Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Modifying the Habit

Last August, the night before final vows, I sat on the fifth floor with Simona and Kathy and a handful of other Sisters. We had been leafing through one of the "Celebrating the Journey" books reading about the congregation's history. A sister, who's name is eluding me, began sharing some stories with us. Some of the details are escaping me, but somewhere in the evening pictures were brought out and shared. As one picture of the "modified habit" was passed around this particular sister exclaimed, "this was the beginning of what I like to call the slow strip-tease." For those unfamiliar with what she is referring to, there was a time when the habit began to change, hems were raised, hems were lowered, veils were altered, etc, etc, etc. and slowly pieces of the habit began to be removed.

Today there is no official habit for the sisters. I can appreciate the history of the habit and I can understand why leaving the habit behind was hard for many sisters, and I can even understand why some sisters choose to remain in the habit. I can appreciate that for those women who had been wearing it for countless years, the habit had become intertwined with their identity. Much like, dare I say, mascara has become intertwined with mine? No matter what those things are, we all have them, things that become a part of us. And for that I can recognize the importance of the habit.

For me though, 28 in the 21st Century? That habit would have to be pretty darn modified for me to be found desiring to wear it! Today however, I came a little bit closer to the modified habit I would consider jumping into as I dress in the morning!

I spent the afternoon at Assisi House with Neumann students who regularly visit with the sisters. Today we were celebrating February birthdays. An "entertainer" who was quite entertaining, but probably for different reasons than intended, was singing and dancing, I guess you could call it that anyway. In between songs she gave out silk flowers to the sisters. I was sitting next to Sr. Helen Veronica, who is totally growing on my heart! I quickly grabbed the flower from her hand and inserted it in the side of her veil so that the beautiful purple flower graced the side of her face. GORGEOUS! If only we had a camera!

I'm now thinking of additions I could continue to make, maybe I could bust out my old beddazzler and add rhinestones! Okay, maybe that's going a little far, and might make Francis turn over in his grave . . . but it has potential right?

Rhinestones or not, Sr. Helen Veronica looked beautiful! I look forward to spending another afternoon with her to joke, and laugh, and enjoy each others company--in fact I may want to make a habit of it!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Discernment by Candlelight: The Luxury of Light

Anyone on the road in southeastern Pennsylvania yesterday knows that driving was a battle of strength, who had more of it, the wind or you? Winding my way through a hilly backroad on my way to visit Sisters Marijane and Patty I not only faced the wind but also what it left behind in its path--a fallen tree that had ripped down power lines in its downward plunge to the ground. The power lines were still active as I rounded the corner, cones and flares lined the street indicating there was no getting around it. I back tracked down the windy road and around the neighborhood to finally arrive at their house, only to find that the particular power line I encountered was causing problems for Marijane and Patty too. No power!

With the exception of the plummeting temperature, there is something very profound about losing electricity. If nothing else it reminds us of how blessed we are to have the luxury of light! We spent the afternoon catching up and sharing stories, the thing about no power, is that during the day you tend to forget that you don't have it. The sun is shining, filtering through the windows, there is really no NEED to have the lights on. But as we sat through the 5 pm, candlelit, Mass with the sun slowly setting behind the hills the lack of electricity became more and more evident.

Hope came with the commencement of communion, as the first few pews of people were receiving the lights came on. That in itself was a pretty amazing image to reflect upon, Jesus-the light of the world-bringing not only metaphorical light but physical light to our lives! We assumed that this meant there was power back at the house, we assumed wrong. And so we ate our pizza by candle and fire light.

No lights, no television to entertain, no radio to listen to, no power. The reality is though, that the only difference between this visit and the many visits I've shared with them before is that the lights were out. When we are together we entertain each other, we truly share our lives with one another, there is no need for outside sources. It was kind of exciting to be sitting there by the fire, wrapped in blankets, and just keeping each other company!

Around 8 pm we were one of the remaining 371 houses without electricity, but PECO insured us they were working as "quickly and safely" as possible to restore it. Finally around 9 pm the power was back, the furnace kicked on, and things went back to normal, with the exception that Patty had to stay up to babysit the roaring fire we had just added a second large log to ten minutes prior to the electricity being restored.

