Peace beyond corners

My most vivid memories of elementary school are from second grade. I had spiked hair (I’m not sure if it was cool back then or not), lost many of my baby teeth (earning a special certificate with each one) and played lots of playground football games. However, these were not my most important or formative experiences.

I attended Saint Mary’s Grade School in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Sister Leonette was my principal, and Sister Maureen was my second grade teacher. Since Sister Maureen had taught young black students on the south side of Chicago, she placed a special emphasis on Black History Month.

During all of February, we learned about the great African-American women and men who struggled to end slavery and segregation and who led the civil rights movement like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. We learned and sang black spirituals. Sister Maureen showed us photos of her former school, and I felt connected to those students. My family visited that school and parish in Chicago several times over the years, and we formed relationships that continue today.

Sister Maureen’s classroom also had a Peace Corner. If two students were fighting they had to go to the Peace Corner, talk through it, apologize and shake hands before they could leave. I had a few trips to the Peace Corner — mostly related to arguments arising from playground football games. Making peace like this was not easy, but it was so important. Knowing that I still experience my faults and weaknesses and broken relationships, I think about that Peace Corner often and try to practice it in my life today.

sisters-Luke-first-communion
Left to right: Leonetta Kochan, OSF, Luke and Maureen Bomaster, OSF (photo courtesy Luke Hansen)

That spring I made my First Communion. In accordance with the Gospel, the Peace Corner was actually an important and necessary preparation for receiving the Eucharist.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples:

“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your sister or brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your sister or brother,
and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23-24)

Black History Month and the Peace Corner both instilled something deep within me about what it means to be reconciled with our sisters and brothers. The annual observance of African American history taught us about the need for social reconciliation. We learned about social sins like slavery, racism, segregation and discrimination, and the need for justice and reconciliation in society. In the Peace Corner, I learned about the importance of reconciliation with friends — and those I found it difficult to get along with. I learned the need for dialogue and forgiveness.

Sister Maureen was a great teacher — a wonderful teacher of peace, just like Saint Clare and Saint Francis. She created structured opportunities to form our young consciences and commitment to peace.

So I ask you: Who has helped form your conscience and shown you how to forgive and make peace? When was the last time you needed to say “I’m sorry” for hurting someone you love? When have you been able to extend forgiveness to someone who hurt you?

In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 1-12),  Jesus invites us, his disciples, to live in a new way: to be poor in spirit, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be peacemakers.

In the Gospel,  Jesus challenges us to go deeper than simply following good rules (Mt 5: 21-22). To renew ourselves in holiness. It is not enough to simply not kill people. Jesus invites us to examine what is underneath a desire to kill: anger, slurs, grudges and judgments. In what small ways do we kill each other? Is it through gossip? The Arabic word raqá today could mean calling someone stupid, crazy, fake, a flirt or ugly.

If we find ourselves talking about others like this (and I know I do, at times) or even looking around and thinking about others in these terms, it is necessary for us to go first and be reconciled with our sister or brother.

The sign of peace at each Mass provides this opportunity. It is a sign of our desire to make peace before we go to the altar. Whenever you give the sign of peace, remember the Gospel. In the sign of peace, we are preparing ourselves to receive the gift of Jesus and his peace.

And, if there is someone you need to reconcile with in your life but they are not with you at Mass, take a moment to pray for them before receiving Communion.

May every chapel, and every sacred liturgy, be a Peace Corner where we are formed into persons of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Note from the editorThis blog post is a version of a homily that Fr. Luke Hansen, SJ, preached at the closing Mass for Camp Franciscan on June 15, 2017 (Thursday of the 10th Week of Ordinary Time) at Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Photo credit: http://www.Jesuits.org

Originally from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, Luke Hansen, SJ, has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since 2004 when they met at an airport on their way to serve in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in California. Passionate about justice and peacemaking, much of his experience in ministry has been centered on serving adults and adolescents who are incarcerated. He presently assists with sacramental ministry at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee. In October, he will begin a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Black cloth

Red broth, steaming soup, vegetables

just picked, now my lunch; I slurp life in.

Phone rings

Sister Laura on the line, “Sister Rita is dying.

I’ll put the phone to her ear. Say what you’d

like. She

can’t talk, won’t respond. Say your good-bye.”

A pause. My lungs expand, mind races, I search

my heart

for words just-right. I mutter, “Thank you,”

“I love you,” “Pray for me,” “Enjoy freedom,”

“Good bye.”

