It's hard to believe that after months of campaign ads, primary battles, debates, and commentary, Election Day is still a month away. Each day brings with it a new batch of headlines, claims of he said this, and she did that. At the end of the day, it can be exhausting. And yet, with 31 days until November 8, we are each called to consider this election cycle in terms of what it means to answer the baptismal call as a citizen and person of faith.
This year, in celebration of my 30th birthday, my parents gave me two presents. They are presents that have stuck with me.
The first, quite literally, has stayed on me since May. It is a Fitbit. This little band on my wrist, a fitness tracker, has taken the place of my watch and has counted the number of steps I take each day. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd like it, but now I barely notice that it is there, save for the little reminders it gives me to get up and move during the day and the way it gleefully buzzes if/when I reach 10,000 steps for the day.
The second gift was more of a surprise. It was a letter containing a story I had never really heard — the story of my birth. In it my parents bantered back and forth on the page about what was important to include. My mother made a point of saying I'd taken my time coming out. My father recounted how, because of that, he was able to leave in the middle of the long slow labor to go to a retirement luncheon for my grandfather. I laughed and I cried as I read the story. These were things I'd never known. But even more so, there was such love in their words that I couldn't help but give thanks that I'd been born to these people. Their letter affirmed a part of who I am and poured forth the love parents have for their children.
But what do a Fitbit and a sentimental letter have to do with baptismal call or this year's election?
These gifts give us a good framework for considering the baptismal call that we live out each day. This call traces itself all the way back to Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. For all the differing accounts of Jesus' life and ministry in the four Gospels, the baptism of Jesus distinctly appears in each one without exception. This is where Jesus' ministry begins. To put that in Fitbit terms, that's step one on the journey. For everything that will follow, this moment marks the beginning of the rest of Jesus' life, a life that embodies the call to live in and with God, growing daily and encountering the Divine in every aspect of life.
And what is it that Jesus hears as he emerges from the waters of baptism? "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."
Before any miracles or healings, before any temptations in the desert and before any disciples began to gather, before any parables or teachings, there is only Love. God declares right then and there, before Jesus has done anything, that he is God's beloved. And God does the same for us.
The majority of us don't remember our baptism. We were infants and the call we answered was not of our own accord. The people who answered by bringing us to the life giving waters of baptism believed. In their love for us, they wanted us to have the gift of that belief, too.
I imagine God smiled on each one of us that day, no matter our age or the circumstances, and said "This is my beloved child: I love you and you are mine."
And from there, we — like Jesus — stepped out into the world. As with my Fitbit, some days are better than others. There are nights, I find myself walking up and down the block to get the last few steps to 10,000 in before day's end. Yet, no matter the day, in our lives of faith the call of our baptism echoes over and over. Our goal is to strive towards the goodness God sees in us and to share the graces we have been blessed with. This requires attentiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others. That's a challenge that requires action beyond steps. We must be active in sharing the love of God, remaining faithful to the challenge of the Gospel in our lives: to be more loving, more merciful, and more engaged.
Nowhere is this truer than in our role as faithful citizens. The Gospel doesn't promise to win us friends or make us rich. It seeks what is right, standing on the side of the forgotten and proclaiming that the Good News begins in the heart of Love. At the Transfiguration, Jesus would be reminded of his "beloved"-ness. Perhaps this is what he needed to go back down the mountain to pursue the Truth that would ultimately land him on the cross.
That too is part of our baptismal call: to stand for justice and to seek God's will in the workings of the world. That will is bigger than our own. It requires a consciousness not only of my security and comfort but also that of the common good.
At the end of the day, I wonder if I am healthier for having a Fitbit. The answer: maybe. But I can tell you I am more health conscious because I have this little tracker on my wrist. The same can be asked of our baptism: Are we as a country and communities healthier for me having lived my faith today? Have my actions been attentive to God's will and call? Did I strive to bring God into the everyday actions and being of my life?
Each day we will answer these questions differently. The hope is that over the span of many days we might be able to answer more affirmatively than not and, in the process, ultimately discover the transformative effects of our faith lived out.
Part of those transformative effects can be seen in our children. My parents wrote to me "You never know how a child will affect the way a family works." Yet, having another child simply expanded their capacity to love.
