The Baltimore Ravens, Field Goals and Holiness

Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's a week since Baltimore was dealt a heavy blow, when, in a matter of just a few seconds, our hopes for a Super Bowl were suddenly silenced, our hopes for glorious karma of winning a Super Bowl in Indianapolis were gone and men (and women) cried out in disbelief.

It all happened when our kicker Billy Cundiff missed the field goal that would have tied the game and sent us into overtime. (Or, you could argue when Evans dropped the touchdown pass that would have won us the game)

Some fans went into fits of anger, maybe throwing whatever they could get their hands on. But I think many of us, including myself, sat for a few seconds thinking "Did that really just happen??". And as for me personally, I spent the next few hours in a daze of disbelief.

I know what you're thinking "Okay, Amanda, what in the world does this have to do with your blog? It's just a football game", to which I would say "Just a football game?! What?!"
No, just kidding.

After I awoke from my daze of denial, I started thinking about the game in a different light. I realized that, while we lost, overall the Baltimore Ravens have nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, you read that right. Our quarterback, Flacco, played better than Brady did. Our defense held the Pats offense to field goals instead of touchdowns and they sacked Brady various times. People, NFL commentators and fans alike, didn't have a lot of trust in Flacco before the game - they relied on our defense to win it. Instead, the team worked like just that - a team, rather than individuals.

So, what does this have to do with holiness? A lot, I think. The teamwork that the Ravens exhibited represented how we humans need to work together as a community to lead a holy life. Just as Flacco couldn't have won that game by himself, Ray Rice couldn't have won that game by himself, nor could Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs - so we can't reach holiness without the help and support of others. In the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christians weren't Christians individually - they became a tight community, a team. We can't live a Christian life alone and we've known that from the very start of our religion. Sometimes working as a team means role models, sometimes that means encouragement, sometimes that means a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes that means remaining optimistic in the face of adversity.

After the Ravens lost, Ray Rice responded to the various complaints by fans by his Facebook status: "And one more consist of SIXTY MINUTES, NOT 20 seconds so before y'all start bashing MY kicker on this page, let me say this is a TEAM sport, win or if you want to be negative, keep it to yourself." Ray Rice presents an excellent example of teamwork....even after the game, after the loss, he refers to Cundiff as his kicker, not the kicker. He also presents a good (although secular) example of Galatians 6:2 "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of ChristSo the Ravens didn't win and sure, there were things that they could have done better, but they worked as a team and they almost made it to the Super Bowl. That makes the game nothing to be ashamed of. 

In a life of reaching holiness, we might be sacked, we might fumble, we might miss the pass....or even miss that crucial field goal....but if we work as a team, we might just get closer and closer to holiness and, by doing so, get closer and closer to Christ. And that means everything.

So while others are still grumbling about our missed opportunity, I say "thank you, Ravens, for a great season, a good game and for making me reflect on my own Christianity"

My Biggest Sacrifice: The Family of My Soul

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Today was a day where half of me wasn't there. Sure, I worked in the Hispanic Ministry office, typed up bulletins and did everything that needed to be done....but part of me was somewhere else. Why? Because I knew, thousands of miles to the South, two of these goofballs on the right were making their perpetual profession, the goofball on the far left being one of my closest friends during my two years in Bolivia. I imagined them laying prostrate, flowers being thrown around them, the huge smiles on both their faces. But instead of being there, I was here in middle Georgia doing office work.

I miss them. A lot.

Only recently have I truly discovered my biggest sacrifice entering religious life. I knew it coming in but its reality has slowly taken root - leaving behind the girls of the orphanage and the Sisters I lived and worked with for two years (the same community I entered). They aren't family, but for two years, they were my family. And while it's been almost three years since I moved back to the United States, they've continued to feel like family.

And now I am a postulant with the Daughters of Charity, a community that puts a heavy emphasis on the belief that your family becomes our family and has regular family visits. Yet I know those Sisters in Bolivia, those girls, are not my family. They grew up in a different culture, a different country, even sometimes a language I don't even know. But there is something deeper than blood that makes them family to me, as if it was the utter being of my soul that picked them out to more than just former co-workers/housemates to me.

