Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Day of Historical Proportions

Today is a very historic day. Today, I leave for pre-postulancy. Even though, since I'm driving down to Georgia, I won't be arriving until Monday. In fact, I'm literally in the car driving right now (if all is going according to schedule). I wrote this blog post ahead of time and scheduled it to be posted now.

But it's not just a historic day for me. It's also a historic day for the Daughters of Charity - and no, not because I'm entering the community. (Did you really think I thought I was THAT important?)

Vincent de Paul, our founder, sends the first Sisters on mission.
Images from Vincentian Image Archive
Today, four provinces in the United States become one, named the Province of St. Louise. Sr. Denise has a great blog post about it here. It covers all the East of the United States, from St. Louis east and as north as Canada and as south as Florida. This may seem like no big deal....okay, some provinces are merging, so what? Well, it heightens the mission - to serve those in poverty - and allows the Sisters to be even more mobile, to expand the mission even further. It allows for lots of unity between the Sisters in the United States, which I say is pretty darn awesome. I obviously know most Sisters in the Emmitsburg province but I can easily count on one hand the Sisters I've met from the Northeast (Albany, NY) province and I've never met any from the Evansville, IN province or the St. Louis, MO province. To know that today we'll all be together again is amazing!

And the new province already has a new mission! Yes, the Sisters are going to Greensboro, NC to serve in a parish. And some Sisters are already being moved around to places that used to be a part of another province. One I personally know is going to Niagara Falls to be a physician's assistant at a clinic.

The new province now includes over 500 Sisters and I can only imagine the celebration they're having in Baltimore right now! Even the leadership is there - meaning the Superioress General from Paris and the Superior General of the Vincentians from Rome (who is also our superior) is also there! Speaking of the Superior General, he's a native Baltimorean and is staying with his family some five minutes away from my house. I was hoping to run into him at the grocery store or something but, alas, it never happened ;)

Back to a more selfish note, I myself am really wrapped up in this historic province. I was the last of those in formation to be accepted by the Emmitsburg province and I am the very first (and I mean first - I move in the day after the province is formed!) in formation under the new province. Well, this might just be too much pressure for some, personally I think that's pretty cool!

Please, if you can, pray for me and pray for this new great province of the Daughters of Charity!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So, I'm Not a Saint...: A Post about Being Nervous

In the course of my life, I've read St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Don Bosco, St. Mary Mazzarello, St. Louise de Marillac, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Therese, St. Teresa of Avila and a handful of other saints who I'm forgetting now.

A convent door in Bolivia. Granted, the
DCs aren't nuns and their houses
are not called "convents" but still.
(That to be explained in another post.) 
But nowhere have I seen, written or otherwise, that they were nervous about entering the seminary/convent.

Which frustrates me because I won't deny that, despite my excitement, I am.
I'm walking into pre-postulancy with a LOT of excitement but also a slightly nervous wreck.

And just yesterday, I did something I very rarely do - I missed an appointment with someone because I slept in. I'm very German in the fact that I hate being late to anything and the fact that I had to postpone an appointment, even though it was only postponed for a few hours and the person I was meeting had no problem doing that...it drove me up the wall. I know part of it was my nerves, wondering about Monday, the day I will move into my new house in Macon.

A blog post by a Salesian Sister comforted me a bit, although I had heard the same thing from Sr. Denise and various other Sisters. She wrote about a Sister entering in 1873 and how she was nervous entering. The Sister added "And again, those of you worried about entering - her heart was pounding, the doors to the convent opened, and she was nervous - and it's OKAY!"

Breathe in, breathe out.

And truthfully, I don't even know why I'm nervous. I know the Sisters I'll live with are great. I know the house is great. The community around us is great. I know we have the amazing advantage of going to Mass every day. But I still have butterflies still flying around in my stomach.

I wasn't going to post that I was nervous. After all, it is a very private thing...or at least for me, it is. And even embarrassing. I have no problem showing my excitement and joy in finding my vocation. But something "bad" like nerves? Nuh-uh. But that blog post by the Salesian Sister inspired me to say something. Why? Because I don't want anyone else reading this, who may be discerning or who may be entering a religious community soon, to think that it's not normal to be nervous - every Sister I've come in counter with has told me that. Or to think I must be some saint because I'm not nervous at all. Neither one of those is true.

