Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's (Not) The End

After a year and a half of writing about my formation journey with the Daughters of Charity, I'll be ending this blog.

Well, sort of.
Actually, I'll be suspending it - "ending" just sounded more dramatic and hopefully urged you to keep reading on to figure out why.

I won't be posting at all during my time in Seminary, which will be the next 18-24 months. I realize that will be a long time to wait until my next blog entry, but I hope you all will keep me on your reading lists despite the long period of inactivity.

So why am I not posting during Seminary? Seminary is a time for prayer and reflection, for study and for quiet. (In that way, it's similar to novitiates in other communities). Many Sisters have referred to it as "the most cloistered you'll ever be as a Daughter of Charity". This doesn't mean we can't leave the house or that we're not allowed to do anything ever, but rather that the focus is different in Seminary.

The blog started out as a way for me to express myself. When it started, I still hadn't been accepted as a pre-postulant with the Daughters yet. As time went by, blog writing slowly became a second ministry for me. The Daughters of Charity have been incredibly supportive of it, including our leadership. I've met several discerners and other Sisters from other communities who read my blog, which inspired me to write more.

Yet Seminary is a time to leave ministries and focus on yourself, on the community and on God.
Not writing in the blog will allow me to immerse myself in the quiet and to focus on my studies and prayer to form myself as a Daughter of Charity. It will allow me to spend more time in personal private writing (ie: my journal), which I have sadly been neglecting lately.

That doesn't mean I'll never be on the computer. I will still be available via email and Facebook, though my time will be much more limited than it is now. Please feel free to keep in touch, though my response may be delayed.

Please pray for me and my companion Whitney as we become Daughters of Charity on January 20th. We, in the United States, are blessed that, behind Whitney and I, are five young women in formation to become Daughters of Charity. Please pray for them as well.

In love of Jesus Crucified,
Soon-to-be Sister Amanda, DC

Monday, December 31, 2012

But How Do You Feel About It?

Among other things that St Joseph's holds, including the Basilica and National Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, is the Villa, one of our retirement facilities. Over the past two years, there has been one particular Sister that I've visited many times, in fact every time I went to Emmitsburg. She is quite a whip for being in her 90s. We'd sit for hours and have conversations about the Baltimore Orioles, joke about new souvenirs for the shrine (including a St Elizabeth Ann Seton bobblehead), share our stories and, of course, she would share her wisdom about vocation. She even met my family when we once traveled to Emmitsburg together.

And two days ago, when I knocked on her door, she answered with a great smile. "You sent me a Christmas card, didn't you?" I beamed - "yes, I did". "Oh, I've been meaning to write you back". I sort of chuckled to myself because I know what a bad corespondent she was. As I entered her room and got closer to her, she clasped my hand and said "Now we've met before, right?" I didn't show it but my heart sank. Instead, I squeezed her hand and said "Yes, Sister, many times"

A stained glass in the Basilica
depicting Srs performing the
Corporal Acts of Mercy
The question is.....why would a healthy 20-something join a community like this, a community where the average age is in the 70s, a community where she may soon see Sisters she knows and loves forget who she is?
Why not join a community where the average age is in their 30s or even maybe 40s?

It's a question many Catholics still ask about new vocations to so-called "dying communities".
To clear up things, first, the Daughters of Charity are not a "dying community". New vocations have been in smaller groups, but they've remained consistent and ongoing. For the past decades, our Seminary (novitiate) has never remained empty for more than a few months.
Second, even for other communities...using the phrase "dying community" (in my opinion) is insulting to these women who have dedicated their lives to God.

I've already talked about how God is still calling to all types of communities. That's the big picture.

Yet, discerners and others alike have asked me "well, yeah,....but how do you feel about it?"

Is it hard living with Sisters that are generations older? Well, yeah....sometimes. Cultures are different, likes/dislikes are different, experiences are different, etc. But most of the time - and this is the truth - I don't even notice the age gap anymore.

