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A Personal Tribute to Mother Teresa: My Mystical Journey to Darjeeling

A Personal Tribute to Mother TeresaIt happened one morning during my High School English class when I was asked to select and write about my role model. Mother Teresa’s image with the iconic blue and white habit immediately came into my head. Looking around, I noticed that others were writing about Madonna, Sandra Day O’Conner, and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few. And, I began to wonder why I had selected a woman so detached from this world living a life of self denial with a singular focus to care for the poorest of the poor. And so began my journey of self discovery.

Upon graduation from High School, I had no idea what I was going to “do” with my life. I knew college was the next logical step so I dispassionately applied, registered, and found myself choosing a major and was still puzzled by what I was going to “do” with my life, a quandary I heartily laugh at now. As a wife and mother of five with a counseling business, I never have to ask THAT question. Thank God!

I settled on a Fine Arts degree with a minor in English. And, upon graduation, I worked in retail stores to begin to tackle the student loans, all the while neither certain of my calling, nor how to identify a calling. I was lonely, lost, and confused for most of my 20’s. I now see this time as a gift that gives me gratitude for the challenges I now face. But at the time, it was painful.

I was living at home and my mother received a letter from a former elementary teacher of mine who was also a friend of my mother’s and a Dominican sister. She was on a temporary leave of absence to care for her ill family members and she made a detour to spend a few days with us. She was a petite bundle of joy and she made me feel like I was important and that I had “gifts” and she set me on my mission. After the visit, she sent me information on a particular discipline that she thought would be a perfect match for my interests and my “gifts,” which I neither saw nor appreciated.

What I didn’t realize, when I set out to explore and ultimately pursue this new discipline known as Art Therapy, was that I was being put on a path towards service to the poorest of the poor in my community. I had two habit wearing women devoted to Christ seemingly pointing me in the direction of service. And, I started to panic. Am I being called to the convent? My immediate reaction was, NO! And, I felt guilty. It took me years to understand that a calling is a message joyfully sent and joyfully received. A calling is not a life sentence. And, I knew in the quiet of my heart that I always wanted to be a wife and mother. So, perhaps what I was hearing was, as Mother Teresa said, a call within a call.

Upon graduation from graduate school, I was employed as a home based therapist. This is like boot camp for counselors. I thought, what have I gotten myself into?! I had to travel to parts of my city I didn’t know existed and wish I didn’t know about now. I entered homes that were filthy, smoke filled, and teeming with rodents and pests. I encountered people that I would never have met had I not set foot on this path. And, there I discovered my gifts. I had a high tolerance for this sort of chaotic mess. And, I could see ways to help, however small, to relieve some of the suffering; to quench His thirst, as Mother Teresa described. My heart began to break for what broke His heart. And, now that I had encountered these souls, I couldn’t rest until I was somehow able to help.

Shortly into my life as a home based therapist, I met the man of my dreams. He brought me joy and filled my life with experiences and people that my introverted self would never have experienced. My primary calling became evident and we married and set out to start a family. Through the gift of our sacramental marriage we experienced an inexplicable increase in zeal for our once lukewarm faith. And again, Mother Teresa helped to give me direction. If I wanted to help others and bring about world peace, I must “go home and love my family.” So, I had the great joy and freedom to stay at home with my children for just over 13 years.

But that persistent “call within a call” led me to seek opportunities over the years to continue my work with those suffering in my community. It was a challenge to balance this with family and I kept Mother Teresa’s words in my head, “charity begins at home.” My family always comes first. My husband fully supports this and recently encouraged me to start my own counseling business. I felt completely unprepared and lacking in the skills to do this. But, then I thought of Mother Teresa’s train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling where she left the comfort and predictability of the convent and demonstrated courage, initiative, and tenacity in pursuing her call within a call. And, I did it.

I am forever grateful to God for giving her to me as an example of self denial and a life of service to others. Who knew that this could be the source of the greatest joys in my life? She continues to inspire me and when I am discouraged, I think of her and I find the strength to go on. I raise my morning cup of jo to this powerhouse of a woman. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

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A Doctor, Teacher…or Sister?

As parents, we have heard the conversation a thousand times.  Our little ones talk about what they want to be when they grow up.  We usually hear ‘teacher, doctor, animal helper, mommy, ..’ and other similar choices.  It often changes and day by day they want to be 500 different things. It is always fun to see what they will say next. You just never know what will come out of the mouth of a child.

