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.] 

 

you’re invited to a church family reunion

Church is tough.  We are like a big dysfunctional family regularly squabbling and bickering about bizarre things.  Sometimes we try to divorce each other or run away from home. But, we can’t, really.  The Christian church family is the only family that can heal us and give us true freedom. In the Catholic branch, there’s true Eucharistic Love.

No matter what, like it or not, we’re in this together.  And no one can really separate herself from her roots; we can’t really forget who we are and where we belong. No one can really leave his family.

In this family, our connection is Christ. Christ is the heart that keeps beating and keeps the energy flowing.  Christ keeps us moving and building and creating.

“shadows” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

All the diversity is essential for the body to function.  Let’s love and cherish it. We can’t persist; we can’t exist without being different. God designed us this way on purpose.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.    -1 Corinthians 12: 4-7

I love being Catholic because we’re a wide Church with a very deep spirituality.  (At least that’s the way I understand Ecclesiology.)  There’s a wide range of what makes one Catholic. Despite our diversity, we still unite in Christ through the same sacraments, the same traditions and basically the same liturgies.

In this family, we don’t know all our relatives because we’re all so busy doing different work.  It’s a little understandable.  We are permitted to be different because we need to be.  Part of the diversity of spirit means that we have different opinions about what our priorities should be.  The challenge- and the frustration- is when we seem to lack appreciation for the others’ efforts in building the kingdom of God. We can’t all be working hard at every need.  So why do those who are passionate about one issue get frustrated if others aren’t working at it with them?

Personally, I have discerned that I am called to collaborate with peacemakers who are working for non-violent Gospel systemic change in the issues of poverty, war, torture, immigration, environmentalism and food. I depend on those who are working hard with the issues of health care, education, death penalty, abortion, contraception and equality to keep working hard in my name.

No one can do everything. But we must all do something, right? Perhaps the most important thing we can do in these divided times is support each other.  Truly we can never say thank you enough.

There’s struggle and pain in our divided, yet united, beautiful diverse body.  When we criticize each other, we so easily feel as if no one has noticed all the hard work we have been trying to do.  I’ve noticed and I say thank you!

Thank you dear bishops for working hard to keep us grounded in the traditions and doctrines that you value.

Thank you dear pro-life activists for working hard for our freedoms to say no to things that are wrong and deathly.

Thank you, dear sisters and brothers who are working hard to build equality and justice in our church.

Thank you, dear friends who are putting their bodies on the line to end war, torture and violence.

Thank you, dear sisters, for creatively raising consciousness and advocating tirelessly for legislation to help the poor and vulnerable.

Thank you, dear elders who have dedicated your entire lives to the service of the church and poor.

Thank you, everyone for all you do to build the kingdom of God!

Coming to a Sunday near you, we can celebrate the gratitude.  While we commune, look and listen for the resurrections and alleluias. You’re invited to a wild family reunion.

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.

Dear Aemiliana, Dear Sarah

Note: Mother Aemiliana Dirr founded the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1849.  After difficulties fulfilling their mission, she and some other sisters left the order in 1860 and lived out the rest of their lives as lay women.  I have written Mother Aemiliana a letter.

July 28, 2011

Dear Aemiliana,

My heart is so tender as I write to you.  It’s been a while.

You came to the states leaving all and you met tragedy and you left all again.  You know renunciation, the acid smell of fear, the biting taste of anger, and His love which propelled you forward.

We are still your daughters.  We have not left.  I think we are faithful to these times.  We are wacky, prayerful, and down-home.  Your daughters spread Franciscan joy, do justice, honor the earth and strive to live authentic relationships with each other.  Your dream has spread.  We have prayed in perpetual adoration for 133 years.  Right now two sisters kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and pray for the needs of the world.  We use email now, to receive intentions from around the whole planet, but you probably knew that.

You may wonder why I am writing after all these years.  In a few weeks, I will profess final vows as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.  My heart is on fire.  I know God calls me here and leads me on to follow my sweet Jesus with my sisters.  I am not alone.  My sisters know me, they love me, forgive me, and have not left me.

Religious life is now beyond what you could ever imagine.  We are a balm to a hurting, searching humanity.  Yes.  We may be prophets of a future not our own.  Yes.  We are faithful and strong and small.  We sit in the dark night and wait.  We tend the fire you left and wait for the breath of the Holy Spirit.  We are singing new songs, one “in love and purpose, with diversity of persons and gifts” as our FSPA constitutions say.

And Aemiliana, with all the challenges the future could hold for us, I stand here on the cusp of my perpetual vows with a question of my own.  Will I be enough?  I am afraid my fragility will overtake my gifts.  I fear even that my gift of self will not be whole enough.  I am sure you may remember that feeling as you first stepped on this soil or when you left in faith.  And yet, God stayed with you.  And in a funny way, you stayed with us too.  Because you let the vision lead you and walked past walls of fear.

I need you to help me do that now.  My sisters walk beside me in love.  They help me name the pain and the joy and place both prayerfully in god’s hands.  I cannot do it alone.  But, somehow, it seems He didn’t ask me too.

May God Bless You,

And know you are in my prayers.

Love,

Sr. Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Note: After writing our foundress a letter in preparation for final vows, I journalled back a letter from her.

Dear Sarah,

Fear is not a threat, but can be our friend, when held lightly and placed in God’s hands. I walked through the fire of fear and abandonment, through shame and uncertainty, but never alone.  My future seemed like a failure.

We do not get to choose the circumstances that try our faith, but only our faithfulness to God’s love.  So stop trying to grasp so tightly.

Child, you can let go of your harsh judgments and let the love of your sisters and Jesus into your heart just a little more.  You, my daughter, have an inner strength you do not suspect, and a mission of love to compel you onwards.

And you are right, you are not alone.

May God bless you and your sisters as you continue to build the kingdom.

In the Love of God,

Aemiliana