Even though today is the beginning of the last week of Advent, and we actually have a full four weeks of Advent this year, I must admit to being a bit liturgically mixed up.
For one thing, I’ve been experiencing a lot of waiting and expectation these past few months, so on the one hand I feel like my Advent has been much longer than usual. And given that some of the expectation will continue into the new year, my Advent will also continue.
Next Sunday is of course Christmas, but I’ve not gotten much into the spirit just yet. This will be a simple and easy Christmas spent with community in a much needed low key kind of way. Spiritually, I am ready to welcome God with us, Love incarnate, and to remember and share that miracle through ritual and prayer and celebration. Christmas is good, even if I’m not super into all the festivities this year.
Then there is the rhythm of ordinary time, which we won’t take up liturgically for a while but in our lives is part of the every day mix, some good, some bad, all of it part of life. I’ve been reflecting a bit on the storms of life, both literal (we had a minor winter storm yesterday that has turned to mild rainy weather) and the figurative ones in our lives that rock our world from time to time.
The other day, a song popped up on my play list on my music player in the car. I’ve been avoiding Christmas songs, trying to stay in the Advent mood, so the other day I listened to a play list I created for retreat a few years ago. It included a song I’ve not listened to much, by singer songwriter Amy Speace – “How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat.” Her words and music really spoke to my heart and where I’ve been a bit lately, seeking peace in the midst of the storm. The song has helped me to bring that to prayer, and today I spent some time in prayer creating a video prayer set to her words and music.
It’s not necessarily liturgically appropriate for the fourth Sunday of Advent, but life is pretty stormy right now for many people I know and even more I don’t know, so I offer this as a pre-Christmas gift in case it is helpful on your journey.
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.
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!
During my childhood in the 1970s & 80s, Saturday mornings were a special and almost sacred time, in large part because of Saturday morning cartoons and the bit I looked most forward to–Schoolhouse Rock.
This Lent, for example, I’ve been playing around in my head and heart with some of what I learned from Schoolhouse Rock about grammar.
Think about it … Lent itself is a funny word. The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Lent as the “40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting,” with the origin coming from the Middle English word for springtime. Living on the East Coast as I am these days, where there is still frost in the mornings and the possibility of snow, it is easy to understand why this season of anticipation took its name from the hope for spring!
Of course, the word lent has other meanings as well. In French the letters l-e-n-t become and an adjective meaning slow, which is entirely appropriate for the Lenten Season. Adjectives, as the “Unpack Your Adjectives” Schoolhouse rock video taught me as a child, “are words you use to really describe things, handy words to carry around.”
I carry lots of things around these days, mainly a growing list of urgent things that need to be done. Yet the wisdom of the Lenten season is that, as a church, we set aside a time each year which carries with it the higher priorities of slowing down through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The French adjective lent is a good word to carry around in my heart as I slow down during these 40 days.
Lent also has other meanings in English. For example, it can be the past simple tense or past participle of the irregular verb to lend. Verbs, as the Schoolhouse Rock video “Verb, That’s What’s Happenin’” reminds me, put “my heart in action … to work, to live, to play, to love.” This is both a lovely and very challenging concept, especially when I consider the ways my heart is lent in action.
Who puts my heart into action? Who am I lent by? Where do I lend my energy?
One word has been popping up persistently in my prayer of late …
I am not sure where it came from, but it was a quieting word amidst the storm of worry and anxiety and worse case scenarios that I am prone to from time to time.
The goodness of God. The goodness of people far and near. The goodness of life itself and creation and the universe and creativity and community and love and laughter and … (fill in the blank).
What I have discovered these weeks of praying with goodness is that it is everywhere, even within and among you and me.
What I have also discovered is that swirling thoughts or worries or wonderings are no match for focused attention on goodness.
Next time you find yourself spinning to a not so good space, try this. Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Think of goodness. Just the word. Or some representation or experience of goodness in your own life. Keep breathing in, breathing out, focusing on goodness. Maybe, like me, you will feel yourself settle, slow down, at peace.
Goodness … it’s what’s happening if we but pay attention!
Some days are filled with mishaps and events that can certainly contribute to a state of generalized grumpiness. Yesterday was one of those days, complete with flight cancellation, traffic jams, airport mayhem, delays and ultimately a missed connection which meant I did not arrive in time for the conference I am meant to speak at this morning.
Yet this one day of chaotic mishaps makes me realize that this is but a temporary hint of the daily reality of so many. Mothers who do not know how they will feed their children today let alone tomorrow. Patients receiving a diagnosis seemingly without hope. Villagers picking through the rubble of a senseless drone attack. People who feel broken or lost or alone facing yet another in a series of unfortunate events, often without adequate resources or support systems to help them cope.
And here I am. I was able to rebook my flight. The schedule for today was moved around so that I can still speak on the panel I was traveling to attend. I spent the night in a comfortable hotel bed and woke up to a scrumptious breakfast buffet and a good cup of coffee. The shuttle driver was pleasant and went out of his way to be helpful. I checked in and went through security with ease. The list goes on and on …
Every day is a bad day for someone.
I am grateful for my bad day because it gave me a much needed dose of perspective. It was almost like I needed an antidote of mishaps to reorient some grumpiness I have been indulging of late.
How we face the day makes a difference, not only for ourselves but for those whose path we cross.
This morning I woke up feeling a wee bit overwhelmed by everything. Not just everything on my own proverbial plate, but the situation of the world, of people I care about who are suffering, about the unknowns of the future. You know the drill, we all I am sure have our own versions of these moments. But I got out of bed, drank my coffee, put on my gym clothes and went to the gym where I heard a song on my music mix that helped to lift me out of the overwhelmed overresponsibility blues … “Don’t Carry it All” by the Decemberists.
So raise a glass to turnings of the season
And watch it as it arcs towards the sun
And you must bear your neighbor’s burden within reason
And your labors will be borne when all is done
And nobody, nobody knows
Let the yoke fall from our shoulders
Don’t carry it all don’t carry it all
We are all our hands and holders
Beneath this bold and brilliant sun
A message that speaks to me of community and trust and love, in the people I am called to share the journey with and ultimately in my good and gracious God. We carry our share in love and hope, but we don’t carry it all. And that my friends is a blessing worth remembering indeed.
We each have responsibilities born of promise and commitment, whether that be a parent to a child, between spouses, in religious community, or in common work and friendship. But part of the beauty of being human is that we are inherently social beings and we share that load even as we face the future together in gratitude and hope.