Yet, even beyond that, I believe there is a great advantage we have, compared to communities with younger average ages (though they are obviously wonderful too)

What possible advantage could be that, you ask? What possible good thing could come from having more Sisters that are older instead of younger?
For me, it's been an advantage that's carried me through the rough times and an advantage that has led me to smile as I travel on this journey.
It's been the wisdom of our older Sisters.

I've heard wisdom from our Villa Sisters (and those still active) that come from their own experience. Most of the Daughters of Charity who recently celebrated 50 years as a Sister are still in ministry, including one I live with. Another Sister I lived with in Macon celebrated 60 years last year. And believe it or not, but we actually have some who have been a Daughter of Charity for 80 years. They've lived through the changes of Vatican II (and maybe even got frustrated over how fast or how slow the changes were moving). They lived through times of crisis in the country. And, more personally, they've lived through periods of spiritual darkness, periods of incredible joy and maybe even crises of vocation.

They have wisdom that those of us who are younger - whether that be much younger or just a few decades younger - are still figuring out. While there is something to say about learning things ourselves, there is something deeply reassuring about receiving that wisdom, even if we may not quite fully "get it" at the time.

One Sister in the Villa had recently moved to Emmitsburg from St Louis, so I met her for the first time. When she heard I was soon to be a Seminary Sister, she clasped my hand and said with a smile "There are tough times, but it's all worth it - every moment"

Could a Sister in their 40s or 50s have told me the same thing? Sure. Yet, it meant something different coming from a woman who had dedicated the majority of her life to God and lived through so much as a Sister.

So, how do I feel about being a 20-something in an older community?


Blessed to have great inspiration surrounding me, to have the opportunity to meet and know amazing servants of the poor, to have my name on the lips of those Sisters as they pray for these younger Sisters, and to hear wisdom that will carry me through the joys and trials of religious life.

Will I continue to pray and work to encourage new vocations so the average age gets younger? Absolutely. But meanwhile, I will thank God for those Sisters who served before me and paved the way...even those who no longer recognize me.

(This post is dedicated to Sister Regina, a Sister that passed away while I was staying in Emmitsburg a few days ago. I didn't know her personally but she was in her 90s and active until the very last day. This is for her and all the wisdom she surely passed on through the years....)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Greater Than One: A Guest Post by Sr. Meg Kymes

Sisters represent so much more than just themselves. It is both a big responsibility but also one that invites lots of reflective and joyful experiences. Speaking about one of those experiences, here is a guest post from Sister Meg Kymes, a Daughter of Charity. She currently lives in Emmitsburg, Maryland where she works at Mother Seton School and the Seton Center.

Thursday I was awaiting a package from Fed-Ex while I was at school. I felt my phone ring in my pocket (luckily during snack time) and stepped outside to receive the call. I answered and the gentleman on the other side said, “Ms. Kymes? This is Bill from Fed-Ex. I’m looking for your house, but I can’t seem to find it. I’ve passed the antique store.” 

It’s a common problem in Emmitsburg. My own father missed the house twice when he came to visit. “You’ve gone just a little too far.” I replied. “Turn around at the next street and come back about a block. At the first stop sign turn right.” 

He arrived a few minutes later and asked, “What is this place? I’ve delivered to the school, but never here.”
“This is the Daughters of Charity convent.” I replied.
“Oh, so you’re a Sister?” 
“Yes, about two years now.” 
“Tough life. My daughter went to Mount St. Mary’s. A friend of hers became a Sister after college.” 
“Really? What community?” He thought for a moment, but could not remember. I signed for the package told him good-bye and God Bless then returned to class.

Later that evening I checked my phone and saw a voicemail. It was from Bill. “Sister? I wanted to ask you to pray for my daughter. Her name is Megan. She has been having some really bad headaches lately. I know God listens to your prayers, so I thought I would ask. Could you mention it to your Sisters too? Thanks and God Bless you Sister.” 

