A Sister friend of mine was nearing her final vows when she would make a permanent commitment of her life to God. She recounted how she happened to be taking a bus ride one beautiful day. She was enjoying the sights when on the bus came a young woman her age who was pregnant. She said, “The woman sat down on the seat opposite me; we could see each other face to face. The woman began to embrace her womb, her pregnant self. I felt my hand go to my womb. At that moment I gave to God the sacrifice of never having my own child. I heard God saying to me, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m sure.’ It was a beautiful moment.”
While the vow of consecrated celibacy deprives us of the experience of giving birth and raising our own family*, the experience of giving and sustaining life can take many forms. Our capacity to give life also includes our multifaceted creativity, inventiveness, playfulness, and our ability to bring life into human relationships through good communication skills, appropriate sharing of feelings, being a good listener, being sensitive to the needs and concerns of other, and reverencing the dignity of people. It includes the willingness and ability to deal with conflict as well as the skills to make peace and work through difficulties inevitable in human relationships. Generativity also includes joining in the building of resilient communities where economic, political, and social justice is upheld for everyone, especially people who are poor and most vulnerable. In the broadest sense, being a generative person means being someone whose spirit-filled and loving presence facilitates the growth and flourishing of others and all creation. Giving life is a labor of love open to all people.
*Some women take the vow of consecrated celibacy after being widowed or after their marriage is annulled and their children are grown and living independently.
Young women discerning a call to religious life often ask if living a vow of celibacy means giving up their sexuality. I usually begin my response by saying that the vow of consecrated celibacy is a radical way of loving God, self, and others with our whole heart, mind, body, soul, and strength. God’s gift of self to me invites my mutual self-gift in return. In my personal response to God’s call, I commit myself totally to God to the exclusion of any other primary commitment to spouse, family, or projects. By living this vow I desire to embody with my life the profound truth that the multifaceted love of God satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart for a lifetime.
Celibacy clearly requires abstinence from genital sexual activity. In making this commitment to God, I freely and knowingly set limits on my human experience. I will never love and be loved as wife and mother. These important dimensions of my sexual identity I will never experience. Like any major life choice, my choice to live a life of consecrated celibacy involves legitimate suffering and letting go as well as joy and abundance. Anything of value comes at a high cost. My vow of celibacy, however, does not mean giving up my sexuality or my capacity to be creative.
The most fundamental aspect of human sexuality is our need for intimacy, our need to be lovingly related and connected to other human beings and to all of creation. As a celibate lover, my need for intimacy is as great as that of a married person. As Father Clark puts it, “Intimacy is as much a part of my sexuality as it is part of a married person’s. Human sexuality is about intimacy.”* Real intimacy requires a multiplicity of personal skills from self-esteem to compassion, caring presence, appropriate confiding, trust, loyalty, fidelity, as well as a number of skills for personal freedom. We learn to channel our sexuality into a broader way of loving. A celibate does not deny her sexuality; instead, she uses that God-given energy to love and serve generously.
*Keith Clark, Being Sexual…and Celibate, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1985), 30.
My childhood God was a caring, parent-like figure who lived up in heaven and ruled the world from afar. Early childhood specialists tell us that children begin to create images of God that represent their parents’ way of being. At the same time, they also internalize parental standards, values, and expectations as well as the rules of religion and society. They see God as a loving parent who intervenes in our world, rewarding good behavior and punishing wrongdoing. Their God is all-loving, but also rule-making, judgmental, guilt-evoking and at times terrifying. Healthy adult spiritual development requires the transformation of our childhood images of God into the living God imaged by Christ.
Here is an example from my own life of the gradual change in my God imaging. In my early twenties, I was reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I was impressed with her self-esteem and love of life despite the fact that she was hiding in an attic with her family to escape the Nazis. She valued her experience enough to keep a diary where she shared what was happening in her life: her new boyfriend, problems with her mother, etc.
I began to think, maybe if I keep a journal I will catch her spirit and experience the joy of living, no matter the circumstances. You may recall that Anne gave her journal a name, “Kitty.” She began every entry like a letter, “Dear Kitty.” “Kitty” became her friend and confidant. My question was, how do I want to name my journal? Who do I want to be my friend and confidant?
