This blog is a little late but its message is still very relevant to daily life for all of us!
College and university classes are beginning. Amid the chaos of packing, leaving home, carting textbooks up flights of stairs, juggling class schedules, adjusting to roommates, and eating a semester’s worth of snacks the first week, there’s a current running deep beneath the immediate concerns. It’s “What’s my life’s purpose?” Stated daily, that question is worded something like, “Will this class help me reach my goal?” or “Is this the right major for me?” or “What if I don’t pass this course?” Important questions whose answers depend upon the answer to “What is my life’s purpose?”
The year was 1968 and that summer I would become invested with the habit of the Sisters of Notre Dame. What would my classmates and I wear? This was an important question—and an unusual one that hadn’t needed to be asked for decades. Vatican II allowed a seismic shift in the manner in which apostolic religious sisters would live and minister. Our class would be the first to wear what was called a “modified habit.” Now 54 years later I look back to that day when I received the name Sister Valerie and the habit of the Sisters of Notre Dame on August 9, 1968. Two years later on the same date I would make my promise of fidelity, a commitment completely new and quite different from temporary “first vows.” Over more than five decades there have been many changes in most areas of life and ministry: clothes, finances, modes of travel, vacations, housing. All has been good. But who would ever have imagined in ’68 what we live now? Change will continue. It always does. But the change now has become more spiritually transformative. The big question is How are we becoming what God wants us to be? How are we living the life of Christ in unity with God and all creation?
I came across a few names for animal congregates recently and decided to research others beyond the more familiar ones like pride of lions and school of fish. Do you know the group name for these? Answers are at the end of this blog.
1 hyenas 2 zebras 3 porcupines 4 rabbits 5 buffalo 6 puffins 7 apes 8 tigers
Here is another challenge: Find a group name for your best friends. An article in the summer issue of the Notre Dame Magazine spoke of a “benevolence of friends.” How sweet!
1 cackle 2 zeal 3 prickle 4 herd 5 obstinancy 6 improbability 7 shrewdness 8 ambush
Over a year ago I wrote a blog and an article for SNDUSA which told of my practice of holding up my coffee cup and addressing God with “Cheers!” I still often do that; however, the coffee prayer has cooled in starting my morning praise. I wonder whether it’s too familiar an address. Of course, this is impossible for our God who loves familiarity. But a potential pitfall is thinking when I begin to read the day’s lectionary readings “I’ve heard this before. I know the end of the story.” Cynthia Bourgeault in Wisdom Jesus prefers that we are shocked by the well-known, almost memorized stories. Bourgeault recommends “a raw immediacy of presence.’” Would a better way for me to start prayer be bracing for shock? We sense loving familiarity in many ways—verbal expressions, facial features, choice of gift, and dozens of other ways that no one else except close friends and family will notice. I need to be open to the dozens of ways I can be open to shock: noticing a word that changes the meaning of the Scripture passage, reading a commentary that digs deep, and reorientating myself to expect hearing a voice and receiving a miracle.
Have you ever heard the old song that goes “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be”? Well, that’s certainly true for us Sisters of Notre Dame after two years of limited visiting and traveling. This summer our sisters are putting extra effort into creating opportunities to get together. On Wednesdays, for examples, the sisters living at Notre Dame Academy invite guests to join them for their weekly picnic. There was special delight in seeing sisters who minister hundreds of miles from their Toledo home base. Similarly, last week nine gathered around our dinner table, tripling the number who live here. Such almost spontaneous gatherings engage our interest: “I wonder what she’s been doing.” They reinvigorate friendships: “Remember when…” They incite outbursts of laughter: “Yes, it really happened that way!”
Don’t let the summer go by without getting together. You and your guests will be a lot happier.
The best gift to a grieving person is a listening ear and heart. An ear to hear the words of grief and loneliness. A heart to help bear the love that gathers as a lump in the throat, as a sea pouring from the eyes. As I lead grief support groups and meet persons in a funeral home as a greeter, I hope I have that kind of ear and heart.
I encourage other religious sisters to consider such ministries. There are lots of things that consecrated religious do: teach, nurse, help migrants, and minister in foreign missions, hospitality kitchens, and courtrooms. As sisters grow older, some of these jobs are beyond their physical capabilities. But every religious sister (and religious brother and senior-status priest) has dozens of possibilities that require other ways to walk along with God’s People on our common journey. Inside each retired religious is spiritual energy. (I know some who are real dynamos!) It’s that spiritual energy that people need to tap. But these sisters don’t wait to be asked. They’re walking with others in their grief. They’re sharing wisdom with youth. They’re sharing insights about teaching, caring, aiding from their own lived experiences. Above all, they pray. In a word, they fulfill their title as “sister.” They walk side by side with the People of God—even from their wheelchair or bed. Sisters have spent their lives reading, reflecting, storing wise nuggets. Treasure them, cherish them, let them be your sister. It’s what they do best.
