Friday, January 8, 2021
Every Wednesday for the last four years, I've gathered with a group of women to reflect on Scripture and to pray for our world. We pray for our neighborhood, our country, our friends, our families and our world. We share the journey, and this past Wednesday, Jan. 6, was no different.
Even though the Catholics in our group had marked Epiphany the Sunday before, any cultural Christian, adherent to the 12 days of Christmas, or parent of children in our local public schools — which close for Three Kings Day — knew that, in fact, Wednesday the sixth was Epiphany.
After reading Matthew's account of the wise men's journey, our small group listened to the words of Jan Richardson's Epiphany blessing, "For Those Who Have Far to Travel." Sitting in peaceful reflection on the past year and the gift and challenge of the journey, we were united in our diversity. Old and young, black and white, women of all different backgrounds, we shared the movements of God in our lives. This week, that meant sharing how the pandemic bore with it tragedy and grace; what promise the vaccine brought; why peace was as important as that the electoral votes be counted; and the hard-learned fact that the isolation of the last few months had as much to reveal to us about other people as it did about ourselves.
Listening to one of our elder members share, I felt my phone begin to buzz. With a swift movement of my thumb down its side, I stilled the device so I could be attentive to her sharing. What a blessing to journey together like the wise men, she reflected, to be attentive, be surprised and discover the truth and where it leads us.
Wednesday was like any other Wednesday until it wasn't.
Emerging from the meeting, I took a moment to glance at my phone. To my surprise, news alerts, not about the counting of the Electoral College votes, but about the storming of the U.S. Capitol, lit up the screen.
Suddenly, the Epiphany story was a little more real ... the journey more treacherous ... the need for truth and peace all the more pressing.
A tyrant saw a threat to his power. Filled with fear, he brought fright to the whole country. He stoked fear and incited violence. The king could not stand the truth and so he sought to rout it out. But the truth would not yield; it had come into this world in the form of a child and, vulnerable as it might be, the truth embodied in the child would persevere, in ways both paradoxical and puzzling to our concept of power.
This new king — a prince of peace — would reject violence and injustice. His power greater than that of any politician was (and is) found in steadfast, boundless love that urges reconciliation, humility and righteousness. His love, like a star in the night, draws all who can see and invites everyone to see with new eyes the promise of the truth he offers.
On the floor of the Senate Wednesday night, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey pointed to the deadly flaw and sadistic (and seditious) shift in thinking as he declared how people had been duped into choosing Trump over truth. This sycophantic shift was punctuated by the events on Wednesday. They gave us a moment for pause many moments too late.
Yet to quote the statement from Pax Christi USA, "Maybe today's events will serve as a moment of conversion for some; maybe this moment may serve to give pause to the worst impulses of our national character. Only time will tell. The words and actions of our elected leaders moving forward will tell the tale of what impact today's events have."
In the words of Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, "What has been unfolding at the Capitol today should shock the conscience of any patriotic American and any faithful Catholic. The eyes of the world look on in horror as we suffer this national disgrace.
"For many months we have witnessed the deliberate erosion of the norms of our system of government." That erosion has taken the sacred right of peaceful protest and desecrated it by introducing violence.
"May God's love suffuse our political life together," Cupich continues, "reminding all Americans that politics is the peaceful resolution of conflicting points of view. This is our tradition as a democratic nation — and we undermine it at our own peril."
Watching to the breaking news coverage, I struggled to hold on to the prayerful peace of my normal Wednesday. As rioters carried myriad flags up the U.S. Capitol steps without any intervention, a commentator tried to reassure the audience at home. "This is a last gasp," she said as more and more individuals ascended the steps. I am sure the phrase was meant as a reassurance, implying that this was a worrisome but passing moment — the end of days, weeks, months and years of unrest.
The phrase, though, wedged itself in with the fading peace within me: One. Last. Gasp.
This moment wasn't a blip on the screen. In a year filled with tragedy, it didn't feel like the period at the end of sentence or the last surge of a movement. It felt more like a bad dream come to life. This moment was the culmination of many predictions, the revelation of the destructive power of distrust, white supremacy and conspiracy theories. The result of hubris and hatred weaponized in the name of a tyrant.
As the space in front of the Capitol filled with people, this "last gasp" knocked the wind out of me. All I could think of were the tragic last words of Eric Garner, "I can't breathe," and the thousands of people suffering from COVID-19 in the United States who are literally gasping for breath. In an age when we are hypersensitive to signs and symptoms, what happened Wednesday is less of a "last gasp" and more a mind-blowing reminder of the division in our country and the violence, hatred and destruction that are startlingly apparent in our body politic.
