A few months ago, I attended the Broadway musical Les Miserables. Though set in the context of the French Revolution, the story reﬂects universal longings for justice and peace, whatever our differences may be. I was deeply moved by the powerful rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” As I listened, I could not help but wonder if and when the many tables emptied by our young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan will be ﬁlled again.
Finally! We got several inches of ﬂuffy snow last night, the sun is shining, and the good news is that it is so cold the snow won’t melt. It is Martin Luther King holiday, so kids are making snow angels, folks are shoveling, and the big “kids” with snowblower toys are happily sending snow to their neighbors’ yard. Now doesn’t that sound like someone who likes Minnesota winters? It’s true! The grey/brown days of no snow and 40 degree weather do not make my heart sing. The beauty and silence of fresh snow does. For me, it creates a sense of wonder and awareness of the world around me.
One of my favorite poets, Jessica Powers, writes, “I am waiting for a green shoot to come out of my stump some morning in this unusual springtime — December’s leaf and blossom, winter’s bird…Now and again though is the message blurred by brief uncertainties."
Last night the dream returned. Details had changed, but patterns were similar to other dreams I have had in recent months. I dream that I am wending my way from room to room in old, comfortable surroundings like the section of our motherhouse that dates back to 1875, or our girls’ academy that is celebrating its 125th anniversary, or my grandparents’ home. I feel secure in these familiar spaces.
On the feast of St. Francis on October 4, I had the opportunity to celebrate with the Franciscan Sisters at Rochester, Minnesota. They, like many other religious communities, mine included, are living into new space after reconﬁguring their motherhouse. They blessed the new doorway that will be used by the sisters to access their living and ministry area. It is a doorway to new space, new realities, new patterns of living.
This summer I had the privilege of attending three major assemblies: the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Federation Event, which marked the 40th anniversary of the National Federation of Sisters of Saint Joseph, and the CMSM and LCWR assemblies which both celebrated the close of their jubilee year. Different cities — for the most part, different people, but a common hope for religious life now and in the future.
I am in the midst of a family reunion – my 14 brothers and sisters and their families converging from around the United States to spend four days together at my parents’ farm. The sleeping and eating accommodations are quite amazing, as is the plan for golﬁng, swimming, touring, celebrating birthdays (Dad will be 89), a Twins ball game….all happening in the midst of some very hot days (something we are not used to in Minnesota).
This is my last column for Update. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for your trust in me and the privilege of serving you these past years. I celebrate my time on the national board and the executive committee and the presidency. Your friendship has been pure grace.
We are God’s precious garments – what a powerful message! We are the way Jesus is present in our communities, our church and our world. It points both to how we use the gifts and limitations God has given us, and to how we see the face of Jesus in his life and words of truth and peace, in the face of children, the elderly, those who are poor and homeless, the helpless, and in the people we encounter every day.
I have two images competing in my mind when someone mentions the word “globalization.” The one is the Tower of Babel--the confusion and invisible walls of misunderstanding that scatter a once homogenous people. The center that held this people in community was imploded and language became the metaphor for separation and alienation. They could no longer understand what a person was saying. So they became “other,” called stranger, seen as a threat and gradually named “enemy.” Violence and war made their entry into human history.
Even with our best efforts, it is virtually impossible for women religious in leadership not to be concerned with diminishment—aging members and decreasing numbers.
In December and early January I experienced the deaths of three women religious in the Philadelphia area. Though they were members of three different congregations, and their ministries and personalities were signiﬁcantly different, they were all in the prime of life (at least by the new baby boomer standards) when they died.
There is a feeling of euphoria here today as we celebrate a day of full sun after 15 days of constant winter gloom, which was accompanied by lots of snow, ice and cold. We in Minnesota cope much better with winter when we have our usual clear, sunny (even if cold) days. Even those of us who don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder (the low-grade depression caused by limited sunlight) have a tendency to begin whining about the heaviness of spirit that results from a long string of cloudy days.