I was shocked this man would ask me this after a less than a 10 minute conversation. I reflected on this encounter that evening and mentioned it to some of the Sisters I live with. They reminded me that it is not what you do or say, but the fact you represent something much larger than yourself. I later found this quote from Paul to the Thessalonians. “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it…” (1 Thessalonians 1:8)

When I began considering religious life, one of the thoughts that kept coming back to me was I wanted to be part of something larger than me. I am always amazed and proud at community gatherings and when we receive letters from our superiors in Paris and Rome when I hear about all the great work that is being done for our brothers and sisters living in poverty all around the world. It’s beautiful to know that somewhere in the world there are women who like me are given to God, living in community, and serving those living in poverty.

(Sr Meg also wrote a post on Sr Denise's blog about why she wanted to be a Daughter of Charity - check it out here!)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Seminary: Accepting the Seemingly Unbelievable

Almost a year ago to the day, I was accepted for postulancy.
About six months before that, I was accepted for pre-postulancy.

Those were all pretty big steps, or at least in my eyes.

My road of discernment in 2003 as a senior in high school. And now the moment I fantasied about during those good times of discernment and the moment I thought was inconceivable during the rough times is here.

I've been accepted to Seminary. Since we are a Society of Apostolic Life, we actually become a Daughter of Charity at a ceremony called Incorporation as we enter the Seminary, instead of at first vows like many other religious communities. Our vows, which we renew every year, are taken for the first time many years later.

Soon I will be joining the history of the Daughters of Charity that has spanned for almost four centuries (so beautifully illustrated by the image to the right)

In January, I will stop being "Amanda the postulant" and start being "Sister Amanda, DC"

In January, I will become a Daughter of Charity.

In January, the tagline of this blog will turn into "a journey of a Daughter of Charity Seminary Sister".

After nine years of searching, nine years of journeying over two continents, I'm here.

While it was a great joy to know I was accepted, I'm still left in a state of disbelief.

It still hasn't hit me yet that, in a month exactly, I will be a Daughter of Charity.

It's just......God is crazy, but very very good.

My Incorporation will be January 20th. Please pray for me and my fellow postulant Whitney as we become Daughters of Charity and begin our 18 months of study and prayer at the Seminary!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What to Do After Newtown

On Friday, a devastating tragedy happened when 26 people were killed in an elementary school, twenty of them being children between the ages of 6 and 7.

I was an elementary/middle school teacher for three years before I moved here to Texas. And as I heard more and more about the tragedy, I kept imagining my own students from those years being shot down and left to die on the classroom floor. It sent more than one chill up my spine and that afternoon, as I was running errands, I listened to the newscast on my radio and gasped tears.

I'm truly left without words. So, instead I will point you to other great articles by people who do have words and wise ones at that:
The real reason I'm writing is not to point you to spiritual and theological articles/blogs about yesterday (though that is nice), but rather to suggest what you can do next.
  • Donate: A Trappist abbey is donating handmade caskets for all those affected in the tragedy (see this article) The abbey frequently donates or discounts child caskets to families, especially in times of tragedy. However, to make up for the cost of the materials, the abbey has set up a Child Casket Fund so that more families don't have to face the burden of buying caskets for their children.
  • Speak out: Has this tragedy affected your views on gun control? Don't keep it to yourself. Write your elected officials. Demand change. Do what you can to prevent this from ever happening again.
    On a perhaps more difficult note, talk out your feelings. Talk to your children about what happened (see this article on how to do it) so that they can do the same.
  • Pray: Pray for the souls of the victims. Pray for their families. Pray for the family of the shooter. Pray for those left behind - the children and teachers who have lost their friends and co-workers, for whom life will never be the same. And pray for our world.
  • Love: Just love.
(Have you read any other faith-related articles about the tragedy? Or know of any other related organizations to donate to? Leave it in the comments!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Playing Billiards and Cleaning Floors: The Story of Sister Martina Vázquez Gordo

Sister Martina Vazquez Gordo had slowly become famous all over Spain for her service of the poor, similar to the fame Mother Teresa of Calcutta had in India or Bea Gaddy in Baltimore. Like Blessed Rosalie Rendu before her, she became a friend of the rich and the poor alike. And that is why it was all the more surprising when she was martyred on October 4, 1936 by the same soldiers she had served so faithfully.