As we journey forward, the soul of the nation hangs in the balance. No president will save us, no single politician can set us straight. The journey that lies ahead is ours to undertake. It means facing racism head on, holding people accountable, and seeking reconciliation. Each step has its cost, the invaluable price of truth. Charting our course will surely push us to our limits, but the work of finding our direction requires such effort.
Together, we can find our way. E Pluribus Unum.If we can see the light, we have no other options… Finish reading the piece here
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
The Jesuits of Canada and the United States graciously invited me to reflect in real time with them during these election days. What came as I reflected was a poem entitled "The Signs". I pray it brings you peace in these uncertain times and offers a whisper of hope for this moment. I invite you to click below to pray with the poem's words of hope and prayer for peace as I read it aloud. Blessings!
the signs dithered in the wind,
air as harsh as the state of things,
direction as sporadic,
and the sun lights them with the warmth of a new day
the hope of constancy, celestially offered.
Hope feels your pulse
and tells you you are still alive
that the sun will rise
that Christ is risen
and so must you.
Rise to the call of new life
Not just for you but for all.
Hope nestles close and I can feel
its tiny breath
like a child pressed close beneath my chin
secure and fragile
shallow, syncopated breaths
reassured by presence
and to know that no matter what happens
no party can define us, no ballot break our being
our hope will call us onward
to stand together face to face and heart to heart
and together, our lives will be the signs
of a new hope dawning for one and for all.
Friday, October 16, 2020
My latest column for the Global Sisters Report reflects on what we're called to do and be about in these continuing days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The way we used to be is no longer, but facing the reality of now, what are we ready for? (And perhaps, what aren't we ready for?) May these questions lead us to deeper reflection and call forth in us a pioneer spirit that faces the future with hope, the present with truth, and the past with wisdom for us all.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I, like so many, made a list of things I wanted to do and books I needed to read before the initial shutdown was over. At that time, we presumed the time inside would be brief, a welcome reprieve from the everyday demands of life. Now, months later, I find myself both laughing at the naivete of my thoughts in that moment and cringing at the privilege of those early days of planning.
I began to tackle my list by picking up a long-neglected history of women religious in the United States. Subconsciously, productivity served as a welcome distraction from the collective grief and personal anxiety that was rising. The stories of apostolic women religious establishing missions and setting the foundations for a growing church in the United States seemed like an idyllic way to pass the time.
As I started into the history, I discovered wonderful stories of resilience and ingenuity. These women were pioneers; they were few in number, but great in spirit. Their efforts and example laid the groundwork for all that would come after them. In their stories, I saw elements of the culture of religious life. There was the drive to live the Gospel, an ever-deepening call to humility, and an ability to do the unimaginable with hidden talents and gentle influence. These early sisters were trailblazers, taking what they had and committing it to make something more, even when no one thought it was possible.
In the chill of mid-March, I curled up with the book and lost myself in the story. Yet, it wasn't long before I soon realized that this probably wasn't the best reading. As I remained confined to my convent, I read the stories of young sisters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, at ages younger than I am now, went out to serve in the midst of countless diseases. They went where no one else would and ministered to those abandoned by society. And just as bravely as they served, they suffered — and in many cases, sadly, they died.
Dedicated to the task at hand, I kept on reading. Within a few days and after countless stories of such self-sacrifice, though, I was very confused about what I should do.
"What does showing up look like today?" I wondered.
For ages, it looked like doing the impossible with little training and sheer force of will. It looked like learning in action; like feats of triumph achieved through communal support and ingenuity; like life lessons learned and accelerated by trials in real time. It meant putting women who had never taught in classrooms with dozens of children or sending ill-prepared postulants to the frontlines of service.
Times have changed. Untrained assistance in the midst of a pandemic is not the norm. Today, thankfully, health care professionals serve those needs. Sisters, adequately trained and equipped, certainly serve in these roles, facing the pandemic head-on as we've read about in these very pages.
But I realized in the experience of reading about days gone by that there was and is a need to listen to the demands of our times, questioning what active engagement looks like today and what it will mean for us to rise to the occasion for the common good.
In the past, women religious (and women and the church in general) strove to make ends meet without proper readiness, relying on numbers over expertise. Now, facing our current realities- cultural, congregational and global — we must ask: What has God made us ready for?
This question requires reflection both internally and externally. It begs us to ask what needs in this world are we ready, willing and able to serve? This is a question that women religious live to answer. We are people and institutions imbued with mission. It is in our DNA to ask what the need is that next entails our service, and then to move on to how we will best be able to meet those needs — the needs of the world — head on?