If we could see each person as an individual inviting us to a greater love, how might our world change? Rather than turning against one another, we might see that my future is inherently tied to yours. This is part of what we say yes to in our baptism, consciously and unconsciously. It is the gift and challenge of the faith we've received. Each day is a chance to better live those promises made long ago, to renew our baptismal call.
As we look towards Election Day, we are again invited to consider that baptismal call.
Tomorrow I'll be posting a excerpt from my latest Global Sisters Report column, which deals with our baptismal call as it relates to being a faithful citizen. The metaphors and examples used in that article, though, have been doing double duty this week. On Tuesday, I offered a reflection to a group of parents whose children will be making their first Communion or Confirmation this year. My remarks focused on what it means to live your Baptismal call especially in regards to the everyday life of a parent. I offer those remarks here for your reflection and hope they shed light today, in their original context, as much as they will offer tomorrow in a more general sense. This
year, for my thirtieth birthday, I got two birthday presents from
my parents. They are presents that have stuck with me. The
first, quite literally, has stayed on me since May. It is a Fitbit. This little
band on my wrist has taken the place of my watch and has been tracking the
number of steps I take each day. At
first, I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but now I barely notice that it is there,
save for the little reminders it gives me to get up and move during the day and
the way it gleefully buzzes when I reach ten thousand steps for the day. The
second gift was more of a surprise. It was a letter containing a story I had
never really heard… the story of my birth.
In it my parents bantered back and forth on the page about what was
important to include. My mother made a
point of saying I’d taken my time coming out. While my father recounted how,
because of that, he left in the middle of the day to go to a retirement
luncheon for my grandfather. I laughed
and I cried as I read the story. These were things I’d never known but even
more so, there was such love in their words that I couldn’t help but give
thanks that I’d been born to these people.
Their letter affirmed a part of who I am and poured forth the love
parents have for their children. So,
why am I telling you this? What do a Fitbit and a sentimental, biographical
letter have to do with the Sacraments or Baptism or anything we’re discussing
this evening? I
think that in a way, these gifts give us a good framework for considering the
Baptismal call that we live out each day. This call traces itself all the way back
to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, of which we heard Matthew’s account proclaimed
all the differing accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the four Gospels, the
Baptism of Jesus distinctly appears in each one without exception. This is where Jesus’ ministry begins. To put
that in Fitbit terms, that’s step one on the journey. For everything that will follow, this moment
marks the beginning of the rest of his life… a life lived in and with God,
growing daily and spreading to all those he encountered. And
what is it that he hears as he emerges from the waters of Baptism? “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well
any miracles or healings, any temptations in the desert or before any disciples
began to gather, before any parables or teachings, there is only Love. God declares right then and there… before
Jesus has done anything… that he is God’s beloved. And God does the same for us. For
the majority of us, we can’t remember our baptism. The call we answered was not
of our own accord. But still the people who brought us to these life giving
waters believed… and in their love
for us, they wanted us to have the gift of that belief, too. And, I imagine, God smiled on each one of us
that day, no matter the circumstances, and said this is my beloved child: I love
you and you are mine. And
from there, we- like Jesus- stepped out into the world. As with my Fitbit, some days are better than others. There are nights, I find myself walking
up and down the block to get the last few steps to ten thousand in before day’s
end. Yet, no matter the day, in our lives of faith the call of our baptism
echoes over and over. Our goal is to
strive towards the goodness God sees in us and to share the graces we have been
blessed with. This requires attentiveness to our relationship with God and our
relationships with others. That’s a challenge that requires action beyond
steps. We must be active in sharing the love of God, remaining faithful to the
challenge of the Gospel in our lives- to be more loving, more merciful, and
more engaged. At the
end of the day, you might ask Am I
healthier for having a Fitbit? Maybe. But I can tell you I am more
conscious because I have this little tracker on my wrist. The same can be asked of our baptism: Am I healthier for having lived my faith
today? Have I been attentive to God in my midst and did I strive to bring God
into the everyday actions and being of my life? Each
day we will answer these questions differently; but the hope is that over the
span of many days we might be able to answer more affirmatively than not and
ultimately, in the process, we will discover the transformative effects of
faith lived out. Part
of those transformative effects can be seen in our children. As parents and guardians, you bear the
responsibility of nurturing the faith of your children. You wouldn’t be here
otherwise. “You never know how a child will affect the way a family works.” My
parents wrote to me this year. Yet, having another child simply expanded their
capacity to love. As
their letter filled in the blanks of my birth story, I realized that the big
details were never a mystery. I may not have known how exactly I came into the
world, but I already knew the faith, hope, and love they instilled in me by
example. That’s the gift and challenge
you’ve been given as parents and are called to continue to give. Even before your child could say “Amen” you
said it for them. You made the same promises that your own parents, mentors,
and god parents made for you… each day is a chance to better live those
promises, to renew your baptismal call. In a
few moments, Fr. Bob will invite you to formally recall and renew those
promises responding with the words “I do.”
