Pray for our Military
Kindly remember our community in your prayers this week as we engage in prayer and participation in our annual community planning days.
Our 2021-2027 directional goals (here summarized) will guide us:
I think we probably could all agree that the Gospel of John can be difficult to understand. So we can’t blame Jesus’ critics who are confused and ask for a sign when he says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
This incident happened the day after the feeding of the 5000. The crowd followed Jesus to a new location and were joined by many more curiosity seekers. Remember, when John speaks of “the Jews” he is referring to a class of people: the religious authorities, the religious insiders of the day. It is to this mixed group of people Jesus begins to explain the loaves and fish.
He gets pretty direct with them: “I am the bread of life.” This makes the Jews – the religious insiders – angry. Now, Benedict would tell them, “Don’t murmur.” Their mothers might say “Stop your whining!” Jesus lays it on the line, “Do not complain among yourselves.” But, do they go directly to Jesus with their questions? (Do you go directly to the source with your questions?) No, they do what is fairly common (even in our house). They go to one another and begin complaining, grumbling, and murmuring. “Can you believe what he said? Who does she think she is? Where does she come up with that stuff? Who gave her the right to change the schedule?” And, the assignment of motivation for the person’s actions – well, all you can do is chuckle when you overhear another’s explanation about why you did something. “You know why she did or said that?” Like the Jews who were sure Jesus was the son of Joseph, so how could he be the Son of God?
The people were partially right – they did know Jesus. But they only knew him through historical facts. Now, we need to know the facts but too often the facts, the other’s history – and we are so sure we know all the pieces – about Jesus, about other persons, even ourselves. But what little we know can be used to limit possibilities. You can almost hear the Jews saying, (sometimes it’s our refrain, too) “We’ve never done it like this before.” It is both amazing and sad that it is the Jews, the religious insiders, who do this. They go to the synagogue, say their prayers, keep the fasts and dietary laws and try to live faithfully. And yet they have a habit of accepting only historical knowledge. Doing this limits not just our understanding – it also narrows our world, closing us to wonderful possibilities, great opportunities and enriching relationships.
The Spirit calls to us “A feast of life has been prepared for you. The table is full, ready and waiting. God is drawing, pulling, wooing, and loving you to the table.” This sentiment is expressed in many of our Communion hymns such as: “We Come to Your Feast,” “Remember Me,” “Table of Plenty,” “One Communion of Love.”
Sometimes the history of our fears, regrets, pain, and losses become so established we are deceived into believing that we are not even hungry for new relationships, for the Bread of Life. Maybe it’s a history of things done or left undone – or words said or affirmations left unsaid. Perhaps we have a history of a particular way of thinking, believing, seeing the world, each other or ourselves. You know the saying: Insanity is when you keep doing the same thing, the same way and expect a different result.
Jesus teaches us how to focus on the heart of the issue. He says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me …” Here Jesus reminds us that it is an act of God that in the first place brought us to the table and continues to gift us with the power to risk entering into the Christian life, into monastic life. The God-image, PAPA, in THE SHACK movie – says to Mack: “Faith does not grow in the house of certainty – faith is a risk. The good news is that God is willing to be present and teach us.”
So, let us be a people who dare the risk, and enjoy the daily privilege to respond to and consume the Bread of Life. Remember, faith is a verb, not a noun … it is a way of life. It’s not a once and forever thing – it needs to be nourished at the Table. Let us share in the joys and challenges of being the Body of Christ for a hungry world, and drink for those who thirst for justice, peace, fullness of life, and even eternal life.
This evening I’d like to share with you excerpts from Pope Francis’ message for the 2021 World Day Prayer for Vocations. Back in December 2020, His Holiness Pope Francis declared Saint Joseph “Patron of the Universal Church” as he opened the Year of Joseph. His letter to us for today’s International day of prayer for Church Vocations is entitled “Saint Joseph: The Dream of Vocation.” Pope Francis writes:
God looks on the heart and in Saint Joseph he recognized the heart of a father, able to give and generate life in the midst of daily routines. Vocations have this same goal: to beget and renew lives every day. The Lord desires to shape the hearts of fathers and mothers: hearts that are open, capable of great initiatives, generous in self-giving, compassionate in comforting anxieties and steadfast in strengthening hopes. The priesthood and the consecrated life greatly need these qualities nowadays, in times marked by fragility but also by the sufferings due to the pandemic, which has spawned uncertainties and fears about the future and the very meaning of life. Saint Joseph comes to meet us in his gentle way, as one of “the saints next door.” At the same time, his strong witness can guide us on the journey.