But the truth is I don't know when I'll see them again, I don't know if I'll see them again. (Saying that, thank God for modern technology....for the use of Skype today to hear their voices, for chats over Gtalk)

They are, by far, the biggest sacrifice I've ever had to make to be a Daughter of Charity. The strangest thing is, though, I somehow know this is where God wants me....which is where the conflicting feelings of the joy of true vocation and the sorrow of unwanted sacrifice clash. Where the sting of loss mixes with a somehow-authentic sense of "it's all worth it"I'm sure those two Sisters who made their perpetual profession today would tell you the same thing. They each had to sacrifice something to reach where they are today, to dedicate their lives entirely to God. They both entered the community in high school but there are sacrifices even for high school girls and even more as they continued on in community life. Those two women that made their perpetual vows today...women that I have seen chase loose chickens around the convent, twist their faces in all sorts of funny ways to make others laugh, hold my hand as they used an escalator for the first time, beautifully demonstrate the dances of their Aymara ancestors.....are truly examples for me. They inspire me. I am so proud of them and I am so blessed to know them. Perhaps that is why God brought them in my life, so that they be sisters of mine, inspiring lights for me to follow, even from a thousand of miles away.

That doesn't make missing them any easier though.

My Hope as a Writer

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

St Francis de Sales is the patron saint of writers, a category that over these months I've slowly realized I am part of. In honor of his feast day, I'll use someone else's words to justify my own in this blog:

I am content that these pages show me to be what I am - noisy, full of the racket of my imperfections and passions, and the wide open wounds left by my sins. Full of my own emptiness. Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there! (Thomas Merton, Sign of Jonas)

Thomas Merton wrote that of his own journals of Sign of Jonas and I easily say the same for this blog. I hope that these posts show to all who I am - not in the superficial sense of being a postulant of the Daughters of Charity, but on the deeper level of someone made whole with the love of God, yet still broken from sin and imperfection. I long to always be authentic and that, with that authenticity, I desire to witness to God's amazing love for all in perhaps one of the strangest ways: strokes of keys that merge together to form joys, sorrows, and prayer.

St Francis de Sales, pray for us writers!

Keeping the Dream Alive: A Guest Post by Widian Nicola

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guest blogger: Widian Nicola, Program Coordinator at the Center for FaithJustice, devout follower of St Vincent de Paul and his spirituality, and very good friend :)

It has been almost half a century since the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. painted to the world the colors of his dream: a portrait when "one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers"  And when "one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." 

This dream is a picture that is still in the process of revealing itself. Although the picture might be unclear, it is indeed continually being painted. It is being painted in the paradoxical nature of our human condition: that of suffering and joy, acceptance and rejection, love and ignorance, temperance and violence, freedom and oppression, and life and death.  Dr. King realized that while a dream could be fully realized, it is not given birth without birth pains and cannot develop without growing pains.  "You have been the veterans of creative suffering," Dr. King said, "continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive."

How magnificent!

What are we to say to the challenge of living in a world that struggles to live out the ultimate Divine Dream of God, as Dr. King did?  The Dream, also called the Kingdom of God, where life overcomes death and love overcomes hate?  It was Jesus who, both divine and human, perfected the art of living in the tension of an imperfect world that could only be restored through redemptive suffering.  Why was he able to do this? Temperance. 

Temperance is the moderation in the indulgence of a given hunger, the discipline of self-control, or perhaps self-restraint in the ways in which we act in self-righteousness. Jesus knew how to live out the Dream here on earth.  He knew how to live with the strain of suffering coupled with joy.  Regardless of the ways in which Jesus suffered, ultimately, he knew that the glory of God must be revealed through temperance: by surrendering and saying yes to the ultimate will of God (death) when it might have been easier to quit, give up, or practice the art of surrendering to the hopelessness that many of us suffer as a result of our human condition.

