Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

It is a custom in the Daughters of Charity to take a silent retreat the last day of the year. I brought along Sr Anne Higgins' book "Digging for God: Praying with Poetry" as a guide for me. It led me to write the following poem, as I reflected on other Daughters of Charity around the world, also on retreat...

One Sister, One Hermana
Brisk air, a calm lake
antique trees, cars and lawnmowers in the distance
luxuries of this First World
what I see as I sit

Spring air, a flowered yard
loud roosters, snow and mountains in the distance
luxuries of this Third World
what she sees as she sits

Two worlds, two soils, two airs
   two groups to love and serve
One God, one retreat, one year
   one chance to praise and silence
Two lives, two joys, two sorrows
   two hearts united in prayer.


Happy new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

O God, Send Us Fools: A Prayer for Vocations

Just yesterday I re-discovered this prayer as I searched for vocation-related material to put in the church bulletin. I believe it speaks to religious vocations - I find it especially great for the Daughters of Charity who dedicate themselves to the poor. A prayer we Catholics need to pray, that more young people may hear the call to religious life or priesthood. But also for, in general, disciples of Jesus, a prayer that can be used by any Christian, irregardless of denomination.


O God, send us fools,
who offer themselves wholly,
who let go,
who love without words,
who give themselves truly and to the end.

We need fools, 
the unreasonable,
the passionate,
who can leap into insecurity,
into the ever yawning gulf of poverty.

We need fools for now,
enchanted by the simple life,
loving peace,
cleansed of compromise,
firm against betrayal,
heedless of their own lives,
ready to undertake anything,
or go anywhere:
at the same time obedient,
spontaneous and decided,
gentle and strong.

O God, send us fools. 
- Father Louis Joseph Lebret

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Postulancy: The Verdict is In!

So you know how I mentioned that I was experiencing my own personal understanding of the meaning of Advent? That was my sly way of saying "so I applied for postulancy a month ago....and I've been waiting for an answer ever since" And I waited....and waited....and waited. I'm not going to lie, it seemed like forever....and doubts and self-consciousness started to pop up ("what if they don't accept me? what will I do then?, etc etc").

A postulant next to a
Daughter of Charity
But lately, as I waited longer and longer, I gave it all up to God. I said "you know what, it's not up to me anymore....whatever the Council decides is Your will, God, and You know what is best for me. I put everything in Your hands" Before you think me holy in any way, know that it wasn't easy...nor was it consistent. I was constantly fighting with myself over who was really in control: me or God.

But tonight, after so much waiting, I received the call. And the answer was....yes, I am accepted to postulancy with my beloved Daughters of Charity.

Finding out was like a breath of fresh air....it was a feeling of relief, a feeling of letting go, a feeling of peace, but most of all a feeling of JOY.

What an amazing early Christmas present. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Joy....

On a warm feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day, I walked into the Divino Niño convent, dragging a large suitcase, now an aspirant. Soon after Christmas, I would don the blue pleated jumper, white blouse and navy vest/sweater. Six months later, I would walk out of the Divino Niño convent, dragging that same suitcase but in the opposite direction, now dressed back in my T-shirt and sweatpants. Following me were Sisters and my companions in formation, who loved me so much, despite my decision to leave, to send me off at the airport.

Hermana Paula, me and Sr Mary Elko, an
American Daughter of Charity I met during
aspirancy
It's been four years since that Guadalupe feast day when I entered that community. After waking up this Sunday after a very late Mañanitas dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, I thought of those Sisters, that community.

It gave me an immense joy for two possibly contradicting reasons. It gave me joy to think of them, Sisters I love very much, some of whom I regard as my closest friends. That morning, I was also able to coincidentally talk with Hermana Delia, one of those close friends. Just a year older than me, we've had many adventures, laughed a lot, cried together and now she is in El Salvador, preparing for her perpetual vows.

But it also gave me great joy to reflect on how I've truly found a home with the Daughters of Charity. While these Sisters aren't as young as I am, they are an amazing group of wonderful women. I've fallen in love with their spirituality, the Founders speak to me, their service and ministry is inspiring and I have the complete freedom to be myself.

God gives us joy in different ways. As someone 'in waiting' so to speak, it was wonderful to wake up with this joy sent by Him and to rejoice at His presence in my life. It was Gaudete Sunday, after all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Prepostulancy and Nuestra Señora: A Story Of Unlikeliness

In case you didn't already know, I'm serving my prepostulancy in perhaps the most unlikely place - Macon, Georgia. A small Southern city in the heart of Georgia. A city with a few hundred churches (no joke), thick Southern accents, musician pride, a humid climate, and a cherry blossom festival. But also a poor city, with the average salary being not even $27,500 and a city where not even half of the young people graduate from high school.

The Sisters here live among boarded-up abandoned houses in the African-American neighborhood. Our church was historically "the black Catholic church" and more or less remains so today. Yet there is another minority group that has emerged here at St Peter Claver....the Hispanics. As a prepostulant, I work part-time in the Hispanic ministry office. I teach Confirmation to Hispanic youth and attend the Spanish Mass. The Spanish Mass is always full and with lots of kids.

Sunday, we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe. Sure, we used the Third Sunday of Advent readings but you know the whole thing revolved around the next day's feast.....Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Both kids and adults showed up in typical Mexican clothing, with some boys dressed as St Juan Diego (so cute!). There was a procession around the street, most of which I missed because I was trying to get on my traditional Bolivian dress (after all, she's patroness of the Americas, right?)

 The Mass, which was packed, was absolutely beautiful, celebrated by Father Chris Ortega, a young priest serving in Savannah (check out his blog here!) and it was followed by a large reception in the school gym, complete with traditional Mexican food and dance.

Even though I lived in Latin America for two years, I never witnessed a Guadalupe celebration like this before. (Bolivians tend to go for Our Lady of Copacabana over Guadalupe.) It was beautiful.

As the celebration went on, I reflected on the devotion Mexicans have to this image, this story of the Virgin Mary. The real connection comes from Our Lady of Guadalupe being theirs. While the tapestry was certainly a miracle, the real miracle in my opinion was that Our Lady appeared where no one expected and to someone no one expected. She appeared to Juan Diego, a poor Indian, and the words out of her mouth were not Spanish, the language of the priests of the day, but rather Nahuatl, the indigenous language.

The Virgin Mary appeared in the most unlikely place....and that is why we celebrate.
In a way, it fits that Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast happens a few weeks before Christmas because it is then, during Christmas, that we celebrate God coming to us in the most unlikely way.

I certainly didn't expect to be sent to Georgia for prepostulancy and I'm in perhaps the most unlikely place...(after all, who expects to do their formation in a city where Catholics are a very small minority?)....but isn't that where we find faith the most? Just go ask Juan Diego.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent's True Meaning: Oh, the Waiting

"Madonna of the Streets" by Roberto Ferruzzi
has always been my absolute favorite
depiction of the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother.

Recently, as I grow more to appreciate the true meaning of Advent, I've been thinking a lot about the Virgin Mary.

We sing the songs ("O Come, O Come Emmanuel..."), we say the antiphons, we light the Advent wreath, but really, there's no one else who truly experienced the true meaning of Advent besides the Virgin Mary.

