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)
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