Tag Archives: Saints

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.

Franz Jägerstätter – Courage to Resist Nonviolently

Today is the feast day of Franz Jägerstätter who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2007. I learned a bit about his life, witness, and sacrifice for peace during my graduate studies as part of my research into nonviolent resistance. Here is an excerpt of a paper I wrote about nonviolent resistance to the Holocaust:

FranzAlthough one might consider his 2007 beatification to have shifted his “ordinary” status, Franz Jägerstätter lived a rather ordinary and simple life. His primary occupations were husband, father, and farmer.  His marriage to Franziska, a very devout Christian, was happy and deepened his own commitment to his Catholic faith. He was a volunteer parish sacristan and later became a lay tertiary Franciscan. Equipped with only a seventh-grade education, he was nevertheless widely read—periodicals, devotionals, papal encyclicals, lives of the saints, and scripture.

Jägerstätter had a vivid dream in 1938, two months prior to the arrival of Hitler’s army in his native Austria. It was a dream upon which he later reflected and acted.

“Suddenly, I saw a beautiful train, which was going around a mountain. Grown-ups and children were streaming toward it and could hardly be held back. I would rather not say how few adults did not get on the train. Then suddenly a voice said to me: ‘This train is going to Hell’ … And now I realize that it embodies National Socialism, as it descends upon us with all its many organizations.”

“From the very beginning,” notes his biographer Erna Putz, Jägerstätter “refused all cooperation” with the Nazi regime, even refusing government payments for raising children or crop damage.  He was the only person in his village to vote “No” to the April 1938 German annexation of Austria, even though the annexation vote had been endorsed by Austrian Cardinal Innitzer. Conscription soon became the fate of able bodied Austrian men, now German citizens.

Jägerstätter was no exception.  He received six months of army training in 1941, during which time he realized that he could not in good conscience serve in the Nazi military. As a devout Catholic, he discussed his decision with his priest, who told him in confession that such a decision would be akin to suicide, and even with his local Bishop, who advised him to think of his duty to his family. His resolve was unchanged. He wrote: “Does it still bear witness to Christian love of the neighbor if I commit an act, which I truly regard as evil and very unjust, and yet I continue to commit the act because otherwise I would suffer either physical or economic harm?”

When Jägerstätter was called to active duty in 1943, he declared his refusal to participate. He was beheaded on August 9, 1943. Faced with evil, and commanded to participate in that evil, he responded by seizing the moral initiative, refusing to submit, and being willing both to suffer rather than retaliate and to undergo the penalty of breaking an unjust law.

Praying with Joseph – Video Prayer Reflection

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph! Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Francis Clare) chose St. Joseph as the patron of my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, because he was a model of peace.  In the words of our original 1884 Constitutions:

Joseph1884

A few years ago I made this video prayer reflection for St. Joseph’s Day (complete with a rather funny typo).  I invite you to spend some time today with Joseph, model of peace.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

Bakhita: Model of Resistance – Prayer & Action Against Human Trafficking

Children raise their hands in front of a mural of St. Bakhita at  a displacement camp  near Khartoum
Children raise their hands in front of a mural of St. Bakhita at a displacement camp near Khartoum

Today (February 8) is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita who has beatified by Pope John Paul II. Today has also been declared, under the leadership of Pope Francis, as the first International Day of Prayer and Action against human trafficking.  I wrote about the connection between these two important dates in my latest column on Global Sisters Report.

The column draws upon research I did for my Masters thesis, “Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance.” I see Bakhita as a model of resistance and believe that her story can help evoke in contemporary people of good will the motivation needed to take actions of solidarity and resistance to human trafficking today.

The story of St. Josephine Bakhita invites us to take an honest look at our own connections to the social sin of human trafficking. What are the unjust social and economic structures and distorted social norms which allow human trafficking to thrive? What actions of resistance might we take to heal relationships distorted by human trafficking?

Here are some resources for this first ever International Day of Prayer and Action against human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a social evil perpetrated by human beings. Human trafficking is not inevitable. As St. Josephine Bakhita’s story tells us, it is possible to resist, and it is possible for ordinary persons to resist in solidarity with trafficked persons.  We can start today through our prayer and action against human trafficking.

Angela Merici: “Do Something”

companyursulaToday is the feast day of St. Angela Merici who died in 1540. She was a visionary woman who gathered others around her.  She won approval from her Diocese for the first rule written by a woman for a community of women.

