Monday, October 5, 2015

Pope Ascending.

There's a spirit in the air since Pope Francis' departure from the United States. i set out in my latest column at the Global Sisters Report to capture what exactly that spirit is and how Francis is conveying a creative vision of the Holy Spirit. Take a look below and continue reading on the GSR website.

Francis' creative Spirit

“I feel like the apostles at Jesus' Ascension,” a friend wrote to me this past Monday morning. “When I was watching Pope Francis fly into the night, I just wanted to cling to him and hold on.” I knew what she meant. In a way, I think all of us do.

As I sat and reflected on the few days the pope spent in the United States, with all that he did and shared, and the two days, in particular, that we were treated to his presence in Philadelphia, I couldn’t believe how significant the time had been. Seeing him go was like the Ascension; I was sad, but I also knew that what I’d experienced wasn’t over. Francis left a spirit that needs to be kept alive.

This spirit is one that challenges. It’s the force that from day one simultaneously drew Congressmen to their feet and kept them glued to their seats. How do we emulate the models of faith courage, and dialogue in our history not only in word but in our very being? Lincoln, King, Day and Merton all had that spirit. It drove them, and the invitation offered by Francis is to live lives of consequence like them, with a spirit of creativity that brings life even in struggle, dialogue even in silence, justice even in turmoil.

This spirit is the Golden Rule lived out. It isn’t easy, just like love and families and relationships. Francis readily admits that and still he offers a vision of the Holy Spirit to the world that acts with creativity and compassion. “Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit.” He shared in his homily at the closing papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, “It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.”

That faith, of course, “grows when it is lived and shaped by love,” Francis continued. We can’t tolerate divisions among us; the Spirit, if truly followed, won’t allow for that. Over and over, Francis underscored this fact. The human family isn’t meant to be divided. Unity is born of love, a love rooted in faith which respects differences and makes space for a new creation. That creation is all about relationships.

If Francis’ creative spirit propagated nothing else, it built relationships. I watched as time and time again, Francis lit up in the presence of others. With those hurting, those outcast and those overjoyed, the Spirit appeared in the bond between them: a knowing glance, a tender hug, a whisper, a pat on the head. In these little gestures, Francis modeled something far greater than any words. He gave shape and form to love, and he gave the Spirit a means of entering the world. We must never forget that each of us has that opportunity.

The creative Spirit Francis speaks of and shares is a spirit that has the power to create far beyond what we can see or imagine. It’s a love that reaches across bounds — that welcomes the child that runs from the sidelines, that embraces the felon as friend, and that dines side-by-side with the homeless and hungry. Francis’ speeches throughout his visit were peppered with words about the Spirit, but it was his actions that gave witness to the creative power of Love.

I watched as that Love transformed my city. I felt it as it changed my heart. I cried as I stood feet from Francis, and I smiled wider than I have in a long time as I witnessed the Spirit in my midst. In a security line for four hours, I came to know my fellow pilgrims. On the lawn of Independence Hall, I felt the tough work of reconciliation continue. Beneath the gaze of the Philadelphia Art Museum, I listened as Pope Francis spoke from the heart about a love and beauty that crosses all boundaries and unites all people, about how before God did anything else, God loved.

That love is the root of creation. It embraces young and old and points us to the future.
Creativity is the force of the future we need to harness today.

I believe that is what Pope Francis is doing. He is allowing space for creativity. If we give the Spirit space, creation is inevitable; that is what the Spirit does. This creativity, though, is not what we might initially think of it as. It’s not solely a new way of thinking or a new design or inspiration. Creativity is none of these things alone. Creativity is conversion. It is a call we embrace to never be the same. To be changed by Christ so as to be and bring a new creation — to think, see, act, inspire and love radically.

In our church and world today, the Spirit calls us to creativity spawned by conversion. We must see the signs of the times without disparaging them with stories of the past.“This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations,” Francis declared speaking to Religious at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Saturday morning in Philadelphia. Creativity in “carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.” This requires making space for who and what is new. It means developing talents and recognizing that together we accomplish the work of the Spirit.

“¿Y tu?”

Pope Francis repeated that phrase five times in his homily at the Mass for Religious at thePhiladelphia Basilica Saturday morning: “¿Y tu?”

What about you?
Read the rest here...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Busy Weekend

With Pope Francis in Philadelphia this weekend, you can imagine how busy the last few days have been.  From taking students to serve at the World Meeting of Families and presenting at the 2Philly4Francis Pilgrimage earlier in the week to all of this weekend's Papal events, the time was full- full of energy, full of emotion, and, most certainly, full of grace.  I'm sure I will have more to write later, but for now I wanted to share two things. First is an article that I was interviewed for for the New York Times "Women in The World" online feature. The piece is entitled "The Comeback of the American Nun" and it looks at the upswing in vocations and the general sense of what's happening in new vocations to religious life today. 

The second piece I'm going to share is a type of post I haven't shared in a while, but this weekend certainly warrants it- a photo blog.  Enjoy some of the pictures I captured this weekend; it's my prayer that they may capture your mind and your heart and lead you where you're meant to go. Peace.

