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!

a shoe story

One of my core faith principles is that God will provide for all our needs.  Recently, a little sisterly community experience re-convinced me of this.

Last week I renewed my vows. It was a beautiful, joyous event.  Several sisters gathered in our chapel, Mary of the Angels, for Taize’ prayer and meditation Friday night. After a prolonged period of silence I stood up and professed to “live poverty, obedience and consecrated celibacy in community for one year, according to the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis and the Constitutions of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.”

“Sister Julia’s Vow Renewal” Photo by Nancy Chapman

Getting ready for this exciting event required a lot preparation for me. In addition to readying my heart and mind with a lot of prayer and contemplation, I also had to get my outward self ready. I got a new haircut and a nice new dress, but then I began to fuss about what to put on my feet.

As a Franciscan Sister and a disciple of Jesus, I don’t have really have that many possessions. Living simply is really important to me and I don’t like to have more than I need.  In fact, for several years I have been very content with having only one pair of multipurpose sandals.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  Could I wear my dirty, worn out Chacos® for the special occasion? Could I go bare foot?  Should I just wear my wintry dress shoes or look for a new pair of dressy, brown sandals that I could also wear for teaching and other occasions?  No matter what, I knew that I didn’t want to spend much money or contribute anymore to the destruction of God’s creation by being a consumer.

I hemmed and hawed a while and decided that if it was God’s will for me to wear nice shoes for my vow ceremony then God would provide. This seemed like a safe way to think about it, although in order to receive guidance and gifts from God I need to be open, pay attention and do a bit of work.  To have what God wants us to have, it seems we must be willing to seek.

Once I decided that I was okay with having a pair of new sandals, I wondered how to find them. First, I began checking out the feet of all my sisters, hoping to see a pair I might borrow. I went to Goodwill and studied their shoe options with no luck.  I asked the sister in charge of our community clothing exchange if she knew of a pair that had been donated and might serve my purpose. I looked at everything she had in the closet with no luck.

Then I started asking sisters what they thought I should do. Several of them assured me that it was appropriate and acceptable to buy brand new shoes.  I didn’t like the idea, but I was trusting in the wisdom of my elder sisters.  So, I asked Sisters Kathy and Mary Ellen, who I live with, if they wanted to help me shoe shop. With a hope and prayer we went out to the stores and quickly became overwhelmed with options–most were completely impractical and just too trendy. Eventually, we realized that it is hard to buy sandals this time of year because they are all so picked over.

Sisters Kathy and Mary Ellen were being very patient and helpful.  I was starting to feel a little bit of unnecessary, goofy guilt that they had been putting up with my picky indecisiveness for over an hour. Strangely, I started to use that guilt feeling as my guidance.  After spending so much time and energy I didn’t feel like I should leave empty-handed or disappoint the other sisters, so I bought a really dressy pair and home we went.  I still felt unhappy about the new shoes or the price but convinced myself I should make them work.  (Duh! I know and believe that when we “should” too much, we just get stuck in a big pile of “should” and it really stinks!)

Later that night after prayer in our house, the three of us told Sister Laurie about our shoe store adventures. I said I was concerned for the fact that I have hurt my ankles every time I have tried to wear heals, but if I practiced walking in them I’d be fine. I didn’t admit that I chose to buy the shoes for the wrong reasons, but I think I knew it.

For practice, I put them on and tried walking up the stairs. It was awkward–I wasn’t smiling and my stomach even felt weird. I was trying to be a good sport.  Sister Laurie was tuned into me.

She took the shoes off her feet and said “Here, try these.”

I did. I hadn’t noticed her shoes before. They were pretty much exactly what I’d been looking for and fit perfectly. “Wow. What size are they?!”

“Seven and a half.  Keep them.”  she offered.

“What?! Just for Friday? I can give them back to you after the vows.”

“No. Keep them for good. They’re yours. I don’t need them.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” I said, delighted and relieved. I could take the other shoes back to the store and, after all, God provided just the way I was hoping for.

I am so thankful for my new shoes and for the generous, sisterly love I experienced as I prepared for my vow day, on my vow day, and everyday in this wonderful Franciscan community. I am thankful for all the simple lessons I learned through the experience of getting these new shoes. Wow–thanks be to God! Amen.

Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse,
knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Not that others should have relief while you are burdened,
but that as a matter of equality
your abundance at the present time should supply their needs,
so that their abundance may also supply your needs,
that there may be equality.
As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.     -2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15