Abraham refused to give up and pressed on that his dream might become a reality. Moses refused to be a slave and led his people out of oppression that his dream might become a reality.  Job refused to curse God and pressed on that his dream might become a reality.  The Blessed Mother refused to give up that her dream might become a reality.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, David, Peter, Paul, Mary Madeline refused to give up that their collective dream might become a reality. Dr. King, Mother Teresa, Vincent de Paul, Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, Oscar Romero, Joan of Arc, Thea Bowman refused to give up and pressed on that their collective dream might become a reality. 

For Jesus, temperance was not gained through discipline but was channeled through the love he already had within.  Part of the reason Jesus perfected the virtue is because he saw that it is something not be earned, but one that is already within and must merely but accessed.  It was temperance that allowed Jesus to respond with love instead of retaliation, with forgiveness instead of judgment, time instead of an instant, passive resistance instead of revenge.  It is the temperance of the cloud of witnesses in our church family that teach us how to live in the tension, not being ignorant to the ways in which dreams are fully realized: through suffering.

So the paradigm shift is not to ask, “what am I going to do with my life,” but “what can I do with my life that I might join in the collective voice for change in our world?”  In honor of Dr. King and the many saints who have led the way for us to experience a foretaste of God’s Dream yet were not able to see the ways in which they have given life through their sacrifice and struggle, let us celebrate reconciliation through the love they gave more fully.  

May each of us open our hearts to the ways in which God wants us to love, most especially through our vocation.  May we live with the same hope and despair our forerunners lived with in such perfect and peaceful tension.  May we live with courage and temperance of our own self-righteous desires so that we may see our modern, Vincentian, and collective dream come to fruition.  For comprehensive immigration reform, fair housing, education, and end to racism, abortion, human trafficking, and the death penalty; let us live well "on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice"

"Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.  I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

St Louise de Marillac writes a letter to her younger self....

Monday, January 9, 2012

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say and what advice would you give?
Inspired by a question brought on by FAMVIN, I thought of our foundress, St Louise de Marillac, and what she, as a Sister, might have said to her younger self, who was a wife and mother of a young child.

As background, Saint Louise applied to enter the Capuchin Sisters as a teenager but was rejected because of "poor health" (which may have been code for "born out of wedlock") Eventually, some years later, her uncle arranged for her to marry Antoine le Gras. While it had been an arranged marriage, it seemed like they truly loved each other. A year later, they had a son, Michel. Soon afterwards, Antoin fell seriously ill and, as she took care of Antoin and little Michel, Louise began to doubt whether she was, in fact, meant to be a wife and mother or if she was supposed to be become a Sister but took the wrong path.

What might have the older Louise told herself during this period? Here's how I imagine such a letter might go:

I know you're troubled right now. With a husband and a baby, you feel like your vocation is split in two directions - there's the present and then there's still that desire to become a Sister, the one you felt since you were a kid. I know it hurts and that, while you love your husband deeply and could plant an infinite number of kisses on your son, you're confused as if this is where God really wants you to be.

Breathe. Live in the present moment, for in it God is taking you somewhere. Love Antoine with all your heart. Love Michel with all your heart. Life with Antoine, now suffering with a terrible illness, isn't easy, I know. Think of him as the poor suffering Christ...when you put your hand to his forehead to feel his fever, pretend you are doing so to Christ; when you sit by his bedside, let it be as if you were visiting and comforting the Christ Jesus in his most troubled hours. Those moments with Antoine will be a precursor of what's to come, what will become your life's work.

You may look around you at your matrimony, at your motherhood and think that desire of becoming a Sister is now fruitless. Let me just tell you, without divulging too much, that nothing is impossible for God.

You see, Louise, you've been chosen for a number of vocations, not just one. So breathe, be patient with yourself, and please realize that God is working in you.
                                                                                             In love of Jesus Crucified,

So, what happened next? Well, Louise grappled with this issue for years. One Pentecost, in 1623, it hit her that she was exactly where she was supposed to be in the present moment......and that one day, there will come a time to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that she would be in a small community with others who would do the same. Her "vision" of this community confused her a bit - because she imagined "there would be much coming and going" and religious communities back then were all cloistered - but she accepted this realization from God. Antoin would die in 1626 and eight years later, St Louise would, along with St Vincent de Paul, found the Daughters of Charity......and the rest is history.