Stories of Sister Martina are different than the flowery descriptions I've found of some of the martyrs. Rather, she seems like the type of person you'd like to sit and have a beer with (that is, if Sisters drank...) I can imagine her with a loud belly laugh telling others of her blunt unconventional actions while, at the same time, remaining humbly silent about the many ministries she founded to serve the poor of Spain (that is, unless she could use the opportunity for fundraising!).

One such story is in her beginning years as a Daughter of Charity. She became the superior of the school Colegio de la Milagrosa in Zamora, Spain. There was poor enrollment in the school and soon Sr Martina found out why - people in the community thought the school gave inferior education. So, what did she do? She went out in the community and spread word of the school to boost enrollment. Admirable, but this is itself isn't that interesting of a feat. What is interesting is how she did it. Discretely (I'm assuming out of her habit - the cornette is pretty noticeable), she entered one of the men's clubs in the community. Surely, the club was full of cigar smoke and alcohol - certainly not the typical hang-out of a nun unless you're telling jokes. But Sr Martina struck up conversation with some of the men playing billiards, attempting to convince them to enroll their children in the school. Maybe annoyed, one man jokingly said "Fine! If you make this shot, I'll send my son there!" She took the cue stick and, lo and behold, made the shot. Upon enrolling his child, the man must have figured out that this billiards-playing woman was actually the superior, Sister Martina. From there, the school flourished....and so did her fame.

After her stint at the school, she was missioned to a hospital and school in Segorbe. The institution was in much debt and very poor physical condition. But similar to what she did for Colegio de la Milagrosa, Sr Martina turned the situation upside down. She not only built relationships with wealthy families to improve the physical condition of the buildings, but she also used her own personal family money to do so. But she wasn't satisfied with what the institution and the Daughters were already doing - she knew the poor needed more.

So she founded a soup kitchen called "Gota de Leche", a consultation center for nursing mothers, a center for the transient poor who needed help getting employment, and created the Charitable Board of Segorbe, a group of wealthy families to assist maintain the nursing home and hospital for the elderly. Oh, not to mention, she also taught courses in the school.
It's a wonder this woman even slept.

Soon, she was elected onto the Provincial Council but, after five years, she was off on a new adventure - going to North Africa to nurse the wounded Spanish troops from the Battle of Annual. Sr Martina did everything she could to serve the soldiers, even cleaning floors, stating often that they and the poor are what would lead her to heaven. At one point, a truck overflowing with wounded soldiers came and there was no more room in the hospital for all of them. The officers' club was nearby and would do perfectly. But one of the high-ranking officials refused. But Sr Martina didn't accept his answer so submissively. She went to a higher power - the war minister. Not only did he allow the use of the club as a temporary hospital, but he appointed her Captain General of the military, perhaps the highest title in the Spanish Army, which gave her the authority to do whatever it was she wanted.

Three years later, at the end of the war, she was sent back to Segorbe, though not before befriending the Muslim leaders in the area who gifted her a silk cloth to be used for the Virgin. It would be ten more years before the troubles would begin. Around 1936, Sr Martina started to become suspicious of the new government and its movement against the Church. One day, fearing a takeover of the house, the Sisters consumed all the hosts, prepared to be booted out of the hospital. And that they were. Told that they had to leave or the soldiers would bomb the hospital, the soldiers led them to an abandoned house, where they remained locked in for a few months.

