Tag Archives: discernment

Holy Week Musings

TheTriduumI’ve got a reflection for Triduum posted on our new CSJP Vocations Blog

The journey through Triduum is always a transformative one for me.  Part of my love of the Triduum might be the fact that even though I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic school, I never really experienced it until I came back to the Church as an adult in my 20s. My first Triduums were experienced as part of a parish faith community that took these days seriously and journeyed together in a meaningful way. In fact, when I reflect upon my own personal vocation discernment journey, I realize that Triduum played a key role.

Head over to www.csjpvocations.org to read more!

This day in the history of the US, my family, and me!

meGrandadOn this day 2016 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born.

On this day, 113 years ago, my grandfather Ludwig Lincoln Schmelzer was born. Yes, his middle name was given to him by his German immigrant parents to honor the illustrious day of his birth in their new country.

On this day 10 years ago, I made the first official step toward becoming a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and became a pre-candidate. From the way back machine that is my old blog:

Long story short, my discernment has reached the point where it’s time to start discerning whether I’m called to religious life in the context of a particular community. And there’s something about this group of fun dedicated women, working for justice and to spread the gospel of peace. Whereas every Star Wars book and movie has the line, “I have a bad feeling about this,” I can honestly say I have a very GOOD feeling about this. There’s just something about the groovy csjp sisters. Helps me make much more sense of what God might be calling me to.

Ten years later, of course the story continues, in new and interesting ways as I embark on month two of my adventure in elected leadership. Every day confirms what I knew then, that there is something about this group of fun dediated women, working for justice and to spread the gospel of peace. I feel privileged to be part of the mix, and indeed the past ten years has shown me that it is as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace that I can become the me God dreams I can be.

The picture is of me with my grandfather on my 4th birthday. My grandparents were a special part of my early years, and lived with us for many years. He had a scratchy beard and a big heart. Happy birthday granddad!

On Unicorns, Anomalies, and GV

unicorn_little_sister_button-r0a0b34445bf44ee383d2299c9776189a_x7j1a_8byvr_324Last weekend as I was mid-way through my second week of congregation leadership, I found myself thinking of my friends who were gathering in Arizona for the annual Giving Voice retreat for Catholic Sisters in their 20s and 30s.  I prayed in gratitude for Giving Voice, a grassroots network of “young nuns,” and in blessing for the next generation of GV Sisters.  My prayer is that the relationships they forge today will sustain them well into the future.

As it happens, I aged out of the 20s and 30s retreat a few years ago myself, which is a nice (and unusual) experience as a younger vowed religious … actually being too old for something! But this summer we had our first GV 40s retreat. It was an amazing experience to once again pray, play, and be with my age peers in this life, if only for a few days.  It was also perfectly timed to aid in my own discernment, given that it happened directly on the heels of our discernment retreat for the group of CSJP Sisters invited to leave their names in for congregation leadership prior to our Chapter.  I had decided to leave my name in, and it was a blessing to sink into that reality with other religious from different congregations who were my own age. One friend had even recently been elected leader of her own congregation which made me feel more normal and helped me to think that I was not entirely crazy.

Tracy Kemme has a post on Global Sisters Report reflecting on last weekend’s 20s and 30s retreat. As I read her column, I found myself remembering the light and love and laughter that filled my heart after my first GV retreat when I was a novice. I could have written her words myself:

At the close of this weekend that went way too fast, we gathered for prayer and to share what the retreat had meant to us. I shared that I felt normal. Usually, I am one of just one or two sisters with a group of peers, or I’m one of a just few young adults in a big group of sisters. In this group of young adult sisters, there was a natural understanding and a relaxed spirit. Women in our circle said they felt grateful, renewed, affirmed, energized, accompanied, strengthened and more.

Religious life is unusual … there is simply no way around that. There is also no way around the fact that, with the median age of Sisters in our communities rapidly approaching 80, being a younger woman religious in your 20s, 30s, or even 40s means that you are pretty much like a unicorn, in that you are one of a rare and exotic species. In community, you have different experiences of church, pop culture, and life than pretty much everyone else. In your circle of friends, you are walking a different path which they most likely respect but to which they cannot relate, no matter how much they try. And with the general public, you tend to elicit sheer disbelief when people find out that you are in fact a young Catholic Sister. “Really? … are you a real Sister?” … I have been asked, many many times.

