Praying onward, with more longing

Yesterday, some of my elder FSPA sisters and our prayer partners rang in the celebration of 140 years of perpetual adoration at St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin. They collectively chimed the bell 140 times plus, to mark the beginning of the 141st year of non-stop prayer, once more. This is a sacred anniversary that we celebrate with joy and gratitude. (You can watch the ritual of bell ringing here.)

What is our tradition of perpetual adoration?

Since August 1, 1878, at least two people have kept vigil in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For most of my congregation’s history, this practice was maintained by us FSPA. Now, over 175 prayer partners help us pray for the needs of the world, including the requests that people send to us.

Here’s a nice picture of Sister Sarah and I praying in our Adoration Chapel. (You’ll have to trust me that those are the back of our heads!)

When I lived and ministered in La Crosse, my adoration hours were the most sacred, grounding part of my routine.

Now that I am “out on mission” and ministering hours away from the Adoration Chapel, the rhythms of this prayer happening in the background of my community life remains a grounding force that enlivens my service and motivates me to be bread unto others. Praying in our chapel when I am home in La Crosse is a touchstone for me, a sacred communion that helps me steadily respond to God’s constant invitation to love.

I like this infographic that summarizes our tradition, even though it’s a bit outdated. (Last year, we prayed for over 30,000 intentions from all over the world!)

prayer infographic

What do we do during our adoration hours?

Well, we pray! In all sorts of ways. Some of us pray rosaries, some read the Bible or pray the Divine Office.

We start and end every hour with a particular prayer:

O Sacrament Most Holy,

O Sacrament Divine,

All Praise and All Thanksgiving 

Be Every Moment Thine.

Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,

Furnace of Divine Love,

Grant Peace to the World.

This prayer is then followed by the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi before the adorers enter into silent prayer side-by-side.

There are prayer books at each kneeler in the chapel that many of spend time with, including prayers that are written particularly for adoration. We pray with the list of intentions near the altar, compiled and organized by Sister Sarah, who is our perpetual adoration coordinator. We meditate and listen to God and enjoy his holy presence.

Sister Sarah has created several excellent videos about prayer, and adoration in particular. The series, called “Adoration Talk,” does a great job of explaining our practices and teaching the tradition.

Here’s a sample, a video that outlines and explains what we mean by adoration.

One of the things that Sister Sarah says in the video is that “in adoration, we become both very intimate with the mysterious presence of God and, at the same time, we are longing for more.”

Prayer is an energy of longing. We pray because we long for peace, for healing, for miracles. We pray because we are filled with an energy of hope — with belief that Christ’s resurrection continues to transform all of creation. We long to be closer to God, and we long to be healthier and holier humans who reflect God’s light and love in our actions and being. We long to transform, into better parts, images of the Body of Christ for today’s hurting world.

And so, at the start of the 141st year, the vigil of perpetual adoration continues onward. 24/7, hour after hour, we will cycle through the chapel. We will kneel and bow. We will pray and listen.

As we do, we give God all the longing in our hearts and open up to be transformed.

Walking for mercy, walking for justice

This week’s guest blogger, Michael Krueger, first met Sister Julia while working as a dishwasher at St. Rose Convent during his undergraduate years at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Inspired by those sisters and a Franciscan education he is an affiliate with the FSPA and, in La Crosse, was coordinator of Place of Grace Catholic Worker House and The Dwelling Place (a home for adults with developmental disabilities). Michael currently lives off of a rural highway near Madison with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

Twice, I have had the opportunity to see singer Glen Hansard in concert: once at Milwaukee’s historic Pabst Theater, and again at the Orpheum Theater in Madison. His singing has always impressed me for its range; the sheer volume and raw emotion he conveys. Often his voice emerges as a faint whisper; slowly increases in dynamic to a startling cry—almost a scream; then fades back just as quickly into the silence from which it came. He carries a powerful voice that speaks to the most intimate moments of life, singing as though he were an old friend. One song in particular, Her Mercy, evokes that intimate desire of relationship and ends with a repetitive invitation:

“And when you’re ready … for her mercy … and you’re worthy … it will come.”

In March of last year Pope Francis made the announcement that 2016 would be known as the Year of Mercy. He did so without precondition, without limitation; not everyone may be ready, but we are all worthy and it will come. The works of mercy, much like the beatitudes, are concrete examples of the Gospel carried out. They can be simple and straightforward: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. But more so than action we are called to partake in the relationship of mercy that isn’t always straightforward—never simple—yet life changing and affirming.

This is the identity of mercy demonstrated by Pope Francis on Holy Thursday as he washed the feet of those incarcerated; visited the Greek Island of Lesbos with Patriarch Bartholomew to call attention to the plight of refugees; opened a Vatican conference challenging the notion that war can never be considered just. The difficulty of promoting mercy, though, is that we must also be willing to participate in the pursuit of justice for it to come. Sometimes it’s through the smallest of actions—such as a walk—that together we begin down this path of mercy toward justice.

Madison-Stations- Cross-walk-Cathedral-Park
Stations of the Cross participants walk from Madison’s Cathedral Park (photo courtesy of Michael Krueger).

On Good Friday I had the opportunity to participate in a Stations of the Cross walk, sponsored by Madison Catholic Worker group, in the city’s downtown neighborhoods. The entire route was roughly a mile long and there were 10 stations, each represented by a building or an organization that sought to convey a specific theme or issue that calls for our attention, invites a response. It was the first time we’d organized this event and had hoped for a small number of participants. Seventy-five people gathered in Cathedral Park near the capital building. At 4:30 p.m. an opening prayer was read and the First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death, came to a close. Stillness pervaded the park.