As you do that, I hope you’ll think of those people who said “I do” for
you and you’ll be aware that your response is not just for you, it is an
example to your child too. As you travel the journey of this special year with
your child, I hope you’ll remember the deep love from which you were called and
recognize it is the same deep love to which you’ve been given. Let
the Spirit live in you… The same Spirit that came down at Jesus’ Baptism. And
take each step knowing you are beloved: called by name, gifted by Grace, and
sent out to transform the world by affirming those promises each day with your
In my last post, I alluded to the article it connects to, a reflection entitled "An Experiment in Hope" in the Global Sisters Report, that was published last Friday as part of the Horizons column. Below is an excerpt and link. May it offer insight into the reality of the future and how seeking a new horizon is as much about changing position as it is about gaining new insight.
Demographic collapse is tough ground to build a case for
hope on. Yet, that's exactly where Marcia Allen, CSJ, began her presidential
address, entitled "Transformation – An Experiment in Hope," to the
Assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) last week.
She didn't talk about diminishment or downsizing, as women
religious are apt to do. She didn't sugarcoat the facts or put on rose-colored
glasses. No, she stood as a leader of the largest association of the leaders of
congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States and spoke the
truth: Membership is collapsing.
"Our members are virtually evaporating!" Allen
declared as she provided the statistics to support such a claim. What once
served the leaders of 150,000 to 181,000 members will by 2025 serve the
leadership of fewer than 29,000 sisters.
I can't imagine anyone in the room was shocked, but, as I
read and reread Allen's remarks later, I was struck by the clarity and realism
with which she spoke and wrote. What might at first seem tragic, struck me
instead as awe-inspiring. This was real — and when we face reality, whether it
is in ourselves or in the systems we are a part of, there is potential for
growth. If demographic collapse was being so frankly discussed on a public
stage, there might be hope. After all, the topic at hand was transformation,
I have often said that as a young woman, I came to religious
life knowing full well the reality of religious life. To the extent that I
could, that is true. Yet, as with all things that we come to as an outsider, I
could only know so much. At times, the reality of collapse is starker than I
ever realized and in certain moments, it is actualized in ways I never would
have imagined. In time, I've come to grapple with it more fully and to
understand what exactly it means for me and the women I call sisters. Some days
it spurs hope, other days it brings gratitude, and on even more days it causes
me to wonder if change is possible.
The amalgamation of these thoughts and emotions is what
Marcia Allen's poignant words struck on in me. And in her upfront naming of
reality, I recognized that this, in fact, is the reality we need to move
Our task now is not to develop a new way of seeing the old.
We're not meant to rearrange what we have, to make a new plan or to remodel
what has been. The task at hand is to allow for a totally new view ― to
recognize a new horizon.
The only way to see a new horizon, though, is to change
where you are standing. Like falling asleep on a road trip, we awake to find
that the cityscape we once saw has given way to fields of green and a flat
horizon. Perhaps that is the way it is with hope and the transformation of
religious life, too. For so many years, we've told ourselves numbers will
increase and change will come. The change, though, has come in a different way,
not in the form of new and abundant vocations, but in the inevitable impact of
time. As we have waited and worked in hope, collapse has taken its toll.
