Saturday, April 26, 2014

We Are a Holy Saturday People

As the St. Louis leg of our canonical novitiate journey draws quickly to a close, so do our Inter Community Novitiate gatherings.  Next Wednesday, we will be meeting as a group for the last time.

Last Wednesday, Fr. Dave Kelly, C.PP.S. ~ Executive Director of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), spoke with us about our call, as religious, to be Ambassadors of and for Reconciliation.  Fr. Dave suggested that the bulk of our work lies not in Holy Thursday, not in Good Friday, not in Easter Sunday, but in Holy Saturday… the time ‘in between’ the darkness of Good Friday and the light that is the Easter Resurrection.  As a society built on immediacy, we often skip the ‘in between’ space where the tension borne of waiting and anticipation, between the pain of conflict and the life of reconciliation, is held.  Christmas is an example of the former… carols are played in stores months in advance; holiday parties take place almost before Advent begins; and shopping starts well before Thanksgiving.  An example of the latter? Well, liberation theologists remind us that filling the stomach of one living in poverty doesn't eliminate the poverty… that the space between identifying the root causes of poverty and eradicating that poverty is where our work lies.

I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot since Wednesday.  What Fr. Dave said makes sense to me.  If I look back at Good Friday, I’m not quite there.  If I look ahead to Easter and the Resurrection, I’m not quite there (although signs of the Resurrection are in and all around me.)  Holy Thursday isn’t an event so much as a call… an ongoing call to minister to the needs of our sisters and brothers.  That ministering is done in the space between the Good Fridays and Easter Sundays of our lives… that space where we live, and work, and play, and hurt, and hunger, and long for, and love; where the hard work of healing begins.

We absolutely ARE an Easter people; our song absolutely IS Alleluia!  But, I don't know... I think God might be calling us to live and to work as a Holy Saturday people, in that tension between the sorrow of Good Friday and the incredible Joy of the Resurrection.

May God give us peace and strength as we make that journey together, in love!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wash your feet?

Sr. Joye Gros washing feet.
This evening we washed one another's feet to commemorate the day when Jesus washed His own disciples' feet to teach them, in no uncertain terms, how they are to serve one another. This is an incredibly powerful ritual, especially if you participate in it as a wash-ee and/or a wash-er. (In most parishes that I've been, only the priest celebrant washes feet.) I have had my feet washed twice, first by the then-Bishop of Oakland and this evening by my Sister and fellow novice, Kathy. Tonight was the first time I washed someone's feet. It is a very intimate act, hence its power. Tonight, when people were washing one another's feet, I noticed that most of the time, at the end, the wash-ee hugged and kissed the wash-er. The act goes by quickly because it is symbolic and also perhaps because it more than a little awkward. I imagine though, that when Jesus did it, He took His time, and that maybe only the women and John hugged and kissed Him afterwards.

It's a revealing exercise to look at my relationships through the lens of figurative foot-washing, outside of Holy Thursday, in the ritual of everyday life. With family and friends, where there is a mutuality, we wash one another's feet all the time. With my formators, teachers, spiritual directors, wisdom figures, where there is a hierarchy, my feet get washed all the time, but I don't wash their feet. With the people to whom I minister, I wash their feet all time, and they don't wash mine. With the people I used to work with, outside of religious life, there was very rarely any foot-washing. But what about my peers in community: do we, as self-proclaimed disciples of Jesus, wash one another's feet the way He wants us to? In all honesty, I think the answer to this question is generally no, and I'm not really sure why.
Sr. Joye Gros getting her feet washed.

I think, on my part, perhaps there may be some expectation that we are able to wash our own feet. Or that perhaps I am here to wash someone else's feet, someone more needy than the Sisters I live with. This is crazy, dualistic thinking. Help can be given and received in any direction. Yet somehow, in this regard, I know that only in my head and not in my heart. This is a place where Jesus' message has not quite taken root. This is my prayer on these Holy Days: God's living water for the parts of my heart where the soil is hard and cracked and dry.

What about you? Whose feet are you not yet ready to wash? Why?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Taking the heat

We just came back from a parable retreat. Dominican Fr. John Pitzer and Sr. Mary Ann Barrett preached each day. The music was also played by a Dominican sister, Sr. Megan McElroy, our formation co-director at the CDN. (Fr. John and Srs. Mary Ann and Megan, thank you for this powerful experience.) Each day, we had morning prayer with the first reading and preaching, then in the afternoon, we had silent contemplation, then we celebrated Mass together with preaching on the Gospel, and we gathered to share insights after dinner.

Wednesday, the first reading was from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar became angry when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not serve and worship his god, so he had them cast into the white-hot furnace. We all know the story, they took the heat... [for those whose first language is not English: taking the heat is an idiom, often described as "taking the intense pressure."]

What are we facing each day that is difficult? Is it a painful task? Is it uncertainty? Is it fear of breaking a relationship? Is it serving in ministry that is in an unsafe environment? Is it speaking up against death penalty? Is it speaking up against fracking? Is it helping the undocumented?

Usually, we are willing to take the heat, when it comes from love to love... One of the best examples of God's love for us is sending us Jesus. Jesus showed us how to love God the Father, how to love each other, and gave everything he had, including his life: laying down his life for us that we may have eternal life with God.

