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.

Compass

Compass by guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey

http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/102384

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d like a compass

with you to the north

and my sister to the west.


 

I’d keep it in my pocket

and take it out

when I can’t remember the skin 

I’m in or the rhythm of my song.


 

To the south

are the mountains,

pink rhododendrons and sweet tea.


 

And to the east–

east is where the sun rises

and the Christ-light

finds me always

on the way home.

 

 


Segues

Posted by guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey

My dad taught me the subtle art of segues.  As a child I would sit in his lap and watch him transition smoothly from one song to another as a volunteer radio disc jockey.  Sliding the controls with his strong hands brought the rhythms of one jazzy beat to a close and opened up on a new song.  A good segue is a piece of art.  It honors the essence of the song that has come before while making room for something that can be completely different.

Liturgically, now is a moment of segues: from the nativity of Epiphany to the manhood of the Baptism of the Lord, from the festiveness of Christmas to the regularity of ordinary time. We stand in the movement of transition.

I am preparing the inquirers in RCIA for the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumenate. Their silent questings and private searchings are now finding the breathing room of a public space.  “I wonder” is becoming “I believe.”  Never an easy step, we surround them with the companion of a sponsor and the public assurance of all our prayers.  On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, they step forward with conviction into a new life of faith.

 

"Natures Way"Struggle is an inherent part of transition and the deepening of faith.  I read a story recently about man watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.  After progressing steadily, all of a sudden the butterfly got stuck.  The man watched and wondered what to do.  To help the butterfly emerge fully the man cut away the last restraining part of the cocoon with scissors.  As the wings tried to unfurl, they could not. The body of the butterfly remained bloated and the wings limpid.  The butterfly was never able to fly.  The man learned that as the butterfly struggled through the last bit of the constraining cocoon it pushed the fluid out of the bloated body into the wings enabling it to fly.  By cutting the cocoon and stopping the struggle he had crippled the butterfly for life.

Here I am in the in-between moment.  Not yet over and not yet there.  I have lost the rhythm of my old song but the assurance of the next beat is still a mystery.  I feel constrained by the cocoon of doubt and fear, but I trust that this struggle will help me unfurl into hope.

Maybe Jesus really needed to hear that voice as he dipped into the water.  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  I know I need to hear it.  I need to remember that I am God’s child.  In a life which is so often constant transition, I need to rest my heart in God.

Yo Soy Una Guadalupana (I Am A Guadalupana)

Photo, Dupre encountering Mary Guadalupana, used with permission from Delilah Montoya

Posted by guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey

A Story of Marta

“I’m nervous because I’m here illegally.” Marta held out her arm for a blood pressure check. The nurse in the free clinic and I quickly reassured her that everything was confidential and she had nothing to fear. Marta continued, “I’m nervous because I am illegal and when we were crossing the border I was gang-raped by robbers. My husband convinced me to come in and get checked for STDs. I am nervous to find out the results. I don’t know if I got sick.”

We stopped in our tracks.  Here was something no one should ever have to worry about. Marta sat waiting for the doctor with courage.

America—Land of Maria

I came to the Catholic faith in Mexico. The Virgin Mary was everywhere and she completely confused me. Why did she have so many names? Why did women gather in the street to pray the rosary? Why did teenagers carry her face on everything they wore?

And why did I have to wake up at bloody 5 o’clock in the morning to blaring trumpets on December 12? I walked with sleep still in my eyes to the church. The smell of roses hit me like a wall that almost knocked me over. The church was packed. Guitars and mariachis led our songs. Welcome to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

The priest proclaimed the Gospel.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:39-43

Mary travelled to her cousin Elizabeth to help her prepare for childbirth. She came to comfort her and be of service.

Mary has done the same for us. She came to the people of the Americas in 1531 through the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, except this time instead of staying for three months she has stayed for almost five hundred years! Mary came to the Americas speaking Nautl with the face of a Mestiza. After her appearance eight million native Mexicans converted to the Catholic faith. She knew that we needed her to be our Mother. She was not a Goddess, but a woman of service and a face of compassion.

My friends patiently explained to me the meaning of Guadalupe. She came to us when we needed her and she has not left us alone. At the same time, she is a poor woman who suffered and opened her heart. As the Mother of God, she can come to us as no other woman can. As a woman she understands us as we are.

I need Guadalupe because I need to draw closer to Jesus. I need my heart to be busted open by the injustice around me, but before I drown in despair I need the hope of roses and guitars in the middle of the night.

I thought if I learned Spanish that I could welcome Mexican migrants in the United States the way they embraced me in their home country. Instead, I found it to be the opposite. In trailers, in farm labor camps, and in churches, they welcomed me. Even here, where they are strangers in the culture and face discrimination and deportation, I found hope. Last week a migrant was stranded here in Minnesota and our parish gave him a gas card to get to some family members. Tears in his eyes, he looked at us with confidence, “If you are ever in Guanajuato, my home is your home.”

After being examined by the doctor, it turned out Marta had no STDs. Her wounds were more intangible: the long road of healing before her, the daily insecurity of migrant life, and the challenge of feeding and clothing her family. Standing beside her is another woman who took a dangerous journey to help her family, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.