Saint Joseph suggests to us key words for each individual’s vocation. The first is dream. If we were to ask people to express in one word their life’s dream, it would not be difficult to imagine the answer: “to be loved.” It is love that gives meaning to life, because it reveals life’s mystery. Indeed, we only have life if we give it; we truly possess it only if we generously give it away. God’s call always urges us to take a first step, to give ourselves, to press forward. There can be no faith without risk. Every “yes” bears fruit because it becomes part of a larger design, of which we glimpse only details, but which the divine Artist knows and carries out, making of every life a masterpiece. Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. Our gift of self will not come to fulfilment if it stops at sacrifice. Were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration.
Pope Francis continues: “I like to think of Saint Joseph, as the protector of vocations.” In fact, from his willingness to serve comes his concern to protect. The Gospel tells us that Joseph wasted no time fretting over things he could not control, in order to give full attention to those entrusted to his care. Such thoughtful concern is the sign of a true vocation, the testimony of a life touched by the love of God. What a beautiful example of Christian life we give when we refuse to pursue our ambitions or indulge in our illusions, but instead care for what the Lord has entrusted to us through the Church! God then pours out his Spirit and creativity upon us – he works wonders in us, as he did in Joseph.
Together with God’s call which makes our greatest dreams come true, and our response which is made up of generous service and attentive care, there is (another) characteristic of Saint Joseph’s daily life and our Christian vocation, namely fidelity. Joseph is the “righteous man who daily perseveres in quietly serving God and God’s plans.” At a particularly difficult moment in his life, he thoughtfully considered what to do. He did not yield to the temptation to act rashly, simply following his instincts or living for the moment. Instead, he pondered things patiently. He knew that success in life is built on constant fidelity to important decisions. This was reflected in his perseverance in plying the trade of a humble carpenter, a quiet perseverance that made no news in his own time, yet has inspired the daily lives of countless Christians ever since. For a vocation – like life itself – matures only through daily fidelity.
How is such fidelity nurtured? In the light of God’s own faithfulness. The first words that Saint Joseph heard in a dream were an invitation not to be afraid, because God remains ever faithful to his promises. Do not be afraid: these words the Lord also addresses to you whenever you feel that, even amid uncertainty and hesitation, you can no longer delay your desire to give your life to him. He repeats these words when, perhaps amid trials and misunderstandings, you seek to follow his will every day, wherever you find yourself. They are words you will hear anew, at every step of your vocation, as you return to your first love. They are a refrain accompanying all those who – like Saint Joseph – say yes to God with their lives through their fidelity each day.
This fidelity is the secret of joy. A hymn in the liturgy speaks of the “transparent joy” present in the home of Nazareth. It is the joy of simplicity, the joy experienced daily by those who care for what truly matters: faithful closeness to God and to our neighbor. How good it would be if the same atmosphere, simple and radiant, sober and hopeful, were to pervade our seminaries, religious houses and presbyteries! Pope Francis continues…”I pray that you will experience this same joy, (my) dear brothers and sisters who have generously made God the dream of your lives, serving God through a fidelity that is a powerful testimony in an age of fleeting choices and emotions that bring no lasting joy. May Saint Joseph, protector of vocations, accompany you with his fatherly heart!”
Please pray for perseverance for our postulants: Marietta and Kathleen.
If it be God’s will, we pray: send vocations to our community.
God bless you! Stay safe – keep healthy and happy and never lose hope – believe that God has a plan that is unfolded for us day-by-day … which is all we need one-day-at-a-time.
For the full text of Pope Francis letter (cited in the attached reflection) click on the link below.Continue Reading
The Benedictine Sisters of Florida are among several Orders that participated in the Global Sisters Report article (an international publication) regarding life during Covid-19.
by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans
After months of emergency shutdowns, staged reopenings and, in some cases, reversals, sisters are finding ways to cope with the inevitable COVID-19 anxiety, brought on by months under virtual lock and key.
No, they aren’t congregating in gyms, bellying up to the bar or having unmasked beach bonfires. Surprised?
