Friday, December 27, 2013

The Meaning of Christmas

"I think that I shall never see,
a poem lovely as a tree..."

I used this poem in a preaching I gave from the reading in Isaiah regarding the stump of Jesse for my congregation in Columbus, OH. The deep rootedness of the tree of Jesse gives rise to a sprout who we have named 'Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace'. What we are given at Christmas is the entire universe made manifest in one human being. Who can begin to comprehend that?  Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Who can understand that the entire universe has been gifted by God to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear?

As I have spent these last few weeks away from the Novitiate in St. Louis, it has become clearer and clearer what a gift the canonical year thus far has been. As Kathy noted last week, there is so much to be grateful about.  Where else would I be able to spend a full year discerning, reflecting, learning, becoming more and more aware of God's great love for me, for us? Although it can be traumatic to learn just how inadequate I am in some areas of my life, it is also exhilarating to discover gifts I never knew I had!!  And to be enveloped by the warm, welcoming, hospitality and love of these Sisters of Peace is an enormous gift that each human being in the world should have an experience of at least once in their lifetime. It helps me to understand what it means to be human and to be the beloved of God.

So in this season of Christmas, I wish you the gift of Christmas, a newborn child, containing within himself the entire universe, to be given away for you and for me.

"...Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree."

Friday, December 6, 2013

My End of Year Top Ten List

As Christmas break fast approaches and we prepare to head off to our Motherhouses, we novices have been reflecting on what we have learned and how we have changed since coming to the CDN in August.  So, here is my version of David Letterman’s Top Ten List of “What I Believe and/or What I Have Learned”.  This list is certainly not exhaustive…

 10) I believe “letting go” … of things, of habits, of behaviors … does not mean letting go of responsibility for my thoughts, emotions or actions.  In the
       same vein, I believe that I will never be open to new possibilities if I approach them
       with clenched fists.
   9) I have learned that St. Catharine, Kentucky, and Springfield and River Forest, Illinois are gorgeous places where beautiful and unbelievably hospitable women and men work and reside.     
             8) I believe chocolate really is one way God let’s us know we are loved. I have also been told and have come to believe that because chocolate is made from a bean, which grows on a tree, it must be a vegetable and is, therefore, good for you. So bring it on.
7) I have learned that living in a diverse community of intelligent, loving women has
    enriched my life in ways I never expected. 
6) I believe that being a risk taker in the most positive sense of the term can open windows
    and doors to unbelievable opportunities, people and experiences.  And I am so grateful
    for every single one of every single one of them.
5) I have learned that when I am willing to take a leap of faith, I will either be taught to fly 
    or will be caught by God in my fall.
4) I believe in the power of affirmation and in the grace of gratitude.
    I believe there is no limit to how big one’s heart can grow.
3) I am learning what it means to be Dominican and what exactly that means in the context of   
    living the vows of obedience, celibacy, and poverty/simplicity.
2) I am learning how to preach but I am also learning that our most  powerful preaching is 
    done by example, in how we live our lives.
1) Number One Belief:  We are loved by God beyond our wildest imagination and we have 
    been loved and held up by all of you “out there”.  We are so extremely grateful for that love 
    and support. Peace and Blessings to each of you during this holy season of Advent!
Now tell me, what would your Top Ten list of learnings/beliefs include?




Sunday, November 24, 2013

12 Years A Slave - A Theological Reflection & Preaching

The movie 12 Years A Slave was recommended by my spiritual director, a wise, learned, and deeply spiritual Dominican Sister, who suggested that I look specifically for the points of grace in the movie. I saw it with a couple of fellow novices, one a Dominican like myself, and the other a Franciscan. The setting of the movie was the time of slavery in the US. It recounts the experience of a free, educated Black man from the North who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. There he endured 12 brutal and degrading years under two different masters, until finally a sympathetic White man took the risk of contacting someone from the North who could vouch for his free status and take him back home to his family.
At one point in the movie I wept so hard that I had to stifle the sound of my cries with my scarf. One of his fellow slaves, driven to complete despair, had begged him to kill her, which he refused to do. She assured him that he would not go to hell for slaying her because it was merciful, and God Himself was merciful, but he remained unconvinced. [SPOILER ALERT! Later on he was forced by the master to beat her with a whip, which he did, because he was placed in a no-win situation.] Then the most difficult moment: lying face-down at a table and screaming in pain while the wounds on her back were being treated, she gazed up at him, her eyes revealing the hideous torment that she carried in her very soul.

