Monday, October 1, 2012

On the way

On this feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, I feel compelled to say a word to honor her here.

This summer, in a wild surge of spontaneity and bravado, I took off to France for a vacation by myself (a solocation, as one friend called it). It was in wandering through the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris that I was gripped by this photograph of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, on display as part of a tribute to this young French saint.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, "the Little Flower", is my confirmation saint.  I've visited her basilica in Lisieux, France; I've read poetry by her, books about her, and even saw a movie made about her many years ago.  But never have I encountered a photo like this - an image of a young woman on the way.

Often in our retelling of the lives of the saints, we lose sight of their daily human reality.  Even in gritty, honest biographies such as The Seven Storey Mountain, the ambiguity of daily life yields to a cohesive plot.  The story has a beginning, a middle, and an end--and worse, we know the end!  Canonized sainthood.*  We don't readily remember that holiness happens one day at a time.

This photograph brings the dailyness of a journey to God and the fulfillment of vocation into focus for me.  Unlike the more popular photos showing the two poles of Thérèse's life, either as a doll-faced little girl or as an adult nun in layers upon layers of a full habit, this photo shows 22 year old Thérèse playing the role of Joan of Arc in a theatrical piece she composed about Joan for her Carmelite sisters.  Here she is, serving her community, inspired by the saints before her, and yes - with her long, curly hair down!  In between child and saint, she is just a young woman, living out what she believes to be God's will for her in whatever way she knows how, yearning to love with her whole being, but still entirely unaware of how her story ends.  She didn't suddenly transform from darling child to saintly nun - she walked the journey, step by step.

When it comes to the journey to sainthood, we are all on the way.  We ride the ebb and flow of the day-to-day, working out our holiness and living our vocation (both of which can be moving targets) one step at a time. May the grace that filled Thérèse's days in between be present in us on our own "little ways".


For writings of contemporary women "on the way", follow the blog "Diary of a Sister-in-Training" by Tracy Kemme, a community mate from my year in Ecuador, who is in her first year of formation with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinatti and is ministering on the El Paso / Juarez border.

And of course, my dear friend Colleen Gibson shares her journey into becoming a Sister of St. Joseph in her blog "Being My Vocation". Colleen entered the novitiate in Philadelphia on September 19th.


*well, not yet canonized sainthood for Thomas Merton.  But saintliness, for sure.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent's joyful hope (and my birthday wish).

Dear family, friends, and blog-readers,

In the middle of this hectic time of year, when many of us are busy decking the halls and crowding the malls in anticipation of the season of giving, I’d like to invite you to pause for a moment and consider the season already upon us: Advent.

Advent is the quiet liturgical season that gently carries us from Thanksgiving’s feasts to the excitement of Christmas morning, calling us to wait, watch, and prepare with joyful and expectant hope for God to break into the reality of our lives.  It looks back on what God has already done in the world through Christ, while also looking forward to Christ’s return.  I believe many of us feel this back-and-forth dynamic naturally at this time of year; as New Year’s Eve approaches, we reflect on the joys and challenges of the year past, and name our hopes and dreams for the year to come. 

For me, this reflective dynamic is even more present as I also look forward to my 25th birthday on December 15th.  As I think back on the past few years of being “in my twenties”, what marks this reflection is my year spent in Duran, Ecuador through the organization Rostro de Cristo.  Many of you have a sense of the impact this experience has had on my life (and perhaps followed my blog while I was there), and I can honestly say that not a day goes by that I am not filled with gratitude and affection for my time in Ecuador and the neighbors, friends, and children who were the ‘face of Christ’ to me. 

This past July I was able to visit Duran again, where I witnessed in a new and challenging way the endurance of the pain and suffering cause by poverty.  While my life has continued move forward and flourish, my friends in Ecuador (and millions of people around the world) remain fighting the daily battles against poverty and oppression in order to care for their family in the most basic ways.  The reality of their individual and collective lives truly embodies the spirit of Advent—a firm belief in the salvation already won by Christ, with a lived hope in the much-needed transformation of our world.