This very scenario was playing out again at my dinner table about a month ago.  My girls were giggling, going around the table and talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  My second born said “dentist.”  My middle child said “chef.”  And we all laughed and chuckled when it was my 3 year old’s turn and her answer was simply “what?”  Then Reilly, my oldest, chimed in.  “I want to be a Sister,” she said.  The kitchen fell silent.  I turned to her and said, “What did you say?”  She repeated herself candidly. “I want to be a Sister when I grow up.”

 

I was a little surprised at my initial reaction.  It wasn’t negative by any means, but it was just neutral.  I always believed encouraging my children in their dreams, including entering religious life, but I just never imagined one of my children would bring it up.  I’m sure it has a lot to do with the personal interaction Reilly has had with some of the Dominican Sisters at her school.  Her former Principal was a Sister – a truly kind and generous person, and an extremely hard worker.  She knew every child’s name and lifted the school up to such a high level of love and respect.  Currently, one of Reilly’s second grade teachers is also a Domincan Sister.  She has many of the attributes of our former Principal.  She is generous, respectful and kind when you speak to her, has a great sense of humor, and you can tell she just drinks up the presence of the children.  She is truly a blessing to have in the second grade teaching staff.

I finally talked to Reilly about her statement.  I asked her if she was still interested in being a Sister.  She told me she was.  I told her maybe she should talk to Sister E (the second grade teacher) about her feelings and see what she said.  Reilly then thought for a long while.  She asked me “Mom, can you have children if you are a Sister?”  I told her “Well, no, but you can work with children by helping them or being a teacher, or many other things.”  She thought about it a little bit and then said “Well I will still keep my options open.”  (As you can tell, she is a little beyond 7 years old on the inside)

I laughed to myself.  Here was my oldest daughter, only 7 years old, contemplating some very serious life choices and commitments.  I turned to her and said “Reilly, you can be whatever you want to be.  Whether it is a Sister, or a teacher, or a mom… all vocations are important.  You are only 7 years old.  However, if you have a dream, or a calling from God to be a Sister, always stay open to it.  Do well in school, be nice to people, but make sure to leave your heart open so as you grow, God can make your vocational calling clearer to you. If it continues to be a desire to be a Sister, it is a dream you should follow.”  We finished up the conversation shortly after.

I think the important lesson from this conversation for me, was to always remember to have the faith of a child and as much as praying is important, to make sure I also listen just as diligently.  God writes on our children’s souls before they are even born.  He already has a plan for them, which He has designed for a specific reason.  Remembering this, if our children express an interest in religious life, whether a priest, Sister, or lay person volunteer, we should always be encouraging of these dreams.  We need children to grow up and want to be Priests and Sisters in order for our church to continue to thrive.  We need children at the very least to grow up realizing that fulfilling a religious vocation is something to be proud of, and is in fact, important.

I think the best thing we can do as Catholic parents is to never discourage those dreams or those passing thoughts.  Jesus always admired the faith of a child.  Maybe sometimes, instead of giving our ‘well thought out’ answer, we, as adults should resign ourselves to that child-like faith.  We should trust in the calling God has for all of our lives.  When it comes to our children, we should be working especially hard alongside them to help them realize those footprints God left on their hearts.

This Advent season, as we prepare for Jesus’ birth, it is a perfect time to reflect on how we give ourselves over to Christ.  It is a good time to listen to our children, and learn from them how we can better surrender to the season.  It is also imperative we help our children realize how they can keep an open mind and open heart to truly hear what God wants of them.  We should help them to take His hand, and follow the path He has made for them. What our children ultimately choose to do with their lives might not be the vision that we had for them, but if they listen for God’s calling and follow Him it will be exactly what God has chosen as their special path in life.

Just last night, my four older girls were having the all too familiar “what will we be” conversation…again.  When it got to Reilly, she hesitated and said “Hmmm.. well, maybe I want to be a Sister…..or a doctor? “ I just smiled.  I have no idea what Reilly will be when she grows up.  Perhaps she will be a doctor, or a teacher, or a mom.  But perhaps, God has put a little foot print on her heart, even at 7, and perhaps as she grows the Holy Spirit will guide her to a life in the Sisterhood.

 Until then, it is not my job to discourage her or steer her on a different path.  My only job is to learn from her – to ask God to let me have the faith of a child as she has already so outwardly shown me, and accept with a willing heart His will for her future in our lives.  And either way, Reilly will have one proud Mama by her side. 

