"Take Heart, Daughter": Lessons from the Bleeding Woman

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Some thousands of years ago, a desperate woman reached out and touched Jesus' cloak. Twelve years of suffering from hemorrhages, twelve years of losing more and more blood, twelve years of being a social outcast, twelve years of spending all she had and living in poverty, twelve years of being "unclean". Unlike the paralyzed man, unlike Jairus' daughter, no one spoke up for her. She was alone.
She didn't say a word, just touched Jesus' cloak and hoped to be healed.

And she was.

A year ago at this time, I was making the preparations to leave the Sisters. After wearing a habit for almost four years, with help of friends, I had started the dizzying task of buying clothes. I was making heartbreaking phone calls to close friends. I started searching for a place to live.
While I had some idea of what may happen when I left, I had no idea the amount of healing that would need to happen once I took off the coiffe and stepped outside those doors.

I lost some friends. There were misunderstandings about why I left, although it was agreed upon that it was my decision. Some, religious or not, believed it must have been something I did wrong.
I was angry over what happened and what didn't happen in community. I longed for the good times I had there. I was hurt over the bad times.

I felt like the bleeding woman. Desperate. Just hoping to be healed.

But, over the months, I realized I am being healed.

I started standing up. I wasn't as angry, hurt, or wistful. Life had gone on. Life was better.
I felt like my friendships were deeper because they knew and accepted me for who I was and who I am now. There may still be misunderstandings about why I left from people who knew me before, but I started to care less about what they think. When hurtful comments continued, I rolled my eyes and thought about what deep-seated psychological issues they may have instead of letting them blast me into oblivion. I felt like I was finally becoming my own person and that I was finally home.

I started standing up, but I wasn't completely on my feet.
I still worked at the non-profit next to the Sisters' house (and even where four of the Sisters worked).
Because of that, co-workers, clients, or kids took a long time to stop calling me "Sister Amanda" if they ever did. The kids especially had a hard time making that transition.
I still tried to hide myself from donors, Board members, and volunteers that knew me as a Sister because I felt awkward or even embarrassed.
Memories, good or bad, still plagued me because I faced their setting every day.

All of that changes tomorrow. Friday was my last day at that non-profit. Tomorrow, I begin my new job. A new job where no one knows me as "Sister Amanda", a new job where I won't encounter the Sisters every day, a new job where I forge my own path and my own identity.

It's the next step in the healing process, the next step in standing up tall. I just wish it wasn't so terrifying. I know it seems ridiculous to say, considering I gave up everything, my entire way of life, just a year ago. Yet, my fear is real.

I can learn two things from the story of the bleeding woman (Matthew 9:20-22 and Mark 24-35).

First, it's okay to be terrified. But keep going.
In Mark's version, the bleeding woman touched Jesus' cloak, was instantly healed, but Jesus didn't know who touched him. After all, his back was turned. So, he asked. Certainly, this was a scary moment. After all, technically, this woman made him "unclean" simply while touching him while she was bleeding. Outside of being in the crowd while he walked by, as far as we know, she didn't know that much about Jesus. She couldn't have known his reaction or even the crowd's reaction. She could have easily whistled away when Jesus asked "who touched me?" Instead, she spoke up. She was terrified, but she spoke and told him the whole truth.
Don't listen to fear because, if the bleeding woman had, she would have missed Jesus words meant just for her.

Second, I have to believe that God says those same comforting words to me: "Take heart, daughter" (Matt 9:22) and "be at peace and be freed from your suffering" (Mark 5: 34)

And so I try.
In all aspects of my life, I'll try to follow the example of this woman, who knew suffering and fear just like me, and had faith anyway. And I'll try to follow the example of this Jesus, who knew to go to the least of these without fear and say the words they needed to hear.

What We Can Learn from Frank in the Garden

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I've tried keeping office plants. Twice, actually. But both sadly shared the same fate - a slow death.

I haven't tried to keep even a small garden on my third-floor balcony because I know that those plants would most likely follow the path of their office friends. I hate to even think of the idea.

That being said though, I love statues of Frank.
Francis of Assisi, that is.

I love to see him in gardens of Catholic and non-Catholics alike, giving water to the birds or just staring into the great abyss.

I love it because, when I see him, I think of Francis' story. And I think of a great lesson that I was reminded of today: God is a disrupter. And that's okay. And everything's going to be okay.

Feeling secure and safe is one of my biggest needs in life. It's just a personality hazard. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the decision over leaving the Sisters was so agonizing. Even though more and more I felt God was calling me to leave, it meant leaving a planned future, stable relationships, steady schedules, etc. I really wrestled with that. But ultimately, I took the knife, cut down the safety net I was sitting in, and jumped into the great unknown.