Friday, September 18, 2015


These days are a bit crazy and very full. Between the Pope's impending visit to Philadelphia and the presentations, events, and reflections that come with such a visit and the beginning of the school year, I am trying to balance all that life holds.  I leave later today with nearly two dozen first year students for a retreat weekend.  In many ways this is an exciting and an overwhelming time for them; I can relate.  

I hope in the week ahead to be able to share my reflections about going into my second year of ministry, as well as my encounters with papal pandemonium.  In the meantime, I offer a poem that has come in these first few weeks of school as I reflect on the idea of being at home and discovering where exactly or what exactly home is.

Go to a place you call
they said

And my mind ran
to the top of the stairs
to the closet
with the window inside

And like a little child
it climbed upon the piles
of blankets within
to peer out on the world below

That is where I go
when they say go.
lodged in my brain somehow
where I long for
where my heart is
the home that I carry
from place to place.

A single piece of lace
hanging in the window frame
a geometric star
as if to say
here is where to come
here is where to stay

here is home.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dear Francis

A few weeks ago, my latest column for the Global Sisters Report was published. In it, I talk about what seems to be the preeminent topic here in Philadelphia these days: Pope Francis' Visit in a few weeks.  My column sorts through the process of deciding whether to write and all the considerations of what one might write to the Pope.  As I say towards the end of the column, who knows if I will write... that's between me and Francis. What I do know is that I have great love and admiration for this man and what he is doing for our world and our church. (Just look at last night's 20/20 Audience.)

And so with that out of the way... here's the beginning of my column:

The first call came after five days. Pope Francis called the newsstand where he would buy his daily paper in Buenos Aires to cancel his subscription. It seemed he was going to be away longer than expected. 

I remember reading that first news report in March 2013; it was almost as surreal as the turn of events that had taken place over the preceding weeks. For the first time in six hundred years, a pope resigned and for the first time ever, a Jesuit was elected to the papacy.  Now it is history, tempered by time, but still no less remarkable.
The world has sat intrigued with each phone call- with the pope who would call and the people who have written. There was the young student who shared his hopes, the single mother who was trying to make it on her own, the newspaper editor and atheist. They all wrote and Francis called. 

I remember as a student reading about the great people of faith who had written to popes. They were distant figures of faith. They were people the likes of whom time holds sparingly- the saints and rulers, reformers and rabble-rousers, the Catherine’s of Siena and not the Jane Doe’s of this world. And yet, in a world where popes resign and successors make follow-up phone calls, the thought of writing a pope doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
So, how do you write to a pope? Or more importantly, what do you write to the pope?

With Pope Francis headed to the United States, and in particular to my own city of Philadelphia, in a few short weeks, I found myself asking that exact question.

If watching Francis has taught me anything, though, the answer to that first question is clear. The only way you could possibly write is from the heart.  Any other way would be a sham. A letter from me would be different from your letter just as my life is different from yours. And yet, to write from the heart is to mirror the deeper call within and beyond us to live from the heart too. To live lives of such authenticity, we have to align ourselves with the heart of Gospel, beginning with the way we relate to one another and to God. Any other way would be a deception.

This is the foundation of our being.  And beyond the boundaries of language or religion, Francis has made this point poignantly in the witness he bears.  This is not always perfect but it is honest and for that, I give thanks.  If nothing else, that way of living and being-from the heart- gives us the example of how to far beyond letter-writing.

From the heart come words of gratitude, statements of truth, and deep sharing of hopes and dreams.  Putting any one of those things into writing is a task and yet, when I consider what, if anything, I would want to write to the Pope, it is those deeply-held beliefs, deeply-transformed visions, and deeply-fostered emotions and dreams that rise to the surface.

Somehow, even though I have never met the man, there is a desire within me to share from the depths of my being with him. That compulsion, at times, seems to me to be foolish. Why write? What difference could it make? Would the letter even be read? And if it was, is there a risk to such honest sharing? 

I wonder all these things and yet, the desire to write still remains.

Part of that desire is to say thank you... Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Embrace the Good

A year ago plus one day I began my ministry as a campus minister at Chestnut Hill College. In lots of ways the last year was about learning. I learned what I didn't know. I learned more about who I want to be. I discovered what is authentic in this ministry and what isn't.

I'm still learning the balance of time and the distribution of energy. Campus ministry could easily take up my whole life. There is always a need; there is always more to do and yet, I have to give myself permission to recognize what is necessary and what isn't. Relationships take priority.  And for all the energy that the ministry of presence and especially being "on" all the time take from me, I have to give myself permission to recoup what I've lost.

I am determined to keep writing... to keep going to speak in places... to grow in this ministry and outside of it. After all, my truest vocation is to be who I am and that is a multi-faceted individual offering herself in the pursuit of and service of God.  That mission pulls me in numerous directions and I pray I can embrace all it calls forth and that God will bless what is meant to be.

As I reflect on the year that has been and all that lies ahead, I recognize another need. I need to embrace the good this year. I need to celebrate what is good in my life and find the joy and gratitude that each situation presents to me.

