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!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why Me? Why Would God Pick Me?

Vocation at its deepest level is not 'Oh, boy, do I want to go to this strange place where I have to learn a new way to live and where no one, including me, understands what I'm doing.' Vocation at its deepest level is, 'This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling. - Parker J. Palmer (Let Your Life Speak, 25)
Where is God taking you?
I didn't do all this - become a prepostulant - simply because I wanted to. I did it because I feel God calling me to do so...even though it is inexplicable to me why God would even call me to do this. If it were up to me alone, I probably wouldn't want to go through the "growing pains" that goes along with learning how to  live a new lifestyle with new people, learning how to teach a new school subject. But somehow I feel compelled to do this...to push my own inhibitions and insecurities aside to follow His call. The best explanation I can give is that Jesus himself said "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16)

Sometimes, I think - okay, way more than sometimes - "Oh God, why did you pick me?"  I'm stubborn, way too reserved for my own good but at times way too loud and boisterous, sometimes socially awkward, a procrastinator, indecisive, immature at times. Part of me still can't wrap my mind around the fact that one day "Sister" will precede my name. The thing is, I don't know why God picked me, why He called me to this. And I know that I'll never know, I'll never understand.

I can't even explain to people why I want to be a Sister. I just know there's something - or Someone - pulling me towards it and won't let go; that I feel like my true self in this lifestyle; that it gives me a deep joy I have never experienced before. In high school, from freshman year onward, my friends joked that I was going to be a nun. I would get mad and repeat "No, stop it! I'll never be a nun!" It was not my plan at all. I had no idea what that plan was, but being a Sister sure wasn't it. But then senior year, I started feeling that tug, a tug I tried to brush off but never could. That strong but slow-working magnet won't leave me alone. It made restless, made me hungry for something else. And I have no idea why, why me? That Someone that is pulling me knows me better than anyone, yet continues to pull.

So I decide to go along with the pull instead of fighting it, not completely understanding the why or how, but somehow knowing that the pull is leading me to discover my true self and who I was born to be - and only in that, will I meet true joy. And that's why I'm here, here in formation to be a Daughter of Charity, here in this old convent in middle Georgia, here working with the poor in this school.

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St Vincent & Vocation

Does our Lord not reveal the greatness of a vocation to follow Him when He says to His apostles 'you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you'? Therefore, you should greatly esteem your vocation. Humble yourselves for this grace, my dear Sisters, and be grateful for it. - St. Vincent de Paul (Spiritual Writings, A.89B)

More on this topic to come!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

La Niña de Tus Ojos, The Apple of Your Eye

Prepostulancy has officially begun!  Nerves have subsided for the most part. For those discerning religious life, the nerves I talked about in this previous post do go away! Thank God...because they give you so much stress! That being said, in all honesty, I'm still nervous...but about teaching, not being a prepostulant. I'm sure when the kids come in next week (yes, they start school next week), things will get back to normal.

Anyway, I've only been here a few days and every now and then it hits me, usually when I'm turning my key to open the Sisters' house: "oh my gosh, I actually live here". It just feels unreal. I know that I've said this a million times now, but I still can't believe I'm here. A year ago, I would barely have imagined living as a prepostulant in Georgia with the Daughters of Charity. The Sisters here are wonderful, the community is wonderful, their ministries and spirituality are wonderful - it's exactly what I was looking for and more. God is so good.


When I think of His goodness, I am reminded of a memory that every morning at the hogar (orphanage) where I worked in Bolivia, we would blast music through the speakers to wake up the girls. Sometimes it would be the soundtrack of High School Musical, sometimes Hannah Montana (luckily, I left before it became Justin Beiber), and sometimes a mixed CD of Jesus Adrian Romero, a Mexican Christian singer, and Daniel Calveti, a Venezuelan Christian singer.

When I got nostalgic, I would listen to their music again - to pretend I was back in the hogar or in our rural church at Mass. But now that years have past, I listen to them to connect with my own current spiritual life...combining my present spirituality with my missionary one. One of my favorite songs is "La Niña de Tus Ojos" by Daniel Calveti and illustrates perfectly the merging of my Bolivian past with the current spiritual status I find myself in now.

"Niña de tus ojos", literally translated as "the girl of your eyes", is actually an expression in Spanish. The English equivalent is "the apple of your eye" (which may make even less sense linguistically than 'the girl of your eyes'!) Anyway, the song speaks of God's love for each one of us, how each one of us are the apple of His eye.

The chorus says (see how much more beautiful it is in Spanish?):
Y me diste nombre (and you gave me a name)
yo soy tu niña (I am the apple)
la niña de tus ojos (the apple of your eye)
porque me amaste a mi (because you loved me)
and then, my favorite part of the song....
te amo más que a mi vida (I love you more than my life)
te amo más que a mi vida (I love you more than my life)
te amo más que a mi vida (I love you more than my life)



Don't forget you are the niña of God's ojos....or the apple of His eye. He loves you even more than you could ever imagine.And what He has planned out for you is even more wonderful than you could ever imagine. I know because I am constantly amazed by Him and His love...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Vincentian Quote of the Week: St. Louise & A Message for the Prepostulant


"Remember always, dear Sisters, that it is the most holy will of God which put you where you are, and that it is for the accomplishment of His will that you must work there as would an ambassador for the King...all must be done with gentleness of heart and humility, as we consider the interests of those with whom we are working rather than our own or even those of the Company." (St. Louise de Marillac, Spiritual Writing p208) 

Just a small reminder from my foundress to the now completely official, now completely moved-in, prepostulant blogger ;)
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