing that I've been called gives me strength to keep moving forward along that path that I can't clearly or fully see.

God calls each one of us to something, and we have to listen to figure out how to follow that call.

What is Jesus calling you to do today?