In my time in the novitiate, I have come to an acute awareness of something profound and true about myself: that in my heart I carry all the seeds necessary to have become any one of the people in the story, given the right circumstances - the amoral, the despicable, the victimized, the hopeless, the one paralyzed by self-interest, the sympathetic, and the courageous. I think we all do, whether or not we would like to admit it. We are made by God with a vast capacity for both good and evil. And there but for the grace of God are we not led into great temptation, for we are weak and feeble against it. And should evil have knocked at our door and we gave in to it, as it did the torturous slave masters in the story, would we even be aware of it, except to see the result of our actions or inactions looking back at us in the eyes of those we have hurt?
There is a climactic moment too in the Gospel of John, which helps me to hold both the reality of the cruelty that we are capable of and God’s immutable and immeasurable love. In John 17, Jesus prays to God out loud, right before He willingly enters into His Passion. He prays on behalf of His followers for God to protect them in the Name He had given them, to consecrate them in truth, and to protect them from the evil one, so that they may be gathered and united in the love that God has had for Jesus since before the foundation of the world. For me, Jesus’ mission and vision statements are contained in this prayer. Love is hard, but choose it anyway; the point is for everyone to grow in love.

In the story, God was paradoxically present to the slaves and protecting them in that even while they were being tortured and debased, they did not lose all hope. All of the slaves, as well as those sympathetic to the abolition of slavery, were consecrated and remained steadfast in the truth of their dignity and right to freedom. And yes, it took a long time and many were the casualties, but freedom eventually prevailed. These are the points of grace. No one but God, Who is the source of them, can take them away.
How does this apply to our lives today? Are we able to see the truth of when we oppress and when we are oppressed? Do we look carefully into the eyes of those who are marginalized, find mercy in our hearts, and have the courage to help them and those who seek to overturn the systems that put them in the margins to begin with? Do we speak the truth to our oppressors with courageous, compassionate, and steadfast hearts? Do we participate fully in an arduous love that gathers and unites us as one or do we sit in the sidelines and let injustices continue? In this beautiful world that is at times difficult to live in, can we get in touch with, and live out of, the points of grace in our own lives?...for surely, that is where love comes from.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

To contemplate and share the fruit of contemplation…

Katy touched up a bit on the study in her blog: "The Pillars of life." So, by now, you know that study is one of the Dominican four pillars (if you don’t know, I invite you to read about it to catch up.)

I would like to continue to play with the thought of study and where we go from there.

If one would need to picture a Dominican, what would one do?

If you Google "Dominican" you'll see many pictures, first maps of the Dominican Republic, but later the religious content comes up, too. Moving away from the black and white colors and the dog with the torch in its mouth, what is it that characterizes a Dominican?

How would you draw a picture that would be common in many Dominicans?
Something common about what St. Dominic did long time ago and what Dominicans do today is, that Dominicans
  • study the Word for personal relationship, knowledge of God and that it might influence the culture,
  • and study the culture of our days.

So, for many, the picture is easy: it would be a person with a Bible (studying the Word of God) in one hand and a newsletter or iPad (studying the culture of our days) in the other hand.

Why study?
The book of Proverbs says that “then you will understand what is right and just, what is fair, every good path; for wisdom will enter your heart, knowledge will be at home in your soul, discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you…” Proverbs 2:9-11.
In the light of this, I would like to share how Dominicans study.

Study as towel for foot-washing
I heard it once from Sr. Carla Mae Streeter OP, when she was teaching about Dominican spirituality, that study is the towel for foot-washing, so that after studying the intelligence can be used to serve others. Something that really impresses me about Dominicans is that Dominicans don’t just study for earning degrees, or just for personal achievement, but Dominicans study so that the knowledge can be internalized and the intelligence can be used to serve others.