So I swallowed my pride and posted this. Because while this blog is a way for me to keep in contact with friends and family while I'm now a pre-postulant living states away from home, more than anything, I want to reach out for those discerning. Why? Not because I want them to be Daughters of Charity (although that would be pretty cool) But because truth is, there's not much out there for us discerners. Sure, there's much more out there than when I was initially discerning - things like the VISION magazine and blogs by religious (like Sister Denise's) - but it's still hard to find others that are discerning. You may feel lonely. Or weird. Or confused. I write, bearing my soul, to let others know that they're not alone...and that, while you're radically breaking against everything society is telling you to do just by thinking about religious life, you're still normal.

And apparently, it's normal to be nervous too. So, I take a deep breath and continue on with a smile on my face, knowing that despite the nervousness, I'll be okay.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"You Just Know"....Part II: Some Advisories

(to read part one, click here)

About a week ago, I wrote that "you just know" is the most true yet least helpful discernment advice. Yet "you just know" is more complicated than it seems. I know that, everyone else who's had that feeling knows that, but perhaps you don't. Perhaps you're still searching, still waiting to experience that "you just know" feeling.

If you are, allow me to dispel some "advisories" about this "I just knew" feeling, based on my own experience....
  • It's not instantaneous. God gives you His plan in His own sweet time. I first met the Daughters of Charity in March of 2004. And here I am, in August of 2011, joining them seven years later. It took a good while for God to finally reveal where I belonged.
  • It's not magical. Well, yes, it is but what I mean is that unless you're really special, God is not going to start talking to you in a burning bush. It's more like Elijah and hearing God in the whispering wind. (Notice the word "whispering" - it usually takes a long time to really hear Him and then you realize that He's been talking to you for awhile now and you, like a dummy, didn't even know it)
  • It doesn't come without prayer. There's lots of prayer involved. Lots. Because you wonder "is this really what I think it is?" At least, for me, it took a lot of convincing myself to believe that yes, this really is it. I finally realized that it wasn't pure coincidence that I felt so at home, with the Daughters of Charity and with the charism and everything. It felt different than with my past Salesian community but I didn't want to repeat a "mistake". And it took a lot of prayer and reflection to reach the point of saying "Yes, this is it, it has to be. I just know."
  • It's not without work on your part. If you're thinking about joining a specific community - visit, read, talk with someone, visit some more. Heck, even if you're simply thinking about religious life as an option, do the same - visit a community, read about religious life, talk with someone about it, visit another community if you can. Put it all in God's hands but know that you can't get that "you just know" feeling unless you allow it to happen. And you can't know without experiencing.
  • It's not always what exactly you have planned. Sometimes God's plan isn't our plan....actually, almost all the time, God's plan isn't ours. But believe me, He knows us better than we know ourselves and He has a more amazing plan for us than we could ever imagine.
So, please don't get frustrated if you have no idea where you're going.
Don't get frustrated if you've been searching for years and still don't know.
Don't get frustrated if everyone else you know seems to have the magical answer for their life, as if God plopped down in front of them and said "Okay, here's the deal. This is what I want you to do for the rest of your life...." (has that happened to anyone here? 'cause it sure didn't happen to me) Keep those "advisories" in mind and enjoy the journey.

Vincentian Quote of the Week: Mother Suzanne Guillemin & Vows

Just as Christ gave Himself up for us without reserve that night He was betrayed, so we must live in the same way day after day, without taking anything back. We must know that poverty is hard, in face of our instictive love to possess, that chastity is hard because of the isolation of heart it requires, but God expects us to be faithful. We must realize that service of the poor is hard; it is hard for us to do what we have not chosen, but this also is part of that giving up of ourselves. (Mother Suzanne Guillemin)

(The text of the image reads "Lord, behold her who has sacrified herself for you. Come, good and faithful servant; enter in the joy of your Master." and lists the four vows the Daughters of Charity take: Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, and Charity [service of the poor]. The image can be found here)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Community Living: A Wonderful Mess

While on the beach recently, I read a book called "New Monasticism" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. It was an easy and quick read, yet it seemed like almost every page led me to reflect. "New Monasticism" is essentially a ecumenical movement to revive monasticism in a modern context - that is, without deserting the world, without vows, and without habits. It's an interesting and really, wonderful, concept. And to me, it's especially exciting to see Protestants rediscover the wonderfulness that is community life. I feel like it's something us Catholics have known and used for centuries, although it's constantly been reformed to fit with the times (and to fix issues), through women and men religious communities. Thousands of Catholic religious communities exist, with different charisms, for men and women who have the wish to live a religious life with others. And some, like the Daughters, have existed for hundreds of years. But, to many Protestants, the concept is something new, or rather better fitting: "so old it seems new". Now, ecumenical communities such as Rutba House and A Simple Way exist in large cities, where Christians of all denominations live together, pray together and live a modern monastic life together.

