Things I find myself especially grateful for this Thanksgiving morning, in no particular order.
The gift of life itself … Think about it, we get to live and breathe and smell pumpkin pie baking in the oven and laugh with friends and family and maybe drive each other a little crazy and hopefully do something productive in the middle and love people and be loved and go to sleep and wake up and spend yet another day experiencing the gift of life.
I am grateful for community. My world has been rocked a bit lately, what with accompanying a dear friend on her cancer journey and then our motherhouse caught fire and I have been displaced ever since and then my dear friend died and we pulled together to give her an amazing send off (in a local parish since we cannot use our chapel due to fire damage) then too all the regular stuff of life and leadership in community. When I end my day looking back in prayer, I am filled with wonder at the ways community supports and challenges, comforts and empowers me to keep on going on and continuing to face the future together as peacemakers in gratitude and hope. Such gift.
I am grateful to family and friends, mostly far and some near, who I know love me and send good vibes of love and support and are there if I ever need them. More phone calls are coming soon I promise.
I am grateful for our system of government, for checks and balances and ways to participate in democracy. I am grateful for the model and witness of nonviolent peacemakers like Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton and my Sisters of St Joseph of Peace and my mother Eileen and countless others. They faced evil and oppression head on and countered it with love in action and solidarity with an eye toward the common good and those Jesus loved so well. They started walking the path in their time and our world is a better place for it. In these dark days I am grateful for their memory and for those who I trust will walk the path with me in our time.
I am grateful for creativity and intellect, for curiosity and compassion, for a passion for peace through Justice, for God’s sustaining love, for laughter and sadness and everything in between.
I am back from my private retreat days, ready to face what this day has in store. Or as ready as I can be. This morning after my morning coffee I sat for my solitary morning meditation, and then wrote these words which I share in case they speak to any one of you who are reading them:
A messy solitary morning sit, present to the messiness of life these days. This and that flitting in and out along with my breath.
So messy, yes, but still this overwhelming sense of God, one with us, inviting me, inviting us, to be present to and amidst all the messiness.
To be present, to recognize the goodness that is there in the mix, clouded though it may be by all that is messy.
To nurture and build upon that which is good, co-creating even more goodness with our loving Creator, Jesus our brother, Emmanuel, God with us, and of course the pesky and mischievous Spirit.
As best we can, as best I can, breath by breath, step by step, moment by moment.
One with God, one with it all, even the suffering and anxiety and impasse, believing there can be more.
Commiting to staying with the messiness and bringing light to the goodness, with God.
I’m spending a few days of private retreat at the ocean. Sometimes you just need to step away and renew your spirit, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do so these days.
This morning as I was watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean (a favorite past time of my mother who I was communing with this morning through memory and action), I reflected on the amazing love of our creator. Sometimes it is easier to recognize God’s loving presence in the midst of it all than at other times, but looking back, God is there, one with us through it all. Later, as I was taking a long walk on the boardwalk while the sun continued to rise, the song “Constant One” by Steffany Gretzinger came into my heart and mind, step by step, which led me to make this video prayer, pairing her music and words with my photos and video of the sunrise this morning.
Constant One – Lyrics
In the moment I am hiding
Your love, it seeks me out
You hold me and You know me
From the inside out
From the inside out
Endless is Your love
Like a river can’t be stopped
Who is like You, God?
Your mercy’s like the sun
How You take me just for who I am
In the valleys and in the mountains
I’m always in Your hands
I’m always in Your hands
Endless is Your love
Like a river can’t be stopped
Who is like You, God?
Your mercy’s like the sun
Always rising Over us
There is no place that I could run
That You won’t chase me down
You won’t chase me down
There is no place that I could hide
That I will not be found
I will not be found
Endless is Your love
Like a river can’t be stopped
Who is like You, God?
Your mercy’s like the sun
(Bethel Music, Steffany Gretzinger, The Unfolding album, 2014)
November is a time for remembering. In our Christian tradition we remember all saints and all souls. We also remember our veteran’s on November 11th, which is known as remembrance day in the UK to remember the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the first world war ended. November 11th is also the day I professed final vows five years ago.
I now have another reason to remember on November 11th, because this Friday my dear friend, leadership teammate and local community member Sister Kristin Funari passed away after a rapid yet valiant struggle with cancer. It was an honor and a privilege to accompany her on this journey. We spent many precious moments together these past few months. She has taught me so much about living and leading and loving. My heart aches that she has left us, but she is now free and one with her loving God. As for me, I am a better person for having shared life with her these past two years.
In her last days, she planned her funeral with an old friend who shared the notes with me when the time came to plan the service for real after her death. It was a surprise and a great honor that Kristin wanted me to give the welcome at her funeral liturgy. These are the words I shared at the funeral yesterday:
We gather this morning to celebrate the life of a shining light in our lives, Sister Kristin Funari, who burned with a passion for everything that is good.