Driving home last night I spent time, with the radio off, thinking about my time with Patty and Marijane. The reality is I don't need electricity to have "light" in my life. Sisters like these two women, and many of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, bring light into my life everyday. The true "luxury of light" is not the power that heats our homes, it's the fire of love that ignites our souls and the friends who keep it going!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The Best Kept Secret"

Have you ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle in which you were surprised to find two pieces, that did not appear to be a match, end up to be a perfect match?

Moving into this community, and not just my sisters here at Corpus Christi, but the whole community, I often found myself thinking of that Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong, can you tell which thing is not like the others by the time I finish my song?" But somewhere in the midst of these past six months those obvious differences have blurred, making it more and more difficult to distinguish "the thing not like the others."

Of course there are outwardly distinguishable things, age, style of dress, inability to keep a tidy room . . . but those things that matter? The things that truly make up the fiber of our beings? Those things have blended together and have become indistinguishable differences. We are unique women bound together by the common thread of faith and spirituality. I do not get nervous over many things, but I must admit when moving to Corpus Christi Convent I experienced more than my share of nervousness. I would imagine the sisters here were just as, if not more, nervous about my coming as well. There were so many outward differences, how would we ever live the day to day?

The reality is, there is no formula of how to logistically do it, it is something one must live into and experience. The reality is, it is in the day to day that we continually grow and over time we become more solidly, one, unified community. The reality is, with out just doing it one will never know!

In the beginning I often wondered what others thought when I was out with my sisters, but now I simply don't care. The truth is, anyone who took the time to understand what we have found together would realize that it is one of the greatest gifts life has to offer. A couple weeks ago Sr. Mary Craig and I were out to dinner, in sharing my happiness and excitement over taking the next step she shared that religious life, to her, feels like the "best kept secret." I agree! But you can only find it by jumping in and trying it on--Like a dress that looks hideous on the rack but gorgeous on!

Throughout these past few months I have been inviting myself to different communities to get to know more sisters--yes, that's right, in some worlds self-invites seem a little rude and tacky, but they've been working for me! Last week I had an opportunity to share a meal with a fabulous group in Wilmington, Sisters Vicky, Assunta, Bernadette, Bridget, and Anne. We had such a great time together. At the end of the evening I shared with them that the more opportunities I have to be around groups of sisters the more I realize this is it! This is where I want to spend the rest of my life, in a community of women who genuinely love and support each other and who know how to have fun!

Yes, the best kept secret! I'm so glad I found it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Seven Simple Words

"Change is inevitable, growth is a choice." Any sister who has participated in the End of the Year Retreat heard Sr. Clare Agnes Conforti, share this bit of wisdom. Seven simple words filled with such profound meaning. Of the many "stories" shared on the DVD her story of the merger between the former Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood and the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia spoke most deeply to my heart of the very likely reality of my future as a Sister.

While none of us can be certain of what the future holds I would venture to say that in all likelihood the word "merger" will be a part of whatever future I grow into within this community. As Sr. Clare Agnes spoke I could hear the pain in her voice as she shared her own journey and continued discernment within her vocational call to religious life. And yet, side by side with that pain sat the peace and acceptance of which I sit here tonight reaping the hopeful benefits. The small glimpse of her soul that I experienced filled me with a hope and assurance that whatever life brings God will be persistent in harvesting the goodness.

I recently had a conversation with Sr. Maggie Lopez, who also shared a piece of her story with me through which she also gave me a deeper perspective on the merger. After an area chapter meeting I initiated a conversation with her to ask about a comment that she shared in our discussion. Asked to share our thoughts on the initial call and discernment Sr. Maggie touched on the fact that her "initial" discernment to become a Sister led her to the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood.
The discernment to join the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia came many years later prior to the 2003 merger. This struck something deep inside of me. This, as I've mentioned, is a possible reality of my life, and one for which I must admit I have a little fear over. I've reflected many times on this journey of the potential changes that come with so few women entering religious life these days. And I have always found myself settling into a place of fear when it comes to mind. But Sr. Maggie's reflections brought me out of that darkness to realize that while she did not initially discern entering with the Sisters of Saint Francis os Philadelphia she was called to continued discernment when conversations of a merger began to surface.

As Sr. Maggie and I continued our conversation she went on to share that we are all continuously called to discernment. It's not something we do and are done with; we never put it on the shelf to be ignored for good. This brings me hope! The former Ringwood Sisters' commitment to continue to live out their vocational call to religious sisterhood in ways they could not have possibly anticipated when they made their first vows inspires me! And I thank each of you tonight for continuing to say "yes" because in your "yes" I find the strength to say it myself!