It is in this spirit of Advent that I am committing my 25th birthday to fundraising for Rostro de Cristo, that, rooted in faith and motivated by love, the work they do to participate in the transformation of our world might continue.   I invite you to prayerfully consider a donation of $25, in honor of my 25th birthday, or whatever you can afford at this time.  For some perspective-- $25 runs one of our after-school programs for a week; $50 provides a volunteer’s stipend for a month.  And, as a birthday gift to myself, I will match your donations, up to $250, because Rostro de Cristo is so special to me. 

To make it easy for you to donate online, I have created a website for my birthday wish.  Rostro de Cristo is a 501(c)3 non-profit and all donations are tax deductible (you will receive the tax form from the website).  I will keep the website active until Christmas day.  If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to be in touch.

Thank you for considering my birthday wish this year.  I know that your generosity will help bring Advent’s joyful hope to so many people in Ecuador, and I pray that the remaining days of Advent prepare us to welcome God into our lives.



P.S.  If you have an extra minute, please watch this two-minute video called Advent Conspiracy.  It can help us keep this “holiday season” in perspective.  Then, if you have any shopping left to do, check out Catholic Relief Services’ beautiful fair trade, handmade crafts!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wait. Watch. Advent.

First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2011

Gospel, Mark 13:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"

Carols and cookies, gifts and garland, stockings and Santa--Christmas may be starting earlier and earlier, but today, the new year gets its due. No need for ball drops, countdowns, or champagne, though.  The new liturgical year comes only with a wreath, four candles, and the invitation to keep watch.

The liturgical year is a beautiful thing.  The cyclical movements of preparation, incarnation, repentance, death, and resurrection mark our collective life in God, and their celebration shapes our minds and hearts to see the divine presence in the most ordinary of times.   It is a gift to journey through these seasons time and time again, continually reflecting on the life of Christ and the summons of the Gospel.  Advent in particular walks us through hope, peace, joy and love as we look forward to the incarnation of God-with-us.

As we begin a new year in the life of the Church today, Jesus urges us, his disciples, to be watchful and alert.  But for what?  Where?  If we are to keep our eyes peeled for the Lord, we ought to have some sense of what we are looking and waiting for.

Perhaps today as we begin this holy season we can ask ourselves, Where do we expect to find Christ in the course of our days?  How can we become more attentive to God’s ever-presence in our world?  And this week especially, where do we catch radiant glimpses of the hope made manifest in the Incarnation?


Written for Fairfield University's 2011 Advent Reflection Series

Monday, August 8, 2011

Go and do likewise.

Monday, August 8, 2011
Memorial of St. Dominic

Over the weekend a close friend of mine sent me an email asking me for feedback on a reflection she had written. She is a candidate with the Sisters of St. Joseph, and as part of her candidacy, she is required to undergo a two-day psych evaluation preceeded by a 37-pg questionnaire requiring written responses.  The reflection she sent me was in the response to the following prompt: “to write a summary of what is important in living as a Christian, imagining that she was explaining the teaching and example of Jesus to an intelligent and well-disposed adult who is interested in Christianity but not familiar with the Gospels.”

A summary of the Gospel message, of what it means to live as a Christian.  That's no small task.  I wonder what you or I would write in response to this question.

The response of my friend was thoughtful, integrated, and compelling.  She began with the bare facts –  “believing that Jesus Christ, a first-century Jew, was God become man who died at the hands of local authorities for his teachings and rose from the dead three days after his death.”   From this groundwork she moved to what she believes are the essentials of the Gospel message – that “life in all its intricacies can be boiled down to two teachings – love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  The two go hand in hand and from them stems the fruit and calls of a Christian life: hope, humility, joy, justice, unity, and surrender.”  She wrote that the life of a Christian begins with loving God and allowing God to love us.  The consequence of this intimate relationship is that we are moved to love and care for others, to live a life of joyful hope and humble service to others modeled after Christ’s example of radical and boundless love.  This love of God and neighbor should move the Christian to forgiveness, right relationship, charity and justice.  “The Christian models Christ”, she writes, “by working for the least of those in the world, welcoming the outsider, and caring for those forgotten by society.”

Though he lived long before Christ, Moses’ words in today’s first reading could be a response to the very same question to which my friend responded.  “What does the Lord, your God, ask of you?”, Moses says to his people.  “Follow his ways.  Love and serve the Lord with all your heart and all your soul.  Keep the commandments.  The Lord has chosen you, out of love, to be his own.  Our God is a God of justice, who feeds the hungry, befriends the alien and the sinner, gives food to the hungry, sustains all things, raises up life.”  And Moses does not forget the profound and necessary implications of this reality – “so you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves…”.  Moses first highlights the love of God and our own need to respond in love, reminding us that each of us is, in a sense, alien in this world--we are all pilgrims on the road to back to God, and we are, in fact, our brother and sister’s keeper.

What does it mean to be a Christian?  What is at the heart of the life and teachings of the first-century Jew who we believe is God incarnate?  Perhaps today we could ask ourselves these questions, and keep in mind the responses of Moses and my friend—that first and foremost the life of a Christian is a life overcome and defined by the intimate, life-giving love of God in Christ.  But the power and beauty of the Gospel message of this love is that it demands something great of us.  It demands that we go and do likewise.

Yet another 'homily' for a Fairfield U communion service.  Thanks Colleen for the alley-oop on this one.

Monday, August 1, 2011

God our help

Numbers 11:4b-15 - A frustrated Moses journeying out of Egypt with hungry and ungrateful Israelites 
Psalm 81: 12-17 - Sing with joy to God our help
Matthew 14:22-36 - Jesus walks on water and commands Peter to fearlessly do the same

We know this Moses well.  Here he is in the first reading, journeying with the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land and caring for them as their divinely chosen leader, yet burdened by the suffering, and the stubbornness, of the Israelites.  His people, so many of them, are in their hunger begging to be fed while still recalling that even in their enslavement in Egypt, they at least ate their fill.  Pained by their endless cries of hunger and despair, Moses cries out to God in exasperation: Why me? Why should I be responsible for them? What did I do to deserve this, and how will I possibly satisfy their hunger? I cannot do this on my own…”

I imagine that many of us gathered here today often feel these same sentiments in the day-to-day of our lives.  How often do we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities, and weighed down by the immensity of the need around us?  How often do we give, and give, and give of ourselves, and feel so little appreciated in return?  Whether it is caring for elderly parents or grandparents, raising children, laboring to teach our students, or feeling compelled to respond to the needs of St. Charles Food Pantry or the refugees in Somalia, no doubt we have moments when the human struggle we witness causes us to ask “Why?  Why should I be responsible for this?  How will I possibly meet their endless needs? I cannot do this on my own…”

We are commanded to love one another, yet we often struggle to find the energy.  We are called to feed the hungry, but where to find the food?  We are asked to walk on water, but the strength of the wind is terrifying.

It is in these moments of fear and frustration, when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders and in our hearts, that we find ourselves in the company of Moses and Peter.  Struggling with the seeming impossibility of the Lord's command, they simply cry out, “Lord, save me!”   Their courageous act of faith invites us to trust that we too will be met with saving grace in Jesus’ outstretched hand the moment we reach for God our help.

Written for a lay-led communion service at Fairfield University, 8/1/2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ask Anything

--this reflection was originally written for yHope, the Catholic young adult group that welcomed my wandering soul during my year living in Boston, for their meeting on 7/23/11.--

First reading of the seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. 
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” 
Solomon answered:
“O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king
to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. 
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. 
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. 
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”
The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. 
So God said to him:
“Because you have asked for this—
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches, 
nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right—
I do as you requested. 
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now, 
and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

In this reading, Solomon is basically given one wish, one prayer to be granted by God.  “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”, says the Almighty. Without hesitating, Solomon nails it – he asks not for superfluous, selfish treasures but the ability to serve God and God’s people as they deserve.  As so often asked of us in the Gospels, he humbles himself in order to be exalted. 