Here she was, a young girl, barely a teenager, entrusted to the big task of bringing the Son of God into the world. She had said "yes" to the angel Gabriel....but can you imagine what she would have felt the rest of those nine months? Perhaps watching family members or friends disowning her for being pregnant and still unmarried, initially worrying over the reaction of Joseph, watching her belly get larger and larger, maybe anxiously wondering what giving birth or being a mother might be like.

And then, at nine months pregnant, belly swollen, tired and weary, her young body aching, she and Joseph left for Bethlehem and, even if that was the transportation of the day, bouncing up and down on a donkey while pregnant couldn't have been fun....

Advent is all about waiting for the Savior to be born.....and certainly the Virgin Mary experienced that waiting more than most.

Catholics in particular tend to portray the Blessed Mother as perfect, sometimes unpurposely giving off the fallacy that she is divine and even emotionless. But I imagine that the Virgin Mary was certainly not devoid of emotion those nine months....

Did she ever ask "why me, God"?
Did she ever wonder if the birth was ever going to come?
Did she cry over the pain, both physical and emotional?
Was she worried as they looked all over Bethlehem for a place to stay?
Was she scared?

I turn to her this Advent as I grow to appreciate the season more on an emotional level, one that goes deeper than just singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" or knowing what the Church teaches about Advent. Without going into too many details, God decided that this Advent would be different for me, that I'd be waiting for God in my own way. I've slowly come to realize that Advent isn't about simply preparing for Christmas, it's also about living in the anticipation, knowing that something is about to happen, yet also living in the moment...breathing in the moments of anticipation, of worry, of joy but breathing them in with peace, which is much easier said than done. Peace over knowing that this big thing that's going to happen, whatever you're anticipating for, is all in God's hands and that He is with you all the way, just as the young Virgin Mary, in all of her emotions, knew that God was with her during her pregnancy, both figuratively and literally.

Have a very blessed Advent....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Elizabeth Ann Seton & Living in the Moment



Take every day as a ring which you must engrave, adorn, and embellish with your actions, to be offered up in the evening at the altar of God. (Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton)

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Open Letter to St. Catherine Laboure

Dear Sister Laboure,
I'm pretty sure you know who I am. Did St. Vincent, that same old man that appeared in your dreams so long ago, tell you? I'm sure he did (or the He with a capital "H" did), but in case you don't know, I'm a prepostulant with your own community, the one you loved, the Daughters of Charity. Things have changed a bit here but not as much as you might think for 135 years after your death. We don't wear the cornette anymore but we remain 110% dedicated to the mission of serving Christ in the poor and to a life of prayer and service.

How blessed the Daughters of Charity are as a community to count you among their ranks. How great is it to be part of a community that so easily combines the audacious (like Bl Rosalie Rendu) with the quiet (like you) and has saints to prove it! You were blessed enough to even hear the Virgin Mary say that she loved our community!


Your dear Miraculous Medal has reached all around the world. I'm sorry you couldn't keep your identity hidden like you wanted. Someone blabbed (as we humans tend to do) I don't know how you feel about it now, but I think that's truly for the better. How then would we know that the Blessed Mother appeared to a simple Sister, who had done nothing extraordinary in this world? How then would we know who to pray for help in creating a deeper devotion to the Blessed Mother?


On that same line, I'm sorry too that the work you did to serve the poor is rarely recognized. You were an example of the balance of prayer and contemplation with simple apostolic work - exactly what a Daughter of Charity should be. After all, you were only a novice when you had the visions - not even close to taking your vows! You dedicated the rest of the life to spread the Miraculous Medal around the world. But sadly, your work with the poor becomes forgotten in the grandeur that is your visions of the Blessed Mother. In that, I ask your help. Pray for me that I may create a balance between prayer and work, that I may never forget one in lieu of the other. Was this hard for you to do or is it just me?


What advice would you have to give for someone just entering the community? I know I asked St Vincent the same thing but we should all ask for help sometimes, right? What's the trick.......is it all about balance? joy? hope? devotion? Or am I right in thinking that it's all of those things combined, along with the realization that it's not actually a recipe for perfection but to be a good Daughter of Charity? (Now there's something I really need to work on.)

Please pray for me (most especially tomorrow, though) that I may learn to become the best Daughter of Charity I could possibly be. I'm not you...and I mean that in the best possible way....you are amazing but please pray for me that I may realize that I just need to be who I am and reach for sanctity that way, just as you did. Be there with me and guide me if you can as I discover who I am.

In love of the Blessed Virgin,
Amanda

Monday, November 14, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Vincent & Prayer

Prayer rejuvenates the soul far more truly than the fountains of youth the philosophers speak of rejuvenate the body. . . . In prayer your soul grows quite vigorous; in prayer, it recovers the vision it lost; ears formerly deaf to the voice of God are open to holy inspirations, and the heart receives new strength, is animated with a courage it never felt before. . . . it is a fountain of youth. (St. Vincent de Paul)

Friday, November 11, 2011

What Makes a Missionary?

I always connected the word "missionary" (or "missioner", if you want to avoid the stigma of the past) to the foreign missions - to Latin America, to Africa, to Asia. The dream of becoming a missionary, of serving the poor in a foreign land, is what first led me to thoughts of entering religious life. And that same dream is what led me to Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, and fueled my two years spent there. 

(Now before I continue, let me clarify - by "missionary", I do not mean "thump them over the head with the Bible and make them convert", I mean "following Jesus' mission in serving the poor")

However, last weekend, I experienced something that led me to change that mindset. I ventured back home to Maryland to attend a (most amazing) discernment retreat - "winter-coat" cold, Friday-purple-wearing, accentless (well, sort of), "why aren't people saying 'good morning' to me as I pass them on the sidewalk?" Maryland

The weekend passed by too quickly and Sunday evening, I was off on my way back to Georgia by way of the Atlanta airport. The trip was not too awesome, since I didn't feel well anyway. Luckily, God was watching over me and allowed me to sleep once my butt hit the seat on the plane and not wake up until an hour into the flight. Anyway, I arrived in Atlanta safe and sound and waited outside for the shuttle to Macon. When the shuttle pulled up, the driver put my bag in the back and I took a seat. As I waited, I listened to the conversations around me. I heard the driver friendly talking with a passenger, both speaking in very thick Georgia accents. I smiled and thought "Yup, I'm home".

The thought made me laugh but shocked me at the same time. I hadn't had that feeling in years, not since my various returns to Bolivia after trips home for funerals, visits, etc. And I realized that I had become a missionary here in my little city of Macon, Georgia.

My thought of "missionary" being connected to foreign missions shattered, as I realized that - just like in Bolivia - I had grown to love Macon so much that everything about it becomes "home", while still knowing and understanding I'm an outsider. In Bolivia, that meant understanding that my white skin, my non-native Spanish, and my hazel eyes made me stand out and an outsider. In Macon, that means understanding that my white skin and my bland accent make me stand out and an outsider. 