Frank understood that. He had his own safety net, his plush life as the son of a rich silk merchant. Surely, his future was planned out; he had friends just like him; he enjoyed the care-free life. But slowly, things changed. He had a conversion experience in which he felt God calling him to rebuild the church. Did he agonize like I did? I don't know. But ultimately, like me, he took the knife, cut down his safety net, and jumped.

Francis' life changed drastically, as we all know. He grew very religious, re-built churches with his bare hands, started living a life of poverty, and founded the Franciscans and Poor Clares.

God disrupts. And that's okay.
Our lives change for the better when He does.
Sometimes that disruption doesn't come in the form of a religious conversion like Francis' - maybe it's in the form of leaving an unhealthy relationship, an unhappy job situation, finally confronting someone about an uncomfortable but important subject.
It's been almost a year since I left the Sisters. And I can say that I'm happier today than I was a year ago, even two years ago. I do miss my safety net sometimes, especially when, in instability, I'm looking for security. But I don't regret letting it fall.

That being said, it's easier said than done...most especially when the cutting of our safety net is beyond our control. Some people I know were told to leave their religious communities. There is no discernment, no personal agony. the safety net just falls out from underneath you. And you hit the ground with a BANG.

Francis knew that too. His father never spoke to him again after his religious conversion, people thought he was mentally ill, and there was division in his own Franciscan community. Not anything he would have wanted or probably expected.

But he would easily tell you it was all worth it. God disrupts. Then, it's up to us to work with the disruption. Mourning that cut safety net is okay for awhile but what are the next steps? Perhaps that's why Francis (maybe??) said "Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

So, those statues of Frank in gardens don't remind me of Brother Sun, Sister Bird or that I need to water my plants.
They remind me of God the Disrupter, God the Plan-Changer, and that I need to trust and work with those disruptions.
And, although it may not always seem like it, everything's going to be okay.

"And Sarah Laughed": Losing Sr. Mary William

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sarah, Abraham's wife, knew who she was.
She knew she was old and more so than most, certainly not old enough to have a child.
She also knew the ridiculous when she heard it.
So, when angels came to their tent to say she was going to have a son, Sarah laughed to herself, thinking the ancient version of "yeah, right".

Deep in my Google Drive is a voice recording of Sr. Mary William Sullivan, who passed away last week at the age of 91. Her voice is raspy, yet you can still hear the energy as she shares her thoughts at the local community's house meeting. Before the tape ends, she adds her opinion to a discussion about contemplation and the very last thing she says on the recording is this:

"What I laugh about with God! And I do! I have this picture that I was given years ago....and I use it to center my prayer. And [God and I] laugh, you know....nobody ever taught us that. [speaking to the other Sisters] Our old Seminary Directress never said 'laugh with God', did she?"

Sr. Mary William on her 70th Jubilee
as a Daughter of Charity, 2013
When I met Sr. Mary William in the hallway of the retirement home, with a mischievous smile on her face, the very first sentence out of her mouth was "Did anyone ever tell you I was Sister Servant when the Sisters got arrested in Chicago?" No, no one had. And I had no idea this Daughter of Charity knew Martin Luther King Jr. and was known for her activity during the civil rights movement.
[But interestingly enough, despite the initial question, Sr. Mary William never brought up the Sisters in Chicago again despite our many visits. It was I who had to ask for the story.]

I don't remember Mary William as the one who taught me to be a voice for the voiceless, although she certainly was.
I don't remember her as the one who taught me the importance of community life, although she cherished it.
I don't remember her as the one who taught me how to be a good social worker, although she certainly had telling stories about it.

I remember Mary William as the one who taught me to be authentic with a humble heart.

She knew who she was.
She knew she was fiery and more so than most - at times where others may shrink and shrivel under the pressure of what others may think or say, Mary William stood tall.

But she also knew who she was.
She knew that fiery personality sometimes went too far.
So, she spoke up with a humble heart - she apologized for her shortcomings and spoke openly about the issues she had that still affected her, even in the retirement home, even in her old age.

She did the same with God, arguing with Him, apologizing to Him, crying to and with Him, laughing with Him. While God knows each of us through and through anyway, I truly believe He knew every part of Mary William because she opened up to Him about everything.

