Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Discernment is Not a Linear Process

I’m aware that the discernment and formation process is unique for every novice, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve approached it in a way that is unconventional, to say the least.  I asked to enter the Sinsinawa Dominicans because the calling was so unexpected and so far out of the range of possible paths I envisioned for myself that I felt compelled to listen.  I entered the congregation shortly thereafter, not aware that a more typical approach was to look at various congregations before choosing one to discern with.  Despite not making sense on many levels, my decision—to discern and to do it as a Sinsinawa Dominican—has felt strangely right and I haven’t second-guessed it once. 

I’m realizing, however, that one of the reasons I have felt so at ease and comfortable with the process is because I’ve been viewing it from a somewhat limited perspective—as discernment.  I’ve been conveniently telling myself that it was premature to speculate about whether or not I’d take the vows because I just didn’t know enough about religious life to make an informed decision, yet.  How could I decide whether life as a professed sister was the right choice for me when I had SO much to learn about what the vows meant spiritually and practically—how my life would be transformed?  Knowing that a decision would be deferred until I could make an “informed” one gave me comfort and the space to fully enjoy this process with a presence and curiosity without feeling pressured.  However, thanks to the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate, I’m quickly coming to a place where I can no longer fall-back on this “easy out”, so to speak.
During my candidate year I gained wonderful experience living in community and getting to know the Sinsinawa Dominican charism by building relationships with my sisters and via a phenomenal formation process.  Since beginning this novitiate year, however, I’ve been exposed to so many more aspects of Dominican charism, the vowed life and religious community—and I’m sponging it up!  Getting to know the Dominican student brothers and the men and women of the Inter-Community Novitiate has expanded my perspective of religious life to recognize the amazing diversity among men and women religious, their congregations and communities. 

Attending classes at Aquinas Institute has allowed me to learn about preaching—the mainstay of the Dominican Order—and to gain a well-rounded understanding of the vows at the heart of religious life.   I can’t say that the preaching and vowed life classes have made me any more eager to preach or to profess, but I CAN say that I’m developing a much deeper appreciation for them as foundational and profoundly defining of the vocation I’m considering.  In particular, I find The Vowed Life course valuable: the readings and the lively discussions about the theological basis of the vows and the complexities of living them out in today’s world are priceless.  Maintaining lively and engaging discussions is all the more impressive when you consider that the class consists of only Sr. Regina (the teacher), Nicole, and myself!  Our spritely and extremely well-informed professor doesn’t shy away from the more difficult and sometimes ambiguous finer points—and she also has a great sense-of-humor, which is essential at times.  

In the meantime, my novice director has also been providing top-notch guidance around the issues and questions that are surfacing for me personally—helping me piece together how and if I fit into this picture.  Her skillful counsel, gentle probing and non-judgmental observations are invaluable right now.

I can’t say that I’m “closer” to making a yes or no decision.  If there’s anything I know it’s that discernment is not a linear process—at least it isn’t for me.  I still flip-flop regularly: from envisioning my life as a professed Sinsinawa Dominican sister to anticipating what my next steps should be if this part of my journey ultimately leads me in another direction.  It reminds me of the numerous jigsaw puzzles I worked on at the Mound: focusing on fitting together the pieces of large, often separate sections, knowing that at some point these parts will “click” together to create the picture on the front of the box.   The good news is that I feel I’m quickly gaining the insights and understanding necessary to determine what’s right for me when the time comes. The tricky part is that I don’t have the picture from the box and I’m not even sure that the sections I’m working on came from the same box in the first place…

Sr. Quincy

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Principle of Discernment: Trust vs. Anxiety"

We are currently learning about the vow of poverty in our vows class. A difficult subject to be sure. One of the subheadings in chapter 4 of Sandra Schneiders book Buying the Field is The Principle of Discernment: Trust vs. Anxiety. Near the end of the chapter she gives three reasons why we shouldn’t worry: worry is useless, there is no need to worry, and anxiety about material possessions is characteristic of pagans.  These are pretty straightforward if not harsh things to hear (though we all disagreed with her definition of pagan). She makes it worse by saying 

“…there is no need to worry because God is a loving Parent who knows that his/her children need material supports for their lives and is able and eager to supply those needs. If God is solicitous for nonhuman creatures, for birds and flowers, how much more concerned is the divine Parent for God’s human children. This, however is only reassuring if one actually believes and hopes unconditionally in God.” (pg. 219)
I read this last night and went to bed angry. But why? There has been a lot in the Schneiders books that I haven’t agreed with (and Sr. Regina has graciously heard my many criticisms). This though struck a chord. As a person who can be overly anxious and needs all the details to make informed decisions, trust is hard. This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God, and I do hope in the Lord, but I still have day to day worries and concerns. I believe I am created in God’s image and God made me the ball of anxiety and perfectionist tendencies that I am. So was I created purposely to question God? Was this a result of the Fall? And is what Schneiders is saying go so far as to say that those who have to worry about their next meal, or those who need to worry about finding shelter for the night not true believers? Are all poor people bad Christians? 