I think that's what makes a missionary - being at home in a place that isn't truly your home. What's especially amazing is that God gives us missionaries so many different homes throughout our lives. Especially if you're a Daughter of Charity, whose whole mission is to be constantly on the move and go where the poor need you the most. While that, in some light, may seem like God is just moving missionaries about like pieces on a chess board, it's really like God is giving us the opportunity to be at home with the whole world, not just our tiny piece of it. And that is truly a blessing.

Not to mention, it is also amazing for me to think that I've already found some part of permanent home in the Company of the Daughters of Charity. Becoming at home in a place isn't instantaneous and isn't always easy, yet I know that, no matter where I'm sent on mission, as long as I'm with the Daughters, I'm home - whether that be Emmitsburg, California, Taiwan or France, whether or not I've known my housemates before. I'll be at home with the spirituality, home with the traditions, home with St. Vincent, St Louise and St Elizabeth Ann.

And for that, I thank God for the Daughters of Charity and I thank Him for making me a missionary. It's not what I expected when I first had that dream but it's more amazing than I thought.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Elizabeth Ann Seton & Receiving Communion for the First Time

Elizabeth Ann Seton was born and raised Episcopalian, a denomination I've heard referred to as "Catholic Lite" or "Diet Catholic". Nevertheless, one of the biggest differences is that the belief of transubstantiation - the real true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a belief that Catholics have that Episcopalians don't. Shortly after her husband's death, Elizabeth Ann converted to Catholicism and writes to a friend about her First Communion:

At last....GOD IS MINE and I AM HIS! Now let all go its round - I HAVE RECEIVED HIM! The awful impressions of the evening before, fears of not having done all to prepare, and yet even then, transports of confidence and hope in his GOODNESS. 
My God, to the last breath of life will I not remember this night of watching for morning dawn? The fearful beating heart so pressing to be gone - the long walk to town, but every step counted nearer that street - then nearer that tabernacle, then nearer the moment He would enter the poor, poor little dwelling so all His Own.
And when He did, the first thought I remember was 'Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered', for it seemed to me that my King had come to take His throne. Instead of the humble, tender welcome I had expected to give him, it was but a triumph of joy and gladness that the Deliverer was come and my defense and shield and strength and Salvation made mine for this world and the next. (Elizabeth Ann Seton, letter to Amabilia Filicchi, 3/25/1805)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Elizabeth Ann Seton: Wrestling and Dancing with God

I have always loved reading journals and personal letters of other people, most particularly holy people. I like Henri Nouwen's books, but I devour his journals. Thomas Merton's Sign of Jonas struck me way more than Seven Storey Mountain did. Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light allowed me to connect with her more than anything else would. It almost seems contradictory, considering I've been journaling regularly since I was 16 and, although I may share parts, I have never let another person read them.

There is a deep personal part of our soul that is shared in journals and perhaps in letters. Our soul becomes raw, in openness, a willingness to share our weaknesses, our wrestles with God and our joy. We hold nothing back. To read someone else's journal is to dive into their soul, to dive into the mystery of their being. And for our saints, for those holy people we admire, it is diving into the human soul of someone we may not think of as human, diving into the soul of someone who both wrestled and danced with God.

I've been reading the book Friendship of My Soul: Selected Letters by Elizabeth Ann Seton 1803 - 1809 by Sister Betty Ann McNeil, DC. The book is only available via the Seton Shrine gift shop, which is a shame because the book is absolutely fascinating and needs to be more widely available. I've known Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton since 2003 when I first started attending Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg, where she lived and died. I've been through the museum a handful of times and thought I knew almost everything about her. But in this book, Sister Betty Ann publishes Elizabeth Ann's most intimate letters with her best friends. Elizabeth Ann paints the picture of everything leading up to her husband's death....the ship, the conditions, the smells....and then the sorrow she feels upon William's passing.

In one letter, we find her complaining about the singers at the Opera House in Italy and says that anyone who finds that pleasurable must not have never known real pleasure (when I read this, I looked up at the icon of her on my wall and laughed, trying to imagine her saying that). A few letters later, we find her wrestling with herself and with God over the thought of Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist, an idea contradictory to herself, a good Episcopalian woman. You can feel her confusion, grappling over what she truly believes.

Suddenly, Elizabeth Ann became real to me. The book description  "rarely does a story come along where a reader feels effortlessly transported back through time—where words and thoughts vividly convey a feeling of life some two hundred years past." is accurate. Every time I pick up the book, I feel transported back in time, as if I were face to face with Elizabeth Ann herself, as if I could emphatically feel her pain, feel her confusion, feel her anxious doubt.

As you can see, I haven't even gotten to the point where she finally decides to convert to Catholicism. That's where Elizabeth Ann's story really takes off - from losing some close friends because of her conversion, from fleeing New York to Baltimore, from founding the first American religious order and starting a new life in Emmitsburg, from losing so many, both family members and Sisters.

I invite you to read this book as well, or at the very least, research our dear Elizabeth Ann Seton. She, our first American-born saint, is truly a hidden treasure. Her name may be familiar, but I feel that her story is obscure. Her story is one that we all need - a story of pain, of human struggle, but also of a saintly trust in God. Yet it is also important to remember that saints are real, not just stories. Elizabeth Ann was in fact real, a woman who apparently hated opera and whose heart broke a little at the passing of her husband, with her children still so young, and a woman who spent her life both wrestling and dancing with God. May we learn from her example.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Imamanta waqanki? Why Are You Crying?: A November Bolivian Reflection

Every year, as All Souls Day approaches, I think of my time in Bolivia, most especially of the girls I worked with those two years in the orphanage.

It’s important to explain the Catholic context behind these two days. All Saints Day, November 1, is a celebration of all the “saints“, canonized by the Church or not. Interestingly enough, “saint” and “holy” are the same word in Spanish so it is even easier to explain in Spanish. Who are the “saints”? Those who we may not recognize - those who may live an ordinary life but follow the will of God, who do everything for the love of God. In the United States, this is a holy day of obligation, meaning the Church asks all Catholics to come to Mass this day.

The next day, we celebrate All Souls Day, November 2. This is a Church holiday to commemorate all those who have died, whether they’ve lived a saintly life or not. In Bolivia, this is the more important holiday of the two and certainly a more important holiday than it is in the United States.

In a country where the life expectancy is 66 years old, everyone has their own dead to pray for. On All Souls Day, everyone visits the cemetery and prays…but first, before explaining those traditions, let me tell you what this holiday means for the girls here.

On November 1, we had a Mass with the intention of all the dead family members and friends of the girls (and the employees). Sister Veronica read every one of them by name. I was in charge of collecting all the names. So my job was to walk around the orphanage and ask if there was anyone they wanted to pray for. The response was overwhelming. As typical in an orphanage, most had at least one parent on the list.
“My mom/dad needs to be on the list!” and then turning to their sister (or half-sister) and asking “What was her/his name? Do you remember?” Other girls told me “I don’t know where my mom/dad is. They could be dead, I don’t know. Should I put their name down?” Others said “Some of my brothers and sisters died but I don’t remember all their names.” Those were usually girls who had brothers/sisters who had died in infancy. Then one told me “My dad is dead to me. Does that count? Maybe he is actually dead, I don’t know, but he’s dead to me.”