She moans acceptance. The words echo—

feel blank, all seems hollow—

sacred.

Red broth, steaming soup, life once fresh

now my lunch; hot liquid tasted,

consumed.

Minutes later I hem black cloth for prayer,

black cloth for teens needing gifts from God—

life long.

Photo credit: http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/379193198
Photo credit: http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/379193198

Dedicated to Sister Rita Rathburn, FSPA, who was a sister, friend, and coach for me in the craft of writing. She died on Monday. May she rest in peace. 

In a time for falling

Lately, falling has been on my mind. The season for this is approaching, as leaf after leaf will soon let go and make its journey downwards, trusting the winds to take them where they need to go.

I have been thinking about the sensation of falling, but not for the reasons you might expect. It has little to do with the approach of the season of autumn, or my clumsy nature. (I’m no stranger to falls of the physical sort!) Rather, falling is on my mind because I am in transition. I recently moved into a whole new ministry and living situation, so I have been adjusting to and enjoying my new environment. During the first week here, I awoke in the dark of the night with the thought that …

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

"leaves will fall" photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“leaves will fall” photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Praying with children crawling every which way

Recently—and a bit ironically, considering my vocation—my life has offered me an opportunity to learn all sorts of lessons about prayer and parenting.

When I was in temporary vows a few years ago I agonized about my vocation a lot. I agonized about why it was that I was called to be a Sister, especially since marriage and motherhood were also so incredibly attractive to me. I was tormented by my conflicting and equally good desires. I doubted my abilities and even the discernment that led me to religious life and kept me sticking around. “Why?!” was my perpetual question that spiraled around in my prayers and cycled on repeat through every conversation with my spiritual director.

Then, one day, while on retreat and feeling elated in the silence and solitude I was soaking up the answer dawned upon me: I am a Franciscan sister because solitude and silence help me thrive.

It was easy to picture myself as a mother and a wife. My love would be intense and I would be enthusiastic about serving and creating a strong, happy and healthy family. I knew that I’d sacrifice my needs for the sake of others and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy true solitude and prayer—to unite with God in silence. I suspected that my relationship with God would be basically put on hold for 20 years and I couldn’t bear the thought; couldn’t imagine myself as calm and grounded without a strong prayer life. Rather, all I could envision was a frantic, stressed and overwhelmed version of myself–not exactly a peaceful woman who was joyfully living the Gospel.

Perhaps I was afraid of who I might become. More than likely, though, the Spirit was guiding me to the truth of who I was made to be: a Franciscan Sister grounded in prayer and community, free to serve and love anyone who entered my life.

For the past month I have been very fortunate to stay at my younger sister’s farm in southwest Iowa–and in a sense, test out my intuition about what life would have been like as a mother. My sister is a businesswoman, a farmer, a wife, and a parent; my precious niece is three months old and my adorable nephew is three and half. During these weeks my intuition has been affirmed: yes, indeed, my prayer life is different with kids around.

My niece and me, July 2016

But, it turns out that I am not exactly frantic, stressed nor ungrounded after all.

It’s taken me a while to understand how this happened. I’ve realized that assisting with childcare hasn’t actually decreased my prayer life, but rather prayer has taken on a whole new form and shape. In this setting prayer happens between diaper changes and bouncing the baby while my sister squeezes in a meeting or a nap. Morning and evening psalms are prayed in a bouncy, choppy manner while a curious preschooler creates an imaginary play world around me.

My nephew and I, July 2016
My nephew and me, July 2016

Mostly, though, God’s presence is known through the ordinary sacredness of viewing the world through the lens of childhood—as a beginner person and a person in need. My niece stares out the the window at the green life moving in the breeze and her expression of pure wonder and awe remind me not to take God’s creation for granted. My nephew cries out “I want someone to play with me!” and interrupts my tasks with a reminder that attending to a vulnerable child is one of the best ways to unite with God’s love and listen to God’s voice.

For certain, I have learned that the prayer of parents and childcare workers is the prayer of action. It is on-the-go, and in-between. For some families prayer may be structured and formal, but for most it’s likely the holy raptness of ordinary chaos. It is listening and responding to a child’s cries, questions, or made-up story. It is asking the child to lead the meal time prayer. It is responding to the question of “How did God make the cabbage purple?” with “It is a beautiful mystery! Isn’t God amazing?!” It is, as Messy Jesus Business Rabble Rousers Nicole and Steven have each written about, integrating Truth and wonder into the messy, loving relationships and constant service of family life. It is psalms enacted and adoration of God everywhere, just like the sort of stuff that Sister Sarah will speak about in a webinar later this week.