Unlike some entering religious life, I've already lived in community. I, more or less, have been for the past 8 years. Not in a "new monastic" community but in different ways. From living with suitemates in college to living with ten Sisters in the convent to living with fifty elementary to high school girls (sixteen of which in the same room). I've had the lucky chance of experiencing community life.

But community life isn't all "smiles and sunshine", just as religious life isn't "daisies and Jesus". You live with people you don't necessarily get along with (we are human, after all) or maybe you live with people you do like but don't like to live with, for one reason or another. Community life isn't easy. Sometimes it can be downright frustrating. It's a tug-and-pull of having patience through prayer, learning more about yourself and helping others and yourself become better people.

But that sounds incredibly secular. And religious community life is anything but. Living in community challenges you to become a better Christian, as you learn to let go of yourself, your wants, and your needs and put your Christian community above all else. It's certainly not an easy thing, but we can all agree it's worth it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote "The more genuine and deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us." (Life Together, 26). We must remember the real reason we're together in the first place - for Jesus. And from my personal experience, simply by being together in prayer, our community life deepens. With the Sisters in the convent and with the girls in the orphanage, both in Bolivia, we prayed together. I've done the same with the Daughters, the many times I lived with them during short visits. Many times, I looked around and saw my fellow community members in prayer. I mean, really saw them. I saw their brokenness by living with them (and I saw mine too, by the way) but by watching them pray, I saw their faith and their trust in a loving God. By saying the same words along with them, I felt more united with them in prayer than I would simply by living with them.

Community life isn't for everyone. But I can say, from experience, it is for me. During those eight years, for a short time, I lived by myself. I originally thought it would be great to be on my own, to do what I wanted instead of worrying about the common good for the community. I hated it. I missed the support of those same people that drove me crazy sometimes. I missed constantly learning about faith and about myself from them. I missed the accountability of doing the right thing - outside community, I could do what I wanted without someone there to be affected by my actions, whether they were right or wrong. I missed the connection I felt with others in prayer. My sadness over lacking community life is one of the things that led me back to religious life.

For those already living in community life, what do you love about it? What in community life challenges you?

Monday, July 18, 2011

"You Just Know": The Least Helpful but Most True Discernment Advice

Last week, I spent a few days at FIAT, a retreat sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington for high-schoolers interested in religious life. Along with the Daughters of Charity, the other religious communities present included the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of MatarĂ¡.

A phrase repeated during the vocations stories of all of them (including myself) and the later Q&A, especially in regards to choosing a community, was "I just knew". Even Father commented on how he knows the advice "you just know" isn't helpful at all to discerners but yet it's so completely true.

How did I know the Salesians weren't for me? I just knew. The Sisters were great and some continue to be some of my best friends. I loved working in the orphanage with them. But I just knew somehow that it wasn't for me. After leaving the Salesians, the idea of religious life was still in the back of my mind but I ignored it until last summer, when I spent a good month visiting my Salesians in Latin America and somehow, upon returning, I just knew that religious life could just be for me and I needed to do something about it. I could have picked a variety of different religious communities to get in contact with. But I knew I had to contact the Daughters of Charity. Why? I just knew. Why did I ultimately decide that they were THE community for me? I could cite all the things I love about the Daughters - their mission, their founders, the Sisters, their ministries - but really, it was that I just knew. I just knew that this was THE ONE. I just knew that this was where I belonged all my life.

We can never explain the things God does for us - neither the how or why. And finding your vocation is one of those inexplicable miracles of God. I remember on discernment retreats as a college student hearing vocation stories, which never quite satisfied me. All of them seemed to skip that part where they ultimately realized this was for them - you know that big sign where they knew that THIS was it. I remember asking (or allowing someone else to ask) "Well, how did you know?" And the answer was always a frustrating "I just knew." Now that I've matured (or maybe because I've myself experienced that 'I just knew' moment), I love hearing vocation stories.

So if you're discerning religious life, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is "you just know" is probably the most frustrating advice you want to hear on this journey. The good news is that it's true and that God loves us so much and is so good to us that it's beyond explanation. So, keep journeying and you'll find that, as hard as this journey may be, one day you'll just know.