I wanted this kind of personal relationship with God. So I began my journal, “Dear God,” and I started to write down everything that was going on in my life. In the middle of this, however, I started to think, “This is really stupid! My ordinary, everyday life is not important to God Almighty. A friendship with God is simply not possible.” I finished the letter anyway and signed it, “Love, Sara.”
That weekend I went to Mass at our little parish church. The priest was a visiting priest and to my surprise, his whole sermon was in the form of a letter from God addressing all of us with love. I just sat there in awe! My letter to God had been answered! I was in tears! God is closer to us than we realize. My image of God changed. God is unthinkably humble and is seeking a friendship with us, even more than we are seeking a friendship with God! How has your image of God changed as you have matured into adulthood?
Based on a reflection by Sister Romona Nowak, OP
Our journey of life can at times take us to a place of unbearable suffering where we would rather not go. As Jesus gently warns Peter, there will come a time when “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will put a rope around you and take you where you would rather not go” (Jn 21:18). Our Sister Romona shares with us her own reflection on suffering as she struggles with terminal cancer. She leans on Christ who is with her on this road. She writes:
I have been in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked his Father for exactly what he felt and truly what he wanted, “Don’t let me suffer anymore.” Finally, he was able to say, “Not my will but your will be done.” Like Jesus, my tears have flowed. They express my fears, hurts, and longings. I learned that my suffering and my cross is my cancer, and the journey is my way of the cross. When the pain is so deep that I cannot even pray, I hold my rosary cross and in holding it I remember that Jesus is holding me. This is a blessed assurance of what is most important—remaining one with my God.
My struggles have been many: acceptance of my journey, review of my life with its sinfulness, grief in letting go of what I know, etc. Cancer, and especially metastatic cancer, has left me feeling out of control of my life; a basic human need. I am incredibly vulnerable, dependent, and so often confused. I sought another medical opinion just to verify my untreatable condition. A sobering thought to hear, “no treatment will change the course of the cancer.”
I needed friends that would help me think through my thoughts and get the feelings out. I believe it must be nearly impossible to go through cancer alone… I am blessed by many wonderful friends. You have affirmed me when I have been so hard on myself. You have been an incredible blessing that has not only helped me accept, but also stop the temptation for withdrawal that accompanies fear and anxiety. God’s action is amazing through you.
Just like most of humanity we strive for perfection. My failings, faults, and mistakes in mind and action (i.e., being overly critical, judging others, pride, etc.) make me aware of the constant need for forgiveness... Discouragement comes. Faith helps me find peace. When I turn my weakness and my whole life to God, sometimes in a mantra of just the name of “Jesus”, or scripture, or a short “Have mercy on me” I experience a calming. Other times the fear of death overwhelms me. I’m too sinful to be welcomed by God. Then someone reminds me that God didn’t ask us to be perfect, just to trust in him. “Jesus, I trust in you.” Please hold me in your prayer, because the battle with these temptations, especially self-forgiveness will continue because of my humanness.
I am still alive. This length of days is for God’s mission. Although I will not be physically cured, hopefully, this journey will enable spiritual healing. The cross doesn’t get lighter nor the suffering easier, but I can embrace the journey with your companionship in presence and prayer until I am one with my Beloved—in the great surrender.
What has been your experience of religious faith in hard times?
Sister Romona’s reflection was informed by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, The Gift of Peace, Michael Paul Gallagher, Into Extra Time and Jim Willig, Lessons from the School of Suffering.
Do you ever struggle with being kind and compassionate toward yourself, especially in times of personal suffering? Even though one of the foundational pillars of Christian Spirituality is the love of self, we tend to be harsh and judgmental about our own flaws, failings, and limitations. In his teaching on friendship, the great Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas, asserts that since we are more closely united to ourselves than to any other person, all the good we desire for our loved ones, we most want for ourselves. Therefore, the heart of wisdom is to love and accept ourselves as our own best friend. This counsel suggests that when times are really tough and we are experiencing suffering, we give ourselves the patient caring and tenderness that we need.