Many of us are used to Kristin herself giving the welcome at an occasion such as this. I know I am, yet it is also a deep honor and a privilege to be the one to welcome you today on behalf of Kristin, her family, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
We gather in this beautiful sanctuary, yet we pine to be at home in our own Chapel. As you know, those of us who live at St. Michael’s experienced a major fire last month, and we are still adjusting to our new reality. We are grateful to be able to find shelter here at St. Anastaia’s. As it happens, I discovered this weekend that Kristin took Anastasia as her confirmation name when she was a young woman, so perhaps this was meant to be.
We welcome Kristin’s brother Ralph and his wife Chickie, along with their children Felicia and her husband Stephen, Renata and her husband Craig, Anthony and his girlfriend Kim, and three of Kristin’s grand nephews Ashton, Nicholas and Sebastian. We also welcome Kristin’s cousin Sandra, het husband Joe and their daughter Kristin.
We remember too Kristin’s parents Ivo and Helen, her Auntie Viola, Uncle Joe, and her sister Ricky. I have no doubt that they are enjoying great Italian meals and catching up on all the news of the Funari family among the stars.
When 20 year old Elaine applied to enter the Congregation in 1965 as a postulant, she wrote in her application that she wished “to bring myself and others to God.” Decades later, in an interview with Jan Linley, Kristin reflected that “seeking God and seeking truth is part of why I stay and why I entered. You know, really wanting to know God.” Kristin has finally lived into the deep desire she expressed in her final vows, “to live in the joy of a celibate love that does not lie in a separation from but a deeper penetration into the universe.” She is now at one with God, with the angels, and the stars.
But we all know that Kristin’s life shined bright like the stars when she was with us. She was passionate about community, her family, and poor and marginalized people. She was passionate about good food and a nice drink at the end of the day. She was passionate about life … and of that, any of us who were ever on the losing side of an argument with Kristin, have no doubt.
When Kristin was featured in an article in the National Catholic Reporter in 1996, she outlined her passions.
“I’m passionate about the gospels,” she said. “Passionate about the economy. I want to get more passionate about the poor. Get more passionate about the violence in our cities in the United States and say what can we do to change that. … I get passionate about the suffering that’s caused by all that and then the wrong people who are blamed. Passionate about the beatitudes. Passionate about the truth being the way. None of us have the total truth. Passionate about us being able to peel that apart together and break it open together and single-mindedly staying in community, pursuing those gospel truths. That’s what makes my passion. I get passionate when I see real struggle around who we say we are or want to be.”
Community was a constant in Kristin’s life. She built community wherever she was. As a social worker in Rockleigh and in Jersey City, at St. Boniface and of course, the York Street Project, Kristin loved and learned from those she served and accompanied them as they made positive change in their own community. In Congregation leadership, Kristin challenged us to face the future with gratitude and hope, while staying true to our roots as what she called meat and potato women. Before her death last year, Sister Jeanne Keaveny, who taught Kristin in Penns Grove, described Kristin to me as someone who had one foot firmly in the past, and one foot firmly in the future.
Kristin was unforgettable. We heard many stories to that effect last night at the wake. She left a lasting impression on everyone she met. I would often joke that Kristin would even make the local dog catcher feel like he was her dear friend. You felt like a valued whole person in her presence. Relationships and community, presence and hospitality were part of Kirstin’s core. Who among us did not enjoy her delicious cooking, her infectious laughter, her open heart, her willingness to always make room at the table for one more?
And so today, we gather at this table, to celebrate this shining light in our lives. We know that she is now one with her loving God, penetrated by love. Let us now give thanks for her transformation from death into life through the celebration of this liturgy.
Susan Francois, CSJP
It’s been a while since I’ve written in this virtual space. My life the past few months has been very full with unbloggable happenings and twists and turns which have kept me otherwise occupied, many of them good, some of them a bit more complicated.
October in particular was a doozy. Lots of travel for nun meetings and conferences, and sprinkled in between more dramatic close to home happenings, such as accompanying a loved one with a serious illness and, oh yeah, my house caught fire, meaning that in between my scheduled travel I’ve been living here and there since we can’t get back home just yet. Most recently, I ended up with a nasty cold that got a bit more serious given my asthmatic tendencies, but thanks to modern medicine all will be well.
Nonetheless, to be quite honest my prayer of late has been simply one word …. “Really?”