Although my experience this past month has been a blessing and a teacher, I still feel affirmed in my vocation as a Franciscan Sister. As my time here comes to a close, I look forward to returning to my more familiar form of religious life, to sharing daily life with my FSPA sisters and a bit more structured prayer. There, I’ll pray united with parents everywhere who commune with God in the art of childcare every chaotic, beautiful day.

Bridges are built by individuals: Being sister across the divide

Last summer, I sat in a small circle of with other sisters my age at the Giving Voice conference. We were praying in silence, integrating the question our speakers had invited us to consider: What sort of borders do we desire to cross?

In the quiet, I recalled a fear that had surfaced earlier, when I was discerning whether I wanted to make my final vows with my congregation. What if, I wondered, dedicating myself to this particular way of living religious life made it look like I was only saying “yes” to a certain type of Catholicism? What if my yes was heard as a no to other lives and ways of being a woman religious?

As I looked around this circle, I noticed that all of us looked like modern women; many of us wore capri pants, sandals and cross necklaces. I had a lot in common with these women, but I knew that…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

"bay bridge" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“bay bridge” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Pumped for Pope Francis in the USA

This afternoon Pope Francis will arrive in the USA!

Even though I can’t go the East Coast to greet him,  I am very excited!

Me, Pope Francis (cut-out), and Sister Laura
Me, Pope Francis (cut-out), and Sister Laura

During these first few weeks of school I have been doing different things with my students to get us all pumped up for his visit to our country.

(I made the local news last night, talking about this very fact!)

Here are some of the things we have been doing to prepare for his visit:

  • We have been praying with this prayer from the World Meeting of Families. The World Meeting of Families began today in Philadelphia and Pope Francis will be joining the conference at the end, this weekend.
  • We are celebrating what I call “Pope Francis Fridays.” On Fridays we pause and do something special related to Pope Francis such as contemplate one of his statements or actions,  or watch news stories related to him. For example, last week I asked my students to contemplate Pope Francis’ quote that “We all have the duty to do good,” and then journal about what good they had done that day.
  • We have been praying for him, for his travels, safety and health. We have especially been praying that we really take to heart the messages he has for us. We also have been praying for all the people who are doing the work of hosting and coordinating all the details of his visit.
  • I have a calendar in my classroom that is clearly labeled with the time when Pope Francis will be in the USA and we have been counting down the days until his arrival.
  • We have discussed what we know and appreciate about Pope Francis. For one of the Pope Francis Fridays we watched the coverage on his Virtual Audience to the USA and I heard the students comment about how much he inspires them.
  • This Thursday we are having a Pope Francis Party in my classroom. We’ll have treats, play games and watch the Pope make his address to U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, my community will be hosting a similar Watch Party for the public in St. Rose Convent.

It is an exciting time to be a Catholic in the United States of America. It is also an exciting time to be a religious sister and have a Pope that is a Jesuit and is informed by the beauty and challenges of community life. I really appreciated his recent comments to the crowd of priests, religious and seminarians. During this Year of Consecrated Life, and just a few months past when I made my final vows as a Franciscan Sister, Pope Francis’ reflections on living this unique vocation are very meaningful to me.

I know many people who going to the Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia to greet Pope Francis and participate in the gatherings. Apparently all the novices in the country were invited to the Mass of Canonization of Juniper Serra tomorrow (a fact that made me wish I would have delayed my vocation and were now a novice!). Fortunately, the blessing of modern technology helps me follow my friends who are attending online and participate from afar.

There is a lot of buzz and anticipation about what Pope Francis will say or do when he is in the USA. He is not a predictable pope. He proclaims the Gospel and acknowledges how challenging and messy it is to build the reign of God.

No matter what message of Truth Pope Francis may proclaim and inspire us with by his witness, may each of us follow his example. May we boldly love our neighbors and courageously enter into the broken and hurting parts of creation as we walk closely with Jesus. May we be real instruments of peace, just like Pope Francis! Amen!

 

It happened!

