Friday, January 15, 2021

What would St. Dominic advise?

As a house, we are currently studying St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar by Donald J. Goergen, OP.  In the most recent chapter we read, Fr. Donald writes:

        There is naturally the question of what to do with disappointment in order to avoid the
                road to cynicism, for it is not a question of whether we will be disappointed in life, but
                rather how we address it.  This challenge will be either the beginning or the end of a
                profound spiritual journey.    

One of the reasons this quote stood out to me is because St. Dominic is known as the joyful friar.  Given this fact, I have a feeling there is a lot St. Dominic taught the people he interacted with about what it means to gracefully, and joyfully, handle disappointment.  This leads me to a question I will never be able to have a direct answer to, but is still fun to ponder: What advice would St. Dominic have for us novices who are living a canonical novitiate experience that looks very different than it is designed to be?  With ministry, the Intercommunity Novitiate (ICN), and Catholic Theological Union classes all being virtual and with itinerancy experiences being stifled by an inability to safely visit different mother houses or head to Racine for long weekends with our ICN peers, there has been a lot of letting go that has needed to happen this year. 

One of the first pieces of advice I have a feeling the joyful friar might have for us is perspective.  Perspective helps me see where my suffering fits within the context of the rest of the world.  For example, in a recent Zoom class on contemporary issues in/and religious life, we talked about the reality of the different connections someone might have during a traumatic event (the one experiencing the trauma, being a family member of the person going through the traumatic event, being their coworker, etc).  The reality is, my situation is very disconnected from the ways many others, including those who have sadly lost a loved one to COVID or who are directly caring for COVID patients, are experiencing this pandemic (putting them more at the center of the battle than me).  With this perspective, I am better equipped to pray for the needs of the world while also carrying my own disappointments.  I have a feeling St. Dominic would also remind us that gratitude helps a great deal with keeping things in perspective and staying joyful.  

This leads me to the next piece of advice St. Dominic might have for us: lean on the hope Jesus gives in the midst of suffering.  As our conversation came to an end, I have a feeling St. Dominic’s last piece of advice would be very specific to the realities carrying disappointment as a canonical novice: this year is about interior work and discernment, take advantage of the increased level of quiet that comes with less time with others to get to know God and ourselves better.  Dominicans are called to contemplate and then share the fruits of our contemplation after all, and it’s hard to share the fruits without first taking the time to contemplate.  

If you had a chance to sit down with St. Dominic and talk about a current situation in your life, what advice do you think the joyful friar would have for you?    

This picture of St. Dominic hangs at the bottom of the stairs in our house.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Christmas Letters, Love and Light

Letter-writing has connected Christian communities across geographical distances since the first and second centuries. The early church relied on circular letters to communicate, support one another during persecution, and strengthen bonds of friendship. Like first-generation Christians dispersed throughout Asia Minor, we at the CDN wrote and received many letters this past December as we celebrated the Advent and Christmas seasons in Chicago. Ordinarily, the novices and directors would return to their home congregations for the holidays; however, given the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to stay in place – an act of solidarity with our Sisters in motherhouses and on mission who were unable to travel or visit family because of the virus.

Our tree on Christmas Eve

No social-distancing could separate us from the love of our Dominican and Maryknoll family. As soon as word went out that we would remain in Chicago, cards and packages began to pour in. Some contributed decorations, like the stockings with blinking lights that could not be turned off.


CDN Community before Christmas Mass

Others wrapped gifts to put under our tree. Many sent delicious baked goods and popcorn. 


Donning festive socks by the fire


Never have I so appreciated the beauty of Christmas cards. Their artwork helps us recognize where we encounter the Christ child in our world today: among refugee and migrant families, in the face of children born into poverty, in the arms of single mothers and adoptive fathers. Their messages of hope announce to us the Good News that God dwells among us—hope we needed, this year especially, as we mourned members of our congregations lost to the ravages of COVID-19. Handwritten notes of encouragement from Sisters and Associates near and far lifted our spirits. Their words of love strengthened our hearts during those darkest of year-end days, not unlike the Catholic Epistles must have affected the earliest Christians in times of trial. We give thanks for these expressions of care and affection, knowing that we are enfolded in prayer. 