Madison-Stations-Cross-walk-past-state-capital
Stations of the Cross walkers make their way past the Wisconsin State Capital (photo courtesy of Michael Krueger).

From that stillness emerged the single beat of a drum followed by footsteps, slow at first, as we all began to walk. Again the beat of a drum. The voices of those walking whispered, hushed, harmonized, hummed: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The drum beat kept pace; participants carried simple wooden crosses painted white. Pause. Stillness. Noises of the surrounding traffic. We slowly stopped in front of the Dane County Courthouse. Amplified over the crowd a reader spoke the Second Station: Jesus is Given His Cross.

“And when you’re ready … for her mercy … and you’re worthy … it will come.”

We prayed for our immigration system: families separated, those locked in detention centers. We stood where contemporary issues in which the reality of Jesus’ ministries—the physicality of the Gospels—are present: a homeless shelter, the police department, the county jail, the veterans museum. We sought to encourage our understanding of mercy and to challenge our association of justice—not a straight and absolute path, but a meandering and often fragmented journey into a greater depth of relationship and a wider sense of community.

Michael-Krueger-Madison-Stations-Cross-March-Veterans-Museum
Walkers prayed where “the physicalities of the Gospels (like the 8th Station/Wisconsin Veterans Museum shown here) are present (photo courtesy of Michael Krueger).

I have now participated in a walking Stations of the Cross four times in the last five years (with the Franciscan Spirituality Center of La Crosse, Wisconsin) before this year). Prior to that I’d never felt a deep connection to the standard Stations of the Cross observed in any Catholic parish. For some reason this more physical form of reverence reminds me that the Gospel is an active presence in today’s society. The crucifixion made clear the sufferings in the world, but it was the resurrection and Jesus’ encounter with the disciples that would render His presence to the modern world, incarnate in the stations of today. Through Jesus’ resurrection we are able to encounter Christ in this modern narrative of the Way of the Cross. What Easter has brought us is an encounter with mercy.

“And when you’re ready … for her mercy … and you’re worthy … it will come.”

Additional photos, Stations of the Cross materials, and more information about the Madison Catholic Worker can be found at www.madisoncatholicworker.org.

 

Singing with my Sister Thea

Today is a day for singing. And I mean singing. 

We are celebrating the life of a Sister whose legacy continues to unfold. Sister Thea Bowman died 25 years ago today, at age 52. And Sister Thea’s life was a life of song.

Photo credit: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1001322.htm

I never got to meet Sister Thea in person. Yet, through the communion of saints and our shared membership in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, I feel quite connected to her. I first heard of Sister Thea during my first telephone conversation with the FSPA Membership Director in 2003. Sister Dorothy encouraged me to pray to Sister Thea for guidance in my discernment journey. Even before she met me in person, she said that I reminded her of Thea. When I visited St. Rose Convent and learned more about Sister Thea a few weeks later, I began to understand the connection that Sister Dorothy sensed.

Now, much of who Sister Thea is and what she stood for continues to enliven me and my life of Gospel living. In her, I get to know some of the freedom that being a FSPA gifts me. She models a life of authenticity and spunk. She shows me how to speak up for justice, even if I am speaking to power. I pray that I also express joy and proclaim a fiery message of inclusion and equality.

Here is a video of Sister Thea’s famous speech to the U.S. Bishops about Black Catholic spirituality in 1989.

Our Church has a lot of work to do, to fully integrate Sister Thea’s vision– just as we have a lot of work to do to live out the invitations of the Gospel.

As we work for the Church we hope for, we shall sing. So, today is a day when I have lively African American spirituals in my head and on my lips. Today is a day when I am praying for a Church that lives out the message that Sister Thea proclaimed, a day to celebrate the joy that comes from knowing Jesus.

Today is a day for singing.

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.

Happy (Belated) Christian New Year

I have a few thoughts to ring around the kingdom come today, as 2011 is here.

Celebrating the secular New Year has always felt bizarre to me. Besides the 4th of July New Year’s Eve/Day is actually my least favorite holiday. It always makes me unsure what to do with myself.  I want to mock:  Hooray, we made it around the sun another time without imploding! Hooray, we have not yet killed ourselves and earth by our endless greed and power-struggles. (Of course we haven’t killed ourselves yet; death is rarely sudden.)  Although I am tempted to say these things at parties, I remember to mind my manners and just smile instead.

My real prayers are much more deep and universal.  Plus, my rejoicing is very ordinary like everyday clothes.  My genuine cheers are more like this: Hooray, God gives us another chance! Wow, with God all things are new! Also, praise God, my community is praying all the time!

Certainly, New Year’s is not an evil holiday.  I just have trouble getting into it. It’s not really the new year when it’s the middle of the Christmas season.  You see, I follow the Christian- more specifically the Roman Catholic calendar- more well, religiously, than the common one. For me, 2011 began on November 21st, on the Feast of Christ the King.  In November in um, 2010, I actually had to think twice when I wrote checks because I kept getting confused about what year it technically was.

Nonetheless, I am always grateful for an excuse to be with my community and pray- not that I really need an excuse since that’s what my life is all about.  I wasn’t at the motherhouse in La Crosse, WI this new year holiday, so I didn’t get to attend the annual and very cool blessing of time prayer service.

Instead, I gathered with other sisters in my community who are “on mission” here in Chicago.  We ate silly finger food and drank sparkling juice out of wine glasses then blew kisses across the living room when 2011 arrived.  It was a blessing- as always- to pray, chat, laugh, play and rest with phenomenal women.  It was so much fun!

I hope you are also able to pause and celebrate our blessed journey and pray for peace with some people you love.  As you do, know that I wish you and yours a Happy Belated New Year!  And, Happy 2011 too!