Praying with my feet: called to El Camino

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…

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

“pack and poles” Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Celibate Living in a Sex-Obsessed Society

Driving home from another ministry excursion, I pass billboard after billboard saying there are sex shops nearby. With each sighting, my stomach turns with sickness, my face falls into a frown. I am tempted to ignore the anguish, to shield my thoughts, to avoid that which feels judgmental and ugly within me.

Instead, I take a deep breath and offer a prayer for healing and conversion: may all people revere every other human as sacred and holy. I wonder, though, what else does Christ need me to do with the frequent reminder that our culture has an unhealthy obsession with sex?

My haunted mind wanders as I continue to drive toward home. I remember when I was first introduced to what sex was made to be about, while huddled into a tiny rectory living room with other college students. Crowded together, a bunch of us awkwardly stared into…

[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for The MudroomContinue reading here.]

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

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

Moving for God: The dilemma of diversity

There’s the classic clip-art picture of children representative of every race, nation and language joined together and singing songs of world peace. And then, many of us are familiar with rainbow buttons proclaiming cheery slogans like “Celebrate Diversity” and “Better Together.”

Credit: https://messyjesusbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/e2608-celebrate-diversity.jpg

More importantly, there’s the vision that God’s reign of peace and justice will be known in every corner of humanity, an image that we really believe in, that we pray about and dedicate our lives to. We believe it is to come and is also right now:

God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.

– Revelations 21:3-4

We each have a role, a part to play, in the building up this reign of God. Like Paul says, we all are…

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

 

Daily grind and reason to praise

Many of us are in the daily grind of ministry and we don’t really know for sure if we are having a positive effect.

We show up at our service sites day-in and day-out. We chime in at meetings. We help others with willing hearts and joyful faces, enlivened by our belief that we’ll encounter Christ among the poor and marginalized. Between ordinary tasks like responding to emails and doing paperwork, we study Scripture and speak up on behalf of justices. We frequently pause to pray privately and as community. Yes: we are devoted to our routines because we are faithful to Jesus’ vision of peace and justice for all.

Our shoulders ache from the stress and our faces are sunk with exhaustion. Yet, as our awareness expands, so does our desire to make a good difference. For each task we cross off our to-do list, two more good intentions or invitations seem to come in. We know we can’t really keep up with all we could do, and all we need to do. But amazingly, by God’s grace, we keep going.

We put a lot of grit and love into our labors. We know what we do matters. Sometimes, though, we get discouraged and wonder if things are really changing for the better. We know it’s healthiest to remain a vessel, an instrument, and be detached from the outcomes. Still, it’s hard to stay dedicated when we’re just a tiny pixel in a huge picture—in God’s glorified reign.

This is the experience that has been defining my time and work lately.

But then, there are times when signs of hope and the good news of God’s ways triumph. The Gospel good news can be local or from our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world to whom we are united in mission. Beautifully, we are interconnected, we are working together, and God’s victory anywhere is a reason for us all to pause and praise.

In fact, in the past week I heard much good news and learned a lot about the great things that God is—through us—up to.  Right now I’ll tell you just two stories from a conference I attended last weekend in Chicago called The Global Call of Religious Life (and later I hope to share more).

Story 1. At the conference, I heard Sister Pat Murray tell about how a priest preached about human trafficking in his homily at his parish in rural India. One of his parishioners, who worked as a driver, remembered his homily when someone hired him to drive two teenage girls to the city to work in a restaurant. On the way, he realized that something was off about the circumstances and instead drove the girls to a center for victims of human trafficking run by a group of Catholic sisters. Now the teenage girls are on their way to healing and recovery.

Story 2. Also at the conference, I was inspired to hear Fr. Benigno Beltran, SVD speak about his ministry to the 25,000 people who live in Smokey Mountain garbage dump in the Philippines. Father Benigno has done many remarkable things with the people there by helping them to dream and foster integrity, solidarity and creativity among them. One accomplishment that was especially exciting to hear about was that he has developed a dance troop of youth who were born and raised in the garbage dump. The troop travels globally and are ambassadors for peace and the earth. Through the performing arts, the youth live from the place of their inherent dignity. They know they are not garbage but they have value and worth.