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When I Say “I Believe”

Every few years, the Holy Father names a Year of Something – a Year of the Eucharist, a Year for Priests. This follows the Biblical custom of years of jubilee, calling a “year of favor of the Lord.” (Is 61:2, Lk 4:19) On October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father will celebrate the opening Mass for the Year of Faith. As I have talked about this with various people, I have noticed a certain trend in our conversations. The conversation opens well enough, reactions varying from enthusiasm for anything the Pope does to polite but uncommitted interest. But then there is a question in people’s minds, sometimes verbalized, other times expressed by an awkward sort of silence. What do you do in a Year of Faith? What exactly is faith? Isn’t that rather abstract? And why is the Pope doing this? What, or how, is this going to have any impact on me?

With these and other questions in my own mind (the most pressing being “How do I do this in the classroom?”), I began reading Pope Benedict XVI’s short letter Porta Fidei in which he announced the Year of Faith. In reading Benedict, I am reminded that he is a master teacher, one with years of experience in a classroom. Porta Fidei is like his syllabus for the year, offering his rationale, his expectations, his goals, and like any syllabus, an inspiring challenge. He especially asks the faithful “to reflect on the act of faith.” (PF, 9) The act of faith is that act by which I say “I believe.” What is it that I am doing when I, every Sunday, stand before God and men and say “I believe”?

Faith is relational. My act of faith is a secondary thing. Not secondary as in “unimportant” or “unnecessary,” but secondary in that it is a response to something else. Something else has to happen first. Faith is a response, a yes to an invitation, the acceptance of a gift. God is the one who acts first. He speaks to me, reveals Himself, inviting me into the dynamism of His own inner. This is the self-revelation, borne of love, of which the mutual self-revelation of spouses is the earthly copy. He holds nothing back; He gives all. It is an invitation to fellowship with God, a call to communion. I stand on the receiving end of this gift. Faith is my yes. Faith is my acceptance of this invitation, my entering into communion with my God. Faith begins the relationship that God has desired from all eternity.

Faith is personal. Since faith is more than assenting to a lists of formulas or even acknowledging the existence of God (as if our acknowledgement of His presence somehow added to His dignity), since faith is entering into a relationship, it is must be something profoundly personal. It is something I do. It is something that I do freely and completely, with my whole being, down to the tips of my toes and from the first waking moment of my day. It defines who I am. The act of faith can be this personal precisely because it is not a yes to formulas or ideas, but because it is a yes to a Person, a Person who loves me. It is the Person of Jesus Christ, the “mediator and fullness of all revelation,” (DV 2) who invites us live in Him. It is in this encounter with Jesus Christ that we believe, and we “look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:2) A life touched by Christ is the life of faith, a life transformed and fully alive.

Faith is ecclesial. Faith is deeply personal, but it is not an isolated or a private act. “No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone.” (CCC 166) Because faith is something received, as is life itself, it is something lived within the community of believers. Throughout the history of salvation, God has communicated Himself through others, first Adam and Eve, then Abraham and the nation of Israel. Finally, in these “last days” God communicates Himself completely through Christ and His Body the Church. It is standing in the midst of the assembly that I encounter God and respond to Him. My personal faith is taken up and perfected in the faith of the Church. An experience at the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto made this reality hit home. After days of being surrounded by dozens of languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities, I was overwhelmed by the vast diversity of the Catholic world. I was almost shamed by the simple devotion and piety of the Poles. The Brazilians were just overwhelming – talking, laughing, singing, cheering, and chanting, all at the same time and with no concept of personal space. And the various African nations… Oh, who had ever seen such dancing? So hauntingly beautiful, obviously ancient, so vibrantly alive and joyful. It looked like the music itself was coming from their bodies, through the curve of their backs, down the arc of a lifted arm, and out the tip of a finger. I was happily lost in a swirling world of faces, eyes, colors, movement, sounds, and smells; this suburban American girl had never seen so much variety. In the midst of this, I felt a twinge of something as Blessed John Paul II intoned the Latin words of the Creed: Credo in unum Deum. You could hear a pin drop as his frail voice fought the Parkinson-induced paralysis of his face to profess his belief. That twinge became an overwhelming sensation of belonging as the teeming crowd roared with one voice: Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium, et invisibilium… We – the 800,000 or so young people at Downsview Park – we believed, we were one. We were united with the larger “we” – the millions of believers from every era, country, race, language, and culture – a “we” that transcended the limits of space and time. We believed. I knew then and there, as the song of the ancient chant swept over and through me, that I believed. I was a part of something so much larger than myself. I was not alone.

