Sister Sarah Hennessy is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She grew up in North Carolina as an active Quaker and became a Catholic in 2000. For her, Jesus’ messy business includes falling in love with Christ AND with the People of God! Her heart is on fire for the Hispanic community, poetry, playing guitar and accompanying people through birth, death and the living that comes in between. She currently ministers as the perpetual adoration coordinator at St. Rose Convent, as a Mary of the Angels Chapeltour guide, and a volunteer at Franciscan Hospitality House.
Since high school, I’ve been teaching the Christian faith to others. In parishes, classrooms, and while camping in the woods, I’ve taught songs, explained Bible stories, instilled virtues and asked students to memorize definitions and lists. And, occasionally, over the years, a thoughtful youngster in one of those settings would interrupt my enthusiastic lectures and ask an appropriate question: But what is faith?
Oh, it’s a theological virtue along with hope and love, I’d say. “Faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), I’d recite. Or I’d offer a paraphrased combination of the words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Faith is belief in God and all God has revealed through the church.
And even though I have confidently spewed out strings of words attempting to define the virtue, I honestly don’t understand what faith is. Yes, I know: Faith is a virtue. Faith is a principle. Faith is a force. I know all this, and I experience its power over my life.
But define it? My mind might as well be put into a blender of abstraction, turned to high and left on for a solid hour. I hate to admit it, but the racket of me aiming to contain the power of this word into a string of more words has likely been inadequate, and even possibly destructive over the years.
I only realized this recently. A few weeks ago, while…
For over a thousand years, millions of pilgrims have walked across Spain to the Catedral de Santiago (Cathedral of St. James). During Holy Week, I will become one of those pilgrims.
This Lent, much of my energy and prayer has been focused on preparing for this pilgrimage. During this, I have found that God has taught me a lot about what it means to be called.
I’ll be walking the Camino Inglés with five other women, four of whom are Franciscan sisters in my congregation. The Camino Inglés is one route — the quieter, less-traveled one — of the pilgrimage that ends at the Catedral de Santiago in western Spain.
Our little group will arrive in Spain on Palm Sunday and begin walking on Tuesday. We hope to arrive at the Catedral de Santiago in time for the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Each day, we will walk between 12 and 18 miles. Each night, we will sleep in very simple refugios. We will carry everything on our back and pray with our feet as we walk steadily over the trail that pilgrims have journeyed since the Middle Ages.
Nearly every day since Lent began, I have laced up my hiking boots and headed outside to walk several miles. I have been trying, physically and spiritually, to prepare myself for this journey. A few weeks ago, I even…
About a week before I professed my final vows, in the summer of 2015, I had a crisis of faith.
During a private retreat in a quiet cabin, I was tucked into a recliner, blankets snuggled around me. I stared out a wide window toward a vast lake — not a lake I know well; I have no sense of its depth, shape or shores. I could only see part of the stirring waters. It was miles across to the other side.
Staring into the expansive mystery and intensely aware of my human limitations, I felt my spirit stir with anxiety and tension. How could I possibly submit myself to a life centered on God if I am not completely sure what God is? How can I say “yes, forever” if the future feels frightening?
With such questions multiplying inside of me, I prayed, pondered and agonized. After a while, the Spirit reminded me of a book by Congregation of St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson called Quest for the Living God. Informed by the writings of Karl Rahner, Johnson dedicated an entire chapter to God as Holy Mystery in the book.
I found a copy and read the chapter about Holy Mystery. I prayed and was honest with God about my questions and my struggles. Gradually, I felt reassured and inspired to…
A few weeks ago I saw my first “Back to School” flier of the season. In the past several years, such fliers stirred up emotions of stress and panic for me, along with excitement. As a teacher, back to school sales served as glaring reminders that I had a lot to do.
This time, the sighting of a back to school flier surfaced a whole new set of emotions: gratitude and relief. I felt grateful for my time as a teacher, and relieved by the reminder that this year there is no “back to school” for me.
To my surprise, in the past year I have felt called to move on to a new ministry and not…
“So, you’re Catholic, but you’re married to a Lutheran pastor. How does that work?”
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked this question in my seven years of marriage. Depending upon the inquirer, I have a few canned answers that easily roll off the tongue, but the simplest and most genuine is this: “By the grace of God!”
When I boarded a plane bound for Notre Dame 13 years ago, I could never have imagined that the journey would…
Nicole Steele Wooldridge has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they were neighbors in Chicago several years ago. Having majored in Theology and International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!), Nicole shares Sister Julia’s passion for Catholic Social Teaching. Though her goal is to travel the globe (five continents and 24 countries down … everywhere else in theworld to go!), she is happily rooted in the Seattle, Washington area for now while she and her husband raise their two young daughters. Nicole’s columns for Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting, particularly as it relates to the radical call of Gospel living. When she’s not working part time at a local college or chasing her girls around the house, Nicole enjoys reading spy novels, visiting microbreweries, and discussing black holes. She is extremely grateful to be a part of the Messy Jesus Business family!
In the midst of a war, I found my home in the Catholic church.