I went to each one of them without thinking. When I got to Mileyda, I asked “Is there anybody that you want to put on the list?” She just looked at me for a few seconds in disbelief and laughed. “I don’t have anybody.” And then I remembered - Mileyda really doesn’t have anyone. And I don’t mean she doesn’t have any departed souls to pray for. Mileyda really doesn’t have any family. Nothing. I don’t think we know anything about any of her relatives, living or dead.

Beatriz doesn’t have any family either. We know nothing about her relatives or her family or her story before she got here. She’s been living here for years and years; before that, lived in another orphanage. The director of that orphanage told Sister Veronica that Beatriz had come with a older brother but to this day, that is the only thing we know about Beatriz and we still haven’t been able to find her brother that she doesn’t even remember.

Later that night, I was alone in the office making rosaries with Bernardita. Bernardita has been a friend of mine ever since I first arrived there in August 2007. She’s a high school sophomore and 16 years old. She has one sister here, Karen, who’s a high school junior and 19 years old. The both of them have such a unique laugh - joyful and kind of similar to Goofy. Bernardita, for some reason, gave me the nickname “Amandus” almost a year ago and it pretty much has stuck among the high-schoolers.

I don’t know how it came up. Maybe we were talking about the dead we prayed for. I don’t remember but Bernardita started telling me her story. Bernardita and her sister came to the orphanage in 2000 - Bernardita 8 years old,  Karen 11. Within a year of arriving, their dad died. Just a few years later, unexpectedly, their mom also died. Bernardita and Karen are complete orphans. In total, they have 4 siblings, three in other orphanages. The oldest immigrated to Brazil, now working but unable to afford to come back to Bolivia to visit his two sisters.

Francisca, an eighth-grader, also ended up telling me her story the night of All Souls Day. Her dad died shortly before she was taken to the orphanage. That was almost 14 years ago, too long ago for her to even remember her dad. She has three brothers and sisters, and she is the youngest. According to Francisca, in total they were supposed to be 8 children - but 5 died either in childbirth or infancy. If you think about it, it must have been some miracle that Francisca survived, considering over half her brothers and sisters died before they could even grow up. After Francisca’s dad’s death, her mom had children with another man…the father of her half-sister, Matilde, who also lives in the orphanage. Matilde’s dad died not too long ago.

These are certainly all terrible stories to hear around the month of Thanksgiving. After all, that is what November is for us Americans. Yet, after living in Bolivia, November has come to mean something different for me. It's become more of a somber month, a month of reflecting, both in gratitude but also in those who came before me. Those who shaped me but are gone now, both people I knew personally or indirectly. There's a sorrow in remembering them, knowing they are no longer with me, knowing that I can no longer touch them, that I can no longer hear their laugh or see their smile.


“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.” - Job 19:25-27

Yet, in the end, as Christians, we know that death is not the end. This is what comforts me when I think of the friends I left behind in Bolivia. The fifty girls in the orphanage, some of whom are out on their own now. And people like Sister Delia, who I count among my best friends, who is about to leave for El Salvador in preparation for making her perpetual vows. Becoming a Daughter of Charity means that the chance of seeing my Bolivian friends again is slim to none. But I'm doing it anyway....and doing it with joy....because I know that although I may not see them again on this Earth, I hope to see them in heaven.

That is what makes November so different. We remember the saints, not in pure curiosity, but as those who continue to help us beyond the grave. We remember the dead, but not in complete sorrow, but rather in the hope, in the joy of seeing them again. And we thank God for this life that He's given us, yes.....but also for the saints and souls who have passed before us and for this God who does not let them go unforgotten.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Vincent & the Power of God in Vocation

If it was not God, my daughters, who brought about that which is visible in your vocation, would it have been possible for a girl to leave her native place, her relatives, the pleasures of marriage...to come to a place she has never seen, to live with girls from places far distant from her own, to devote herself, in voluntary poverty, to the service of convicts, to poor children abandoned by their parents, to the sick poor rotting in filth and even those in dungeons? Oh! no, my daughters, God alone could effect that! (St Vincent de Paul)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh, My God: A Birthday Reflection

As we sat outside the Starbucks drinking coffee, we started talking about death. Were we afraid? What did we think was going to happen? And strangely enough, it was that conversation that led me to reflect on my 26th birthday on Saturday.

I thought back to my near-death experience, one I'll never forget. I'm sure I've had other near-death experiences that I wasn't aware of.....maybe the bus to La Paz going through the Andes almost got too close to the cliff, maybe I narrowly missed being in a car accident one day, maybe...well, I'll never know. But the one I do know and do remember occurred as I was swimming in the ocean one summer afternoon. With no one around me, with the lifeguards looking the other way, I got stuck in a rip current. I had never been in one before and had no idea what to do. I fought, swimming with all my might but I kept drifting away and away from the shore. My throat muscles tightened and I couldn't scream. My muscles grew exhausted and no one was there to witness. I was terrified but at one point, I thought "well, if this is how I have to die...." and resigned myself to it and the pure exhaustion led me to sink. Less than a few seconds later, a stranger pulled me out of the water and onto the shore.

It seems strange to reflect on death, upon turning 26, such a young age. But I've seen too much to not reflect on it. I have no idea when I will die. None of us do, really. But I can truly say that if I were to die tomorrow, I would die happy. Grateful to God for the life I've led.

It overwhelms me...the plans God had for me from the beginning, before I could even write my name, before I could even slightly imagine where God would take me. I never would have imagined that I would became fluent in Spanish and become a missionary, that I would join a religious community, that I would be living in Georgia. I never would have imagined seeing the things that I've seen - families living without running water both here and abroad, families torn apart because of deportation, an abused girl without a finger, a 50 year old man aged to 80 because of work in the mines, kids on the brink of suicide, kids having kids, etc. Or the people I would meet - unlikely people that would turn into wonderful friends, life teachers, children that would become like little siblings, Sisters with a capital "S" that would become like sisters with a lowercase "s".

When we think of life as a journey rather than the here-and-now, life becomes something amazing, something truly marvelous. We can turn back and then think “Where has God led me? What has He allowed me to see, to experience, to meet?

That isn't to say that life is perfect or that I am perfect, because neither is true. I know that sometimes I have not lived up to what God wanted of me - I turned the other way from doing the right thing or going the right way. But to Him, as I grow another year older, I couldn't say anything less than "Oh, my God....thank you". Thank you for these 26 years. I'm not sure how many more I have left to live, but know that I am grateful and hope always to live for You, serving You in the person of the poor.

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Louise & Hearts of Good Will

Trust that the difficulties will pass...may they keep you humble. Please God by serving your masters [the poor] and His dear members with devotion, gentleness and humility. Do not be upset if your senses rebel, but reflect that our good God is satisfied by a heart with good will. I beg His goodness to fill yours with His holy love in which I remain, my dear Sister, your sister and servant.
 (St Louise de Marillac; letter to Sr Claude Brigide, p81)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Vincent & Worrying

‎"Do not worry yourself over much… Grace has its moments. Let us abandon ourselves to the providence of God and be very careful not to run ahead of it." (Saint Vincent de Paul)
I really needed to hear this today.
Like, really needed to hear it.