When we truly love someone or something, we are willing to do the sacrifices. The question in every difficulty or challenge is: how much do we love God? Are we willing to sacrifice our job, our free time, our relationships, the familiar, our life for the sake of standing firm for the love of our God? Are we willing to take the heat?

During the retreat, we were invited to reflect on what was/is the heat in our journey or discernment. We heard about a great image that helped us understand it better. Precious metals are being refined and put into the fire several times until the person sees her/himself in the reflection. In August, when we came to the novitiate, we were invited to "step into the fire". In the novitiate, guided by God through our novice directors and peer novices, we are refined, we are transformed by God until God's reflection appears in us.

"Walk with the wise and you become wise" (Proverbs 13:20) Our directors walk the journey with us. In the novitiate, we are equipped with important skills that are essential to living religious life freely. It is up to us how we take the heat: kicking and screaming, or being open to life-long learning, formation and transformation... I am not screaming from the heat nor am I scarred by the heat. But I am definitely changed by the heat. "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God..." (Romans 12:2) It is a process, and I am very grateful to my co-directors (Sr. Megan McElroy, OP  and Sr. Joye Gros, OP) and to congregational formation representative (Sr. Cathy Arnold, OP) for their examples of living faithfully, for their guidance, help, and insights. I am also thankful for the "heat", too. With their help, I am learning how to deal with things that unsettle me; I am learning how to turn my challenges into blessings; so that I can discern and live more freely.

"Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2-3) God is seeking us out in an effort to convince us we are loved by God and we are called to to love one another as God loves us and them.

Something I took away from this retreat was to remain faithful under trials. "Those who remain loyal to their God shall take strong action." (Daniel 11:32b) Scripture is our guide: we are invited to study it, pray it, and live it through repetition and reflection. The foundation of the Word underlines everything.

Taking the heat.... 

You might know me by now, I tend to play around with thoughts or words... Heat can be an acronym:
Hearing.... (Hearing the Word: how do we get the Word in us? And also hearing the needs of our times)
Empathize (Listen and respond with empathy to the needs of our times)
Ask God (What is God calling me? Asking for strength and courage to help stand ground.)
Take action (as I mentioned earlier: study Scripture, pray it, and then live it...repeatedly.)

Lent is a great time to practice taking the heat. We fast, we pray, and we do good works as we prepare to renew our baptismal commitment at Easter, recommitting ourselves to be Jesus' disciple, bring the Word of God into dialogue with the challenges of our world.

Are we willing to take the heat?

picture: original picture is from ; I edited the talking bubbles...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Byzantine or not Byzantine...that IS the question!

Blessing by Bishop John Kudrick, 4/14/2014
 (I'm bowing on the left!!)
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Divine Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts (aka a Byzantine communion service the same length as Divine Liturgy) celebrated by the Eparch of Parma, Bishop John Kudrick.  The event was particularly noteworthy because it’s been a couple of years since the Bishop has visited the Byzantine Catholic Mission of St. Louis.  While I’ve attended Divine Liturgy on and off since college, Friday evening was the first time I’ve met an Eastern Rite bishop and the first Pre-Sanctified Liturgy I’ve ever experienced (the sub-text being that I was lost more often than I care to admit!).  The evening got me thinking about an idea I’d heard earlier this week.

Rev. Anthony Gittins, CSSp

Rev. Anthony Gittins, CSSp gave the ICN a thought provoking presentation on intercultural living and discipleship.  One of the ideas he raised was the differences between being multicultural and intercultural.  Multiculturalism can be defined as living among people and blending or tolerating differences, but maintaining a clear distinction between one’s own culture and the “other” culture.  Living in this way allows one to enter and exit the “other” culture at one’s own control, always remaining in the liminal space.  Intercultural living is a way of intentional living where all participants learn and respect the cultures of the “other,” then together, form a new culture.

April Fools blowing bubbles, 4/01/2014
This paradigm is a fantastic tool to examine community living.  As our year progresses, I am learning more about my expectations for community life and the qualities of a community in which I want to be living.  A blessing of the Collaborative Novitiate is that we are all forced to live interculturally from the beginning.  We come with our own cultural context (ethnic, familial and congregational) and build a community from the ground up.  I look back on this year and think of the common experiences we’ve shared (at ICN, house meetings and retreats), the long road trips we’ve taken (to Kentucky, Springfield, and New Orleans), the new lingo we created, and the practical jokes we played on one other (April Fool’s Day included a very pink bathroom, sisters whose names are actually road signs on 55 South, mismatching silverware and LOTS of bubbles).  We have created our own distinct culture - different from the CDN in years past or years to come.  We were not assimilated into a larger, preexisting culture.  We belong to the cultures from which we came and the new culture which we created. 


This poses new discernment questions as we think of ourselves in a larger context. How will we practice intercultural living when we return to our home congregations?  How can we move from being multicultural to intercultural disciples in our ministries and regional communities? How can we help the Church to become more intercultural, reaching out to those who feel like “the other”?  What is God inviting us to do as we face these questions?

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy Divine Liturgy at the Byzantine Church and sing in the choir at “The Rock”!