For the sake of union. To say that the act of faith stopped at the profession of faith would be as ridiculous as thinking that the Mass stopped at the Creed. Our God comes to us, invites us to Himself, simply because He desires union with us. The God of the universe desires to be in communion with me. And so He comes to me. We see this reality manifested with a simple profundity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. My God comes to me, to me personally, in the midst of the worshipping Church so that He can begin the union of heaven at the moment of Holy Communion. Which means, of course, I am entering into a relationship with Him. It is no coincidence that we call the reception of the Eucharist “Holy Communion,” we are entering into a relationship of communion with God that will flourish in eternity. A relationship that calls me at the deepest core of my being, a relationship that will transform my entire life. And what is it that we say as we receive the Host? Amen. I believe.

 

::Sister Jude Andrew, OP is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She teaches middle school religion at Holy Family Catholic School in Austin, TX where her students make her laugh all the time. Prior to coming to Austin, she taught in central Phoenix, AZ and kindergarten in Plymouth, MI. ::  

 

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is a Roman Catholic community of women religious based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The community was founded in the Dominican tradition to spread the witness of religious life in accord with Pope John Paul II’s vision for a new evangelization.  The Dominican Sisters came to Austin in 2009 to assist in the work of Catholic education and to establish a priory of their community in Central Texas.

To learn more about the Dominican Sisters and their plans to expand to Texas, visit www.sistersofmary.org/expansion


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Sistas Weekly No. 4

Welcome to the recap of the Catholic Sistas blog for the week of September 17 – September 22! Hopefully you will find this new feature a helpful assist in keeping up with our wonderfully diverse posts. We wouldn’t want you to miss a thing! 😆

As part of our blogging schedule we have agreed, as a group, that we will not be doing individual blog posts on Sundays. Our week in review, Sistas Weekly, is set to auto-post so that we can keep holy the Sabbath and spend time with our families.

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Following Jesus, the Original Narrow-minded Christian

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about “tolerance” in the news.  Recently there was a huge debate over a few companies that have come out either in support of the gay marriage like Oreos, and those, like Chik-fil-A, that have come out supporting the traditional Christian view of marriage.  There are other hot button issues out there as well, many that will be the issues at hand in the coming months leading up to our presidental election.  Regardless of where you stand on these issues it’s important to know where Jesus stood and where the Church stands and why.

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Enough

After not knowing how to be left me so restless and
It wouldn’t die when I left the adoration chapel and
knowing daily Mass and rosary weren’t enough;
After I’d arrive home feeling empty to a house full of stuff, full of dog hair, full of my roommate,
and it wasn’t enough;
After I’d had my fill of secretarial jobs that left me bored and listless, agitated and unchallenged,
and they weren’t enough;  Read more »

 

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God is Not a Cosmic Bubble Gum Machine – Pray Like a Grownup!

Recently I had the privilege of attending a Marian Conference featuring several dynamic speakers. Tim Staples, of Catholic Answers fame, shared a line that really resonated for me. He said,

“God is not a cosmic bubble gum machine!”

This avant garde reference caught me off guard even as the intended meaning struck a chord.

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The True Cost of Designer Babies

In our family, we have a tradition when it comes to finding out the sex of our unborn babies. We have our 20-week sonogram, have the tech put a note with “boy” or “girl” in a sealed envelope, and then we open the envelope that evening as a family over a nice dinner. We have our names picked out by then and it’s always exciting to find out whether we’re having a “Bella” or a “Justin.” We also love that we get to call the baby by name after that.

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Pasta in Pumpkin Sauce

Happy Friday to all of you! Here’s a meatless meal for pasta in pumpkin sauce, just in time for autumn, (which starts tomorrow by the way, and just so happens to be my birthday as well!) Either way, make sure you keep this recipe around because it’s delicious. The best part about this recipe, is that it is great with or without meat! Sometimes I’ll add in some chicken and it’s great. It’s good enough to stand on it’s own though, too. Read more »

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How to Die

I met my friend Melissa about 14 years ago at a Mom’s bible study sponsored by my diocese. She was an outgoing and vivacious woman and I was completely drawn to her. We became fast friends. However, life was busy and we rarely saw each other, except for our bible study meetings. We spent time on the phone visiting and that was the extent of our friendship. But we would pop in and out of each other’s lives over the years and the contact was always welcome. Read more »