In midst of the craziness that was today (and will be tomorrow as well), it's nice to know that our Founder knew what it was like to worry and what we should do instead. Truly providential that famvin's Facebook page had this as their quote of the day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Charity of Christ Compels Us!

The original seal of the DCs, circa 1633
"La Charite de Jesus Crucifie Nous Presse"

As I was reading a book on retreat meditations based on the spirituality of cloistered St Therese, a phrase struck me "...Caritas Christi urget nos - The Charity of Christ impels us" The author then goes on to talk about how everything done in love becomes prayer, etc, etc. I was expecting a reference to the Daughters – “The Charity of Christ Crucified urges us” is our motto - and was disappointed to not find one. So I checked the footnote, expecting a reference to the Daughters. Wrong again. Instead, it pointed me to a verse in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. 

Then I felt like a real idiot for being in formation with a religious community, entirely clueless as to the origin of their motto. I stupidly thought that it was something St. Vincent or St. Louise made up...it sounds really good, right? Who was I to know that it comes from 2 Corinthians 5:14? Whoops.

As I turned to my Bible to find the whole verse, I was filled with gratitude to be part of this community where the whole motto, the whole purpose of the Company is that the Charity of Christ (Crucified) impels us! The love of Christ urges us! And, as my Catholic Youth Bible puts it, the love of Christ urges us on! The Daughters of Charity...their entire charism, their entire spirituality...is not only based on the fact that we must imitate the love of Christ but that His love is what pushes us on, it's what drives us forward, it is His love that is asking us to serve. And what I really love about the motto is that the vocabulary, St. Paul's vocabulary, lets us know that it is something urgent....He COMPELS us, He URGES us. This isn't something slow, not something we can wait to do, it's something we must do NOW

And the Daughters of Charity are women who have followed that call to do something NOW. 2 Corinthians 5:15, the next verse, gives me an even deeper understanding of who the Daughters are: "He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him" Jesus is calling us in the people who are poor - the homeless, the abused, the addicted, the sick. He is asking us to stop living for ourselves and live for Him - to become poor for Him, to teach for Him, to heal for Him, to bear the load of becoming frustrated or discouraged because of our work, all for Him.

How blessed am I to be in formation with this Company, whose sole reason for being is the love of Christ and following that love, which leads them to those the world has forgotten...a purpose that has carried them on for almost 400 years now. How blessed am I to follow in the footsteps of other women who were pushed by Christ's love to go in the direction of the poor, who gave all of their imperfect selves to live for Jesus Christ in the poor. What an honor He has given me by being here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Go Ahead and Ring the Doorbell: A Post About Following God's Will

I knocked on the front door of an old house, not knowing who was going to answer and what I was getting myself into. I was nervous but somehow knew this was something that I had to do. A small young Sister who looked slightly familiar answered and welcomed me in. That night would change the course of my life.

The doorbell on the Sisters house did NOT look like this.
But maybe the bell you have to ring will!
That was a year ago today, the first step in jumpstarting my discernment, the first time I ever visited a local community of the Daughters of Charity. The Sister who answered the door was the vocations director, Sr Denise, who had arranged the visit for me. I met her other housemates, prayed evening prayer and had meditation with them, and then ate supper with them. I left feeling strange, as if I knew God was working something in me. The Daughters were like nothing I had ever seen before. The atmosphere breathed unity, prayer, and mission. It felt like falling in love.

Now, the tables are turned. Sr Denise arrived yesterday to visit me. I never would have imagined a year ago that the same Sister who opened the door and welcomed me in would be visiting me as a prepostulant. A year ago, I never would have imagined moving to the South, leaving the school I was working at, teaching a new school subject and more specifically being in formation to be a Daughter of Charity.

Just a few days ago, I was talking to my sixth grade religion class about rejections that lead to blessings. We may not see it at the time, just as I never would have imagined myself here. Everything in my life – including those painful moments – led to here.
Leaving my Salesian community was very painful, though necessary...but it led me to this.
Leaving Bolivia was sad...but it led me to this.
My school closing was sad too...but it led me to this.

God chased me down and refused to let me drown in pain. He had me ring that doorbell, though I really had no idea what to expect. What an amazing image that is...to know that God loves me so much that He would give me all this, that He isn't satisfied with me simply surviving, that He has a special plan for me and only me. I once heard Fr. Jim Martin SJ speak in Baltimore. He said something that stuck with me: “We hear all the time 'God loves you' and it begins to mean little. But think of this – God likes you. He truly does like you” 

That isn't to say prepostulancy is perfect because it's not (nor is it apparently supposed to be), neither am I the perfect prepostulant – I have my frazzled days, my long days, my days where I wonder if I'm doing anything right and, as any human, I make lots of mistakes (and then get nervous about said mistakes). But I can't imagine myself anywhere else. I can't imagine myself in any other town besides Macon or in any other community besides the Daughters of Charity. And I thank God that I'm here, despite the crazy days. St. Vincent de Paul said the only thing necessary for sainthood was following the will of God, that everything lies in that. And well, I'm trying, Vincent...I really am!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Open Letter to St. Vincent de Paul

Dear Monsieur Vincent,
I feel that I should begin this letter with an introduction, but I believe you already know who I am. Or at least I hope so - I hope you hear all those times I whisper under my breath "oh, Vincent de Paul, pray for me!" Serving with the poor can be hair-pulling frustrating sometimes - but you know that and inspire me to continue on anyway. 
You're a saint for all ages, Monsieur Vincent. I write to you today, as our dear Saint Louise de Marillac did. I'm afraid I don't have any strange home remedies for illness as she did for you, though I don't think you need them anymore. Nevertheless, I try to write to you with the same familiarity that she did. You were her inspiration...and just as she is mine, you are as well. If others have written you, I'm sure some have been sharing about systemic change or the state of health care or something similar....but I think by now, you know that I have a very simple soul.
On Tuesday, we'll celebrate the 351st anniversary of your death. Here, we're having a Mass and reception with the Vincentian family in your honor. I don't know if you've looked around our little corner of Georgia lately, but I can say with good certainty that you'd be pretty proud of your Daughters here...of the school, of the parish, of the ministry for poor mothers, of the new day shelter for the homeless. As you know, though it's been almost 400 years since you founded the Daughters of Charity, poverty still exists. It may look different than what you saw on those French streets but it has the same sting, the same cycle, and we see the very same face of Christ. And the Daughters, like the Sisters in the past, love them all the same.
Monsieur Vincent, I must admit that I haven't started reading the Conferences you gave to the first Sisters. I've heard though that they're full of incredible wisdom that you gave the first Sisters, the first to dedicate themselves as both servants of the poor and religious women. I wonder how they felt, taking the first footsteps in an adventure no one knew the future of. If you would give us in formation a Conference here in 2011, what would you say? As you know, our postulant is coming back, I'm here and, God willing, we have two more prepostulants on the way. What would you say to us, a group of bright-eyed 20-something's?
Or maybe I'm asking more specifically and more selfishly, what would you say to me? Would you smile and say "trust in God, that's all you need. stop worrying about everything"? Or sternly tell me that I'm not praying as often as I should, tell me that being a Daughter of Charity means also being a daughter of prayer? Would you remind me that the poor are my Masters, to pause and see the face of Christ in them every day? Or maybe you'd tell me all of those things. And my unspoken response would be "how?"...but maybe somehow you'd already see that question on my mind and tell me the way to perfection is trusting in God and following His will?
Well, Monsieur, it's approaching 1am here in Georgia, which means I should end this letter and begin to get some sleep.I end this letter with a heartfelt plea to continue to pray for me, as I continue to follow in the large footsteps you and your Daughters have left, with a deep longing to one day meet you, and with profound love and admiration for the instrument of God that He made you to be.
Your daughter, 
Amanda