Study isn’t just finding and learning stuff… Study is an on-going formation and bridging God’s Word with the world: studying, then bringing it into prayer, discovering what God has to say about that, then following the movement of the Spirit responding to what’s happening in the world on behalf of God.

Something cool about the novitiate is that we are in St. Louis, where Aquinas Institute ( is. Aquinas is one of the few schools in the U.S. that offer preaching, and it's the only place that offers Doctorate degree in preaching. Even better, it is offered not only to men (seminarians or brothers) but to everyone, including women and lay people as well, so we, Dominican novices, are taking it. We have been learning about the different skills of preaching and also learned how we can best communicate that Word to this culture, how we can bring the Good News to everyone on behalf of God.

The challenge nowadays…
We are auditing classes; therefore, really the grade is only determined by God, so getting good grades at Aquinas is not a challenge… I think the challenge is that generations have changed a lot. We live in the world of technology. In class, we have been learning about different styles of preaching, these two weeks, our focus was on preaching online.

The Internet is used for so many purposes… In terms of preaching, there are many great websites for helping us study and deepen our relationship with God ( ; ; and of course, However, I think there aren’t as many people who have heard about these websites as many know about Facebook. Facebook is a great way to share what’s going on in our life… Part of preaching is giving personal witness. However, Facebook is mainly used for social media in which people stay in contact with each other, share photos and daily happenings, and to get updates from the pages they like. But, what if people would use Facebook to share their faith? Well, religion is a touchy question, and Jesus doesn’t want us to just follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, he literally wants us to follow him…

But still, what if each time we go on Facebook and read an update (on family or happenings on our liked pages) we would face it and study it as a Dominican?
- What catches our attention?
- What is God saying to us with that?
- How can we internalize that information and use that it to serve others?

I think our world would be a better world, if we would study and use every opportunity to serve: offering God’s love to others in everything.

Friday, November 15, 2013

St. Albert the Great

Today we celebrate St. Albert the Great, scientist, theologian, philosopher, Dominican and brother extraordinaire.  He was definitely one of the early founders who helped make the Order of Preachers the force that it is today.

As we reflected on Albert today, we considered what were the qualities that made him the Great and who do we know in our lives today that we would call Great. Greatness is certainly not something that one strives for but rather something that is bestowed because of who one is and who one allows themselves to become. 

So I would invite you this week to look at those in your life today. Who would you name the Great? and why? When you look in the mirror do you see someone great? If not, why not? Aren't we all made in the image and likeness of God who is the greatest of all? This week, let's celebrate our greatness!!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Pillars of Life...

DLS Panel on Prayer, 9/12/2013.
One of the gifts we receive from participating in the CDN is getting to know the wider Dominican family.  We have ample opportunities to practice hospitality as Dominicans pass through the house, staying for dinner, stopping overnight for a respite, or discussing order values during our Dominican Life Seminar (DLS).

Once a month, our DLS consists of an evening panel on a Dominican topic.  We invite four Dominicans for dinner, evening prayer, and a dessert panel discussion.  Discussions are topical and focused on questions surfaced by the novices.  This semester our topics are the Four Dominican Pillars: Prayer, Community, Study, and Preaching.  I have found these panels a fantastic way to form a relationships with the larger Dominican family and become more familiar with our pillars.

DLS Panel on Study, 11/7/2013

This past Thursday the CDN was graced with the presence of Colleen Mallon, Mary Ann Nelson, Jose Santiago and Martin Taylor for a discussion on Study.  Our conversation helped me think about study in a new way.  One important point that was made focused on the nature of Dominican study.  The Order generally tends to attract a more academic bunch, yet our call is not to gain knowledge for ourselves to build up our ego.  The Order has a rich tradition of “disputatio,” formalized public debates with a structure intended to examine a particular issue.  St. Dominic and his immediate successors were known for this and early Dominican were schooled in the process.  However, study cannot, and should not, be reduced to academic degrees.  Rather, we are called to search out truth (“veritas”) and give to others the fruits of our contemplation (“contemplata aliis tradere").  The foundation of these pursuits is study.  We study the world together: through life, through discussion, as well as through academia. Our call is to be curious, to ask questions, to discuss varying points of view and to learn about new ways of thinking.  I am always thankful for the wisdom and experience Colleen, Mary Ann, Jose and Martin brought to the panel.
DLS Panel on Community, 10/17/2013

And so, as Dominican novices, we continue to study Dominican life.  We strive to deepen our discernment and better understand the commitment we will be making with our vows.