Human development specialist, Dr. Kristen Neff, has developed what she calls a “self-compassion break.” This five-minute break in time of suffering consists of three main components. First, we must recognize that “this is a moment of suffering” and to speak gently to ourselves in naming our pain. She encourages us to say something like, “Sweetheart, this is really hard right now.” We then simply allow the difficulty to be present and we soften toward it. Second, she suggests that we remind ourselves that “suffering is a part of life.” Instead of feeling alone and cut off from the rest of the world, it is important to remind ourselves that suffering is a part of the human condition. Other people are suffering in a similar way as we are suffering. Third, we say, “May I be kind to myself in this moment.” We offer ourselves soothing and comfort with gentle kindness. She encourages us to put our hand on our heart and feel the care streaming through our fingers. See her website. Learning to love ourselves in this way enables us to love others; when we befriend ourselves, we can be true friends to others. Likewise, this friendship with ourselves also helps us to better open up to the friendship of Christ.
I invite readers to share in the comments:
What has helped you to love and accept yourself?
How has being a friend to yourself helped you be a friend to others?
How has being a friend to yourself helped you to be a better Christian?
By Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
A Sister shared with me that she found it disturbing to watch and keep up with all the terrible things happening in the news. She decided to set a limit to the amount she took in, and she is feeling much better. She does not want to deny what is happening, and she wants to be informed, but she wants balance.
She didn’t say it this way, but perhaps what she was yearning for was some quiet time to hear another voice, the voice of God. Each of us needs to find our own balance. Our news consumption can become compulsive, the constant barrage of loud voices drowning out other voices we need to listen to, within and without. Even without news, we can be very distracted by the constant input of social media and our various devices.
We owe it to ourselves and to our world, both the world immediately around us and the larger global reality, to listen to the range of voices, and to seek moments of contemplation. Only then can we hear the quiet, gentle voice of God nudging us to true life, to faithfulness, to hope. God will guide us how to respond, how to receive, and how to hear good news if we take the time to listen.
Based on a reflection by Sister Joan Delaplane, OP
This past week, our Dominican community celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). Catherine: Dominican preacher, teacher, healer, reconciler, writer, mystic, and all in a mere 33 years; first woman named as Doctor of the Church! A woman whose times were like our own in many ways: upheavals, insecurity, fear, wars, natural calamities, lost faith, and scandals in the Church. And how did our sister Catherine face these challenges? As Suzanne Nofke summarized it: “The Truth and Love that is God possessed her, and she laid her whole being on the line with his for the life of the world” (Catherine of Siena: Vision Through a Distant Eye. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996).
Yes, Catherine’s “mad lover” God was Truth and Love. As I reflected on Catherine and our own time, however, two phrases grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go: Truth of Love and Love of Truth. Catherine’s grounding in the Truth of Love, who is God, impelled her to take the love of truth to others. Perhaps you’ve seen the cover of Time magazine earlier this month: “Is Truth Dead?” Alternative facts and fake news seem acceptable; some don’t even care, or even echo Pilate: “What is truth?” It’s as though there’s a cloud over us, making it difficult to perceive the light of truth.
And what does this Truth of God’s Love look like? Jesus embodies the truth of God’s love as a caring, tender washing feet of those who had betrayed him, denied him and abandoned him. The Truth of God’s Love is a forgiving of those who had abused him, hated him, and left him to suffer the throes of an agonizing death. Jesus shows us the truth of God’s love as a trusting in God to be with him when all he felt was abandonment, pain, and the seeming failure of his mission. The Risen Christ shows us the Truth of God’s Love that transformed locked up, fearful disciples into fearless preachers speaking the truth in love.
Like those first disciples, Catherine heard Christ calling her to embody the Truth of Love in her world: “I need you to walk with two feet; love of God and love of all that God loves.” We, too, are called to be the Truth of Love for our world. Like the small groups of people who traveled this past weekend to walk on two feet in Washington, D.C. with others for love of the Truth of Climate Change. They will witness to the call of all people to be part of healing and preserving God’s beloved creation.
