Tag Archives: church

Remembering, renewing, risking – Global Sisters Report

My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report. This one is more of a reflection where I mull over the communion of saints and what their witness and presence means to us today:

There is great wisdom in our Catholic tradition of setting aside time in the liturgical year to remember all the saints and souls, just as we take time to remember and celebrate the impact of our loved ones upon their passing. As theologian Flora Keshgegian writes in Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, remembering is meant to be oriented to ‘affect present action'(p. 25). We do not remember to stay in the past. Rather, we remember for the present, and dare I say, for the future.”

Head over to Global Sisters Report to read the whole column.

Peace is the word

peacescrabblePromoting peace has been central to the mission of my religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace from our very beginnings. Our original 1884 Constitutions tell us that we were founded “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.”

Promoting peace is also central to the mission of the Church. This has been true from the very beginnings of the Christian community. This morning as I was praying with the Scriptures in my morning prayer book, I ran across this quote from a homily by St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407), one of the early Church fathers and a Doctor of the Church:

So as far as a human being can, you must do what Christ the Son of God did, and become a promoter of peace both for yourself and for your neighbor. Christ calls the peacemaker a child of God. The only good deed he mentions as essential at the time of sacrifice is reconciliation with one’s brother or sister. This shows that of all the virtues the most important is love.

Sometimes, when I tell people that I am a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, they ask if we are a new community. In conversation with these folks, this seems to be because we have a notion that concern for peace is something new.  Hence, a community founded to promote peace must have been formed recently. And yet, as these words from an early Christian leader tell us, and truly as the example and peaceful witness of Jesus constantly remind us, peace is central to our mission as Christians.

This morning as I was praying with this reflection and the Scriptures, I found myself remembering a song from my childhood – Grease from the movie of the same title with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.  My sister Monica and I used to spend hours in our bedroom, hairbrush in hand, singing the lyrics along with our vinyl recording of the sound track (the G-rated version of course!).  In prayer today, I playfully changed the words of the song, simply replacing the word “grease” with the word “peace.”

They think our love is just a growing pain
Why don’t they understand, it’s just a crying shame
Their lips are lying, only real is real
We stop the fight right now, we got to be what we feel
Peace is the word
It’s got a groove, it’s got a meaning
Peace is the time, is the place, is the motion
Peace is the way we are feeling
Peace is the word my friends.  We are the motion. Go … be peace today!

Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones

GlobalSistersReportMy latest contribution to the larger conversation has been posted on Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones.  It’s a snapshot of my musings on some of the recent reports and happenings in the world of religion, namely the Pew Report documenting the rise of the “nones” – the 56 million americans who claim no religious affiliation – and the interest in the future of nuns.

In a society where the numbers of nones are on the rise, the number of nuns is declining. I believe it is possible to view the dynamic forces behind both trends as part of the same rapidly changing landscape of religious life and shared socio-political context of increasing inequality, poverty, violence and environmental destruction. This trend and shifting landscape also apply to the wider church, especially given that the numer of U.S. Catholics is also declining according to the Pew research.

This raises a number of questions for me. First of all, the attention paid to Catholic Sisters, combined with the not insignificant efforts to help ensure our future, make me think that somehow it matters that we are present in the church and society. But are we merely symbolic figures, or is the way we engage the signs of the times and live the Gospel of some relevance and importance beyond ourselves? If so, how can we remain relevant and engaged in the larger questions of meaning and justice in the context of a society which increasingly eschews religion? If I do not want to be limited or defined by popular culture images or stereotypes of nuns, how does my life of ministry and prayer lived in community witness to the Gospel in a sea of growing inequality and indifference?

Read the whole column over at Global Sisters Report

Meeting Jesus Again: Thank You Marcus Borg

meeting jesus again for the first timeI read this morning that Marcus Borg has passed away. Theologian, Author, Historical Jesus Scholar, Biblical Scholar, Lutheran turned Episcopalian, Oregonian, Professor, Husband, Friend … surely he was many things to many people and will be deeply missed.

When I heard the news of his death, I immediately said a prayer of thanks for him, and especially for the role his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, played in my own faith journey.