Instead they are sewing masks for frontline responders. Scheduling extra prayer time for those suffering from the ravages of the virus. Ringing the monastery bell to remind townspeople to pray in a pandemic-stricken state.
But women in orders are also finding lockdown escapes that would sound familiar to the rest of us. They include in-house movie nights, long walks, check-in calls with friends and acquaintances, the occasional sweet treat and even popular novels.
Their “steady as she goes” approach does not mean that they have been left untouched. As GSR chronicled, some religious communities, such as the Felicians, have had numerous deaths. Elderly members reside in nursing homes where visitors, including fellow sisters, are restricted or banned outright.
In the meantime, women religious are finding ways to connect with others and have fun at the same time, even while maintaining the recommended social distance.
When nuns are looking for outlets, said Sr. Anne Lythgoe, a member of the Columbus, Ohio-based Dominican Sisters of Peace leadership team, they gravitate toward doing more of what they like to do already, whether that is gardening or listening to classical music.
“You go to things that give you life,” she said. Lythgoe, a potter, has been spending more time in her artist’s studio.
Members of her community have also been making masks, as well as providing food assistance, said Lythgoe. Though the pandemic has been “overwhelming, and everyone has had to adjust to a new way of living,” she added that sisters, like everybody else, find a sense of balance by looking outside themselves.
In Los Angeles County, the Daughters of St. Paul (already known as the “media nuns”) moved to “adapt our ministry right away,” said Sr. Rose Pacatte. It did not take long before the seven sisters in her house began to livestream their holy hour and participate in online Masses with consecrated hosts provided by priest friends in neighboring parishes.
“I felt like I was praying in union with the larger church,” said Pacatte, adding that washing her hands has become a ritual and a moment for prayerful reflection.
She would say two Hail Marys for the intentions of those asking for prayer, Pacatte wrote in an email. “Sometimes it was about 50 Hail Marys,” she recalled. “Now, when I pray the Hail Marys as I wash my hands, it’s so people will wear masks, be non-violent in their work for racial justice, and for wisdom for our leaders.”
Perhaps it’s the pandemic effect, but Pacatte said she is now a rosary enthusiast. “I was never a big rosary person, but it became my prayer of comfort.” She has also launched a prayer group on Facebook for Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
With the help of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which donated thousands of the devotional items, the Culver City, California-based Pauline sisters launched a drive-through rosary giveaway from their bookstore parking lot for 10 days in May.
At the suggestion of the Pauline mission advancement director, Sr. Tracey Dugas, sisters in the order have picked up the phone, checking in with local connections. Though Dugas left the fine points to the sisters, in Culver City, “we printed out the info of our bookstore patrons, lay cooperators and benefactors and divided the pages among us,” said Pacatte in an email. Sometimes the conversations would be so lengthy that she would make it through just eight of the names on her list, she said.
But the sisters also found time to watch movies like “Emma” twice a week, go for walks in the neighborhood, and make raspberry lemonade cake “to die for, from scratch,” Pacatte added.
Contacted in Chicago, Dugas said that, despite the trauma of the past months, which included the looting of their local bookstore, “a lot of grace came from this time and people grew in communion with one another.”
Sisters changed their schedules so that they could eat lunch together. “Each sister took on things that relaxed them.”
For Dugas, that was the art of lettering (she’s got almost 6,000 followers on Instagram, where her moniker is @sistah_tee_letters). Others took on long-deferred projects from to-do lists, like moving furniture or cleaning up files.
Navigating the twists and turns of a work life lived largely online — she works with two computers on her desk — hasn’t been easy for Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, a member of the Order of St. Francis in Aston, Pennsylvania, where she serves as the vice president for mission and ministry at Neumann University. “I never thought I would live that long,” joked O’Beirne, about the dual computers, commenting that she grew up in Ireland without a phone.
The sisters in her order, both active and retired, sent out welcoming notes to approximately a thousand students arriving in the fall, she said. In Palmer Method handwriting, of course.
Staff in a local hospital respiratory therapy department were invited to spend nights at the convent’s spiritual center. Sisters sent them meals and cards expressing their gratitude, said O’Beirne.
The sisters, who have the privilege of living in a safe environment, are dedicated to supporting those who are putting themselves at risk, she said.