Memory is such a gift! Can you imagine always needing to re-learn the multiplication tables, state capitals, and the Our Father? Memory serves me very well as I recall July 2021 when my sister and I toured the national parks of Colorado and Utah. I’m not one to take many photos, but I did collect brochures and purchased a couple souvenirs with my favorite scenic views—just in case my memory needed a nudge.
We started in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Rockies became our traveling companion for the week. Could anyone ever tire of the grand landscapes of deep, sheer-sided canyons and high rock towers? The gorges carved by the Colorado River found an equal depth in my heart and memory. Plateaus were wonders upon which the sky and my hopes rested. The names of rock formations could not have been more poetic or practical: Pipe Organ, Kissing Couple, Sentinel Spire and Praying Hands. My favorite was Balanced Rock, a 600-ton boulder perched on an unbelievably small pedestal. (I didn’t stand under it very long!) Short hikes down canyons excited my pioneering spirit. My sister’s and my favorite trek occurred 12,000 feet above sea level. “The hills are alive with the sound of. . .” heavy breathing from tourists hailing from flat Ohio. The tour catered to persons in their 60s and 70s, as the sights swung between walking and sitting. Our favorite sitting expedition involved a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Unlike its use in 1881, we did not discover silver and gold.
History buffs that we are, we crossed the time warp between the 21st century and the first century when people came to Mesa Verde. We were amazed at the ingenious “housing development” of the Ancestral Pueblo people living in cliffs during the 12th century.
As I re-live my vacation I will be very grateful for the gift of memory.
A highlight of the summer for most Sisters of Notre Dame is the celebration of Sisters’ jubilees. Once there was a study done about longevity, and it found that consecrated religious tend to be a group with long lives. This year’s jubilarians attest to longevity in religious life as one sister celebrates 75 years as an SND. Two others observe 70 years of service in the Lord’s vineyard. Three boast of 65 years, seven 60 years, one 50 years, and one 40 years. (I am referring to those hailing from northwest Ohio and not the entire national province.) Ever since I was a novice, I have to smile at the names given for the length of years, even though they match wedding anniversaries: Jubilee of Joy (75), Jubilee of Grace (70), Iron Jubilee (65), Diamond Jubilee (60), Golden Jubilee (50), and Ruby Jubilee (40). What about 80? That’s called Jubilee of Peace. What a beautiful title for those living over 29,000 days of vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience! Maybe called “peace” because the Bridegroom is coming. They will go out to meet Christ the Lord.
Occasionally I just walk between the stacks in a library rather than ordering a book online. The most recent book that jumped out at me was The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation. On August 4, 1944, Anne Frank and her family were found in the Annex. They were placed in the last transport to leave Camp Westerbork for the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Fortunately for the world, Anne’s diary and papers were saved, but how much richer the world would have been had Anne’s life been spared.
All wars come at great cost to lives, as well as war’s effects on every aspect of society—education, economy, research, environment, and all else. It’s hard to imagine what would have been had Anne lived. How many other books would have enriched our lives? This senseless loss of her life continues to be multiplied by the thousands in every war. We can’t imagine the heights to which our world would have come had everyone lived to his or her potential.
Thank you to those readers who have worked to save one more life through your monetary donations to end disease, to build wells, to repair homes, to support Doctors Without Borders, to contribute to Heifer International, and much more, because you believe in “what could have been.”
We sisters are extremely blessed to make an annual retreat of six full days. Counting arrival and departure days, that’s eight days. What do we do with all that time? Well, that’s partly up to the sister but mostly up to God—at least if we let God give us the direction, the companioning director, and the Bible or another spiritual book. (The word “director” is a misnomer, for the director is primarily a listener or a companion, someone who affirms or clarifies, for ultimately God is the director.)
A typical retreat day may seem to be either a waste of time or a gift of time when explained to someone who has never made a retreat. Our day is designedly simple and uncomplicated. We retreatants eat, sleep, pray, meet with the director or have a conference with other retreatants and the group’s director. Good weather may permit walking, swimming, biking, or gardening. As the body relaxes, so does the mind—usually. No worries. No job or ministry. No cooking and cleaning. No have-to’s.
With all this privileged leisure, to which the body is grateful and rejuvenated, what about the soul? Well, anything can happen, most of which we may not realize. But I like to go away with one big idea that can blow me away in my ministry, prayer, community life. This year I was attracted to Teilhard de Chardin’s evolutionary thought of attraction-connection-complexity-consciousness. All converges in Christ through his Incarnation. All things are now one.
O-n-e. A three-letter word to describe my big retreat idea. A three-letter word to describe reality. Oneness—to describe God and God’s Plan.