And that is without watching much cable news or following the sad collapse of our democracy and civic sensibilities. Or watching from afar the destruction of the makeshift refugee camp in Calais, France, and the heart breaking situation of the 1,300 children left behind. Or my exacerbation that our apparently increasing obsession with hate and division and polarization keeps us from attending to the broken threads in the fabric of our society or focusing our creative energy on maybe, I don’t know, mending them rather than setting them on fire in the name of being right.
So essentially for the past three weeks, I’ve been an itinerant person without my own bed. I’ve returned to the days when I need to figure out where to do my laundry, and had the fun experience of trying to get the smoke smell out of my clothes, and the new experience of having to move my belongings around with me. There is a lot of uncertainty ahead, and lots of hard work, and challenges, and difficult situations.
But there has also been much to give me perspective, and even, dare I say, to inspire me and give me hope.
For one thing, I am inspired by the amazing response of my displaced elderly and infirm Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who showed such resilience in being uprooted at 7:15 am in the morning of October 12th by a serious house fire. I am filled with gratitude and awe at the incredible response of our caregivers and staff who got every sister and staff person to safety, managed to get their medication and medical charts, and find temporary homes for them the same day. Not to mention the emergency responders who not only contained the fire but acted with compassion and were present to our sisters. Then there is the wonderful outpouring of support, from our neighbors and sponsored ministries, from our sisters and associates across the congregation, from other religious congregations, the community at large. People are good. If you focus on the negative spin of our never ending electoral cycle, you might be forgiven for forgetting that simple truth, but people are good.
Even more than that, I have the marvelous gift of community which continues to surprise me and teach me in ways I would never imagine what it means to follow Jesus. I am safe, we are safe. We have the resources and support we need. We have access to medical care and ways to find temporary roofs under which to lay our heads. We can get the help we need to restore our home and come together as community in one place. But even in our current scattered reality, we are one. We are together. We are a community for mission.
So when my prayer starts out with that one simple word … “Really?” … the next set of breaths is a realization that life may be chaotic and hard to predict, but I have so much to be grateful for and such incredible support and love to nourish me as I navigate it all, as we navigate our shifting reality, together.
Not everyone is as lucky, not everyone who is homeless has the resources they need to see them through. Not everyone who is sick is able to just go to a doctor and get medication to make them feel better. Not everyone who is concerned for the common good has the right to vote.
I have all these things, and that gives me a responsibility to face the next day, to take the next step, and to keep hoping that, for one thing, November will be better than October has been! It leads me to believe that things can and will get better, that our responsibility is to show up, to care for one another, and to face whatever comes together.
Which perhaps is why I loved this Facebook post by Kid President:
Let’s give it a go … and see what we learn from November, hopefully a little less chaotically!
My novitiate classmate Sister Chero texted me this morning to remind me that ten years ago today we were received as novices and added “Sister” to the beginning of our names.
Then I wrote on my old blog: “Mostly I’m deeply happy and grateful to God for this invitation and the whatever it took to finally say yes. Not to mention this amazing community of friends I have found to journey with. Wow…”
Now, ten years later, I can only say that my joy and gratitude has deepened in ways I could not have even imagined then. I continue to be amazed at the joy, love, grace, and blessing that comes with being a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.
I am spending this week steeped in the wisdom, presence, inspiration and challenge of my sisters in leadership at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious annual assembly. This is my fourth assembly, the second I have attended in my role as an elected leader of my own congregation (the first two I was here representing Giving Voice). As one sister shared yesterday, this experience of contemplative listening and dialogue with 800 other sisters has been balm for my soul.
Yesterday, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF gave one of the keynote presentations, “Leading from the Allure of Holy Mystery: Contemplation and Transformation.” Pat was of course the president of LCWR during the kerfuffle with Rome. Her integrity and contemplative leadership helped us shift the narrative and reality of our relationship with the hierarchical church from one of conflict to one of faithful dialogue. I was particularly moved by this passage of her talk:
“This is our moment. The world around us teeters on the edge of both peril and promise. Breakdown and breakthrough tussle with each other. The path forward is hidden in fog. It is your time to lead. To do so you must learn to be led and to listen deeply. Together we will discover personal and communal processes for deep prayer and dialogue. We will be given what we need to tend the soul of our communities by nurturing contemplative spaciousness.”
In other words, to lead in fog, we must be led.
Yesterday, another sister shared an image that came out of her small group contemplative dialogue experience.
“When the redwood sits in the fog (rooted in contemplation) it absorbs the moisture within the fog and nourishes the entire tree and allows the moisture to reach the earth which nourishes other creatures. We (LCWR and our congregations) are a forest of redwoods focused on contemplation that the world may thrive.”
A northwesterner at heart, I immediately imagined this picture in my heart, which I took this summer on retreat in Oregon not of redwoods but evergreens in fog.