Coiffe or No Coiffe? That is the Question....

Saturday, January 7, 2012

American Daughters of Charity under
10 years vocation
As you may or may not know, the Daughters of Charity have the option of wearing a coiffe (small veil). As I enter postulancy next week, I grow closer towards having to make that decision since I would start wearing the habit when I enter Seminary (and become "Sister") in January 2013.

Wearing the coiffe - a simple blue veil - is entirely optional. Some Sisters go for it for various reasons and some don't, also for various reasons. Personally, at my house, there is one Sister that wears the coiffe and three that don't.

I recently had a long conversation with one Sister about this. Personally, the topic fascinates me. As we talked, I started creating a list of reasons to wear or not wear the coiffe.

Reasons to Wear the Coiffe
1. The coiffe gives a great witness. This happens in a number of ways - it shows others that young people are still choosing religious life (it's particularly a great witness to my generation, who wants to see this kind of radical witness) and it hopefully reminds them of God and their faith. It shows others that I'm a person of prayer and that may lead to people approaching me asking for prayers.
Daughters of Charity in Kenya
2. The coiffe connects us more with the international community. The Daughters of Charity number thousands and are in 91 countries. In most of those countries, they wear the coif, although sometimes they're of different colors.
3. The coiffe gives a sense of accountability. Wearing the coiffe means that, without even speaking a word, people would know that I am a representative of the Church and my community. I must be responsible with my own actions.
4. The coiffe allows people to see that Sisters are real people. Many see Sisters, especially those wearing a veil, as stiff, strict and perfect human beings. Wearing the coiffe, while still being me, would hopefully shatter that stereotype and show others that Sisters are real people and just like real people, we're all unique!
5. The tradition. The coiffe is the 'successor' of the cornette, which the Daughters wore for centuries, after Mother Guillemin changed the habit during Vatican II. The cornette had become an international symbol for charity (as well as one of the most ridiculous religious habits, but still). And of course, the veil is also an international symbol for religious life.

Reasons Not to Wear the Coiffe
1. Your life is what gives great witness. I don't need a veil to give great witness. If people see that I have dedicated my life to God and the poor, it should hopefully remind others of God. People will hopefully recognize I am a Sister by the Vincentian cross hanging around my neck.
2. The coiffe sometimes isn't practical for ministry. I once heard a story about a Sister, who was/is a social worker. One of her co-workers was raped but didn't tell Sister, though she was a good friend, for several months. When Sister asked her why she had waited so long to talk to her, the friend said "well, you know..." and made a motion over her head to represent the veil.
3. People treat you different if you're wearing a coiffe. One Sister I know said she took off the coiffe because she was tired of complete strangers treating her with more respect than other people, tired of getting free things for no reason or being told she could skip ahead in line.
The first habits of the Daughters
of Charity looked more like this
4. Not wearing the coiffe allows people to see that Sisters are real people. Some people are more likely to approach a Sister and feel more comfortable if they are not wearing a veil - perhaps of a bad experience with Sisters, perhaps because of fear, I don't know.Another Sister, a teacher, told me it seems that young people are more likely to approach her if she's not wearing a coiffe and she wants them to feel comfortable around her.
5. The tradition. The mission of the Daughters of Charity is to serve the poor. Our founders St Vincent and St Louise wanted the Daughters to blend in, to wear what the poor wore. The cornette back in the day (1600s France) was the fashion of the poor - it was like a sun hat. The Daughters originally wore it to blend in with the poor. By not wearing the coiffe, we once again blend in with the poor.

I'm still undecided as to what I will choose because I do see good arguments on both sides. And the great thing is that all the Sisters remain united, whether they're wearing a coiffe or not. There is no 'competition' on either side, it's just seen as a personal choice.

So, what do you think? What would you choose? If you're a Sister, what did you choose?

Serving the Poor: Sr Liz Sjoberg's TV Appearance

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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