So imagine the relief when you get together with 5 or 20 or 30 or 100 other young nuns.  You get to stop being a unicorn and just get to be yourself.  When I was a novice, this was so very important. My discernment was greatly aided by having a network of religious life age peers. It helped me to filter out what aspects and questions and experiences were the byproduct of my age versus what were real questions I had to deal with related to community, ministry, and prayer. GV is a sacred space for which I give thanks. Again, Tracy captures it well:

Younger, newer women religious need these encounters. Of course, we dearly love our own congregations and all of our sisters. Nothing could replace that; the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati are my home. … Being with peers in religious life, and I mean true peers, is indispensable for a young sister’s health – and exciting for the unfolding collaborative future of religious life.

I have grown into my identity as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace in company with my Giving Voice Sisters. The sacred space of GV has helped me to own that I am not, in fact, a unicorn. Younger Catholic Sisters do exist. We are vibrant members of our communities’ present even as we step into a future we cannot yet imagine, but a future in which we deeply believe.

As I read Tracy’s column, I realized that I am in a different space now. My circle of feeling normal has expanded from occasional GV retreats and conversations to who I am in community every day. I carry this circle of friendship and support with me wherever I go. There has been a level of integration for which I am very grateful. GV is part of my context and identity as a finally professed Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, even as I step into the circle of congregation leadership.

To be sure, being a young nun elected leader makes you more of an anomaly than a unicorn. A good young non-nun friend used that word to describe my reality the other day. It caused me pause, but on reflection it fits my present, very unusual reality. I am humbled to realize that I am serving in leadership of my community, a community which I dearly love.  The vast majority of my CSJP Sisters have been Sisters longer than I have been alive, and yet, here I am privileged to give my all for our present and as we build bridges to a sustainable future for the generations yet to come.

Giving Voice has been the gift that keeps on giving, especially as I step onto this path of leadership. There are by no means many age peers in leadership (I can count them on one hand), but there are some.  I also know that as all of our communities live into the reality of demographic change there will be more who are called to this adventure.  I am grateful for the elder Sisters who are recognizing this reality and mentoring the younger Sisters in their community. (If you fit that category, I highly recommend reading my friend Tere’s Open Letter to the Great Generation on Global Sisters Report. I also had a GSR column  recently on how this is a unique and important time for all the generations living religious life today.)

Most of all, I am grateful to my loving and mischievous God for breaking through and leading me onto this wonderful crazy path with unicorns and anomalies and friends and laughter and hope and trust and love.

The One who calls is Faithful

Over the weekend I was praying with a group of my CSJP Sisters, which is always a heart-stretching and heart-warming experience. As it happens, the prayer sheet we were using had some weird sort of typo where the characters “g=” were accidentally inserted right before the word “faithful.”  During the quiet reflection time, I couldn’t get the resulting formula out of my head or heart:

g=faithful

God equals faithful. God is faithful. So simple yet so very powerful. I almost feel like I should engrave that on something or post it on my wall. When life seems complicated or the path ahead unsure, remember, God is faithful.

Then I prayed with the readings for this Gaudete Sunday, and was stopped in my tracks by the second reading from Thessalonians:

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.

The one who calls is faithful. The one who calls will accomplish it. It is not up to me. It is not about me or us. Authentic call is about responding to God’s faithful love.

This weekend, I have several friends who have responded to the one who calls in faith, trust and love in special and powerful ways. My friend Stephanie married her sweetheart Matt. My friend Graham was ordained as a deacon on the path to being ordained as a priest. Another friend was in Peru witnessing the final profession of one of her Sisters. And today, my friend Belinda professes her final yes as a Benedictine Sister.

My prayer for all of my friends who are responding to the one who is faithful with a big “YES,” and this includes myself and the four CSJP Sisters who are stepping into the circle of leadership with me in January as we begin our term of office on the congregation leadership team, is just what this reading says.

