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!