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Vincent & Materialism

Those who become detached from the desire of worldly goods...enjoy perfect freedom...they are people who are free, who know no law, who fly, who go left and right, who fly still more. No one can hold them back. (St. Vincent de Paul) 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Just Might Be Dealing with the Face of Christ...

If there ever was a song that summed up St. Vincent de Paul's spirituality and the charism of the Daughters of Charity, it would be this one ("The Face of Christ" by Chris Rice):


Sr. Denise used this song after a reflection at our young adult meeting, in which we visited a house of the Daughters of Charity. The whole reflection, led by another Sister, was on Matthew 25: 31-36, which was essentially the basis for St. Vincent de Paul and consequently St. Louise de Marillac, the founders of the Daughters of Charity, the first successful religious community to live outside the cloister. This is the whole Vincentian charism - to see and serve Christ in the poor.

The Constitutions, almost 400 years later, continue to echo this sentiment - the poor are our masters because their face is the face of Christ's - not just as an afterthought, but rather as the theme and foundation of the whole community and the reason for their unique fourth vow: complete service to the poor.

"The King will reply: 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let the Nerdiness Shine Through...

The new (and last) Harry Potter movie debuts tonight. I won't be going to the midnight premiere but I do plan on seeing it before I move to Georgia later this month. As lame as it might sound, my favorite Harry Potter movie will always be the first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - perhaps because of Harry's amazement at discovering the magic of everything. But I also can't wait to see this one because I've only read great reviews, even by Catholic sources like this Vatican newspaper!

Anyway, if you were a student at Hogwarts, do you know which house you would be in?



(And yes, according to various online quizzes, that's the house I would belong to...how did they know I can't digest lactose?
And yeah, I know Cedric Diggory was a Hufflepuff. But still.)

By the way, on a more serious note, Sister Susan over at Musings of a Discerning Woman, wrote a wonderful blog post on Harry Potter and Discernment. I highly recommend checking it out! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Louise & Hope for People

If you grieve at seeing God offended by those who should be singing His praises and edifying the people, let it be your hope that, when the hour of the fullness of their vocation arises, God will be able to make them great saints. (St Louise de Marillac, letter 207 to Sr. Barbe)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Be Still and Know...

I just came back from an amazing week-long visit in Macon, GA, which will be my new community for the next year. I couldn't have picked a more perfect place for me to start formation with the Daughters of Charity. It was if the Sisters on the Council looked into my soul and knew exactly what I was looking for - a chance to live completely among with the poor, a mix of different ministries, and a house with a rich history (St. Katherine Drexel stayed in my house!)

At one point during the week, my Sister Servant (that is, the superior of the house) and I were talking. I'll be a very busy pre-postulant, working four days in the school and one day in Hispanic ministry and probably doing odd things on the weekends. But my Sister Servant emphasized having time at the house to relax outside of my jobs. I agreed, saying that "yeah, I would need time to do lesson plans and grade".

And she said "and you need that time to reflect and discern"

Oh yeah.

Personally, I'm a person that loves being busy. I love it when my calendar is full. And between thinking about teaching Spanish and religion and working in Hispanic ministry, I had forgotten that I needed time to just sit still. Just time to sit with God and put my whole life before Him. Just time to listen to what He has to say.

(Drawing from
St. Vincent de Paul Image Archive)
The Daughters of Charity are obviously all about the apostolic works - hence the name and all. But St. Vincent emphasized that just as much as we are daughters of Charity, we must be daughters of prayer. While the Daughters were the first successful religious community to live and work outside the cloister (others tried but either eventually grew cloistered or disbanded), they were founded with a very strict prayer schedule set by our two founders, St Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. Today, the Daughters have morning meditation, Lauds, Vespers, evening meditation as well as the Rosary privately. And of course, while other religious communities have a specific devotion, the Daughters of Charity have the (daily) Mass - the most important part of their day.

St. Vincent de Paul gave a numerous amount of Conferences to the first Sisters, which amazingly has been preserved to this day. In those Conferences, he says "always do what you can so that, prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day." (v.1, p28-29) And Mother Suzanne Guillemin, Superioress General during Vatican II, wrote "work and prayer, that is our unique spirituality, the spirituality of full life."