May we rejoice always
Praying and giving thanks without ceasing, no matter what
May we embrace God’s will in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we are called to journey.
Spirit of God, soak us with your goodness and surprises.
Open our ears to your prophetic word.
Guide us on the path of creative experimentation.
Lead us to goodness and light and everything which gives life.
God of peace, strengthen our spirit, soul and body so that we may be ready,
Ready to respond joyfully always to your faithful love.
Help us to trust that it is YOU who works through, in, and with us.
You have called, God of peace and love and joy.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Amen

Margaret Anna Fridays – Desire to live the life of a sister

Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)
Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)

Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day.  She wrote lives of the saints, spiritual works, histories, and social reform. I find great inspiration in her life’s word and work. For example, this simple desire which she articulated at some point in her life resonates with the simplest desire in my own heart as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

My desire to live the life of a sister, to give my life to God, and to work for his poor – this seemed to me the only object worth existing for.

Write Your Story: A Video Prayer Reflection

So I had lots of plans for today. Lots and lots of plans to do lots of important things. But first I went for a long walk and had a little conversation with God, as I’m apt to do on long walks.  That’s where the poem I posted earlier today came from. When I returned home and turned on my computer to start working on Chapter 6 of my thesis, instead I felt an overwhelming urge to make a video prayer reflection set to “Write Your Story” by Francesca Battistelli.

A little bit of background. I’d never heard this song or the artist (it’s not one of my regular musical genres) until this summer when I was planning a retreat for Catholic Sisters in their 40s with some friends from Giving Voice. My friend Rejane suggested this song for one of our prayer experiences during the retreat, where we were also going to invite folks to write a six word memoir (which is an excellent exercise by the way–try it!).

On the first listen, I wasn’t super excited about the song. But it got stuck in my head. And my heart. And so I listened to it … again, and again, and again. As it happens, about this time I was invited by my community to discern something pretty huge that seemed beyond anything I could imagine for me right now, but which at the same time seemed like maybe what God was in fact inviting me to next. At this point, it would probably help if you heard the song I’ve been praying with since July:

Listening to the song, I can’t help but be reminded of Jeremiah 29: 11: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” (Of course, just a couple of chapters earlier Jeremiah realized he had been “duped”!)

Discernment is about listening to your heart. But discernment is also about listening to what God has written on your heart, and opening yourself up to what has not yet been written. It’s all well and good writing those words here, or even discerning something huge. Then comes actually stepping into the new chapter, taking a deep breath and learning to trust.

Apparently that was what I needed to do today, take a deep breath and sink into God’s love, because all day turned out to be an unplanned prayer day. Or, at least unplanned by me. The mischievous Holy Spirit may have had other plans. I trust that what needs to get done, my many plans for important things, will get done.

I mentioned the exercise we did on retreat where we invited folks to write their memoir in six words. Here’s mine:  Nonstop brain. Opened Heart. Seeking Peace.

Chatting of a Discerning Woman

Yours truly is the special guest nun!
Yours truly is the special guest nun!

For about ten years I blogged about my discernment into and first years of religious life at a little virtual spot called Musings of a Discerning Woman.  I originally started the blog because I had found the sharing of other people’s experiences and journeys helpful in navigating and discerning my own. As it happens, I then fell in love with the medium and discovered that I am a writer at heart!

Discernment, I have discovered, never ends.  Whether it’s the big things … like the communal and personal discernment I engaged in with my community this year around being called to the ministry of congregation leadership … or the small(er) things, like how to live a good and virtuous life in the everyday choices we make, discernment is part and parcel of being a human, if we are paying attention that is.

Well, tonight I am going to have a chance to share some of my own experience and journeys of discernment in a live format, which hopefully will prove helpful to those who participate in the Discernment Chat taking place at 6PM Pacific/8PM Central/9PM Eastern at A Nun’s Life.  My friend Sister Julie Vieira, IHM started blogging at A Nun’s Life about the same time I started my original blog. She of course has turned A Nun’s Life into an incredible interactive ministry for discerners and spiritual seekers. I was honored to be invited to join in the conversation tonight as their “guest nun.”

It will be a welcome and good break from thesis writing!