My Best Discovery

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 16, 2021 |

In Charlie Mackesy’s book the Mole asks, “What’s your best discovery?” The Boy answers, “That I’m enough as I am.” Quite a huge, wise discovery for a boy! It’s taken me decades to know that I’m enough as I am, and I’m sure I haven’t achieved such self-knowledge completely. Many of us probably think that we need to keep improving, achieving, acquiring. There may be some truth in that. But God, Who is Truth, created us perfectly. We are made in the image of God, our Perfect God. In the core of our being, we are God’s child, heir of all God’s gifts.  Elsewhere in Mackesy’s book we read “Isn’t it odd? We can only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside.” Of course, that’s where God resides!

Doing Nothing

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 15, 2021 |

Continued thoughts from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse . . .

“’Doing nothing with friends is never doing nothing, is it?’ asked the Boy” in The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Jesus said, “I call you friends.” If we were servants, we would need to be attentive to the next command. But apparently Jesus our Friend wants us to relax in his presence. “Just be with me,” he says. We are free to do absolutely nothing with Jesus, but that’s never doing nothing. It’s imbibing living water and feeding on the Bread of Life and letting God live in us and knowing we’re safe within the sheepgate and becoming more like Jesus our Friend through spiritual osmosis.

I Want to Be Kind When I Grow Up

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 14, 2021 |

When the Boy in The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse written by Charlie Mackesy is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, his answer is “Kind.”  Later in the book Horse states, “Nothing beats kindness. It sits quietly beyond all things.” I thought for a while about kindness sitting quietly beyond all things. Why does kindness choose to be unobtrusive? Why does kindness sit quietly? In what ways is kindness beyond all things? When I reflect on the kind deeds done to me, they really do seem to have one thing in common—a quiet, hidden, almost shy approach. Some virtues are measurable; for example, patience might endure hours, days, weeks, years. Other virtues are obvious. Courage is seen in remarkable deeds of heroism. Mildness surrounds a person with an aura. Wisdom and counsel are heard through words. Reverence is witnessed in its hushed tones, its folded hands and bowed head. But, according to Horse, nothing beats kindness. It just sits quietly beyond all things—beyond all virtues like an almost imperceptible fragrance, like a faint melody of chimes carried in the wind, like an invisible guardian angel. Kindness is the faint echo trailing every good deed and compassionate word. Nothing beats kindness.

Saint Julie Billiart, Our Spiritual Mother

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 13, 2021 |

Our religious Congregation, the Sisters of Notre Dame, was founded by Hilligonde Wolbring and Elisabeth Kühling. These two teachers needed to be formed in the vows and lifestyle of religious sisters before they could begin their own community. Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the order founded by Saint Julie Billiart, came from Amersfoort to instruct the two teachers in the way of religious life. Five years later the foundation in Coesfeld, Germany became an independent congregation. But the ties to the Sisters from Amersfoort remain strong. We call Saint Julie our “spiritual mother.” Her most famous quotation is often on our own lips: “How good God is!” And we continue to practice Julie’s admonition: “Let us do all we can to make the good God known and loved by all who surround us.”

We’re All Winging It

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 11, 2021 |

“This week we will muse on some sayings in Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.

Recently I was introduced to the book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. It took me ten minutes to read it from cover to cover, but I could have sat with it for its hours of wisdom. Early in the book the horse says, “The truth is everyone is winging it.” Really? Don’t we plan every day, almost every hour of the day? Aren’t our calendars full? Don’t we have everything at least under a modicum of control? Who would dare to wing it? What could the horse mean?

Looking deeper at my calendar and schedules, I understand that there are many places to wing it. Every hour has its choices. Do I work with full intent and purpose? Do I pray wholeheartedly? Do I converse with my best communication skills? Do I play with abandon? At the end of the day, did the minutes and hours let God live in me? Did I let God’s grace influence me? Did I make the best decisions? Or did I cut corners, let opportunities for good pass by, and just mindlessly follow a routine? If so, I was just winging it.

On the other hand, knowing that nothing is in our control, that schedules easily become useless, that the best laid plans… well, that’s winging it. Once again, it all boils down to letting God live in me and trusting that God’s life will show through. Maybe that’s what Horse meant.