All I can hope, as I start prepostulancy, is to follow in the steps of the founders and Sisters - learning how to be a daughter of Charity, but foremost being a daughter of prayer...a daughter that knows how to be still every one in awhile.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Reason #19 I Love the Daughters: Untranslated Videos

I love the Daughters for being international, as I've talked about before when I mentioned their missions in the former USSR and a comment left by a British Daughter of Charity. I love it even more for the fact that I can find videos about them in Spanish that aren't simple translations. Sometimes translations can be iffy (especially with the use of online translators), sometimes they can be absolutely fine grammatically and orthographically...but either way, something gets lost in the translation. The sentiment, the enthusiasm of the original language is just not there. And usually, unless the translation is really really good, you can always tell that it's a translation. This isn't to discourage anyone from translating an important document into another language, especially if it serves the people (after all, how else could I read writings from St. Louise and St. Vincent de Paul...I know very little French!), but somehow the original language is always better and more beautiful.

Recently, I went searching for YouTube videos to show the Sisters I worked with in Bolivia. I wanted them to know even deeper the congregation I was joining. Writing about it is one thing, showing it in photos and videos is another. I didn't have to look far - I just typed in "Hijas de la Caridad" and found a multitude of videos about them that WEREN'T translations - rather original videos, mainly from the province in Peru.

Here is a promotion video that they have for vocations:


And yet another about the Sisters in Trujillo....


UPDATE: The Daughters of Charity have a YouTube channel - FILLESDELACHARITE. They are the same videos posted in various languages. They take turns making the videos, so it's never obvious what the first language is!

Vincentian Quote of the Week: Frederic Ozanam & Being Christian

Gentlemen, I have not the honor to be a theologian, but I have the happiness to be a Christian; the happiness to believe and the ambition to devote my mind, my heart, and all my strength to the service of truth. (Bl. Frederic Ozanam)
Frederic Ozanam? But he's not a Daughter of Charity or a Vincentian priest! You would be correct, but Frederic Ozanam is just as much as a Vincentian as the rest of them. He was the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an organization that is probably active even in your own parish. He was a  friend of Daughter of Charity Blessed Rosalie Rendu and considered her to be his mentor. He faithfully served the poor of Paris, inspired by question of a college classmate "Christianity is dead. So, you boast about being Catholic, what are you doing? Where are the works which demonstrate your Faith?" and founded the Society as a way to ask others to do the same.

He is a great example to all Vincentians, lay or not. He was beatified in 1997 and continues on the road to be formally recognized as a saint.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Millennial Generation and bin Laden’s Death

Technically, I am a member of the "millennial generation", which is anyone born between 1982 to 2000ish, supposedly. I am in huge disagreement with the dates since, as a middle school teacher, if we go by those dates, I would be teaching people of my own generation. Which is just weird.

One of the many reasons I don't think "millennial" should extend to the birth year 2000 is the events of September 11, 2001. I came across this article from The Evangelist a few days after bin Laden's death, which was two months ago today.

Millennial Generation and Bin Laden's Death

The writer of the article was a 7th grader when the September attacks happened. I was a high school junior. Unlike the author, I did indeed know what the World Trade Center was - I had been there before. I did understand what was going on (well, as much as one could in a situation like that), though I was still shocked about it.
Yet, despite the age difference, the author makes a great point:
For adult Americans, this was a heartbreaking attack, perhaps the worst of the many historical events they had seen in their lifetime. But for my generation, this was a defining moment. 
Just as our parents would tell us exactly where they were when President John F. Kennedy had been shot, this would be the day we would tell our children about. 
This was the Millennial Generation's turning point, this was where our childhood ended, where we learned the effects of war, fear, and even hate. People claim my generation lost a decade of childhood/teenage innocence when the US was attacked and perhaps we did.

Many of us were conflicted when bin Laden was killed - I saw it firsthand in many of my friends. Interestingly enough, I've found that, while my young adult friends felt that they should be relieved, they really weren't. And that a vast majority of them held unto the Christian belief that we should not rejoice in the death of another, even our enemy. To my surprise, my Facebook feed was instead full of links and quotes from the official Vatican statement, Martin Luther King Jr quotes (though falsely attributed), and verses from the Psalms and New Testament.

I think my friends holding strong to that belief, amid the "celebrations", says a lot about my generation - we know what's been taken away from us but that doesn't shake our belief in what we know to be true, in what we know to be right.

My favorite sentence of this whole article and what greatly sums it up for us, the Millennials:
We lost something on September 11, 2001, but that doesn’t mean we got it back on May 1, 2011. 
(P.S. Another great link is Seeing Christ in bin Laden by Busted Halo!)
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