coming home

Guest blogger: Sister Sarah Hennessey

Family life is messy.  If you are part of a family you probably know what I mean.  To be church is to be family.  To me this means that we are more than some institution or club to belong to; as family we belong to each other.  Our lives weave in and out of each other through birth and death, joy and sorrow, sudden tragedy and daily victories. 

I recently celebrated my perpetual profession as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.  My Franciscan sisters were joined by family and friends from across the country to celebrate a mass I had been planning in my head for years!  Secretly, I had been afraid that if my crazy quilt of a family and my FSPA community and my parish came together in one place that world war three would break out or at least a minor explosion. But instead it was an explosion of joy. 

My five year old niece carried flowers down the aisle with me as I carried a precious lard light.  My home priest presided in joy and song.  Friends sang a psalm I had composed.  I professed vows to the leadership team, received my blessed ring, and signed the official papers.  We processed out smiling and clapping to “This Little Light of Mine.”

To me the day was a homecoming.  As Sister Eileen McKenzie said in her reflection, in Jesus and my FSPA sisters I have found my home.  Home as you know is a complex place.  The people we love the most are often the people we hurt the most.  And as we come to forgive each other we love each other more. 

Henri Nouwen comments on this characteristic of home when he says:

                Community is characterized by two things: one is forgiveness, the other is celebration.   Forgiveness means that I am continually willing to forgive the other person for not being God- for not fulfilling all my needs…

                The interesting thing is that when you can forgive people for not being God, then you can celebrate that they are a reflection of God.  You can say, “Since you are not God, I love you because you have such beautiful gifts of his love.”

We celebrate the gifts of God in one another, while continually forgiving each other for not being divine and omnipotent.  My family, my true home, is this circle I know of the People of God.  It includes my birth parents and siblings, ninety-six year old nuns, and fourteen year old parishioners.  My family holds a place for the immigrant and the resident, children and prisoners, the suicidal and addicted.  Whatever label sticks to some part of our life, we are all children of God.  Day by day we learn to forgive and celebrate and forgive again.

praying plus living

When I was a kid I learned that I am supposed to pray without ceasing. Naturally, I scratched my head and wondered how I could and still have a life.

Now I am a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, which permits me to do just that–to pray always and still have a life, a really great life!

I can’t easily explain how it is that I pray always, but I’ll try.  It’s really a mystery, though, and it totally rocks.

My community is always in prayer.  For over 133 years, 24/7, two adorers have been praying before the Blessed Sacrament.  Our adoration chapel in La Crosse, Wisconsin is one of the holiest places on earth.  There’s so much power there.


 

Yet, I’m not there, technically. I mean, my body isn’t.  I am off  “on mission” teaching high school in a foreign land (Chicago’s south side).  The work I do gives me life and energy; it is a true blessing to get to know God at work in the hearts of youth.  Miracles are ordinary and I am so used to the devotion of my students that I forget to be inspired by their faith.

At times, the work I do wipes me out.  I become envious of those who are able to truly work eight-hour work days and have time to do the things in life that shouldn’t seem like extras:  growing and cooking one’s own food, making art and crafts, reading novels, writing letters.

Fortunately, I keep finding time for the “extra” of prayer.  The  rule of this life that I have committed myself to insists that I never get so busy that the spirit of prayer is extinguished.  It’s a mystery to me how that works, in the mess of all the labor and to-do lists.  I pause several times a day to just lift my heart in praise. I go to daily mass and read the ancient psalms out of the divine office.  And, I unite with my community in the adoration chapel in La Crosse.  Whether I am conscious of it or not, I am connected and this blesses me.

Last Saturday I went home and prayed with my sisters and, again, the power of the prayer blew me away. It was a different type of prayer this time, it was a huge commitment party. Sister Sarah, who also blogs here, professed her final vows. Congratulations Sarah!! 

Gathered together to celebrate Sister Sarah: Mary of the Angels Chapel, Sept. 24, 2011

I think every eye was dropping tears during the mass. I am pretty sure every heart was moved, inspired, and in awe.  God is so good, and it is so exciting when people say yes to the goodness with their entire lives!

And, I believe that many people were healed.  It’s a mystery to me, but it is a mystery that I shall cling to.  One of the great powers of prayer is that it heals and gives life.  On Saturday I went to mass with a back ache, yet during the commitment celebration I realized my back felt completely better.  It’s a simple thing, but I am so, so grateful!

Turns out, having a life and praying without ceasing is not too tough after all.  The powerful prayer heals me and blesses me, and leaves me in awe. It’s a mystery how it works but it’s a mystery that I’ll hold.   As I hold the mystery I remain aware: I am really glad to be part of it all.