While I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic School, from my late teens to my late 20s I essentially rejected it all as entirely irrelevant–organized religion, spirituality, God, Jesus, you name it.  But then something happened and somehow God broke through. It’s a long story, but the 2 second version is that a friend invited me to her Catholic church and I weirdly and unexpectedly felt at home. The next Sunday and each week after I woke up with a deep desire to return.  So I kept going, but all of my doubts and questions and blanket rejection remained and led to a whole lot of confusion.

One day, a few weeks after I inexplicably became a doubting weekly church goer, I remember riding in my friend Kim’s pick up truck down 39th Avenue in Southeast Portland as she gave me a ride home after mass. I was trying to articulate to her my mixed up feelings around the pull to return to my Catholic roots. I remember saying that I didn’t know if I could do it because I was not quite sure what I thought about “that Jesus guy.” I’m pretty sure those were my exact words.  Kim suggested I read Borg’s book.

I was intrigued by the title. I read the book. And something shifted within me even as I read the opening words of Chapter One of Meeting Jesus Again:

We have all met Jesus before. Most of us first met him when we were children. This is most obviously true for those of us raised in the church, but also for anybody who grew up in Western culture. We all received some impression of Jesus, some image of him, however vague or specific.

For many, the childhood image of Jesus remains intact into adulthood. For some, that image is held with deep conviction, sometimes linked with warm personal devotion and sometimes tied to rigid doctrinal positions.  For others, both within and outside of the church, the childhood image of Jesus can become a problem, producing perplexity and doubt, often leading to indifference toward or rejection of the religion of their childhood.

Indeed, for many Christians, especially in mainline churches, there came a time when their childhood image of Jesus no longer made a great deal of sense. And for many of them, no persuasive alternative has replaced it. It is for these people especially that this book is written. For them, meeting Jesus again will be–as it has been for me–like meeting him for the first time. It will involve a new image of Jesus. 

His book did not take away all of my questions or doubts or lead to instant conversion. Instead, I think what it did for me was give me freedom to not know what I thought or felt. It gave me a way to reconsider Jesus, to meet him again as if for the first time, to start afresh in building a relationship that continues to grow and deepen with twists and turns and meaning and surprise, comfort and challenge.

It was from that fresh reset of my feelings about Jesus that I started on the path that led me to the corner of Susan and St. Joseph.  Having met Jesus again, I was ready and able to then meet him through our CSJP Charism of peace through justice.  As our CSJP Constitutions so beautifully put it:

“Christ is our peace, the source of our power. United with him we engage in the struggle against the reality of evil and continue the work of establishing God’s reign of justice and peace.”

Thank you Marcus for sharing your gifts with the Church and the people of God. If my own story is any indication, I suspect you have had a profound influence in many people’s lives.

How We Live Matters – Second Sunday of Advent

Prepare_the_WayAs I was praying this morning with the readings for this second Sunday of Advent, the thought that came to me was this … how we live matters.

“A voice cries out: in the desert prepare the way of the LORD,” (Isaiah 40:30) … In the literal and figurative deserts of our world today, when does my voice cry out? When I see mouths parched by thirst or children hungry, am I moved to cry out and act for justice? Do I proclaim God’s love and witness to that love in action? What about closer to home? How am I present and a sign of hope to people living through the desert moments of their lives?

“Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” (Psalm 85) … Is this true in my own heart? Is this how I witness to God’s transformative love in my life? Does the truth of the Incarnation manifest itself in my interactions with my brothers and sisters, both those I am related to by blood and those I am related to in the heart and mind of God?

” … what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God … Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” (2 Peter 3: 11,14) … We wait in joyful hope, but we live in the present moment. If God’s reign is to come, do I live as if I really believe that it begins with me, here, now? Do I live my life each day, do I develop healthy habits of the heart which are reflective of my hope in God’s reign of justice and peace for all?

“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” (Mark 1: 2-3)  …. In the end, the message it seems is that how we live matters. God can make straight lines out of crooked ways, as the saying goes, but so too can I, in my own life, relationships, habits, and commitments.

I’m not a scripture scholar, nor am I a practiced preacher. But when I pray with these readings this second Sunday of Advent, I find myself reflecting on the ways that God’s love is (or isn’t) reflected in my daily life. If how we live matters, how am I living? And as I prepare for the celebration of the remarkable reality of God being with us, what difference does that make in my life and in my heart? How am I preparing room and making way?