Just before I embarked upon my new adventure in leadership, a friend recommend a book to me – Redeeming Administration 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions.  (If this fits you, I highly recommend it!)

The first chapter speaks about the need to have  a breadth of vision and includes this powerful quote from Angela:

‘This charge must not be a burden for you; on the contrary, you have to thank God most greatly that he has deigned to see to it that you are among those he wants to spend themselves in governing and safeguarding such a treasure [as] his own … Do not be afraid of not knowing and not being able to do what is rightly required in such a singular government. Do something. Get moving. Be confident. Risk new things. Stick with it. Get on your knees. Then be ready for big surprises.’

She wrote these words just before her death. They were written for the Company of Ursula, the small community she had gathered just five years earlier.

Given my new adventure, I have been struck by her words in a particular way, but I think they apply to so many people and situations.  If we waited until we had everything figured out, then nothing would ever happen. Sometimes we have to just do something. To move. To risk. To stick with it. And to pray.  And when we do, to be sure, God has even more surprises in store.

Margaret Anna Fridays – Our Common Work

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. She also wrote copious letters to her Sisters. This gem is from her April 1887 general letter to the new Congregation.

“We must all have more consideration for each other, and make full allowance for difference of birth, education and temper. We have a common work to do for God, and His poor which should be our union and our bond of charity and this motive should enable us to put aside all little differences, and troubles.”

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.

The real meaning of Sisterhood – Love

4churchwmnI will never forget the day when I first learned about the four American church women who were killed in El Salvador 24 years ago today. It was 1988 and I was a junior at a Catholic girls high school. One of the Sisters from the community who sponsored my high school came to our religion class to speak about her work with the people of El Salvador, which was still embroiled in a brutal and bloody civil war. She brought pictures of the children and families she accompanied and shared the story of her ministry.  She also told us the story of Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, lay missioner Jean Donovan, Sister Maura Clarke, MM, and Sister Ita Ford, MM who had been beaten, raped, and murdered by five members of the National Guard of El Salvador just a few years before, because of their presence and ministry to the people of that country. Their bodies were left in a shallow grave along an isolated roadside. I remember being shocked by the story. I also remember being overpowered by the realization that this Sister who was talking to us and sharing her own story also put herself at risk of a similar fate. And it became clear to me that her reason was love. Love of God and love of the people of El Salvador.

Love … that’s the real meaning of Sisterhood. Love is worth living for. Love is worth taking risks for. Love is even worth dying for. What else does the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus teach us?

In the words of Sister Ita Ford in a letter to her goddaughter, written just a few months before her murder:

I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be — that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I’m seeing and living things that others around you aren’t… I want to say to you: don’t waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy.

Chances are, most of the people who will tune in to the second episode of the ‘reality’ show The Sisterhood tonight do not know this real life story of the power of Sisterhood.  Hopefully, however, the message still comes across that vowed religious life isn’t about giving up make up, or hiding away from the world, or fleeing the drama that comes with being human. In my experience, it’s about finding something worth living for, something that energizes you and causes you to share your God given gifts in a particular way to help address the unmet needs of the world. It’s about responding to the transformative love of God in a way that challenges, supports and transforms you as you seek to transform the world in the company of your Sisters. It’s about love.

In the words of Pope Francis in his message for the Year of Consecrated Life: “You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.”

Margaret Anna Fridays – on the gift of writing

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. Happily, thanks to public domain and the many internet book projects, much of her writing is now available online. As someone who herself has been slowly growing into her own identity as a writer, I have a special affinity for that aspect of her story. I’m willing to bet that if she were alive today, she’d be using social media and blogs to spread the gospel of peace!

Since God has been pleased to give me a gift of writing,… I feel I would be ungrateful to God and undutiful to the Church if I did not use my poor efforts on the side of truth and peace.

Margaret Anna Fridays – Poverty

Mother Francis Clark (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. Happily, thanks to public domain and the many internet book projects, much of her writing is now available online.  She was a woman of her time and yet, ahead of her time in many ways.

“We are, then, put face to face with the great fact of Poverty, we are put face to face with the certain consequences of the continuance of such a condition of things, and if we have one spark of humanity we are put face to face with the question, What can we do personally and individually to lessen poverty, if we cannot abolish it?”

~The Question of Today: Anti-Poverty & Progress (1887) by M.F. Cusack