So like I usually do, I might have gone a little too far with that last thought. Obviously poor people are not bad Christians, I seem to recall a Beatitude...and that’s probably not what Schneiders is saying.  But I still wasn’t able to shake this from my head. Then, as happens more often than not, the very thing I am struggling with is the thing that is addressed in the daily readings or one of the psalms for morning or evening prayer. Today was no exception. This morning we heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. (8:18-25)
Sr. Megan in her reflection on the reading spoke about when she was teaching children the difference between hope and wishes. Wishes are the immediate, “I wish he would like me”, whereas hope is greater, it endures, “I hope for everlasting life”. 

Then I went to class, worried about little things like if I would get a chance to look at the music before I had to cantor at Mass. I worried a little when I reached a point in my questioning of outright heresy when discussing Schneiders and apostolic poverty. When asked what kind of things I worry about that show I’m a “pagan” I responded with anything and everything between “did I wear a warm enough shirt today” to “if I’m not a good preacher can I still be a Dominican”. It was the class consensus that what Schneiders is saying is that it shouldn’t be all consuming. It is when you are too worried about the material things and the minutia of life it becomes a problem. The worry essentially becomes your god. 

Still trying to reconcile in my head everything that had been said and what I had read, I came home and asked Sr. Megan to go over again what she had said this morning. I knew there was something there. And in discussion with the community I found some rest in the subject…

Trust is hope. Ultimate hope is the trust that no matter what, God is there. Smaller “hopes” are merely wishes. Some can be petty, like wishing your team wins the game, but some can be good wishes: good health or a better relationship or for a new job. And it might be argued that a righteous wish could be a hope because the ultimate goal is God “if he likes me maybe we will get married and live in the sacrament as one in God.” But even then there is always a greater hope. If “I hope the surgery goes well” it may or may not, if it doesn’t I will “hope for happiness in my new reality”. I will hope for God’s blessings in whatever state I am in. No matter the circumstance the hope is to be with God. Hope, as opposed to wishes, also requires some action on our part. To wish is to sit and look at the stars and wait for our wish to come true. To hope is to actively seek God in whatever situation we find ourselves in, trusting that He is always there. Does this mean that if I worry I am not trusting in God; that I have given up hope? No. I can worry about the details of the everyday, I can even worry about my future in this life. What I can’t worry about is if God will be with me. As long as I hope in God; God will be with me.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It's a good time to be a Dominican novice

This past week Quincy and I, along with other novices and seminarians from all over the country, gathered in Washington D.C. Why? Because Pope Francis invited us! We were lucky enough to be present in the National Shrine when the Pope said Mass and canonized Junipero Serra. It was an amazing experience to be there with so many other young people in the beginnings of this rather counter-cultural life we are embarking on (admittedly it seemed a lot less counter-cultural surrounded by hundreds of other novices). We stood in the security line with a large group of seminarians in various stages of their philosophy and theology studies. It was a time of teaching and learning the differences and the similarities between the orders and even within our own family. As Quincy noted in the last blog; It's a Family Affair. We happened to sit next to a group of Ann Arbor Dominicans and quickly made the family connection. We also got a great picture with some of our St. Louis Dominican family. We were "Dominican sighting" throughout the trip. Every time we would see a white habit we would introduce ourselves as family; the Ann Arbor's sitting next to us, the English province brother who just happens to be studying here this year, last year's CDN crowd, the throngs of brothers that came in as one big group, the Springfield sisters on the porch at the retreat house, and the Nashville sisters at the airport eager to tell everyone that their novices made the front page of The Wall Street Journal. What a way to meet family!

We also got to see the Pope on the road leaving the Vatican embassy. He looked rested and ready to talk to Congress as he waved to us.

This would have been enough to make being a Novice right now special but it isn't the only happening. We were blessed to enter the community during the sesquicentennial commemoration of the death of our founder, Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli; a year dedicated to his legacy. During our candidate year Pope Francis declared the Year of Consecrated Life. He then invited us to see him while he was in Washington D.C.! And later this year we will begin the 800th Jubilee of the founding of the Order of Preachers. All of these events have/will highlight the life we have begun, whether it is religious life in general, Dominican life more specifically, and even Sinsinawan.