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Elizabeth Ann Seton & Courage

"If only we keep courage, we will go to Heaven on horseback instead of idling and creeping along!" (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Little Laura Vicuña and the Injustice Against Our Saints

I don't remember what possessed me to Google information about Blessed Laura Vicuña a few days ago, but what I found shocked me. They have recently discovered a photograph of her. A photograph. As in what she actually looked like. Not some European painting of her, based on what one person said she looked like or really based on little at all. (St. Therese, for example, we do have a few photographs of her but little paintings of her actually looks like her. How does this look like this?! It always bugs me)

The photo next to an old painting
of her. From the article
"The Real Features of Laura Vicuña"
Laura Vicuña, in her actuality, really struck me. Because she reminded me of the girls I worked with in Bolivia. Her facial features are even similar - after all, Chile is Bolivia's neighbor. For me, while it's true Laura doesn't look happy in the picture, I can see the pain in her eyes - the pain of being abused, the pain of being regretted by the Sisters she loved because her mother lived with a man she wasn't married to (though, at the time of this photo, I don't think that had happened yet). Laura is a Salesian blessed, whose story I have conflicting feelings about, but one whose name was so important for those years I worked with the Salesians. I even lived in the Dormitorio Laura Vicuña.

The discovery of her photograph got me thinking about my unhappiness with depiction of saints. After all, the European painting of Laura Vicuña on the right looks little like what she actually looked like. I especially thought of those most important to me now - Vincentian saints. To my knowledge, we have no photographs of any Vincentian saints, besides the Daughters of Charity Blessed Lindalva Justo de Oliveira and maybe Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli (I can't tell if that's a photo or painting) In our defense though, some of our most important saints lived before the invention of the camera.

But, nevertheless, we need better depictions of our saints. St Elizabeth Ann Seton, for one, is always so serious and emotionless in any depiction of her. St Louise is always so plain. St Vincent can even be depicted as mean sometimes. In any depiction of St Catherine Laboure, you would think that all she did was pray all day, instead of working with the poor while spreading the Miraculous Medal around the world. And there are more Vincentian saints, whose depictions as boring and serious, don't correspond at all with their amazing story.

These saints deserve better artists to paint/draw them. If you're out there, artists, I beg you, even if there's no photograph of them like that of Laura Vicuña, please give justice to our great saints!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Message to Discerners: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Last night, I was reminded of a good and a very needed message for all of us, either in formation or discernment, including myself - you are not alone!

Someone out there is feeling those same feelings of joy over religious life that you are. Maybe even over the same religious community/order as you.
Someone out there is feeling those same feelings of confusion that you are, wondering "what does God want from me?"
Someone out there is feeling those same moments of transition from lay life to religious life that you are.
Someone out there, although different in personality or race or language, has the same hopes and dreams as you.
Someone out there - who may not even know anything about you, may not even know your name - is praying for you and supports you.

We in formation, we in discernment, we're all united. United by that crazy sometimes rocky, sometimes absolutely amazing journey towards our true vocation. Discernment can be lonely sometimes....but know that there are others in the world just like you. Each one of us has our own personal vocation, yes - but God wouldn't call us to something so entirely unique that we are completely alone. He gave us sisters in the journey, women also questioning and following the call.

Don't keep your feelings bottled up, too scared to say anything, as I did for years during high school and college. Someone out there understands you, even feels the same things you do. Search them out - go on retreats, join discernment groups, start talking with others. You are not strange, not odd. You're not the only one out there. And there's a great sense of relief realizing that...and that joyful relief is something you'll revisit again and again, as you meet more discerners or as more join your community.

You are not alone! We're all in this together!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli & Vocation

Sister Giuseppina stole the words right out of my mouth. Here in prepostulancy, I have thousands of thoughts running through my head constantly, some about how I failed to do this or that today, some worrying about my teaching ability, yet I still feel that not only do I belong here, but that I am happy here. Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli sums it up well:
A vocation is a gift from God...no talent, no riches, no ability, no nobility can make us good Daughters of Charity if God does not call us to this life. As for me, I feel really well and, in spite of the thousand thoughts and preoccupations of each day, in spite of my faults and daily failings, I am happy, happy in my dear vocation for which I bless the good God with all my heart. (Bl. Giuseppina Nicoli)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seven Years Ago...

Seven years ago....it seems like so long ago now. I was a shy freshman in college, a Spanish major who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, who was thinking about religious life but afraid to tell anyone.

At a retreat before the start of my freshman year, I met a Daughter of Charity, Sr. Anne. I had no idea that months later, she would invite me to a discernment retreat. (To this day, neither of us know why she invited me or why she was so intent on me going that she had the Lily Grant pay the registration fee.) And I really had no idea what an important role she would play in my vocation story.
Not the retreat I went on, but close enough.
On another note, why does St. Vincent look so mean?

I also had no idea how important that retreat so long ago in March 2004 would be either.
And how funny God is.

There were two Sisters on that retreat - Sister Elizabeth, who was the vocations director, and Sister Denise. Both of them, in their own ways, really got me to realize that Sisters are real people, that I'm not weird for even considering the idea. That retreat really brought me on a new path during discernment. I very gradually opened up to more people about my discernment, I started investigating more and started praying more.

But, as the years passed, Sister Elizabeth and Sister Denise became memories. I never saw them again.

Now, here I sit in a recliner in Georgia, laughing about how funny God is. Life has truly come full circle. Those Sisters I didn't see for seven years now play such an important part of my lives. When I started re-discovering the Daughters this year, it turns out that Sister Denise was the vocations director. At first, perhaps because it had been so long since we had seen each other, I didn't even realize that she was the same Sr Denise as that 2004 retreat. Now, I can't imagine being here without her....she's the one I email with thoughts or call with transition frustrations and she's the one that comforts me and brings me back to earth. And Sister Elizabeth? After seven years of not seeing her, I now see her every day. She's my housemate, lives just a bedroom away.

I'm sure all three of us have changed since that retreat. Yet I don't know about them but, in 2004, I certainly didn't imagine myself here...living in central Georgia, teaching, preparing for a life of a Daughter of Charity, following in the footsteps of two other discerners on that retreat (now Sister Liz and Sister Cecelia)....yet now, seven years later, I can't imagine myself anywhere but here.