Today, I gave hours worth of presentations on our charism and heritage to students.  Going into it I was nervous- another round of the new... the story of the last year for me. And yet, as I spoke and led groups in conversation and learning, I felt the world within me opening up.  This is where I've been called and to pass it on is a blessing in and of itself.  Maybe some of these students won't retain everything. Actually, most of them won't but if I can help to provide an experience that gives them just a little bit to grow with and into I have done my job and in the process of realizing that I am embracing the good. The good of my gifts, the good of life, the good of learning, and the good of being united in a mission far beyond myself.

That sounds like a pretty good life. As year two begins at the college, I hope I can embrace the goodness in my midst and even if I fall short sometimes, hopefully the goodness will embrace me.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Like a Rainbow

I laughed like a rainbow
and all the colors came out
from the corners of my eyes
from the belly of my soul

It rolled off my tongue
and the car swerved as I drove
and like ultraviolet 
the laugh went silent
imperceptible but present

the car swerved back
nothing lost
nothing stopped
and it shot out in a squeal
making room so I could breathe
in beautiful technicolor majesty.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Re-entry & Two Voices

Sorry for a bit of radio silence there folks! For the last four weeks I have been away on retreat in Cape May and then was studying at Boston College, but have no fear- I have returned and hopefully new reflections on my time away will be up here soon. Suffice it to say, for now, that the time was refreshing and rejuvenating.

In the meantime, you can read my latest column on the Global Sisters Report: "Speaking with two voices, listening to one." In it I deal with the tenuous role of the voices you come to speak with and have to possess as a vowed religious. Not an easy space to navigate but hopefully I've been able to put words to my experience and my many and varied feeling around this all.  Here's a sneak peak:

Being a young religious sister means you represent a lot of things to a lot of people. You are an anomaly; you are the image of a teacher/counselor/nurse/confidant/relative from the past; you are a beacon of hope or a bearer of harsh realities. You come to embody the church. And, whether you like it or not, you will be called upon, time and time again, to represent issues and viewpoints much larger than yourself.

In many ways, you can get lost behind the title and qualifier of “sister.” Before they know you, people will read their opinions on to you. And even after they’ve engaged with you, many will make assumptions about where you stand on subjects. Marriage Equality. Women’s Ordination. Pope Francis. No matter the topic, there are presumptions of how I feel and think.

I don’t know if it’s a reality that I will ever get used to, yet I know that this is my reality: I am in the unique possession of two voices – my own and that of an authority far greater than just me.
I speak for myself, but I also speak on behalf of my congregation, my church and my faith. The responsibility is as tremendous as it is ridiculous. It is a position that requires prudence and humility, as well as a healthy dose of humor.

How can one person embody a whole system, its values and its truth? How can she be held accountable for the actions of an institution she finds herself a faithful member of? How does one reconcile the two voices they hold in tandem? These are the questions I find myself beholden to.

The answers to these questions aren’t easy, first and foremost, because our world isn’t so starkly binary. We operate in a world of in-betweens, a world of grey. Anyone who ministers, be they a committed lay person, a religious brother, a priest or a woman religious, knows this reality. We have to uphold our obligations and commitments to those we serve, both the organizations we belong to and those who place their trust in us as representatives. That trust gives us a distinct authority and responsibility in our interactions with others. It (whether rightfully or not) makes us agents of truth.

As a result, we must respond and act with compassion. A pastoral response is the only response.

The nature of such a response can be complicated. To be pastoral does not mean dismissing doctrine. It does, however, mean vowing to do no harm. That is the trust others place in us, that we will act responsibly, love fully, embrace vulnerability, and embody compassion. And that’s where having two voices takes on another dimension.

Recently, while I was away taking theology classes for the summer, a fellow student and friend pulled me aside before class. “Did you hear the news?” she asked looking at me wide eyed, “About the teacher in Philadelphia?”

I nodded. I knew the story; the head of the religious education department at an academy run by a group of women religious hadn’t had her contract renewed after a complaint was filed by a parent about her same-sex marriage. The school had cited the upholding of its Catholic identity in its letter to the community, a defense applauded by the bishop and supported by the congregation. My friend spoke vehemently about what she saw as the injustice of it all. How could this happen? What could be done? Why stay in the church? Is there any hope?

She looked deep into my eyes as I listened to the pain and struggle she shared. Suddenly, she took a step back. “I’m sorry,” she said breaking eye contact, shaking her head to loosen her focus. “I know you deal with this all the time . . . it’s your life . . . I just needed to say something to someone.”

I thanked her for trusting me and offered what I could: compassion, hope and understanding.

I could hear my voice speaking – a mix of my own desires for the church, my deep belief in God’s love, and an active attentiveness to and acknowledgement of her feelings. The two voices within me intertwining in response.

“I don’t know what more I can say,” I uttered softly, focusing with empathy on her eyes. This is my life. I thought to myself.
No matter what we say, in whatever voice, speaking with reverence is pivotal. In that moment (like so many other moments), I had the opportunity to give voice to the love of God for all people.

That love knows no bounds.

Read the rest here.