We entered into the New Year with a double birthday celebration. Both Faithmary and I were born on the first of January, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and World Day of Peace. I reflected anew on the gift of our house community, where we commit ourselves daily to following Jesus’ command, “Love one another.” Out of love, the directors baked two birthday cakes!


Faithmary blows out the candles on her birthday. 

This year, life handed us lemons, so we made lemon cake.


Faithmary dances in the Southern caramel cake as Cathy sings with enthusiasm


Yet our joy turned to lament this week after the despicable attack on the U.S. Capital. Last Wednesday, this country witnessed the ugly violence borne of lies and hatred. Amidst the shock and anger I feel, I am simultaneously grateful for my vocation. I am glad to be among women religious who do not turn away from the reality of sin and idolatry. Into this reality, we are called to bring the light of Christ and the love that overwhelms evil with good. Our mission, as Dominican and Maryknoll Sisters, is to seek Truth and make God’s love visible. Together we will discern how the Spirit is leading us to build peace in our time. As 2021 begins, we commit ourselves anew to contemplation and discernment, always seeking to be transformed by God so that we can, in turn, help transform our world.


Christ’s Light illuminates our house chapel, radiating peace

Friday, December 18, 2020

Christmas, Veritas, and Competition

Growing up, one of my favorite days of the year was the day after Thanksgiving.  For many, the day after Thanksgiving is exciting because they love to shop ‘till they drop on Black Friday.  Now, despite not being a big shopper, I did always look forward to getting out of the house to see what was in the stores and always hoped we would see some family members while out and about.  The main reason I always looked forward to the day after Thanksgiving, however, was because my mom, aunt, cousin (and sometimes others) would often go to a small, outdoor zoo that always debuts their Christmas lights display the day after Thanksgiving.  And, what can be more fun than hot chocolate and colorful lights (in sync with music of course) breaking through the early darkness that comes with winter nights in Wisconsin?  



A picture from the zoo lights display I took in 2012.

This year, as I am in conversation with others about what it means to be a Dominican, I can’t help but notice the similarity between Christmas lights and the Dominican Cross.  The Dominican Cross is meant to symbolize the light of truth penetrating the darkness of this world.  For me, Christmas lights easily tie into this because the Christmas lights shining in the darkness remind me how God came to us as a baby to be the perfect light in the darkness of this world.


One of my Sisters gave this Dominican cross necklace to me
on the Feast of All Dominican Saints when I was a candidate.


Now, what does this have to do with competition?  You see, among the many things Dominicans are known for, two of them are Veritas (Truth) and Disputatio (a medieval practice where, when in debate with others, one focuses more on seeking the truth the other speaks than on proving the other person wrong).  What I appreciate about Disputatio is that it encourages those debating each other to set their ego aside for the sake of learning from those they are in conversation with.  For me, this practice is an excellent reminder that I am not the source of truth (Veritas); God, who is in all things, is. In a world that encourages an unhealthy level of competition (do kids really need to be competing for starting positions at such an early age in sports?) what a great opportunity Dominicans have, through Disputatio, to show the world it is always better to set aside one’s pride for the sake of truly listening, and being present, to those before us.  



A friendly game of Crokinole is the most
common way our competitive side comes out.



Sunday, December 13, 2020

What an inspiring orange!


my juicy orange
My juicy orange
As I sat enjoying my juicy orange the other day I was reminded the familiar taste many years ago, the sweet taste of homegrown oranges. When I was growing up in the countryside of the Rift Valley in Kenya, we grew oranges, pineapples, and avocados on our farm. As a child, it was easy for me to pick and peel oranges without any help, and that is how I ended up eating loads of them and became familiar with their sweet taste.  

The awakening of that sweet orange taste in my mouth got me reflecting on what taste really means. I saw taste can also be a way in which the presence of the divine becomes a reality through my experiences. The occasions in which I have tasted this love of God through my encounter with others flooded my mind. It became so real that the experience of belonging while I was growing up was a taste of the Spirit of God. As I continue to connect, honor, and listen to others, currently more through zoom, it gives me the most intimate experience of tasting the ever-present Divine in my life.

We read in Psalms 119:103 “How sweet to my tongue is your promise, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  I see God inviting me not to just know about Him in my mind, but also to taste God's goodness and faithfulness in my heart through the everyday events and encounters.

A self-made card sent to me
by Sr. Marion Puszcz after 
the inspiration of the Holy
Trinity during her prayers.
 
Life at CDN has its different flavors as well. I chose to focus on the flavor experienced through the care, and generosity of my Maryknoll and Dominican Sisters who take their time to send emails and cards reassuring of their prayerful support to the entire CDN community. I appreciate all the Christmas gifts that have been sent to us by various communities and individuals. It is through them that I continue to taste the flavor of God’s love and goodness which awakens gratitude within me.

This advent season invites me to reflect on how my life spices up the quality of lives of those I encounter.  Aware that I offer mixed flavors, I allow God to come and straighten the paths in my life and in my heart as I prepare for his coming.

 I am grateful for having this sense of taste and the ability to use it every day of my life. Sometimes I take the ability to taste, for granted. I can only imagine the experience of losing one of the senses especially through an illness like Covid 19. This moves me to prayers for those experiencing the loss of smell and taste through this pandemic.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Watching for Everyday Miracles

Advent has begun, and we are on the watch. In her preaching for the First Sunday of Advent, Cathy asked, “What are you hoping to see this Advent as you keep watch?” For me, the novitiate year sometimes feels like an extended Advent season, as I wait for signs that this time of formation is bearing fruit in personal growth and deeper communion with God, myself, and others. Remembering that even small gestures can offer confirmation, I attend to the day’s events, routine yet full of potential significance. I hope for greater freedom to love the world as God does. Watching for small signs of transformation requires patience, certainly, as well as hope.

Advent wreath before the altar in our House Chapel

 

Keeping watch reminds me of my morning runs along the Lakefront Trail. At mile 3, the path wraps around Promontory Point, a park that juts out from the shoreline. Every morning, people arrive there before dawn and sit along the rocky perimeter. Surrounded on three sides by water, they look out over Lake Michigan facing east. Some set up cameras. Quietly, they wait for sunrise. As the golden-red solar disk peeps over the horizon, I visualize the rounded surface of our Earth spinning toward its star. How is it that this daily event can be at once so ordinary and yet unfailingly marvelous? Every day the sun rises, and every day people wake to see its splendor. This consistency touched my heart in a special way the morning after Election Day in the U.S. As the nation waited restlessly for final ballot counts, the sun climbed up into the sky, an eye-dazzling miracle. All of us gathered there at the lake savored the moment together, thirsting for beauty and yearning for “a future full of hope” for our deeply divided society. The sun’s rising that day seemed to me a miraculous sign of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

 

I cherish these awesome yet ordinary sacraments of God’s presence. In the midst of our broken world, it can be challenging to see God’s hand at work, or even know where to look. Currently I volunteer at Kolbe House Jail Ministry, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s ministry to persons affected by incarceration. Ordinarily, Kolbe House focuses on caring for persons incarcerated in Cook County Jail; however, when COVID restrictions curtailed entry to the jail, the Kolbe House staff shifted their attention to accompanying people on early release. These clients must re-enter a society caught in the grips of pandemic. Upon their release from jail, they have the clothes they are wearing, ten dollars and a bus pass. They are assigned to a transitional housing unit that does not provide meals or bed linens. They have sixty days to obtain a government ID, find a job, and secure permanent housing. On top of these astounding obstacles, many of our clients need support for mental health or substance abuse. Enter Kolbe House. We meet clients’ immediate material need for clothing, food, and transportation and help connect them with resources for healthcare and housing. Above all, Kolbe House is committed to a ministry of presence, accompanying clients as they navigate this extremely challenging transition.

 

The stark need of clients suffering from compound trauma can be overwhelming. In a staff meeting some time ago, one of the directors described a set of particularly complicated situations concerning two clients: one in an untenable living situation, on the verge of homelessness and tempted to end it all; another with no official record or identifying documents, terrified of being returned to prison after having suffered violence inside. In both cases, the odds sounded nigh insurmountable. The staff hardly knew where to begin. Nevertheless, the director asserted that our team would give all we had to bring these individuals through their crises. “We care about every one of our clients, but these two have come to us completely broken human beings. We have to do everything we can to put them back together.” I listened in awe. Here was a true disciple of Jesus, proclaiming to two persons “with their backs against the wall” that they are beloved children of God. The director had total confidence that, even in these direst of circumstances, God would give these clients the strength to choose life. I felt profoundly aware that this is how God acts: making a preferential option for the most vulnerable sisters and brothers among us. As the Kolbe House staff regularly reminds me, we are called to do the same. The grace God provides to accomplish it is nothing short of miraculous.

 

I keep watch this Advent for God’s action here and now in our world. I look to the words and deeds of others around me who “make God’s love visible” – an everyday miracle.


Advent Waiting: What are you hoping to see this Advent?

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Photo Ops Take 3

Thanksgiving brought one of many celebrations which have happened this fall.  Here are some pictures of what we've been up to.  Have a blessed Advent!


Lorraine's Birthday


Halloween Visits



Cathy's Birthday


Thanksgiving














Saturday, November 21, 2020

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Each Sunday, one member of our community preaches during our evening prayer together.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, this is what I preached about for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary time, Cycle A.  The readings at Mass were: 

1st Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm: Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30 

Thanks for following our blog!
-Amanda


In today’s first reading, we heard: “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize (Prov. 31:11).”  In today’s Gospel, we heard, “‘A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them (Matt. 25:14).”

When you think about it, trust really is a strange thing.  People say it needs to be earned, yet we often trust people we have never met, based on a piece of paper, to cut our hair; fix our house; and take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual needs.  With trust, there is always some type of unknown.  You wouldn’t need to trust the person cutting your hair if you knew what the final product was going to be before it was done, and you wouldn’t need to trust someone to keep their word if you could look to the future to see if they actually did.  When you think about it, the same is true with God.  If God showed us all of the ways He was going to take care of us and lead us to Heaven, we wouldn’t need to place our trust in Him.  The funny thing about God is He does see the whole picture, including every mistake we’re going to make, yet God trusts us with the unique tasks He has created each of us to carry out.

A Sunday readings podcast called The Lanky Guys, run by a theology professor and priest in Denver, CO, dives deeper into the ways today’s Gospel teaches us about the radical trust we are called to have in God.  In their discussion, they point out how the two servants who were rewarded were not praised for how much they produced, but for their faithfulness to the task entrusted to them.  On the flip side, they talk about how fear is what motivates the servant who is rebuked for burying the talent given to him.  One of my favorite parts of their discussion is when they talked about how a life lived in unhealthy fear is a life half lived, but a life lived in trust of God is a life full of reverence of God and striving to make God proud out of the healthy fear of not wanting to let God down.  People often experience this type of healthy fear if they don’t want to let down a parent, friend, teacher, or mentor.  The two men go on to talk about how, when we live out of the healthy fear of God, everything just falls into place.

Now, as we all know from discernment, trying to figure out what God is inviting us to trust Him with often involves patiently waiting and letting God come to us.  This can feel like a serious dying to self in our modern world full of Google, microwaves, and two-day shipping; we, or at least I, want everything to fall into place NOW!  As we near the end of the liturgical year and approach Advent, what talents, what pieces of your heart, is God inviting you to give to Him?  Or, just as the master entrusted his talents to his servants, what is God asking you to receive so He can entrust it to you? The answer to both of these questions may be hard to hear, but each answer can also be an important step in growing in our understanding of who God is and who He created us to be.  And, as the Gospel today shows us, if we receive what the Lord is inviting us to, we will get to share in our Master’s joy!