Vincentian Quote of the Week: Mother Suzanne Guillemin & the Poor

We have chosen the Poor, those who lack the goods of this world, whom the world despises, for our friend, for our Master, as Saint Vincent said. Perhaps a simple sentiment of pity for the flagrant injustice of certain human conditions was the origin of our first reaction: but we quickly discovered Christ in the unfortunate, and it was then that our choice became fixed, that we made the total gift of ourselves, wholeheartedly consecrated to God's service. This mystery of Christ in the Poor we have not yet fully penetrated nor shall we ever be able to do so; it is at the center of our heart and our vocation. It was grow in us continually by inspiration to the degree that purifying ourselves, we draw nearer to God. "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God." We must ask in prayer the grace of a clear discernment, capable of discovering this mystery of Christ. (Mother Suzanne Guillemin; circular letter January 1, 1968, the last she wrote before her death)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Meeting Myself Everyday

Here's a tidbit you might not know about being in formation in religious life: you discover things you never knew about yourself.

I thought I knew myself pretty well. I thought "I lived in a foreign country for two years. There, away from everything I knew, I really got to know myself. I know very well how I deal with sticky situations, problems, challenges, etc. I know how I make decisions, etc."
The behavioral assessment given as part of the pre-postulancy application process is meant for the Sisters to get to know who you are but also for you to think about who you are. Sure, some parts were uncomfortable but I like to think that I easily answered most of the questions.

And then I began prepostulancy.
Mirror

I have since discovered that, in religious life, probably particularly during formation, you face yourself every day and there's no avoiding it. You face who you are from living in community, from praying together every day, from facing personal challenges and frustrations, from serving the poor. There's no way to ignore that mirror that shows you your abilities, inabilities, strengths, weaknesses, personality, soul. That reflection follows you around everywhere. And sometimes it shows you something shocking that you never knew about yourself. Sometimes that thing could be good, sometimes it could be bad. Or it could just be something real that needs to be tweaked into something wonderful.

Either way, meeting myself every day like this is a real challenge. Yet, as I realized this morning, it is a very good thing. I owe much to my vocations director for helping me realize that. Meeting yourself every day helps you better serve others by knowing yourself, of course...but for me, it gave me relief. Relief in knowing that this jar of clay has a few cracks and that's okay, despite what the perfectionist part of me (that I never knew I had!!!) says. (Okay, Amanda, you're going to remember this, right? Probably not...and I see a certain Sister in my future saying to me...again..."remember to be nice to Amanda!")

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Vincent & Chosen by God

"Is your heart not touched at the thought: 'God has chosen a poor country girl for so holy an employment?'?" (St. Vincent de Paul)

If St. Vincent were alive today, I feel that he would laugh at me.

Seriously.

He would probably laugh if he would see me, the pre-postulant, mentally pacing back and forth, focusing on my own weaknesses and inabilities. "Oh, that poor girl!" he would think, chuckling. "Why doesn't she just see that she should be thanking God for His choice of her instead of subconsciously trying to tell Him He must have picked the wrong person! Why doesn't she see that He picked her with weaknesses, inabilities and all!" He would shake his head, smiling, and think "One day, she'll get it. One day."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Saw What I Saw: Why I Serve the Poor


Sara Groves is able to say what my soul cannot. I recently re-discovered her throughout this year, the year that led to becoming a prepostulant with the Daughters. So many of her songs epitomize my spiritual and discernment journey. The song "I Saw What I Saw" is no exception. It expresses my feelings about seeing poverty firsthand, from experience in Appalachia to the Hispanic community in Baltimore City, but especially in Bolivia. She sings:
I saw what I saw and can't forget it
I heard what I heard and can't go back
I know what I know and can't deny it
Something on the road cut me to the soul
Many people can come back from a mission trip and think "wow, that was wonderful" and continue their everyday life without a second thought. Which is fine in a way, but I knew as early as high school that I couldn't do that. From that first mission trip to a coal mine town in western Virginia, there was something about serving the poor that cut me to the core. Something told me that this wasn't a temporary thing, that it couldn't be, my soul wouldn't allow it any other way. All I know is that I was compelled...not out of some obligation to "help" as if I were the better one, but out of love. That compulsion took me from the hills of Appalachia to the Hispanic community in Baltimore to dusty rural Bolivia and now to the heart of Georgia.

It was God compelling me - not a "something" - and way back when, as a 16 year old, I wasn't able to explain it. The motto of the Daughters of Charity is, and has been since the 1600s, "The Charity of Jesus Crucified Urges Us!" And perhaps that's just it. I know now that it is a compulsion of vocation, that it is a compulsion to imitate Him in His love for the poor, that it is less of a obligation against my will and more of a drive towards my own true happiness.  

I couldn't imagine the path that would take me on. Throughout the years, despite the rough days, I grew to love them and see the face of Christ more and more in them...in families in coal mine towns, in kids stuck between two nationalities, in girls who had been abused and neglected in every way imaginable, and lately I've seen it in my students, whose parents pay the bare minimum of tuition because it's all they can afford, in their problems, in their curiosity, in their enthusiasm and in the Hispanic community here, in their love for one another and their hope.

One of the last verses of "I Saw What I Saw" is:
I say what I say with no hesitation
I have what I have but I'm giving it up
I do what I do with deep conviction
Nine years ago, I had no idea that serving the poor for life meant giving up so much...but it also led me to the utter joy of saying what I say with no hesitation and doing what I do with deep conviction and giving it all up with pleasure, not thinking of the costs.

Serving the poor does not mean "helping". For me, it simply means loving my brothers and sisters and my Christ, and doing what I can to show them my love. "Helping" seems to have the air that I am their superior, when if anything, they are mine.

After all, how could we claim to be "helping" Christ, the son of our God? We are His servants. And likewise, we are servants to His face in the world.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Louise & Spelling

I've been reading Praying with Louise de Marillac, our foundress, as part of my morning meditation, and this quote almost made me chuckle in the middle of the chapel. I thought, with so much seriousness in this blog, I needed some lightheartedness! Anyway...Louise was always writing to her Sisters; most of her letters have luckily been preserved and not lost. One day, she wrote to one house:

Remember to send us news of yourself from time to time. Do the same, Sister Andree, but, for the love of God, learn how to spell so I can read your letter easily and answer you as you would wish. (Writings, p588)

Now, St Louise could have been asking Sister Andree to learn how to spell literally for "the love of God", but I like to think she used the phrase as we use it today because that makes me laugh :)


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why I Love the Daughters Reason #25: "Old Habits Die Hard"

Once upon a time, when I first started discerning, I knew that if I were to join a religious community, I wanted it to be one without a habit. And I certainly did not want a veil.

But, as my faith and discernment journey evolved, so did my thoughts about the habit. As I spent more time with the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Daughters of Charity and the other Salesian community I joined (all of which have habits; the latter without a veil), I began to have conflicting feelings about the habit. Maybe I did actually want to wear one after all....but what did that mean for me and my discernment?