It is a special time to be discerning. Some may say it is all downhill from here but I don't think that will be the case. I think this is just solid, joyful footing to ground us in what can, and probably will at times, be an unsteady journey. We have also been blessed with hands to grab along the way; the sisters who sent us on the journey and the many family members we encounter along the way. And all of these events have helped to shed light on our path for our family and friends who might not understand what we are doing. It is a good time to be a Dominican novice!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's a Family Affair

Since we arrived in St. Louis, Joye and Megan have worked hard to expose us to a multitude of Catholic communities in the area.  Each Sunday we worship at a different church so Nicole and I have the chance to see the variation in services and get a feel for the congregations.  The idea is that we will each select one parish which will become our community for the remainder of the year.  First, we visited St. Francis Xavier (aka College Church), the Jesuit parish on the campus of Saint Louis University.  The cantrix was phenomenal and we got to witness a baptism during the service.  St. Pius V is the home parish of our Sinsinawa Dominican sister Mary Margaret--and of several Dominican Brothers from Aquinas Institute.  The urban faith community is located in the heart of St. Louis.  We also visited St. Vincent de Paul parish.  Their diverse parishioners pride themselves on their active social ministry, which includes a daily lunch window for the homeless. They also serve the best church donuts I've ever had!  This past Sunday we attended mass at the Washington University Catholic Student Center which had a surprisingly broad range of ages represented in the pews--from families with small children to the elderly to, of course, college students.  The homily was my favorite so far.  Soon, I will be going to Rock and the Cathedral Basilica to attend their services. 

The CDN has also provided us with opportunities to get to know our Dominican Brothers here in St. Louis.  Although we're only at Aquinas Institute on Tuesdays, we've already enjoyed a few events where we got to mingle with the faculty and student brothers.  Last Saturday was a very big occasion for our Dominican family: we attended the Solemn Profession of 5 student brothers at St. Pius V.  We met so many Dominican Religious at the ceremony and had the chance to get to know them a bit when we all celebrated at the Priory afterwards.  Christin and Kelly (2014-15 CDN Novices) even drove in for the weekend so it felt like a bona fide Dominican Family Reunion!  Then, on Labor Day, we joined the student brothers for a BBQ at the Priory.

We recently had our first ICN day (Inter Community Novitiate) where Nicole and I got to meet the extended group of discerning men and women religious.  Alexian Brothers, Daughters of Charity, Oblates, Sisters of Charity, of Mercy, and of Providence and the Adorers of the Blood of Christ were all represented communities.  With novices from all over the world: Texas to Sri Lanka to Australia, it was quite a diverse family of Catholics!

Finally, we enjoyed a "ladies' night" out last week to connect with more of our extended family: this time it was with our sisters in Giving Voice.  This group may not have been as diverse as some of the others we've been rubbing elbows with of late, but it was wonderful for its easiness.  These introductions quickly developed into familiarity as healthy doses of humor acted as the common theme.  Thanks for organizing, Christin!

As you can tell, we're being fully immersed in a variety of Catholic circles here in St. Louis.  My hope is that the relationships developing this year will last for years to come and will lay a solid foundation for future collaboration within the Church.
Sr. Quincy

Monday, August 24, 2015

A new year begins

Sisters Quincy Howard and Nicole Reich


                           We are the new novices for the CDN for 2015-2016. Welcome to this year's blog!

      The arch welcoming us

We are at the end of Day 12 in St. Louis (but who's counting?). Quincy and I have been learning what to expect this coming year with orientation about the Novitiate, about the house, at Aquinas Institute, and with possible ministries. We have had introductions to community living, "Dominican Praise", and preaching--in Springfield. We have chosen our directors, our nights to cook, and our chores (it's a big house for only four people). But don't think it's only been work...

Mary Ann handed us over and we marked our coming together by potting plants with dirt from the Mound mixed with nutrients from here.
Quincy, Mary Ann, Nicole

We ate the world's smallest sundae.

We visited the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

We blessed the house

We visited St. Charles for the Festival of the Little Hills and while we were there we were given a tour of the Shrine to St. Rose Philippine Duschesne by Sr. Juliet Mousseau.

We even had some time to decorate our rooms.
These days have been packed but we have also had some time for reflection to help us transition into this new place and this new life. Soon we will be on a little more of a schedule (classes start tomorrow) and we will be posting regularly every other week. So keep an eye out for new happenings and new insights!

Blessings from your Novices,
Quincy and Nicole