I am wide-awake in a dark hospital room. I survived a gruesome hiking accident that left me bloody and alone in the bottom of a ravine, but I’ve been told that I’ll have reconstructive jaw surgery the next day. My family and Franciscan sisters have gone home to sleep for the rest of the night. I am alone, except for the woman snoring behind the nearby curtain and the nurses who seem to materialize at my bedside to check my vitals.
Pain is pressing on my body. When I landed at the bottom of the cliff, my face shattered from eyebrows to chin. My hand and arm were crushed under my forehead, because I’d reflexively raised them to protect my skull as I slipped. Now my limbs are screaming reminders of what happened. I am bruised and bloody. I feel as if all the pieces of my bones would float away and disintegrate if it weren’t for the swollen flesh holding me together.
I want to scream, to groan about how my life has suddenly flipped on its side. I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this dark, lonely night.
But somehow, my mind and heart turn from agony to appreciation; it’s the only choice I seem to have. I begin to pray: Thank you, God, for saving my life. Thank you for the excellent medical care. Thank for each person who has helped me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
This is the beginning of my latest column for “National Catholic Reporter’s” “Global Sisters Report.” Read more of “Groaning and gratitude” here.
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.
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 couldmean 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 editor: This 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:
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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…