The shadow side of this question of readiness, though, invites us to pause for further reflection. If we can ask, "What has God made us ready for?" we also need to be able to stop and reflect on what we aren't ready for. This question is uncomfortable — either for the stark clarity or unclarity that it reveals. It is a question that offers us an invitation to examine our blind spots, to look at current realities, and to see what the world we so often serve has to reflect back to us about who we are and how we need to grow.
It begs us to ask: are we ready to face the reality of our current state of being? Of the call of our charism? Of the quality of welcome we offer, or the strength of the stands we take?
When we're able to face the clarity or lack thereof that surfaces, we are able to actively engage the call and response of readiness. This is what our first sisters did. They trusted that God would provide. They lived into a sense of readiness. Ready or not, they took steps to serve needs and created structures and stories in the process.
We now bear the burden and blessing of the legacy they left behind. Rather than trudging blindly into the world, we are called to a heightened awareness of who we are and what we carry. We go forth with the awareness that God is working in us and through us, calling us to discern and act in the ways we have been made ready and to risk the responses that challenge our unpreparedness...Finishing reading the piece here
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
In case you may have missed it! I'll be delivering the Anne Drummey O'Callaghan Lecture on Women in the Church at Fairfield University this Wednesday, October 7th at 5PM Eastern. Entitled "Showing Up: The Radical Work of Commitment in Uncertain Times," this lecture will explore the nature of commitment, what makes showing up a radical act, and the commitments being called forth in the church, with particular regard to the commitments and roles of women in the church!
Register for the lecture at https://fairfield.zoom.us/.../WN_QMed-RNZTYSGlvt4ip4C9w
Hope you can join us for this special night!
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Today marks the one year anniversary of my profession of final vows as a Sister of Saint Joseph. Looking back on the year that has been, it's hard to believe all that has come to pass. I never would have thought that 6 months of my first year of perpetual profession would be lived out under the curious circumstances of COVID-19. As I reflect back on September 15, 2019, I am filled with gratitude for the grace of God and the gifts of community. Our Constitutions as Sisters of Saint Joseph say that "each day we make a new beginning," and surely that is true for me today and always. I pray that today, I may live out my vows to the best of my ability and that I may encounter God in all things. May each of us be so blessed.
In commemoration of my final vows, I offer a poem that I wrote last year in preparation for my profession. The wisdom it contains continues to come to fruition. I pray it may speak to your heart as it continues to speak to mine.
"Three Simple Letters" by S. Colleen Gibson, SSJ
Three simple letters
unforetold in meaning
unforeseen in duty
You speak them without
fully knowing what they mean.
You say them not to what is asked
but to who is asking
who will be revealed in time
in hands worn deep with crags and crevices
this is the work beyond words
to be given
to be formed
that it is not what you bring
but who you are that matters
and even that is changing
and it should
if you let it
forget solid ground and settle
in the mixed up alphabet of life
for a standard
written on the heart
and held in the soul
You, speaking, not knowing
what it’ll mean
in the next moment
but when that comes
it will sustain you
so that each utterance
will be a deliverance
to the glory you imagined
with that first
Friday, August 28, 2020
For the last few years, I have been involved in conversations around women deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. What began as a conversation here or there about this vocation and ministry with other religious, soon developed into a series of monthly conversations with Dr. Phyllis Zagano on women deacons (the next will be on September 23rd). Before then, on September 3rd, a group led by www.receiveherinthelord.org will lead a prayer service in honor of the feast of St. Phoebe and for the intention of the current papal commission of women deacons. My latest column for the Global Sisters Report features Phoebe as an example of faithful service and her ministry as a hopeful guide for considering women's roles in the church today.
Growing up, I never heard about St. Phoebe. She, like so many women of the early church, was lost to me for a long time.
The female doctors of the church — Catherine, Teresa, Thérèse, and, later, Hildegard — were beacons whose wisdom, faith and example I was drawn to. As a young adult, I grew to know and love Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, as well as a number of other women saints, who, each in her own way, invited me to be more fully myself and more fully engaged with my faith.
Not until my late 20s do I recall Phoebe's name surfacing in my consciousness and even then, I couldn't place her beyond the heading "women of the early church." The reasons she remained in the shadows of my consciousness are as much a reflection of my own life and learning as of the institutions that have taught me and their conscious and unconscious influence on our wider perspectives as individuals and a church.
Phoebe appears in Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he exhorts the Romans: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae." Paul writes, "I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me" (Romans 16:1-2).
Brief though it is, this introduction is full of import. In these two verses, Paul provides critical information about the woman he has entrusted to deliver his letter to Rome.
Calling her sister, deacon and benefactor, Paul signals that Phoebe is his co-worker in the kingdom. He has chosen her to convey his message and it is his hope that they, like her, will come to believe and to support the Christian mission. By identifying Phoebe as a deacon, Paul indicates that she was a preacher and teacher of the faith and gives us the earliest written record of women's ordained ministry in the church.