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”   ~ Romans 12:2

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


As my housemates have previously so eloquently pointed out, a big part of this novitiate year has to do with building community.  This isn’t a game played with Legos or Erector Sets.  No, this is serious stuff, which at times requires first some individual deconstruction … of past behaviors, of ego, of the false self - things that prevent me from being and becoming the person God intends me to be.  As we each are being formed into the fullness of our own being, we are also building our parochial community.  We get to know each other.  We help each other grow.  We become family – not just in a local sense but also within the broader Dominican perspective.  In the “rebuilding” of our house, we’ve had to alter the architectural floor plan; we’ve had to expand our living room, add sofas and easy chairs.  Let me explain:

            When I came to the CDN on August 15, 2013, I really only knew my Dominican Sisters and Brothers of Sinsinawa.  I was so proud to have been in the delightful presence of Sr. Mary Ellen O’Grady, who spoke to us so passionately about the importance of collaboration.  I was so proud to have been part of the trip to Dominican University in River Forest, IL where Sr. Janet Welsh graced us with extraordinary hospitality and impeccable knowledge of the history of Dominicans in the United States.  I was so proud for my fellow novices to get the chance to meet Megan Graves, one of our Associates and a senior at DU. 

Others, like Honora Werner, Jim Barnett, Don Goergen, Maria Beesing, Joan Delaplane, David Wright, Ilia Delio, (among many others,) were for me simply the names of Dominican legends residing only in my mind and in books. (I know … Ilia Delio is Franciscan ... but that’s like a kissin’ cousin!)  Well, guess what?  They arrived at our front door, entered, kicked off their shoes and put up their feet in our living room!  They’ve become much more than legends – they’ve become my/our brothers and sisters!  We are kin.  And that, my friends, is pretty cool!  Pure grace.

            At a recent Reflection Day, we welcomed into our home and prayer space another legend and Dominican Sister extraordinaire ~ Annie Willits.  She came to us in voice, humor, wisdom and spirit through her taped “Coming Home” retreat series and a segment titled, “Thank You For Seeing Me”.  She was with us in a very palpable way.  We really could ‘see’ her.  And while she is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, I have come to understand that in truth she is everyone’s sister.  As am I.  As are you.  We are family.  We are kin.  Together, we continue to expand our living space; we continue to build God's house!  


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Common Life

The Common Life or Community was the big theme of the past week. Women and men religious have been living communally for centuries. I’ve lived this way for only a short time, and am still discerning its relevance, necessity, and personal fit. It’s noteworthy that each one of us novices has echoed time and again in our vocation stories that it was the incredible joy in the communities that we visited and eventually joined, which we found most compelling. So what is community all about? I’ve been pondering this for a while. As a phenomenon, it’s pretty complex. Here’s what I’ve found so far-
Romanticized. I’ve read about our corporate call to prophetic witness; this conjures up images of the traveling band of prophets of Elijah’s time or a group of wandering ascetics. In a separate vein, I could also see why some folks might be drawn to common life to fill some void for companionship or nurturing or perfection. The reality of it is far from these exaggerations.

Challenging. Ever go to a Fun House and go through the House of Mirrors? Well, living in close quarters with people with such diverse backgrounds reflects back to you your own limitations, as well as where your perception of things may be distorted, perhaps by past, but still-lingering, hurts. There is impact on the whole whenever we bump up against those limitations, resulting in countless opportunities to forgive and be forgiven.

Uplifting. There is nothing like worshipping together, especially in song. It is communion at deep levels of the heart, Spirit to Spirit, whether we are praying at home, at the Priory, at Aquinas Institute, with the Inter-Community Novitiate, or at other Dominican Sister congregations. Grace simply abounds.
Promising. We were also told, by others who have lived in community for a while, how it enables their ministry in such a way that even if done individually, their ministry is a wholly corporate act. Everything is done on behalf, and made possible as a result, of the entire congregation. I haven’t experienced this yet, but it sounds wonderful.