Pope Francis on Year of Consecrated Life: Younger religious as both present and future

YearofConsecratedLifeLargeLogoTomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. It is also the first day of the “Year of Consecrated Life,” which Pope Francis has convened and which  finishes in February 2016.  Today, the Vatican released a message from Pope Francis to consecrated men and women on the occasion of the start of the year. It is a beautiful and challenging letter, made even more so perhaps because, as a Jesuit, he is intimately aware of the joys, challenges, and promise of vowed religious life.

In my first read of the letter, I was especially drawn to to one particular passage. Pope Francis outlines three main aims of the year: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope. The passage that caught my attention is in his discussion of this third aim:

“This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible’ (Lk 1:37).  This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.  It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.

So do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength.  In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert.  Together with Benedict XVI, I urge you not to ‘join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light – as Saint Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) – keeping awake and watchful.’  Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.

I would especially like to say a word to those of you who are young.  You are the present, since you are already taking active part in the lives of your Institutes, offering all the freshness and generosity of your ‘yes’.  At the same time you are the future, for soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service and mission of your communities.  This Year should see you actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation.  In fraternal communion you will be enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by your own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.  In this way the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation.

Ok, if I’m honest, it was this line that really drew my attention: “soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service, and mission of your communities.” Indeed. That “future” would be in a little over one month for me, as I begin my six year term as a member of our congregation leadership team in January. As you might imagine, I step onto this path with more than a little trepidation. But that is also balanced with a lot of love for my community and belief in the future of religious life. How wonderful to have this letter to reflect on and pray with during Advent, my own time of “waiting” for this new adventure to begin.

This is an unusual time in the history of consecrated life. Granted, the history of religious life is filled with “unusual times,” from the Ammas and Abbas who sought solitude in the desert and instead formed communities, to the call of Francis to rebuild God’s church which lead to a whole new form of religious life, to the suppression of religious during the French revolution which spread religious further into the new world, to the church’s own revolution in the form of the renewal of religious life after the Second Vatican Council which we are still experiencing in echoes and reverberations.

Today’s unusual time, from my perspective as a newer and younger religious, is a precious one. As Pope Francis so beautifully puts it, this is a time for younger religious, who are both part of the present and part of the future, to be “actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation,” to be “enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by [our] own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.”

While there have always been multiple generations in religious life, our current demographic reality means that there are 30 to 40 decades between me and most of my mentors in religious life. That makes this time all the more precious, and makes me grateful to be actively sharing my own energy and enthusiasm at a time when I can mix and mingle that energy and enthusiasm with those who have been living religious life, in some cases, longer than I’ve been alive.  I am so very grateful for the presence, love, support, and friendship of my Sisters of all ages.

Today’s unusual time is also a critical one, for the needs of the world and for the sustainability of our way of life to be a witness to God’s love in that world.  Looking at the reality of demographics and resources and our own ability to cross the divides can make it all seem a little bit crazy. But as Pope Francis reminds us, our hope in the future is not based on statistics or accomplishments or our own abilities. It’s based on “the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible.'”

I’d like to end this post by repeating these words from Pope Francis:

“This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.”

The generations that are living religious life today all believe in that future. We are inspired by the stories that God started in our founders and that continue to be written today. We know that God is still writing that story, and lucky us, spurred on by the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity and obligation to co-create that future full of hope for all God’s people in need. Amen.

A bit apocalyptic, but sound advice

homer_simpson_end_is_nearToday is the last day of the church year. Advent, believe it or not, starts tomorrow!  The liturgical readings the past few weeks have been, well, a bit apocalyptic, and focused on the end times. A case in point is today’s Gospel (Luke 21.34-36).

“Jesus spoke to his disciples about the end which is to come. He said, ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’”

Is the end of the world coming tomorrow?  Most likely not. Yet it is funny how sometimes we act as if the littlest things are the end of the world, like missing out on a black Friday sale, yet treat life-diminishing realities like embedded structural racism and enduring poverty lightly, if at all.

But Jesus tells us … be alert. Be present in the here and now. Resist the death-dealing and life-diminishing realities.  Live as if you believe … in love, in goodness, in life. We choose so much in our lives, so what would happen of we chose to live them fully as if today is the only day we have, while still believing in the promise of tomorrow?

Those are my hope filled apocalyptic thoughts for this last day of the liturgical year.

Peace