Advent, time of preparation for the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation. Emmanuel, God with us. We recall during this time a woman and a man who made a commitment to their God, their people, and each other. There was an invitation from outside of themselves, from Something bigger than themselves. They responded with “yes” and it changed their predictable life’s journey.
Our retreat house is located at the very tip of New Jersey at a place aptly called Cape May Point. Originally an elaborate hotel built just before the turn of the century (the 20th century that is), it was sold to the Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1909. From 1941 to 1946 the house was leased to the government as an outlook post to warn against possible invasion. After the war the house was returned to us, but swimming was prohibited for about 60 years because of mines that had been placed offshore.
Recently Carmen, Mary, Judy, and I moved into a new house. When we were informed that we needed to move from our comfortable convent home, we wanted to stay together. The timing of the move was inconvenient given our combined responsibilities of leadership, caregiving for an aging parent, and the busy activities of parish life. Yet, a determination to stay together, as well as a lot of help from many generous people, enabled us to ﬁnd a house and move.
After a month of saying farewell to people – some expected and some unexpected – I ﬁnd myself reﬂecting on how we experience saying ‘goodbye’ and found myself going to a quote by Frederick Buechner, a Protestant pastor and writer:
Despite the heat and the humidity, our motherhouse chapel was ﬁlled with family members, friends, associates, and many, many sisters. They had gathered to celebrate the ﬁrst vow ceremony of our newest member. The air could barely contain the anticipation and the excitement of those gathered. For many of us it was a reminder our own vows made long ago or more recently. Grace was in abundance.
I am convinced that one of the qualities needed for leadership today is the ability to live out of a set of luggage. For the past month, I have been doing just that as I traveled to Rome for meetings of the LCWR presidency and executive director with Vatican ofﬁcials. From Rome I ﬂew to Finland, sailed to Estonia, rode buses and trains to Latvia and the Czech Republic, and ﬂew back to Italy to visit with sisters and partners of my Precious Blood congregation. Then I headed back to Rome for the international gathering of superiors general of congregations of women religious.
I recently celebrated the Triduum with my parish community in Winona, Minnesota. It is made up of families and young single adults, people who love to sing, are intent about their spiritual life, and participate in many ways to make the community’s worship rich and challenging. The celebrant, the music, the ritual, and the full-throated participation and the quiet attentiveness all made for a deeply reverent and moving experience of God’s abundant goodness and loving presence.
In February I had the opportunity and the privilege to participate in two meetings, each associated with LCWR. The ﬁrst was actually a series of meetings with bishop members of the Commission on Religious Life and Ministry, members of the executive committee of CMSWR, and members of the executive committees and national boards of CMSM and LCWR. The second was a meeting of the members of the LCWR History Committee and Design Island, the professional company that is designing the exhibit.
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.