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)
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