It's not just about a merger. Carpooling with Sr. Janet one morning I shared these thoughts. She expressed the truth that none of the sisters are in the community with whom they initially discerned. While the name has stayed the same the reality of life has transformed. Those who spent years in the habit now walk around in contemporary styles, Mass has gone from a spectator sport to a truly participatory experience, many sisters lived together, now most are in twos, threes, or fours.

No, we do not live in a stagnate Church nor a stagnate community. It will be continuously changing--but as Sr. Clare Agnes expressed, we hold the power to choose growth!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Octave

Holidays are wonderful, they offer us time to gather with family and friends, to share in good food and good wine, to relax, and simply enjoy the company of others. To me there is no difference between a holiday and a birthday, both celebrate something significant and offer us opportunities to outwardly recognize it! I love my birthday, in fact I love all birthdays!

What is special about birthdays is that they offer us the chance to celebrate the individual as a unique and wonderful creation of God. It gives us an excuse to come together as a community, and to enjoy all those things we tend to wait for the holidays to enjoy.

Last Friday, February 4th, I turned 28. This is no big birthday like my sweet sixteen, or 21, or even 25 which seemed worth commemorating in some outward and communal way. I would argue, however, that 28 is just as worthy of a celebration as 16, 21, and even 25. Every year should be celebrated! A good friend in college once reflected upon my overly enthusiastic love of my birthday saying, "Sara, you are going to be the only old lady in the nursing home running around on her birthday proclaiming, 'I'm 90, I'm 90!'" This is true!

Every year we grow older is another year that God has gifted us, a year we have grown, a year we have offered a little something more to the world, and a year for which I believe is worthy of celebration! In fact, I believe this so deeply that I celebrate my birthday as an Octave! Seriously! I think my community thought I was kidding too, they are learning otherwise! Just wait until THEIR birthdays!!! They too will be Octave celebrations!

In all seriousness, I do truly believe people should celebrate their life and the life of those who are special to them! Therefore, birthdays are not just a time to say "celebrate me" but they are a time to say "celebrate life--mine, yours, and ours!" Birthdays are a time to thank those people who have made you who you are--your parents for raising you, your siblings for putting up with you, your friends for standing by you . . .

I celebrated my own gift of being birthed into this crazy world with a gathering of sisters Friday night all of whom have played important roles in my life and my discernment. It was wonderful to celebrate life with women who I admire and love, and feel loved by.
Yes, it's been a good birthday! In fact I've discovered two sisters who, although I do not yet know in person, I believe are among my kindred spirits, Sisters Marietta and Eleanor who surprised me with a beautiful birthday call--which included a marvelous rendition of Happy Birthday! They had read my comments in Community News about loving birthdays and made it a point to call me to assure me that I was heard. How beautiful!

I feel so blessed to be on this journey with so many wonderful women, from those who shared my day with me, those who went out of their way to celebrate the night before, and those who from a distance called to simply say Happy day! I look forward to many amazing years to come! 27 was pretty fantastic, 28 is looking even better!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Coming Home and Falling In Love

I have fallen in love.

I fall in love all the time. I love easily. I truly believe this love is a gift from God, but it is not a gift that is without pain. But I would rather experience that pain than to never again love. While in some cases the pain is over the loss of love, other times it is simply the reality of love and all that comes with it.

This past weekend we began the planning stages of our next social gathering. In the context of our conversation Kathy jokingly said that once I leave this local community she wondered how they would respond if asked when the next party was going to be. Maureen quickly burst in, "when Sara comes home!" --So simple, in many ways probably meant for laughs, and yet so deeply touching!

"When Sara comes home!" With this quick phrase I once again felt that I was loved, I felt I belonged, and I felt home.

Sharing a meal with Sr. Mary last night I reflected upon these past few months at Corpus Christi. With great joy I shared how happy I have become and how God has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. I know in my heart that this is it. I have fallen in love and as Pedro Arrupe encourages I hope to stay in love. I look forward to the day when I can officially call myself sister. In this however, I shared the pain I already feel in having to say goodbye to my local community, I know it is months away, but moving from here is going to be a difficult shift. But as Mary has reminded me, I am going to live in the moment and soak up every good thing that is still to come in these months ahead.

I have fallen in love, with sisters, Joan, Kathy, and Maureen, with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, with my friends within the community, and with myself as I find myself in this community.

"When Sara come home!"--I believe she already has!