Sisters Julia and FSPA President Karen Lueck
Sisters Julia, FSPA President Karen Lueck

The past few weeks have been very busy and full of life for me.  I went on vacation and then retreat and then made my Final Vows on July 11th. It was all amazing!

Thank you very much for all of your support and prayers! I am in awe and overwhelmed by all the love and blessings I have been showered with recently.

If you are interested, you may view the mass of my Perpetual Profession of Vows as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration here:

Sister Julia Walsh Final Vows U Stream

Julia Receives Ring
I am a bit amazed by the ring I received.

For me, one of the highlights of the profession mass was the phenomenal reflection given by my dear friend and Messy Jesus Business contributor Sister Sarah Hennessey in which she cites what my heart, one day, began to say: “I pray, dear One, that the union that comes from my consecration helps your Church to boldly burn with the fire of your love.”  (This was something I shared in my most recent Global Sisters Report column.)

According to many who were present on Saturday, it was obvious I was boldly burning with a fire of love for Jesus; my family; my friends; my FSPA sisters; my Rabble Rousers; and my partners in a life of Messy Jesus Business, including all of you!

May God bless us–we are all in this Messy Jesus Business as we set the world on fire with Gospel love! Amen!

Sister Julia with her family
Me with my family, minus brother-in-law Daniel
Sister Julia and friend Father Graham Golden, O.Praem.
Me with my friend Rev. Graham Golden, O.Praem., who presided at Mass
Joyful Sister Julia!
A joyful moment after Mass

 

Blessed Oscar Romero and Sister Antona

I am proud that several sisters in my community have served in El Salvador. In fact, some of them acquainted as friends with the American church women who were martyred in 1980 during the Civil War. The sisters in my community who were in El Salvador were ordered to return to the United States in 1981.

Antona Schedlo, FSPA, returned to El Salvador in 1988 and worked in the war zone until the war ended. Then she worked in  another part of the country  during until 2010 when she moved back to our motherhouse in La Crosse for health reasons. When Sister Antona left El Salvador she promised the people there that she would return when Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified. Thanks be to God, this event occurred just about a month ago on May 23rd! I asked Sister Antona some questions about her experience.

 

Schedlo_Antona_13JU_FSPA_20-crop

How long did you live and minister in El Salvador? What was your main ministry during that time?
I worked there 31 years as a pastoral minister and usually in a parish where the pastor came only on Sunday to celebrate Mass. I had to be jack-of-all-trades: constructor, counselor, nurse, catechist, organizer, church minister, friend, visitor, cleaner, teacher and at times, referee. Name it–I probably have done it. Had youth groups, children groups, Bible groups, AA groups, construction groups. Never a dull minute and never a bored day.

What do you love about El Salvador and the Salvadorian people?

El Salvador by Nina Shephard, FSPA
El Salvador by Nina Shephard, FSPA


El Salvador is a beautiful small green country. The people are warm, friendly, accepting and hardworking. With all that has happened in the country the last 40 years they still have hope and are working for a peaceful, equitable and just country.

What should we all know about Blessed Oscar Romero?
Everyone should know Blessed Romero had great compassion for the poor and did all in his power–even his life–so they could have a fruitful, just, respectable life.

Blessed Oscar Romero by Rose Elsbernd, FSPA
Blessed Oscar Romero by Rose Elsbernd, FSPA

How does he inspire you personally?
Personally, his brave, outspoken way of giving voice to those who had no voice was an inspiration to me to do what I needed to do to help and be in solidarity with the people of El Salvador.

What was your experience returning to El Salvador to attend the beautification of Blessed Oscar Romero?
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be at the beatification ceremony with those thousands enthusiastic people who loved and respected Blessed Romero and are, in crowds of hundreds of thousands, celebrating their unity and gratefulness to him.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about El Salvador and Blessed Oscar Romero?
Yes, we all need to pray to him to work a miracle and bring peace to El Salvador by ending the violence due to the gangs and turn El Salvador into a peaceful, loving, just country.

My journey into my family of grandmas

What will I be when I grow up? It’s a familiar question. As a happy and energetic farm girl in Iowa, I frequently imagined what my life would look like as an adult.

While I helped my mother with chores or ran around exploring the woods and the farm buildings, I dreamed about how I might run a household if I ever were a mother some day. I looked forward to when I would be able to do adult things and make my own choices. I saw myself acting a lot like my own mother and grandmother: gardening, cooking and baking in a big farmhouse and offering care to a lot of happy and playful children.