I was a college student, majoring in history. Studying history meant, among other things, studying war and the destruction and injustices that wars had repeatedly caused. The more I studied this side of history, the more passionate I became about social movements and peaceful alternatives. The truth of history convinced me that war, militarism and violence were all immoral.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth blog post in a five-part series “Faith lessons from my Ugandan family” by Messy Jesus Business guest contributor/Rabble Rouser Nicole Steele Wooldridge about her experiences in Mbale, Uganda (read lessons #1, #2 and #3). Tune in tomorrow to experience the final installment of Nicole’s faith lessons from Africa.
My husband and I almost canceled our trip to Uganda two weeks before our scheduled departure.
We had just found out the country’s presidential elections would be happening the day after we arrived (the date of which had not been determined when we bought our tickets the previous year). My own knowledge of the political situation in Uganda, combined with a few hasty Google searches, left me fearful that we might be entering a hornet’s nest of political protests and police showdowns—a risk which might have thrilled me 10 years ago, but which I could not stomach as the mother of two young children.
After reaching out to people I trust in Uganda (including, of course, my host family) and a great deal of prayer for discernment, my husband and I decided that canceling our trip would be bending to fears of unlikely “what-ifs” rather than reasonable concerns for our physical safety. Together, we resolved to do something which doesn’t come easily to those of us accustomed to feeling in control of our circumstances: to take a deep breath and trust in God’s protection.
The catch, of course, is that none of us is ever in control of our circumstances, and we are always in need of God’s protection. We just don’t have to confront that reality nearly as often in the United States as in other parts of the world.
My Ugandan family does not take their safety for granted.
Every evening during family prayer, they thank God for the “journey mercies” which have delivered them safely home. Their prayers of thanksgiving for these journey mercies are specific and elaborate, without being morose. For them, there is no fatalism or despondence in acknowledging that their lives are entirely in God’s hands … only profound trust and gratitude.
I do not wish for the dangers of life in Uganda; there is nothing quaint or charming about the fact that the life expectancy of a Ugandan is a full 25 years shorter than my own.
But none of us is getting out of this world alive. My husband and I know, on an intellectual level, that we are not guaranteed to come home tomorrow. We could easily be struck down by a car accident, or a madman, or a disease … So why does it feel disempowering or pessimistic to admit it?
Why do we let the illusion that we are “in control” fool us into thinking we have anyone but God to thank for delivering us safely through the day?
For reflection: How can we who live a comfortable existence identify and express gratitude for the “journey mercies” of everyday life?
Author bio:Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington area. She spent three months living and volunteering in Mbale, Uganda in 2006, and recently returned there with her husband to visit her host family and friends. She lacks the courage to drive a car in Uganda.
Big trucks and death beds tend to get our attention. We wake up and listen to the Truth when tragedies and power struggles shake us alert. God gives us grace and growth and then we learn. We really aren’t meant to be independent after all; we’re trying to be God when we cling to control and try to go through life on our own.
Today is World Food Day, a particular day when discipleship offers opportunities: we are called to advocate for those who are hungry, to be stewards of our blessings, and to fast and pray for the type of world that works according to God’s designs. (I suggest participating in some of the actions of Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam or Bread for the World.)
We’d rather not think about such things. That way we can keep enjoying our gourmet food guilt-free. Systemic change is tough stuff when the suffering feels too far away from us, or the facts are totally depressing.
But we’re disciples of Jesus, the greatest advocate for those who are hungry and poor. We try to follow Jesus’ ways, even if it means letting go of our comfort and entering into what’s ugly and disturbing.
When we pray “thy will be done” are we asking for God’s will to be done only in the ways we like and are comfortable with? Or, do we expect God’s will to be as we imagine it?
Being human means being in relationship. Relational living insists on our need to rely on others. In order to really trust one another and follow Jesus we must let go and remain open to mystery. This isn’t easy when the mystery is really, really uncomfortable or unlike what we’re used to. Praying for openness can help, I’ve learned.
I keep wondering, though, if we make it harder or easier on ourselves when we pray to be open to changes. Is it inevitable that we’ll carry our ugly stubbornness and assumptions around and then weigh down our walking with Jesus? Is there a certain amount of resistance and struggle that is appropriate, necessary and natural? Do these dynamics make us human, and ultimately cause us to grow?
Maybe risk-taking and leaps of faith are God’s ways of getting us in shape for the real labor of following. Because, the act of saying yes to trusting God can open us to change.
God is clever. Leaning into God’s trustworthiness gets us places. Somehow we end up submitting and give up our ideas and agendas when we must.
This saying is trustworthy:
If we have died with himwe shall also live with him;
No matter where I am in the world- where I am in my life- I continue to be fascinated with how light and dark dance together. As I journey with Jesus through transitions and changes, I continue to be in wonder and awe of how I experience Christ’s presence in the shadows, the cracks, the hidden, silent places. As my faith deepens, it seems that God is not a God of only what is black and white and crystal clear; rather, God is fully alive in the places made of the energy of grey.
Here’s a collection of some of my photography from the times when I have been mesmerized with the glory of God in the silent spaces as I follow Jesus; the beauty of crossing shadows.
Sometimes, when such silent shadows stun me I remember this song, by Jars of Clay called “Fade to Grey.”