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

 

Indeed, God is good and up to amazing things. In our particular part of the world, we don’t always know the effect we are having. Yet, when we connect with others and live in solidarity we can see that great things are happening through all our united efforts for God’s reign.

Rejoice! Alleluia! Amen!

 

 

In the world, not of it: Thoughts on countercultural Christian living

Be in the world, not of the world.”

Live countercultural Christian lives.”

“Be radical for the Gospel.”

Such mottos of countercultural Christian living have been ingrained in me for much of my life. Lately they have been going around in my mind like a record, while I have been pondering instances of divisiveness and polarization, both in American politics and…

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

Photo credit: http://lovealonecreates.com/counter-cultural/

As the insects, like the swans: Living the vow of obedience with a free spirit

I am in the woods on Mount Subasio above Assisi, Italy, at a sacred place of prayer called La Carceri. It’s July 20, 2014. I am on a pilgrimage, thrilled to be praying in this holy place where St. Francis and the early friars spent much time in contemplation.

I too am in contemplation on this holy ground. I am pondering what I just heard preached during the Mass, where our Franciscan pilgrimage group gathered around a stone altar underneath some tall trees.

Rays of Light through Tall Trees, La Carceri, Italy. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Rays of Light through Tall Trees, La Carceri, Italy. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

I was reminded that the path to holiness is a journey of struggle. Even though we’re living a religious life, we’re just as human as everyone else. And, when we’re real with ourselves, we can admit that much of our life is spent wrestling with the reality of our own frailty, our own sinfulness. St. Francis spent more than 200 days in hermitage each year, even while admitting that…

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

Old-fashioned trunk-centered simplicity

I admire my sisters’ tales of trunks.

Long before I entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration – and long before Vatican II for that matter – the common, communal practice was that every sister had to fit all of her personal property into one trunk.

Our Franciscan lifestyle is an itinerant one. As sisters we frequently move for ministry. For much of our community history, sisters moved from one ministry site to another after just a year or so. They’d move by train, and all of their possessions would move with them in the one trunk. It was an economical and practical way to do things, and such a practice permitted ease for living a simple life of Franciscan poverty.

The trunks contained three black and white habits, an extra pair of shoes, undergarments, and some prayer books. The trunk also held whatever supplies needed for…

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

in stillness we wait

Guest blogger: Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

We have entered the holy time of the O Antiphons.  Like a mysterious extra holiday something is special and different today.  Expectation is heightened.  The glory is near.

For you, O lord, my soul in stillness waits.

My soul may be still, but the world is not.  The chaos only seems to grow.  A parishioner shared this morning that it is hard to enter the joy of Christmas with so much sorrow and tragedy in the world.

I am holding an image in my heart that speaks to me of persistent hope in this darkness—freshly washed hair neatly combed and a crisp clean dress.

I returned yesterday from 10 days in a rural province in Bolivia.  With several of my FSPA sisters I went to present a retreat on Franciscan love and humility to 24 Bolivian and Austrian sisters.  My heart was stretched and the world became wider as I entered into their rhythm of life in the Bolivian jungle.  Every night we gathered in the church for mass.   Twenty-two altar servers assisted the priest in perfect precision.  Teenagers played the violin and guitar and drums with great joy.  And everywhere there were children.   This is the Bolivian daily mass where children come with consistency to practice their faith.

Bolivian village. photo by Jean Moore, FSPA
Bolivian village. photo by Jean Moore, FSPA

Every child was prepared for church.  Every head of hair was freshly cleaned and smoothly combed.  Every face scrubbed and every shirt clean and pressed.  I noticed it even more because it was 95 degrees out, hot and sticky, and I felt like a mess.    Sr. Janeira pointed out to me that many of the children have no running water in their homes and no washing machine except for the river.  The chaos of daily life in a remote village in the jungle could not stop them from preparing to be in the presence of Jesus.

This is the indomitable Advent spirit.  Jesus is the good news and we are getting ready!