At the motherhouse of the Presentation sisters in San Francisco, the community, which ranges in age from 76 to 100, has crafted more than 300 masks, said Sr. Rosina Conrotto. With no in-house Mass available, they have been watching it on television and listening to TED talks on aging, said Conrotto, the director of the Office of Consecrated Life for the San Francisco Archdiocese. Men in religious communities, like the Capuchins, have also been engaged in sewing masks, she said.
“I don’t bake, but there are some novels I’ve wanted to read, and I’m catching up on some spiritual reading,” as well as taking a break by listening to classical and country music, and watching a few Turner Classic Movies on the side, she said. In her relatively rare moments of downtime, Conrotto admits to a fondness for mysteries and courtroom dramas.
With public worship suspended for the time being, nuns at the Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore have taken to Zoom, both to participate in annual meetings of their larger Carmelite community and to share vespers and Saturday afternoon lectio divina (reading and reflection) on the next day’s Gospel passage, said Sr. Judy Murray, a member of the community.
At another Carmelite monastery, this one across the country in Carmel, California, much of the day is spent following the traditional horarium of worship, work, recreation and study. The sisters at the Carmelite Monastery of Our Lady and St. Therese don’t have television but are able to access news through newspapers and phone calls, said Mother Teresita, who is the community prioress. “We’ve got shelter-in-place down,” she joked, but added that they are very conscious of what is going on in the outside world.
“We are aware of the unrest, and we continue to live our lives in union with God, uniting all this suffering with Christ and, hopefully, praying for peace. The best we can do is pray. What is more powerful than prayer? That is why we are called to this vocation,” she said.
At Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo, Florida, monastery sacristan Sister Elizabeth Mathai is one on a team of Benedictine sisters who ring the outside Angelus bell every day at 3 p.m. They do this to remind the townspeople living in one of the national COVID-19 “hot spots” that the sisters are praying for them and for an end to the pandemic.
“I really do believe all things are possible with a little help from heaven,” Benedictine Sister Miriam Cosgrove said, but admitted that she was so disheartened by the prevalence of the virus that she doesn’t listen to the news.
When it gets overwhelming, she said, she heads outside, to the fish farm (the sisters raise tilapia, a nod toward economic and environmental stability, they say) and their vegetable garden. “I look around to see what’s come to life each day.”
But apart from two sisters who work outside the monastery walls, the Benedictines, who furloughed their staff with pay, only leave for doctors’ appointments, said Sister Roberta Bailey, the prioress. “We are cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing floors and cooking.”
Every Sunday night is still game night, she said. “Routines keep us together.” She now has more time for her hobby of cross-stitching and for reading, both spiritual and fun, she says.
Some sisters can’t wait for their favorite teams to take the field again.
Like legions of sports-starved fans across the country, many are missing the chance to root for their favorite players (or horse). GSR’s North American sister liaison, Michele Morek, an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph, Kentucky, confessed that community members at the motherhouse were disappointed about cancellation of this year’s Kentucky Derby, as well as the chance to bet on the NCAA basketball brackets.
In the pre-pandemic era, “we all made a ‘donation’ of $2 and our director of communication would send out bracket forms, which we would fill in and send back,” she wrote in an email. “He would give us updates every day, with which sisters had how many right at the time … and the one that got the most right at the end got all the money.”
At the moment, wrote Morek in an email last week, she’s watching the Kansas City Royals out of solidarity with her housemate, an “avid” fan, and eagerly awaiting the advent of football season.
Though many sisters have been pressing for social change during this unsettling time, few seemed daunted, either by the uncertainties of the lockdown or the weeks of protests.
Both male and female religious communities in Conrotto’s area of San Francisco are being conscientious about following directions, from social distancing to handwashing, she reports. “It’s part of our vow of obedience. We are very careful.”
While sisters spend a lot of hours in prayer and assisting others, their advice for staying sane amid all of the crazy also has a distinctly down-to-earth, even a hopeful, tone.
Tend your garden. Bring a neighbor a meal. Don’t fret about what might happen, but do something concrete to change the world, like addressing racism in your workplace, advised Baltimore Carmelite Murray, advocating a focus on beauty, goodness and truth.
“Generally, women religious are in it for the long haul,” said Lythgoe, the potter in Ohio. “They know that things will ultimately get better, and that the arc of history does move towards justice. We can say a lot of things. It’s what we do that speaks to people.”