When I first heard about Phoebe's ministry, I wondered how I hadn't heard about it sooner. A search of the Scriptures used at daily Mass revealed why Phoebe hadn't crossed my path. "In the continuous reading from Romans, verses one and two of chapter 16 are omitted," Benedictine Sr. Ruth Fox writes in her work on women in the Bible, "Thus churchgoers will never hear in our liturgy of Phoebe, a woman who was a deacon."
One can't be sure of the reason for this omission, but by excluding Phoebe (and the stories of many other women) from the lectionary, the church makes a distinctive choice about the models of church and stories of faith it chooses to lift up. Phoebe's absence from daily readings obscures the history of women deacons in our church and directs popular consciousness away from considering women's place in ordained roles of leadership in the church.
Phoebe is part of a much larger story of women deacons. In the Western church, from the first Christian communities through the 12th century, women carried out the ministry of the diaconate in its fullness, serving in the diaconal ministries: baptizing and anointing, proclaiming and preaching on the Gospel, caring for those on the margins, assisting in liturgy, and helping to sustain the life of the church through their ordained ministry.
Yet, in the 12th century, when the diaconate became a transitional ministry exclusively for men pursuing priesthood, women deacons ceased to be ordained.
For 800 years, the permanent diaconate lay dormant. Without the presence of permanent deacons, the diaconate became synonymous with the priesthood, with the transitional diaconate serving as a step on the way to priestly ordination. As time went on, this association became ingrained in the popular understanding of who deacons were and what deacons did.
Not until the time of the Second Vatican Council did the permanent diaconate again find its footing in the church.
Noting that a permanent diaconate would bolster the identity of the church as servant and address issues of decreasing priestly vocations, ecumenical relations, and relations between lay Catholics and clergy, the council fathers recommended the restoration of the permanent diaconate in 1965, opening the vocation of deacon to single and married men after Pope Paul VI's 1967 approval of the restoration.
Since then, the ministry of the diaconate as a permanent vocation has continued to take shape.
Fifty years later, we continue to witness the implementation and lived interpretation of Vatican II. In the last four years, the issue of women deacons has resurfaced with two papal commission being assembled, and a rising awareness of the long-forgotten history of women deacons in our church.
As the synod for the Amazon so clearly pointed out, women in the Amazon are already doing the work of deacons, just without the official recognition and sacramental grace of the church. The same could be said of women around the world — whether lay ecclesial ministers or vowed women religious — whose ministry embodies the church's call to servant leadership and without which the body of Christ would be significantly deprived.
In his commendation, St. Paul told the Romans to graciously receive Phoebe and give her any help she needed. At this time in our world and our church can't we ask the same, that women be received in the Lord and given all the help they need to truly share their gifts in ministry in the church? Can we think creatively about what has been and what could be?
Could we imagine, in the words of Thomas Baker, "the energy that would be released by another 18,000 or 36,000 deacons, many of them younger, many of them women, half of them of Hispanic and Asian heritage, asked by their bishops to open up new ways and places for people to encounter Christ?"
Just over 50 years into the implementation of the reforms of Vatican II, we must recognize that our understanding of the ministry of the permanent diaconate is still taking form. Now is the time to consider not only the historical precedence of women deacons but the hope creative thinking about this ministry and vocation offers for the life of the church and the world.
In the words of Phyllis Zagano, "Can the Church accept an ordained woman deacon? If history is the predictor, the answer is yes. If the present is the predictor, the answer is also yes. There is no need for the ministry of women to be restricted by misogyny; there is no reason that women cannot be icons of Christ."
Lifting up women as icons of Christ begins with valuing the ministry of women. It is to recognize and affirm with Pope Francis that "women have put up a sign and said, 'Please listen to us. May we be heard.' And I pick up that gauntlet."
Picking up that gauntlet means listening to and lifting up the voices and needs of today, learning the stories of the past, and praying for the Spirit's guidance for the future.
As we celebrate the feast of St. Phoebe on Sept. 3, a group of women will do just that through a virtual prayer service hosted by ReceiveHerInTheLord.org. Praying for the current papal commission on women deacons and for the ongoing renewal of the ministry of the diaconate, they are following in the footsteps of Phoebe in spreading the good news by witnessing to their call to serve, to preach and to share Christ's love.
"When the people of God risk becoming comfortable, deacons constantly press the body of believers into the presence of a suffering, homeless, incarcerated, sick, marginalized Christ. And when the people of God risk becoming defeated and forlorn, deacons constantly draw up the healing, consoling, nourishing, resurrecting power of Christ," the organizers of the event write.
At this time in our church and our world, that is just what we need — Continue the piece here