In a Benedictine monastery, at the end of the Liturgy of the Hours the prioress gives the community a blessing. I have no recall when the custom started in this monastery of bringing our calendars for the new year to Morning Praise on January 1. On New Year’s morning we include in that blessing a blessing of the calendars. It is an act that embodies our hope that we, as a community, want to be and desire to bring blessings to the days ahead. This hope is the link between our present and our future. It is a communal venture to move into the promise with renewed energy.
I love the season of Advent. It begins with emptiness, expectation and waiting…a word spoken, a question and a response. It begins with a womb, the sacred capacity for life and the promise of fulﬁllment. It tells again the story of a journey. One woman shares the good news of a promise; another understands and shares the mystery.
“…you have become obedient from the heart…” -- Romans 6: 18
As I read this phrase, I heard an invitation to listen deeply to myself so as to learn obedience from my heart. I realized that, after a series of major presentations, my inner well of creativity was pretty empty. And the question arose – What do I/we do when our well is empty? How can I/we be obedient to our call to leadership from the heart, even in times of emptiness
These are apocalyptic times. First, the tsunami with more than 300,000 dead or missing visited our globe. Fishing villages disappeared and a people’s way of life changed forever. Our hearts were moved and the day after Christmas last year was not about gifts but about reaching out beyond our borders to victims. Why such destruction visited a poor people was the question that haunted our minds as we set out to donate to the relief effort. Today, the people who survived are frightened by the sounds of crashing waves, and terriﬁed to return to their village and old way of life by the sea.
This is the time of year for many transitions. Many of you have or are completing your ministry of leadership and moving on to other endeavors! Many are entering into this ministry and are experiencing the steep learning curve that comes with the job! Whether you are serving for the ﬁrst time or as a “recycled” leader, you are beginning a journey into an unknown future with your sisters and colleagues.
It wasn’t Pentecost when the InterAmerican Conference gathered in Brazil. The wind and ﬁre were not evident. The chatter and cacophony English, French, Spanish and Portuguese ﬁlled the hallways, the dining room and auditorium as we discussed the issues before us. The gift of understanding each person who spoke in his or her native tongue was painfully absent. Even with translation, we did not receive the full communication of the emotion and passion that words in one language could not convey in another.
It is Wednesday and I am sitting in my room in Rome. Outside are the sounds of trafﬁc and sirens and, I know without looking, that there are streams of people heading towards St. Peter’s Square. Later on, I will wander through the streets to be part of the crowd of people coming to be part of this historic event of the death and burial of Pope John Paul II. The line waiting to view the body was very long last night – 20-deep, mashed together, down the street from St. Peter’s Square for six blocks, around the block and all the way back.
It’s been cold. Winter cold. Yet with just a few hours of sunshine and warmer weather the tulip leaves are breaking through the dark, chilled ground. An unmistakable sign of spring. It is that time, each year, when I am surprised by the beauty of new life.
There must be something in the monastic gene pool that enables us to embrace Lent each year as a sure part of our journey to God. Benedict in his rule tells us, “The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent.” (RB49:1) He goes on to explain that few would have the strength for such a rigorous life, so we should, at minimum, use the season of Lent to our advantage. There are deﬁnite behavioral expectations: adding to our prayer, our reading, abstaining from food and drink, time in silence and lectio beyond the ordinary measure.
…all moments are key moments,and life itself is grace.
When I ﬁnd a penny on the ground, I pick it up as a sign of God’s blessings coming in small, everyday events. Sometimes it’s an actual penny, sometimes it’s a phrase that tips me into a new economy of grace. The penny I picked up before Christmas was a question posed by Don Goergen, OP, in the November InFormation newsletter – What or who is my center?
The New Year is, for me, an opportunity to remember and to anticipate.
Reﬂecting on the past year, I remember the opportunities and the challenges we faced as a conference. The challenges were many, some more prominent than others. I am sure each of us could list and comment on their importance from our own perspectives.