Truth be told, I have been feeling a bit lost in the fog of late. The fog of fear, hatred, and isolationism which seems to be taking hold among much of our body politic. The fog of grief and loss that is such a part of religious life these days, as our elders transition to the next phase of their journey with God. The fog of uncertainty about exactly what the future holds for our communities which are in the midst of yet another period of transition and transformation. Lots of fog.
This week in Atlanta has given me companions in the fog and given me a clarity in the mist. Contemplation is the way. And so, once again, I recommit to my own regular contemplative practice, in my own life and in my life in community. As another group shared during our contemplative dialogue process, contemplation is essential to leadership.
I remember many years ago when I was discerning religious life, I felt like I was driving down a mountainous road in the dark, where my headlights only showed the way a few feet ahead. I felt an invitation to trust that when I turned the bend, I would see the next steps, and so it has been. At this particular moment, to be honest, I feel like the high beams would only reflect back to blind me. I cannot see the way forward. And yet, I feel called to stay on the path by my loving God. Jesus is the way, even in the fog, and it is in the still quiet moments that the Spirit speaks. We need only to listen, to listen often, and to listen deeply.
Martha was indeed real, living in a world where some things just needed to get done, even if her sister Mary was too busy to help. She also lived in a world where the people she loved were suffering. I suspect there may have been times when she too wanted to hide under the covers.
Martha certainly had her own doubts about what was possible in such a world. When Jesus asked her to roll away the stone from her brother’s tomb, she warned him that the smell would be overpowering given that her brother had been dead for four days.
Yet Martha — worried, anxious and doubting as any real woman would be in the face of such stark realities — also listened to the hope and promise of Jesus. She made a home for hope in her heart. She helped to roll away the stone, and her brother Lazarus came out, ready to be unbound and free. We have a lot to learn from Martha, who in the end engaged in hopeful action in the midst of her own anxiety, worry and grief.
Tomorrow I head to Madison, Wisconsin to join the first leg of the 2016 Nuns on the Bus tour. I will join a group of ten Catholic Sisters from across the country. We will stop and visit with folks in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio, ending in Cleveland at the Republican Convention. Another group of sisters will then take the bus through the Northeast to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.
Why are we going on the bus? You’d have to have been in a deep sleep these last months to not be aware of the general cynical, polarized, and deeply divided nature of our nation’s political climate. There is such fear and hostility in the air, much of it cultivated and exploited. And of course events from Orlando to Dallas to Baton Rouge seem to have both grabbed the nation’s attention and left a deeply divided society at an impasse. How do we bridge these divides, bring people together, and respond to the very real needs of individuals and families who are struggling?
The Nuns on the Bus will be driving over 2,400 miles this summer to meet with individuals, families, and communities in 13 states and 23 cities over 19 days. We are responding to the unhealthy political climate and divisive rhetoric of this election cycle by engaging in dialogue about how we can mend the gaps in our society. The goal is to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with our message of inclusion at the Republican and Democratic Conventions and beyond.
Truth be told, I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone when I step onto the bus tomorrow afternoon. Many moons ago, when I was a low-level government worker in Portland, Oregon and long before I listened to the call to become a Catholic Sister, I was afraid of public speaking, and here I am embarking on a week long adventure that entails multiple speaking engagements each day! Of course, I’ve gotten over much of that fear since then, learned some skills, and had a decade or so to grow into my nun identity. Moreover, I know that answering the invitation to join the bus is part of my deepening call to serve God and God’s people in need.
Of course, I also find inspiration in the example of Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack), the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who spoke out for justice whenever she could.
“But it did matter to me a great deal in view of our common humanity and in view of my love for the poor, that I should do all I could for those whom he had loved so well.”
“What misery has been seen–what crime has been committed, even in our time, by unjust pressure on the poor.”
“We read in the holy gospels that ‘Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all manner of sickness, and every infirmity among the people’ (St. Matt. iv. 23). And we also, my pilgrim friends, may go about the Galilee of this world, and preach ‘the gospel of the kingdom.’ It is a gospel of peace, it is a gospel of love, it is a gospel of mercy; it is a gospel for the poor, for the little ones, who live near to the Heart of God.”
I suspect she would have been at home with the Nuns on the Bus!
Please keep everyone involved in the Nuns on the Bus 2016 tour in your prayers this month. I will be writing from the Bus both for the Nuns on the Bus blog on the NETWORK website and for Global Sisters Report.
This morning, the prayer booklet I use for my morning prayer included a reading from Proverbs 3. This was one of the readings that I used for my final vows liturgy, and it played quite a role on the retreat I took before requesting to profess my final YES. (The picture is one I took on that retreat, which I then included on the cover of my final vows liturgy program).
Today during my morning prayer, as I sat with this passage, my heart gave me this: