Friday, December 28, 2012

Mary and Elizabeth: Looking to the Future Together

My housemates and I at the Disney Store
before going to see Once.
The past few weeks have been a great time of reconnecting with Sisters in my own Congregation.  I've had the opportunity to visit friends and attend pre- and post-Christmas celebrations.  As a local community, we went to Manhattan to see the Broadway musical, "Once."  

The Crazy Christmas display in the Bronx.
I presented what the novitiate experience was like to our Sisters in our infirmary.  I've had good conversations over meals with several of my Sisters.  I went with Sisters from several Congregations and the Dominican Volunteers living in the Bronx to see the lights on Pelham Parkway.  (Yes, this is one of the sites that was featured on TLC's Crazy Christmas Lights).  

Rockefeller Center Tree
With one of our elder Sisters, I watched an elementary school Christmas Program at St. Anthony School, which is staffed by Dominicans from Blauvelt and Sparkill.  

And, I spent the day walking with a friend to many of the tourist sites in Manhattan while discussing our hopes for the future of the Congregation. 

At our Chapter in 2011, my Congregation decided that they would do what they could to create an "Enduring Future."  This year, I was invited to preach at our Advent Reflection Series the Wednesday before Christmas.  I'm sharing the text of that preaching with you, as I think we, as the Dominican Order, are working to create an Enduring Future together.  

Jenn Schaaf, Sisters of St. Dominic, Blauvelt, NY

The Visitation by Fra Angelico, Dominican

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,the infant leaped in her womb,and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

"Blessed are you among women,
And how does this happen to me,
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

The Good News of our God.

For the last several years, when I logged into Facebook, most of the pictures posted by my cousins or college friends have been of their pregnant bellies or little children.  The faces of mothers glowing…  Other young mothers asked questions about how to deal with the terrible two’s, where to get cheap diapers, or what to do with a baby that cries all the time.  As much as I wish I could, I can’t offer great advice.  I don’t have the experience of being pregnant.  And, aside from volunteering at Children’s Hospital these last few months or babysitting jobs in high school, I haven’t had to worry about getting a cranky child to sleep.

In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Both became pregnant through unusual circumstances.  Mary is too young and Elizabeth is too old to have a child.  Both were going through a new experience and sought each other out for companionship.  When the two were together, they were so connected that even John realized it in Elizabeth’s womb.  God was evident in and through their relationship.  Both Mary and Elizabeth, in the same situation, bringing new life to birth, needed the friendship of the other to share her concerns. 

I’ve spent the past four months with others who were in the same situation as myself.  Within the novitiate, most of us are the youngest in our community – the Mary’s in the group.  In the inter-community novitiate, this is even more true.  We were all away from our Congregation or Province, with people we knew and respected.   We worked on making new friends, while discerning religious life in general, and with our Congregation in particular.  We were able to discuss joys and concerns in ways we may not be able to with other members who have been in the Congregation for a long time, even though we love them dearly.  Together we shared the experience of entering religious life at a time our institutions are being questioned by the Vatican, not to mention society in general.  In the novitiate, we processed this with our directors – Joye and Megan, who were our Elizabeth’s.  As novices we share the experience of entering dying institutions, looking for ways we can be part of them… and bring them to new life.  Joye and Megan have lived through times of questioning and struggle in religious life.  For Joye, that meant leading her Congregation to join with others to become part of the Dominicans of Peace.  Like Mary and Elizabeth, we need each other’s companionship in the Novitiate… as well as in this Congregation and with our companions in ministry.  This is especially true as we figure out what our Enduring Future may be.  Those of us who are Mary’s will be carrying out the future that the Elizabeth’s brought into being.

I’m sure each of you can think of a time when you sought out others who were going through the same experience as you – or who had recently gone through the same thing.  Maybe it was your first teaching assignment, when you went back to school, when you entered the Congregation, when you began a new job or ministry, or when you first got married.  The mentoring of someone who had just a little more experience probably made all the difference to your feeling comfortable, successful and secure in your identity.

Elizabeth was pregnant for six months before Mary.  Maybe she had insights she could share with Mary.  Maybe she had tips about morning sickness or how to balance household expectations with the experience of tiredness that comes with pregnancy.

Who are the companions we need to seek out – those that are filled with God’s presence?  Who can assist the Congregation with the process of birthing new life – of creating an Enduring Future for the Dominican Order, not just our Congregation?  Who can assist us in birthing Jesus in our world, one that so needs peace, love and joy?

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