This is a day that was three hundred sixty-five years in the making. That's right....years not days. And yet those two things aren't too far off the mark of each other.
October 15th marks the Founders' Day of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. It is on this day that the international family of Joseph celebrates the foundation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1650 by six young women compelled by the Spirit and led by a charismatic Jesuit priest. Three hundred and sixty-five years ago, this group came together- an amalgamation of differences, an experiment in diversity, and a courageous foray into unity with God and neighbor without distinction.
With all this in mind, I sat in the chapel of our mother house in Philadelphia this afternoon to celebrate with my community, both my sisters and the partners in mission and students I work with on a daily basis. In a certain strange way, you could say that courageous foray into unity continues to this very day. Sitting in the chapel I marveled at the power of 365. Three hundred and sixty-five years ago, a group came together that would change the course of countless lives. There's no way that those first six women could see what the year ahead held, let alone what the next 365 would. I don't know if they thought anything would come of this Little Design beyond their own measure and good work and yet they believed and strove to live genuine lives of faith. And that, I reflected as I looked up at the star strewn ceiling of the chapel, made all the difference.
Those women couldn't have known what awaited them. They might not have even realized the way the commitments they were making would transform their lives. I'm almost certain that they didn't think the risk they took then would create change in my own life now. How could they? And yet, they put one foot in front of the other and in time came to a place far beyond themselves.
In a way, they accomplished everything they gave themselves to in a manner a thousand times greater. All without recognition and without assumption, simply with faith, longing, and humility. All these years later, I can't help but hope that I can offer myself in the same way; sitting in that chapel today beside the students I work with on a daily basis, I couldn't help but hope the same for them too.
In just a year's time, they will be different. I know that I am. A year ago, I sat in those pews overwhelmed by transition and staring at the spot in that chapel where I'd made vows just a few short months before. I knew I didn't feel how I wanted to, but I also didn't know how to fix that. That's a lonely place to be.
I left that space 365 days ago with more questions than answers. The last 365 days have been about waking up each morning and trying to live the answers to those questions... the why's and how's and what's of life. I don't know if I can say I have concrete responses to many of those queries but I do have 365 days of experience.
Listening to one of my sisters offer a reflection on scripture and the call to never settle, I recalled a line from our grounding documents: Each day we make a new beginning in this Little Institute.
That's as much as I can do, as far as I am able. That is perhaps the greatest lesson of the past year- that everyday is a new beginning.
I may not know what tomorrow brings but I didn't know what today held until I lived it. More important than knowing is choosing. This life after all is a choice. Every moment of every day. I chose to let gratitude overcome grief at some point in the last 365 days; I tried to let go of my ego to let me be myself in the freest way possible. Some days have been better than others. Every day though is an option for grace and gift.
That's what those women opted into 365 years ago and it's what I chose to live and give myself to today... in the hope that the next 365 days will bring as much growth and grace as I can handle and I can chose to engage for the betterment of my self, my God, and the world.
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.
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.
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?