So in the tradition of biblical merism, I’ve seen community dynamics to be:

at its worst

at its best 
One thing we all agree on: God is the head of this household. And one thing Dominicans espouse in this way of life: all members are equal. Sounds like the kingdom of God to me. And perhaps a great place to grow holy preaching.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

So what?

This is a question we hear every single Tuesday by Sr. Regina, who is teaching us the Foundation of Vowed Life class. However, this very question has been coming to us pretty often during the novitiate - voiced and unvoiced.

Many people wonder what we do during novitiate, or even what's the point of the novitiate. Why would someone "ditch" her beloved home, congregational community, and workplace to live with others just for a year and then a year later (being enriched) go back to continue life where she paused it?

We follow the Canon Laws (646-653); however, reading those only, novitiate can seem a bit dry...

So what? Why is it, that the novitiate is something that every sister remembers as "one of the best experiences" of her life?! What makes it so special? Let's see what we have been doing... Is it the day of reflection that is set aside each week to hang out with God and reflect? Or is it the Cardinals game we went to? Or is it having fun watching Megan (novice director) waving her Tigers-towel and spinning it over the speed limit above her head as she is cheering for the Detroit Tigers? Or is it having a field trip to the very first Dominican convent for sisters in the U.S.? Or is it biking in Forest Park when leaves are changing colors? Or is it going to Jubilee Farm? Or is it having the joy of not having to do chores for hours each day like long time ago? Or is it getting up before the rooster crows and leave the house at 6:30 a.m. so that we can pray together and celebrate Mass with the Dominican brothers? Or is it Anne's (novice) delicious squash soup? Or is it trying to learn the impossible chanting tones? Or is it the yummy chocolates in the cabinet? Well, I guess, all of these above, but there is something else, too.

What makes novitiate special is that we come together and try to sort out - with fancy words: discern - God's desire, while we deepen our relationship with God, get to know ourselves (our inner Gumby) better, we pray together, live in community, study religious life, and do ministry. We get the time to reflect on everything we experience here: our prayer life, feelings, classes, scripture readings, preachings we hear or lead, community fun nights, community in general, being there for each other, ministry, and our novice directors, Sisters Megan and Joye, help us reflect and discern.

This week, we spent a day learning about discernment. While learning about how to sort out things, how to be attentive to God and to our feelings, and to what is really going on inside and outside, we also heard about great images. 
      One of the images was Jonah in the whale. So what? We are like as if we were Jonah in the whale's belly: having the time to reflect and awaiting where this journey is taking us. 
      Another memorable image was the metaphor of driving in the dark. Driving in the dark, we have headlights, but the light is only good enough to allow us to see what we need; there are no extra lights to see things that could take our attention away. This kind of driving in the dark is focused on the task, from point A to point B. So what? In the novitiate, we journey God's desire and see where it takes. No extra "noises."

During evening prayer this week, we heard another great reflection on Luke 11:5-13.  The Gospel describes how a father would never give a snake when his child asks for a fish, and how a father would never give a scorpion when his child asks for an egg. So what? In Kathy's preaching, the message was, that God would never give the opposite we ask for, but we won't get everything we ask in prayer either. If we ask for a fish, God would most likely provide a fishing pole. If we ask an egg, God would probably give us a hen to nurture and care for that later gives us eggs. So what? When we ask God: "what is your desire? or how am I to bring your love to others?" God doesn't whisper in our ears, but God does give us the tool, the novitiate: the opportunity to live together in community, study, have a deeper relationship with God through prayer, and enfold the journey with the help of our directors and the novices.

Discernment is a life-long journey. So what? The point is, that during novitiate, we are here for each other to help be attentive to and sort out God's desire with our life.

How do we know it? One sure sign is: we feel at peace, joyful and energized (wheee!) when we can be our very best self using the gifts God gave us. A spouse is the very best self within a marriage. A religious sister, brother or priest is the very best self in a community and ministry. If you are not married, or not ordained or a vowed religious, but have played with the thought, look for the help God offers you in your best buddy, or a spiritual director, or vocation director, how you can be your very best self.