So much has already changed, but still, no matter our
numbers, we choose from where we see, and we have the opportunity to take in a
new horizon. To see, as Allen puts it, "a whole horizon of possibility, a
landscape filled with potential and unlimited opportunities." We cannot
just sustain what was, we must develop questions that move us beyond now,
meeting the needs of the future.
Reaching that new horizon, however, requires shifting our
stance. It means approaching religious life in new ways, deconstructing
systems, and gambling on the essence of our foundations. This isn't easy. No
one ever said it would be.
In futility and desperation, we might shout out: "Tell
me where to stand!" No one can, though. Like the Israelites in the desert,
we wander. Taking in our surroundings and our reality, we keep our eyes on the
horizon, bracing ourselves for what is to come. We remember too, that God works
in the darkness. The wind blows through the night to part the Red Sea; in
darkness, the Spirit hovers above the waters of Creation to bring forth life.
As a newer member in religious life, this wandering can be
tiring but it is also formative. Just as Marcia Allen says that transformation is
an experiment in hope, so is religious life today. It is an experiment that we
take part in — that we give our whole selves to. In faith that leads to hope,
we traverse the landscape...Continue reading the rest here.
Tomorrow my latest column will come out on the Global Sisters Report. The piece is a reflection on Marcia Allen, CSJ's Presidential Address at last week's LCWR Assembly. In the course of writing it, the following poem emerged within me. I originally thought it would close the piece but in the end, it turned out to be a part of the creative process instead. Hopefully, it shares its own light and will shed light on what is published tomorrow. The Power was Never Yours to Begin With
You will feel like you have died
and you have
because there's no room for you
that's the only way
the future can come
by your letting go
be put in the tomb
And, lo, wait until you see what emerges
Hope never before seen
on a new horizon.
This summer has been a bit of a whirlwind. Between retreat and formation classes, time in Orlando for the US Federation of Sisters of Saint Joseph 50th Anniversary Federation Event, and vacation with family in Wisconsin, today marks the first time in a month that I will sleep for two consecutive nights in my own bed. That break, however, is short lived as I pack to head up to Boston College for a week to study before getting back to ministry in August. Yet, in the midst of much activity, I've found the time to write a new column for the Global Sisters Report's Horizons column. The piece is entitled "Holding onto Hope in troubled times" was published on Friday and explores the difficult necessity of finding hope as the world faces tragedy, violence, and disunity at (what seems like) every turn. Hopefully, it speaks to your own experience as it draws off my own. Together, let's find hope in the trouble times and hold on to each other for buoyancy.
Pulling into the post office parking lot as I came off of
retreat, I stopped for a moment in the car. I thought to myself, The flags are
at half-staff again.
And for a moment, I couldn't remember why.
A laundry list of places streamed through my mind: Baton Rouge,
the Twin Cities, Orlando, Nice, Dallas, Baton Rouge (again), Istanbul ...
The names spun round and round in my head, and yet, I
guiltily admitted to myself, I couldn't place the reason why the flags in front
of me hung in mourning. At some point, I had to turn the news off; I had
unplugged in exchange for my sanity and my soul.
Hope, it seemed, needed help floating. Perhaps that's what
we all need in the darkest of times: flotation devices.
As the new year began in 2014, Pope Francis departed from
his prepared remarks about creating community and ending violence in the world
to ask, "What is happening in the heart of humanity?"
Without missing a beat, he answered that question with a
simple imperative statement: "It is time to stop."
As the 24-hour news cycle continues and reports of violence
flourish, it's hard to imagine that stopping is an option. How do you possibly
counteract hate? How do you stop violence? How do you heal the heart of humanity?
Faith, hope and love: These are the only viable answers.
These are the virtues that dive deep into the heart of God and draw directly
from the one who made us. Love may be the greatest of all these virtues, but
truly, no one virtue can exist without the others. Love begets faith, which
begets hope, and vice versa.
We love because God first loved us. We believe because love
has been revealed to us in one way or another. And we have hope because current
and past experiences of faith and love inherently foster a future full of hope.
In the simplest terms, the heart of humanity is found in faith, hope and love.
If we believe that, then anything — even stopping the current cycle of tragedy
and violence — is a possibility.