Recently, an article appeared in US Catholic that echoes my thoughts about the habit - Old habits die hard: The clothes of yore interest young religious | USCatholic.org - as I journeyed through discernment, I grew to understand that I wanted a habit not to separate myself from the rest of society, but rather as a witness to others, especially as a young person in religious life. Other Sisters I know have said that it's an issue of accountability as well - that, while they're wearing the habit, they're visually representing Catholicism to anyone they meet and have an obligation to act accordingly. (However, and this is a big important however, I don't believe a Sister who doesn't wear a a habit is any less of a Sister or any less amazing than those who do, or that they must be unfaithful to the Magisterium. Sisters are Sisters, it doesn't matter what they're wearing) 

So what about the Daughters of Charity? Here's a short history that illustrates why and what the Sisters wear today:

First of all, the Daughters of Charity were never supposed to have a habit, as they are not nuns (more about that later). They simply dressed as the poor of the day. Eventually, the habit grew to include the cornette, as that was popular among the French poor of the day. More than 300 years later, during Vatican II, the Sisters did not get rid of the habit they had grown into. Rather, it was simply changed. The cornette was gone and changed to a blue coiffe (veil, but shorter) and a box-like bandeau. The clothing changed to a lighter fabric as well. Eventually, just a few years after implementing the box-like coiffe in the late 1960's, it changed to a simple coiffe, just a short veil covering the head and hair.

Decades later, in many countries including the US, it was decided one specific dress wasn't needed - and Sisters could wear a blouse and skirt, with the required uniform colors being navy, white and light blue while still wearing the blue coiffe (veil). In 1997, just 14 years ago, the United States deemed the blue coiffe optional. Today, about half I know wear it, the other half don't. The uniform colors of clothing - navy, white, light blue - remain the same. I find the changes in the habit from Vatican II on very gradual, in a very healthy pace. Personally, I love that the Daughters have a habit and I love that I have the option of wearing a coiffe or not (both reason #25).

I still am undecided if, as a Sister, I want to wear the coiffe or not. I understand arguments for it, but I also understand the arguments against it. So the wearing of the coiffe is something I'll have to pray over once the time gets nearer. However, I consider wearing the 'uniform' colors - navy/light blue/white - as a habit. I believe simply wearing the same colors unify the Sisters. That, with the wearing of the St. Vincent necklace, shows that they are Daughters of Charity. And people recognize them by their colors. I have seen criticisms of the Daughters of Charity on YouTube and Facebook - "ha! these don't look like religious to me" or other comments attacking the Sisters, simply based on what they wear (or don't wear). It always confuses me when I see comments like that because I want to respond "dude, we DO wear a habit. calm the heck down" and "seriously? you're judging somebody by the clothes they wear?!"

If you're for one camp (for habits) or another (against habits), please have a healthy viewpoint about it - just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, don't judge a Sister by their habit or lack thereof. Either way, you'd be missing out on some amazing women.

Monday, August 15, 2011

One Big Family: Sisterly Love Between Communities

It amazes me how big my family has gotten just within a few months. Yes, my cousin did have a beautiful baby boy and added yet another little one to our large family, but I talk here about how my life has amazingly changed from having just one sibling (a brother) to have thousands of new sisters.

By now, I'm sure you've figured out that I'm talking about my Sisters, the Daughters of Charity. And you might be thinking "ugh, what a cheesy way to say that". But ha! You are half wrong! Yes, it probably is a trite way to illustrate the "family feeling" there is between the Sisters. However, I'm not only talking about the 14,000 Daughters of Charity around the world, I'm talking about all religious around the world. 

In the past few months, thanks to the young adult group I belong to, I've been able to meet many religious from a whole array of congregations - the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Nashville Dominicans, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters and the All Saints Sisters. Although I wasn't joining their community, they smiled when I shared with them my discernment with the Daughters and rejoiced with me when I was accepted. 

I grew particularly close to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were not only very active in our young adult group but also seemed to pop up unexpectedly since I met them. My vocation is not with them but I do feel quite a friendship with them. Interestingly enough, many of the residents of the nursing home of the Little Sisters are relatives of Daughters of Charity! Anyway, the day before I was to leave for prepostulancy, I stopped by their house and talked in length with two Sisters I had grown close to. One is not much older than I am and we bonded over our love of yarn (hey, don't judge). She gave me good advice about entering and, as we hugged goodbye, I felt a deep sense of family, even though she wears a different habit, works in a different ministry, etc. 

I think many people think a girl is losing family when she enters religious life. They couldn't be more wrong. I feel that my family has practically exploded in growth. I could write in length about how I've grown to see many Daughters of Charity and other Sisters as sisters, but the gist is that you gain so many sisters - of different ages, of different backgrounds - that aren't connected with you through blood but through love of the same lifestyle, through love of the same vows. (Also, I cannot speak for other communities but, on a more practical note, the Daughters allow yearly home visits and encourage constant communication with your "blood" family.) 

That same yarn-loving Little Sister of the Poor I talked about wrote this to me, it made me laugh and I had to share: "There is something so deep among Sisters, no matter what Congregation we are part of. It's the bond of Christ's love as our Spouse! Aren't we lucky ducks?!"

Vincentian Quote of the Week: Frederic Ozanam & The Journey


“"Let us go in simplicity where merciful Providence leads us, content to see the stone on which we should step without wanting to discover all at once and completely the windings of the road" (Frederic Ozanam) 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Finally, I Meet a Sister Amanda!

Never in my life have I met a Sister Amanda (which is, God willing, what my name will be in a few years). However, a few months ago, in Emmitsburg, I finally met one. And not only that but she was even a Daughter of Charity!

She survived civil war in her native country and worked in an orphanage for many years smack dab in the middle of the fighting and even helped found a school for girls. Not only that but, at one time, she was even on the Council of her province! 

But....

....

....

It's really too bad she's dead....I would have loved to talked to her!

Yes, I'm talking about Sister Amanda Higdon, who died in 1894 at the age of 62. I found her one day when I was wandering around the old cemetery at the Seton Shrine. She was originally from Alexandria, VA and did all those things that I said - she worked in an orphanage in Mississippi from 1860 - 1870...(for you non-history buffs, the Civil War started in 1861 and ended in 1865!) She then helped found an all-girls school in Emmitsburg and later became the secretary for the Council.  I was inspired to write about her because a Salesian Sister has been writing about some of the first Sisters in her blog. Unfortunately, I don't know that much else about her. Maybe one day, if I have permission, I can dig in the Archives and see what else I find. However, by guessimating dates, she most likely joined around the age of 18 - which would be 1850. It was in the 1850's that Mother Seton's Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph combined with the Daughters of Charity. What a crazy time that must have been. Mother Seton's Sisters had to trade their black habits and caps for the blue habits and white wings of the Daughters. They had to learn more about their roots in France. And of course, some Sisters left because they thought that Mother Seton wouldn't have approved the merging. It was rough times for the Sisters in Emmitsburg and Sister Amanda had most likely not even taken her first vows when all this happened. How did she feel? Was she torn about the merging? Did she see some of her friends leave? Or did she join later, when the merge had already happened?

I feel like there is much to learn from these Sisters that have gone before me! And while that Sr Amanda's real name isn't Amanda (she was born Hannah Maria), I still feel a deep connection with her and feel relieved that I won't be the first Amanda in the entire American history of the community!
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