Soon, like Sister Josefa after her, she got the premonition that she would be martyred. So she prepared for her death by making confession. Since a priest obviously couldn't enter into the makeshift jail the Sisters lived in, she improvised. Like Father Damien who confessed by yelling from one boat to another in the movie Molokai, Sr Martina confessed through signs in the window. When the soldiers came for her, they came for her alone. The Sisters cried to accompany her but the soldiers wouldn't allow it. Placed in a truck, Sr Martina bluntly told the soldiers You're going to kill me and so there's no need to take me far away. When the time came for her to be martyred, her killers asked her to turn her back to them. She absolutely refused. I want to die facing you like Christ and also like Christ, I forgive you.

With holy water, she blessed herself and kissed the crucifix, saying If I have offended you in anything, I ask forgiveness and if you kill me, I forgive you … when you want, you can fire your weapons. With her facing them, they shot and, in typical strong Sr Martina fashion, the two shots in her neck and face didn't kill her right away. With the strength she had left, she yelled My God, have mercy on me!

With that, Sr Martina Vazquez Gordo - the billiards player, the Capital General, the friend of Christians and Muslims, the admirable Daughter of Charity - fell into a ditch and died. She was 68 years old and had been a Daughter of Charity for over 30 years.

She is one of the many Daughters of Charity to be beatified this October, all martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. You can read the story of a fellow Daughter of Charity martyr, Sister Josefa Martinez Perez, here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Five years ago today....: Divine Providence Alone at Work

I have great reason to say, in truth, that it has been Divine Providence alone at work. Going there, I had no knowledge of what there was to do. I can say that I saw what was being done only when it was completed. In encounters where I could have met with obstacles, the same Divine Providence provided, totally unexpectedly, persons who could help me . . .. It also seemed to me that I was doing what I was meant to do without knowing how. May God be forever blessed for it! - St Louise de Marillac (L. 159)
Hna Paula and aspirant me
meeting an American Daughter of Charity
Five years ago today, I rolled in my suitcase through the front doors of the Divino Niño Convent. By doing so, I started my first day as a member of a Salesian religious community. I was very nervous. In fact, I spent the night before crying (which, in hindsight, I should have considered a sign...) A few weeks later, I would receive the aspirant habit and start my second job as a third-grade religion teacher soon after that.

The doubts started pretty soon after that first day. For many different reasons, I was unhappy there. And about six months later, I finally decided and got up the courage to tell the Sisters I was leaving the community. I don't like talking about the details of those months in that community because I find those experiences and emotions to be very private for me. However, I will say one thing....

...I know now it was all part of a plan of Divine Providence. Like St Louise said, I was doing what I was meant to do without even knowing it.

And it led me here five years later, in late 2012, in the final months of my postulancy with the Daughters of Charity. And I can't imagine myself anywhere else but with the Daughters. I had no idea that my journey would be like this, that a relative "mistake" would bring me to what I was always meant to be - a Daughter of Charity.

Almost four centuries ago, our foundress Saint Louise wrote to a Sister that was leaving for Poland, one of the first foreign missions of the Daughters of Charity. She wrote this, showing her dear affection for the Sister that she quite possibly would never see again. Yet, quite egotistically perhaps, as I read it, it's as if Saint Louise is talking straight to me and I can feel her comfort and love.
With all my heart I wish you the joy and interior consolation of a soul that is lovingly submissive to the most holy will of God . . . Oh, what an excellent way of life, hard on nature but sweet and easy for souls enlightened by eternal truths and by the awareness of the joy to be found in pleasing God and in allowing Him full mastery over their wills! This, it seems to me, . . . is the road that God wills you to travel to reach Him, however difficult it may appear. Enter upon it, then, wholeheartedly as would a vessel that will carry you where you must go. - St Louise de Marillac (L.448)
I pray that I may always lovingly submit to Divine Providence and remember where He has already taken me....and I wish the same for you, readers, wherever you may be on the journey.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...