Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Changing Call

Over the last year, I've come to the realization that my call to religious life has changed. It isn't gone, but it is distinctly different. In my latest column for the Global Sisters Report, I try to explain the nature of this change. I don't think it's just me either...it's the nature of call.  For our church, our society, and each one of us, our call is changing. Recognizing that is the first step in more consciously living out our call. Below is the first part of the column with a link to it in its entirety. Enjoy!
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There’s a tightness in my chest that is hard to explain. I can’t remember when it first started or on what occasion it became noticeable. In a way, it feels like it has always been there, loosening and tightening over time. Like a band wrapped tightly around my chest, it binds up my heart; not in a painful way but as a steadfast reminder of a presence deeper than myself. In simplest terms, it’s the feeling I get when I find myself deep in prayer. And for good or for ill, it’s also what I’ve come to associate with call.

A friend once told me, she’d considered religious life and could see herself becoming a sister except for one small thing: the call.  “I can do the apostolic works, the study, the community, but I don’t know if I know what it means to be called” she said, “is it a voice or a feeling or what?”

That’s a hard question to answer. God speaks differently to different people. (My friend would also take issue, I’m sure, with what it means to “hear God’s call” on grounds that call is something far beyond a momentary utterance.)  For me, though, there’s a deep sense of serenity, a steadfast groundedness that signifies that sense of being called.

For a long time, I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. In prayer, in writing, in service, in reflection, and in conversations, it would surface. It came and went freely; yet it stayed present enough in my muscle memory that I could never forget it.  I recall times as I was discerning religious life that I actively ran from that feeling and yet each time it came, I knew I was in the right place.

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Sitting across from my formation director a few weeks ago, I panicked: that feeling was missing.  It had been for months and as I looked back at my first year as a professed woman religious, I wondered what might be happening.

At the end of a year heavy in transition, I knew that feeling wasn’t gone, yet in the moment I couldn’t exactly feel it.  God has had a firm hold on me, but the tightness I cherish has been intermittent.  “My call has changed.” I stammered out to my director. 

What I thought this year might be, it wasn’t. My call to religious life felt different than I thought it would. And to my dismay and delight, I’ve discovered this is a changing call.

And that’s the thing about call: you answer the call awesomely unaware of where it will lead you and all it will drag you through.  This almost always guarantees that life and call will feel different than you thought they would.  The answer isn’t to run, though, it’s to keep discerning.

My sense of God’s call has shifted. The white hot lightning of initial fervor has cooled, making way for a tempered tension, reliant on prayer, reflection, and balance. Passion percolates with nuance in a way that’s become more apparent in the months and years since I first answered the call to religious life. I’ve come to realize that what I feel called to hasn’t changed, how I feel called, though, has. 

In time, part of this call has become more apparent: being called is about recognizing a need and filling it.  That need is not just in the world, it’s also in yourself.  I need to be here. Not because my religious congregation needs me, but because in order to live the life I am called to- a life dedicated to Jesus- I need to live my life for now as a religious sister.  This need is one that has been underscored over time.  If I hadn’t met God in a very real and tangible way in my life would I still be here?  If this way of life didn’t allow me to foster and focus on that relationship, would I remain? Probably not.  I need to be bound up in love; in a tightness that frees me by holding me close in a world of risk, uncertainty, and instability.

In the day-to-day, holding firm and staying focused explicitly on call can be difficult. What we are called to is embodied in how we live and who we are. Day-to-day life tempers idealism, draws us into relationship with the world and others, and changes the way we understand call. If call means living, it is the life we live that influences the way we hear the call, melding together the theoretical and the actual in what we hope is harmony.

In that way, we come to realize that the call is not something that is answered once and for all. The call requires living. And such a requirement is sure to be messy.  Living the call presents surprising changes to our lives. We are changed in the process of answering.  “What you want me to do”; “who you want me to be”; and “what I actually know” become questions relative to a call that leads ultimately and primarily to Christ.

So, how do I know this call is the same despite its new feel? I know it because I feel it in the same place even if in a different way.  Like a foreign touch that produces a familiar sensation, it is a changing call that tightens the heart as an act of constriction, not restriction.  Thus the heart beats, bringing life, growth, and strength to the body as it is stretched in new ways of listening to and living out the call every day.

Such growth comes from openness to the Spirit.  We change in the act of answering the call, becoming, in the process, more authentically who God has called us to be.  This process is one of renewal and reawakening. With intention and the Spirit, we come to hear in a new way, live in a new way, and love God in new ways. 


And I can’t help but think that this changing call is not just on an individual level.  As a church, as religious communities, and as the People of God, our call is changing too.  We are called to love and to live the Gospel. And so, the same question proceeds- not what are we called to do, that’s constant, but- how we are being called to do so...  



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Be Generous.

I have been away these past few days at the national conference for the Association of Colleges of the Sisters of Saint Joseph (ACSSJ) at Elms College in Chicopee, MA. Yet today as I sat in sessions about how we might refocus our mission, how we can learn from the Second Vatican Council, and how we work with dysfunction and allow the Spirit to flow in all things, I am struck by a sentiment that rings true in the midst of all that this day has held.  From the release of the Pope's latest encyclical to the tragic shooting in Charleston, one feeling...one imperative strikes me: Be generous.

Beyond all else, let us be generous to one another. Let us lavish love upon those who deserve it and those we might not think do. Why? Because that isn't our call. For all that frustrates us, let there be a spirit of generosity that lives within us.  Let us give to others, for in giving generously, we receive generously.  Where you doubt others or yourself, have faith... give freely... try to find hope where all else points to hopelessness.

That can be hard and still we try.

Sitting in a workshop this morning, the presenter said something that struck me. He quoted part of Pope John XXIII's first encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram, which falsely attributes this quote to Augustine: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." 


And reading this quote he stated simply- the worst thing we can do in creating dialogue and relationship is to sin against charity.  We must give fully to the one in front of us.  This doesn't mean ignoring what is but instead it means offering a openness and sincerity in consideration and love for the one you are in relationship with.  We share the essentials of our being and life; we allow others to be in what is not essential; and in coming to discover all that is in between we offer charity of Spirit and being. 

Be Generous; Love Freely; Practice Charity; and sanctity will flourish.

 Amen.