What are some of the ways that you will embody the Truth of Love and the Love of Truth? Let us know in the comments section what occurred to you in your reflection.
Yes, the Risen Jesus appeared to his followers in a unique way two thousand years ago. Yet the resurrection of Jesus is also a present-day event happening in our daily lives bringing new energies for life and love in our world today. Listen to one of our novices, Sister Katherine Frazier, share her reflection on John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the Disciples on the sea of Tiberias.
Having trouble viewing the video? Click here to view it on YouTube.
At different times in our life, we all have encountered the frightening face of death. As much as we would like to avoid death and dying, death is an undisputed fact of life. As the poet Emily Dickinson amusingly wrote, “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.” While we know the fragility of life and the inevitability of death, death is something that human beings have never been able to accept as something that ought to be.
This Holy Week I had a quite unexpected brush with death. Some dear family members from out of town came to visit. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day and the three of us were enjoying an idyllic afternoon at the lake. Two of us were out on the lake in a paddleboat, while the other was watching birds from the shoreline. All of a sudden, we heard a jarring cry from the middle of the lake “Help, help!” A kayaker had flipped over into the icy water and could not swim. We were the only people out on the lake. We immediately started peddling our paddleboat toward him as fast as we could, while the one on shore jumped into a rowboat and headed toward the capsized kayak. In less than ten minutes we reached the young man who managed to pull his numb body into the row boat. In the safety of our boats, we were all deeply grateful that our sunny, fun-loving lake had not become a watery grave.
Our different scrapes with death push us to ponder more deeply the mysteries of life and death. According to our Easter faith, the basis for hope that death is not only bodily disintegration, but also the triumphant integration of life in eternal fullness is the resurrection of Jesus. As John Sachs asserts, “Jesus’ resurrection was not a personal privilege or reward for Jesus but an act of God ‘for us and for our salvation.’... What the Spirit accomplished in Jesus is the work of the Spirit in all of us.”* This is the reason why Paul gleefully asserts: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” with Christ’s death and resurrection and taunts: “Where, O Death, is your sting?” (I Cor 15:55). For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is the source and model of our own resurrection.
Today, let the mysteries of death and resurrection help you to ponder what gives real meaning and purpose to your life. Does your Easter faith free you to take risks for the sake of Christ and his Gospel?
*John R. Sachs, The Christian Vision of Humanity: Basic Christian Anthropology (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 76.
A number of different people have told me that because of their personal experience of suffering and the misery in the world, they no longer believe in an all-loving God. Without doubt, human misery can shatter belief, not only in God, but in the goodness of humanity as well.
As we enter into Holy Week, the Church invites us to reflect on how Jesus viewed his suffering and death. Throughout his ministry, we know that Jesus freely accepted suffering as the cost of his revolutionary proclamation of the reign of God. As his death approached, he felt deep anxiety in the face of suffering, sweating blood as he prayed to be spared the inevitable. Nevertheless, he resolved, with God’s help, to stand in fidelity to his mission. Then, in the throes of his agony on the cross, it seemed that even God, whom Jesus had preached as compassionate and loving Abba, had forsaken him. He cried out the opening line of psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34), expressing his real experience of the absence of God. Yet, at the heart of his vulnerability, was an unwavering belief in his own goodness as well as a deep trust in the psalm’s promise of God’s help and vindication. The hidden closeness and strengthening love of God within him was made visible when Jesus offered forgiveness to those who crucified him, (Lk 23:34) promised paradise to the penitent thief, (Lk 23:42) and entrusted the care of his mother to the beloved disciple (Jn 19:26-27). Even as Jesus was lifted up in crucifixion, his loving communion with God was made available to all people in their most perilous experiences of suffering and death. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of his death, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32).
In his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, (I 59) Rainer Maria Rilke portrays our loving God, who walks with us through life, encouraging our trust especially in times of suffering. Rilke writes:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
This Holy Week, may you experience the hand of God take yours in everlasting love.
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!