I also dreamed about being a teacher, a writer or maybe a missionary in another country. I did have a vague idea that I might like to be a Catholic sister, based largely on my love of films like “The Sound of Music” and “Sister Act,” but my childhood dreaming never included the picture of me actually being a nun.

Photo credit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105417/
Photo credit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105417/

 

What remained a constant in my childhood thoughts about being an adult, however, was an experience of relating to a large, loving family. This makes sense. I never knew any Catholic sisters as a child, but…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.] 

 

Big picture love

Union with God: we pray for it, long for it, work for it. But, are we prepared for what it can do to us? How much could we be transformed if, for example, we start to see the world as God sees it? And, what does love got to do with it?

Last night I renewed my temporary vows for two more years; I am now starting my fifth year of vowed life with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and it’s truly awesome. I marvel at all the abundant blessings that embrace me and the numerous ways that I am enriched by life in a community of phenomenal women. God is so good and I am blessed!

One of the amazing ways that life in community (and in many ways, life in general) enhances me is the gift of love that is given: I am constantly held by Love’s power. Through love I feel accepted and appreciated (celebrated, even) and it’s energizing. Plus, the love I experience is overwhelming because it is so big, huge, deep and wide.

And, I shall confess, it also feels a bit unfair to experience so much love. I am thankful but I do also squirm in the awkwardness and get a tad uncomfortable. Somehow it’s uncomfortable when I realize that it’s deserved–that I am indeed love-worthy. (In fact, we all are!)

Being loved–understanding how loved I am–feels unfair because I know many, many people do not understand they are loved by God or feel loved by others. I don’t like it when someone is wealthy in a goodness that others lack, and need. Some of the youth I have worked with especially do not understand that they are beautiful, loved, precious and valuable children of God. This breaks my heart. Also, many of the people I know who live in tough poverty have to struggle with homelessness or insecurity simply because they are not blessed with a huge circle of supportive, loving relationships like I am. This is not their fault, it’s their situation.

In another element of society, I have encountered ministers–yes, ministers–who do not feel worthy to be loved by God or used as an instrument of God. It’s different than an appropriate humility or minority (so well described here by my Franciscan missionary friend). Why do we see love right in front of us and then not accept it? I wonder if it’s worse than having low self-esteem or being insecure.

As humans we fall into traps of categorical and hierarchical thinking way too quickly.

When we’re really free–when we’re really united with God–then we get to step back and see things like God does. We gain a big picture, a full-range view of what’s really up. Then we realize that God doesn’t ever think anyone or anything is ever better than another. Love is not unfair, love is always wide, deep, detailed, and full of freedom.

I wonder if it looks something like this:

"Dubuque from above" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Dubuque from above” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The other day I enjoyed a beautiful plane ride over Wisconsin. From above, I could see the hot humidity hanging over the land, even though I knew those on Earth couldn’t see what was causing them to feel as they did.

There’s a bit of a paradox in what goes through my mind when I’m in airplanes. Looking down, I wonder if I’m seeing the world as God sees it. But, then I believe wholeheartedly that God is not just above us, looking down, watching over us. Nope, God is totally, intimately with us, even in the littlest, tiniest things. I remember having a totally profound dream about ten years ago in which I discovered the nativity scene on the tip of a tiny thread. I think God is also like that.

Love is like that too. After all, God is Love.

So, right, love is fair, good, awesome, wide, deep, big, detailed–it encompasses all things. Just like it says in St. Paul’s old love letter:

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinth 13:7)

This is the sort of thing we must remember and recommit to when we’re frustrated or discouraged, when Gospel living feels too messy for our liking. Love bears even the ugly, the injustices, the violence, the sin. We get to lean into God’s love, we can trust God even when the suffering is too intense for us to have hope in redemption. I believe all this but can admit it’s easier said than done.

One of my favorite names and images of God is of God as The Great Artist–the one who is still creating, making the masterpiece of the universe. Only God can really know how or why the mysterious colors of suffering are needed or fit into the big picture.  (Fr. Barron explains this quite well in Episode 3 of the Catholicism series.)

So all in all, God’s love is both big picture stuff and tiny thread stuff. I get to experience it in my vowed communal life and I hope you’re experiencing it too. We are loved and God is love; this is very good! Together, let’s savor it and dwell in it and share it–and then together, we shall be more transformed by it too. Amen!