That's all I could think of as I watched individuals join
hands along the length of Hope Memorial
Bridge in Cleveland on the eve of the
Republican National Convention this past weekend. They came together to
"Circle the City with Love," a founding principle of the Sisters of
St. Joseph, who organized the event.
There, on that bridge, thousands of people stood in silence
for 30 minutes to witness to the power of love. In the process, they gave a
glimmer of hope by not only showing the love present in their city, but by
revealing love at the heart of humanity. They stopped and, for a moment, the
heart of humanity beat brighter.
In much the same way, NETWORK's Nuns on the Bus have been
traversing the country since July 11, speaking to the ways we must mend the
gaps in our society. Each stop of the bus offers another moment of healing, a
pause for grace, for faith, for hope, and for love to enter the world. The
stories shared at each stop are glimpses into the shared humanity we hold.
Together, we can overcome hatred and apathy; we can grow in awareness and
foster community. The first step, though, is to see the gap so we can mend it.
Those gaps can be anywhere: in our social service systems
and our everyday relationships with one another, in the divides we realize and
in those we have yet to become fully aware of. The recognition that these
divisions exist is the first step of many to creating union in our world.
Seeking such unity moves far beyond this moment in time and
recent "newsworthy" events. It calls us to recognize the many injustices
that exist in the world, to bring hope and change beyond the headlines. It
challenges me to recognize my role in labor trafficking, to face the fact that
my food might not be fairly produced, and to call upon myself and the
corporations I patronize to embrace just labor practices. It means praying for
peace personally and with others. It means joining the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers in a national boycott of Wendy's restaurants, calling elected officials
about immigration reform, and working to minimize my carbon footprint in all
areas of my life.
And in all of these actions, hope is alive, working toward a
better tomorrow by believing in and loving today.
Perhaps that is the greatest challenge: keeping hope alive
in the small things so that no matter how daunting a moment seems, the darkness
can never overtake the light.
Hope, then, floats above tragedy, above violence, and above
grief and mourning. Hope sustains us and allows us to see more clearly, no
matter how blurry the signs of the times might seem. When read with eyes of
hope, faith and love, the signs of the times can be transformed from tragically
daunting to utterly inspiring... Continue reading the rest here.
As summer kicks into full gear and as I look forward to my annual retreat, it seems fitting that I would share my latest reflection from the Global Sisters Report, an article entitled "The Cost of Being Here." May it meet you where you're at and as these days of rest kick in may you settle into the loving embrace of God.
Only two weeks into my summer vacation, I've hit a snag.
The past few weeks, at the college where I minister, have been full of activity. Like a blur, finals, commencements, dinners, evaluations, graduations, service trips, goodbyes, and planning sessions for the year ahead have come and gone. And after months of going at breakneck speed, I paused to rest . . . and found I couldn't.
Whether you work in a school setting or not, summer offers a welcome respite. As the weather warms, minds wander to thoughts of vacation. And perhaps, if you're lucky, the season brings with it the opportunity for a change of pace and ultimately some rest.
That's what I had hoped for as I waved goodbye to the last student departing after our final week-long service-immersion trip of the semester.
Walking back to my office, I felt the frenetic pace of the semester give way to a feeling of exhaustion. The adrenaline that seemed to have been fueling me dried up, and suddenly all I wanted to do was rest. The frantic pace of life had exacted a certain toll on my body and soul; after a few good nights of sleep, I found myself feeling more refreshed, yet, the deep desire within me to rest felt unfulfilled.
Even though my days were less filled, I still seemed to be rushing around. When I sat to reflect, I felt like my body was still in motion as if I'd stopped after a long day's journey only to discover that the road was moving beneath me.
It seemed my mind was still set in the mode of accomplishing things. Whether I was catching up on reading or going for a walk, the pace I kept was still just as fast as during the semester. And even though it was what I knew I needed, the last thing that I wanted to do was stop.
As a result, I just felt more tired. Finally, I convinced myself to sit longer than I had let myself before. No distractions, no goals, no desire except to stop and be here. I resisted for the first 20 minutes. My mind swore that there were things I could be doing. It darted like a child overtired and hanging on to the last semblance of energy before crashing. I thought about the future, about the things I needed to get done and about the things I'd already forgotten to do.