Grief Support

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 6, 2021 |

On Thursday evenings I meet with a few adults who have lost spouses in the past months. We set aside nine consecutive weeks to come together, weeks corresponding to the nine lessons in our book The New Day Journal. Each week brings the group a bit closer together through sharing stories of loved ones, their feelings, and the ways they survive and try to thrive. Tonight will be our eighth gathering, and I will feel something like the meal when Jesus knew it would be his last one with his disciples. Although we’ll share emails and phone numbers, we know it will be different. We know that next week will be the last time all of us are in the same room. We’re friends now and confidants, no longer shy strangers. While tonight may be like the Last Supper (although we don’t share food), next week I hope will be like the times the Risen Lord had something to eat with his apostles. No food, but the nourishment that comes from a group of friends who understand, free to be themselves, and sharing a peace like the apostles hearing the Lord’s arrival with “Shalom.”

Sixth Sunday of Easter

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 2, 2021 |

If you’re looking for a parable, don’t turn to the Gospel of John. You won’t find anything about seeds and weeds, prodigal sons and pearls, yeast and nets. You won’t read that the Kingdom of God is like a vineyard. No, you will have the Vine Himself. Jesus is the vine. His Father is the vine grower. We are the branches. Attached to Jesus Christ, we produce fruit. Of course, we must follow Jesus’ invitation: “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Doing so, we give glory to the Father.

We have been basking in the glow of the Risen Lord, but the Scriptures are pushing us on. We may need to be pruned, die to ourselves and grow into the People we are to become, if there is to be fruit.

St. Joseph, the Worker

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 1, 2021 |

I have often lived in big houses with several sisters older than I. I personally marked May 1, the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, as the beginning of spring cleaning not only for my assigned areas of the house, but also for the many rooms for which older sisters were responsible. I would come home from a day of teaching, change clothes, and tackle a job for a couple hours—maybe baseboards and door frames. Then on Saturday I would spend the morning on windows. I aimed to be finished by the end of the month. With persistence and determination—and perhaps a lot of holy elbow grease from Saint Joseph and a desire to meet my goal–I succeeded.

Even as a child, I loved to clean. Then and now working with my hands is my chance to daydream without guilt. At his carpenter’s bench, did Saint Joseph daydream about his precious Jesus? Did he wonder, “What will this child be?” Did he recall with pride the day Jesus said “Abba” for the first time? Did he feel confident that Jesus could take over the carpentry trade as he felt himself growing weaker? Did he smile slightly in the knowledge that Jesus would take care of Mary? Did he gauge his strength, determined to repair a few things in the house and finish his last contracts while he still could? Did Joseph set aside these thoughts to pray some psalms from memory? And did the lines of psalms direct his musing back to his son who seemed so like his God?

Two Books that Inspired Me

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | April 30, 2021 |

Whenever I go to the library, I almost invariably come out with two books–a biography and historical fiction. I feel that both types of books make me a better person perhaps by the example of fictional and real people, but also by getting me out of my daily life to see a bigger picture. Although I realize that I am only one little person, I never know when I may be called on to do more. Like people about whom books are written, I—and you—don’t know the future and how it will call upon our strengths, if we are willing to use what we have in us.

I am thinking of two books I recently returned to the library. When We Were Young by Hazel Gaynor is the story of a British teacher-missionary and students interred in China by the Japanese in 1941. For five years the teacher had to become, in effect, the parent to the students somehow continuing their education in academics along with life skills to survive. The other book was Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, the wife a representative for Arizona and the husband an astronaut. Gabby survived a bullet to her head in an assassination attempt, and Mark spent days in space during his wife’s recovery. The determination of both to excel and do whatever they possibly could for their country is very inspiring. Both books remind me that I am just a little person, but it is more than just a little thing to determine to do my best in all situations.

Good Author: Hazel Gaynor

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | April 27, 2021 |

Over the past year I have found more time to read. It was a banner day when the library down the street opened for business. I have discovered another favorite author—Hazel Gaynor. I love historical fiction, because I’m learning history while enjoying an intriguing plot. I have also found that learning the plight of destitute children in London more than a century ago makes me more mindful of the children at southern border. Gaynor’s book A Memory of Violets lets me imagine what the detained children housed in cages in Texas must be feeling. I hope they have the resilience that the children selling flowers for twopence had. Gaynor let me feel what it is to be separated from a sibling for life but never giving up hope. Often fiction makes me more aware of the facts.