I’m sure many of us would welcome this opportunity from God as well – to choose one thing over which God would wave a magic wand.  It sounds far-fetched, but if we believe that prayer actually ‘works’ (and I don’t know if or how it does), then we best be thinking about what it is we would ask for.

I am reminded of a framework for discernment that was suggested to me when I was struggling trying to decide what program I would volunteer with after graduation. Having exhausted many discernment techniques from ignatian imaginative prayer to doodling pictures of what each program “feels like”, a campus minister finally sat down with me and stripped the question down to its bare bones – he asked me “what do you want, what do you really want, and what do you truly desire?”

Exhausted and frustrated, the weight of that question’s simplicity brought me to tears.  I decided I’d had enough – I didn’t know what I truly desired, but I knew what I simply wanted at that moment was a chicken wrap.  Off I went, and juggling these questions en route to the dining hall, lightning struck—what I truly desired was what Rostro de Cristo offered in Ecuador.

I’ve carried this three-question framework for discernment with me since then.  It served me well this time a year ago, when my job in Boston was about to expire and I had to make a move toward my next step – I had tentative opportunities in Ecuador and in Peru, but had no idea what I would do if I stayed in the States. I sat down on the bank of the Charles with these three questions – what do I want, what do I really want, and what do I truly desire – and spent hours journaling out my responses.  At first I let arise the things I wanted – to paint, to be at my friend’s wedding, to walk barefoot on green grass – and slowly followed these things until they led to what I truly desired – to live joyfully as my complete self, to give my life over to others, to be united with God. This exercise again helped me to sort through the heaps of emotions – from the seemingly superfluous to the nearly profoundly unspeakable – in order to find the direction that God had laid in my heart.

Once we are aware of our heart’s deepest desires comes the lifelong challenge of trusting enough in God’s offer of fulfillment.  “Seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened; ask, and it will be given to you…”.   Too often I question the efficacy of prayer; my inquisitive mind wonders how intercessory prayer even works. It’s not magic, so what is it?  Having no answers to the inner mysteries of the Diving Life, I shrug my shoulders and leave the asking and knocking until I can make more sense of these things.

Again, I am reminded of a recent experience of the call to have faith in prayer itself.  Two weeks ago I was in Mexico City with a close friend and we spent several hours at the site of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe – affectionately known simply as la virgen to the Mexicans.  Now, if I’m confused about the powers of intercessory prayer to God, even more so than those invoking Mary’s aid and protection.  I just don’t know what to make of her.  Thus, my internal posture at this extraordinary location was perhaps one of highly reverent curiousity rather than one of devotion.

Responding to my mild skepticism was a plaque outside the basilica with the words that Mary spoke to Juan Diego.  What caught my attention was the following: “I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother…Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? …What else do you wish?…

Ask. Seek. Knock. 

So, surrounded by thousands of devoted Mexicans gazing at the original cloak of Juan Diego for the first time in recent memory, I took the risk of asking, digging deep and pouring my heart out to this Mary figure who seems really insistent upon helping us out.  And so far, it seems to be ‘working’…

And so we return to Solomon.  What if God were to come to us in a dream, tonight, and make the same offer? – “ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  To respond to God’s generosity, we, like Solomon, must reckon with these two challenges.  First, are we in touch with the most profound, intimate desires of our hearts—what we want, what we really want, and what we truly desire?  And then, do we trust enough to dare to ask for it?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

This says it better.

I've never seen anything that more perfectly captures what I was trying to express with that reflection on the Visitation.

Unfortunately I have no idea who the original artist is, but I give credit to Tracy Kemme, beloved Ecua-community mate, for sharing it with me.  Tracy, thank you for being a Mary-Elizabeth relationship in my life.