Finally, the racing stopped and there I was in the quiet. Why is just being here so difficult? I wondered. The response to my question came quickly from within: because being here is costly.
Taken aback, I stayed with that response. What was the cost of being here in this moment?
Being here meant that I wasn't somewhere else. To my mind programmed by the semester to keep on going that seemed like a pretty steep price. The cost of being here is the loss of the opportunity to be somewhere else. It's a forfeiture of the chance "to do" in exchange for the opportunity to actively "be." In many ways, it's a trade-off that doesn't make sense to modern sensibilities. I knew there were messages waiting for me on my phone; that for all the times I'd said I needed a break, I had not meant to stop and actively reflect on where I was. I wanted time to mindlessly be and yet, when I got that, it left me feeling unfulfilled.
I knew that feeling well, it sat somewhere near the roots of my call to religious life — that feeling of wanting more, of being unsatisfied, of longing for something deeper.
I must admit, there are moments that that desire is not met, that I find my soul's longing deeply wanting. The question is how do I find rest in those moments?
Feeling my mind scramble for activity as my heart relished being in the here and now, I recognized the cost of being here. It meant denying the desire to be busy for something far less exciting and far more important — rest in God.
That's the kind of rest we as humans struggle with and we as women religious, in particular, are challenged by on a regular basis.
I am not what I do.
A sister I deeply respect once told me never to say no to an opportunity to do more. In order to be here and now, though, you have to be able to make space. You can't be completely given to a ministry (no matter how good or pressing it is); you have to allow for a space to stop and let God speak. In that moment and place, God could very easily bring ministry to the forefront, but it is the act of relinquishing control that is the true cost of being still for a moment.
Our ministry, after all, is not judged by the exhaustion we feel or the rest we don't take; it is measured by the lives we touch. And we are only able to touch lives as far as we are in touch with the One who calls us to service. Without rest, what we do is a wash. Who we are becomes caught up in what we do, not whose we are, in the here and now.
Recently, as I was writing, I noticed something repetitive about the phrases I was using. The word "seem" was making frequent appearances in the piece I was composing. The first time I used it, the word provided a good turn of phrase. The second time, it did the same. The third time I took note of its presence and then, by the fifth or sixth use I wondered why I seemed to be qualifying everything I was saying.
A quick glance at the dictionary revealed what I had already internalized. Seem (sēm/)verb meaning to "give the impression or sensation of being something or having a particular quality."
A note below the definition said "used to make a statement or description of one's thoughts, feelings, or actions less assertive or forceful." Why was I softening the words I was writing?
I thought about the topic I was covering. It hadn't come easy. Instead of the natural process of waiting for inspiration to come, I had had to cajole the article from its place deep within me. I knew it would work, but it was a matter of making it come out naturally as if it hadn't been forced to work. In the end, I was pleased by the results and struck by what it taught me about my creative process.
After weeks of hard work and a busy schedule, the piece I was working on stood as a final hurdle before a true break could come. Whether I was doing so intentionally or not, my writing voice conveyed a sense of doubt and reticence. I was seeking clarity as much on paper as in my own being. All I could do to draw forth my truth as I knew it in the moment. Perhaps, that is where the "seem" came from.
Pausing as I wrote, I would pray and wait. It is in the silence of my heart and being that ideas make themselves manifest. The time and patience required is the nature of my process. What comes has the feel of an emerging creation, which I give thanks for whenever I have the privilege of working it out.
Putting the final words on the page, I smiled. A weight was lifted and I could go forth to rest and relax... to allow the renewal which creation feeds off of. This doesn't just seem to be the case; it is the case. In that space, new life can emerge. That new life brings a hope that is so exhilarating that I can't help but give thanks for what has been created and the process of creation. It is a secret beauty that renews my soul and before I can qualify this process I think of what might come next, reveling in what has been and hoping that these gifts given by God will continue to give abundantly into the future. That is my hope and so far, it seems to be working.
The accounts of a now thirty-something trying to discover who she is and who she's meant to be through a life well lived... I am a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia in temporary profession, learning to live the life I love and growing in my love of God and neighbor each and every day.