I already mentioned that Sarah knew who she was - old, not easily fooled, etc. But I didn't share the rest of the story. Like Mary William, Sarah also understood the rest of who she was.
Unlike Mary William's relationship with God, Sarah feared Him, which led to some mishaps. When God asked if she laughed, she immediately answered "No". Yet, with a humble heart just like Mary William, she admits it in the most unexpected way possible:

Abraham gave the name Isaac [meaning "He laughs"] to his son whom Sarah bore him....Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” - Genesis 21: 3,6

There is a story Sr. Mary William used to tell me about her friend Sr. Catherine Sullivan [no relation] that best describes both Mary William's and Sarah's authenticity with a humble heart. It ended with Sr. Catherine saying: "at my funeral, tell them all my friendships were particular and all my sins were original!" 

[If you'd like to read more about Sr. Mary William Sullivan, her obituary is located here on the Daughters of Charity website.]

Nichole Nordeman and the Clueless Disciple

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Simon Peter has always been my favorite disciple. Why? Because the man is absolutely clueless.
He tries to walk on water when Jesus calls him. Simon Peter doubts and sinks.
He hears that Jesus is to suffer, die and resurrect. Simon Peter says "no way, Jesus!" and Jesus calls him Satan (ouch).
He wants to build a tent for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah . Jesus doesn't want a tent.
He gets angry when Jesus gets arrested. Jesus tells him to put his sword away.
He tells Jesus he would never deny him. Simon Peter denies him three times.

I love Simon Peter because Simon Peter is every one of us. We're all clueless. All too often though, when we read the Gospels, we laugh at Simon Peter and we're disgusted by his foolishness instead of recognizing that Simon Peter embodies who we are.

After Jesus appeared to his disciples and Simon Peter's world changed (again), Simon Peter went fishing (John 21). I truly think it was his way of processing things. His life changed when he followed Jesus. His life changed again when Jesus died.

As for me, when I left the Daughters, writing was my way of processing that my world changed completely. I've rarely cried. But that Friday morning when I put on Nichole Nordeman's new album Every Mile Mattered, you bet I cried.

Nichole Nordeman has all been one of my favorite CCM artists, although hearing her on radio stations like KLOVE is rare. I've always felt that Nichole sings of the true story of faith - struggle, doubt, vulnerability, and love. Although we know it to be false, we'd much rather imagine Christianity as a magical recipe for happiness and eventual perfection here on earth.

"Hush, Hush", a song from the perspective of God, was the first song I played on random. I think it was at the lyric "But I'll put you back together / Hush, hush / You don't have to have the answers" when I absolutely lost it.

The songs about shipwrecks, listening to your life, burning safety nets, meeting God in the seeking but not always finding, only kept the tears flowing. My life was being sung, but so was God's assurance that He was still there.

Simon Peter would get it. 

He knew all about letting go of safety and wanting to feel his heart on fire, like in the song "No Longer", when he dropped those fishing nets and followed Jesus.

He easily could have written a "Dear Me", a song about how Nichole's thoughts on faith, worthiness, and even poverty changed throughout the years. After Jesus' resurrection, Simon Peter had a dream about eating unclean meat, a clear message about welcoming Gentiles into the Christian community. (I wrote a "Dear Me" too, although mine was about grief)

Was he haunted by those screwups I mentioned in the beginning of this entry, those shoulda beens, coulda beens that we hear in the song "Every Mile Mattered" or  "Lean" (Why are my memories of / You as the judge, me as the mess / ....Why is it hard to believe / You just want me just as I am)?

Nichole inadvertently sings out the story of Simon Peter, which is our story: that we're all trying not to sink when Jesus calls us across the water, that we struggle with understanding God's plan, that we long to do what's right but sometimes come up wrong, and that God loves and is with us, even when we mess up.

Instead of escaping our resemblance to foolish Simon Peter, instead of denying it, how about we embrace it, soak in the message of Every Mile Mattered, and remember that this clueless guy was the one Jesus chose to be the Rock of His church?

(All lyrics are property and copyright of Nichole Nordeman)

Quote of the Week: Mary Doria Russell and Creation

Saturday, July 22, 2017

“There are times...when we are in the midst of life - moments of confrontation with birth or death, or moments of beauty when nature or love is fully revealed, or moments of terrible loneliness - times when a holy and awesome awareness comes upon us. 
It may come as deep inner stillness or as a rush of overflowing emotion.It may seem to come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or by a sleeping child. 
If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all it's unity and fullness. And when we return from such a moment of awareness, our hearts long to find some way to capture it in words forever, so that we can remain faithful to it's higher truth.
...when my people search for a name to give to the truth we feel at those moments, we call it God, and when we capture that understanding in timeless poetry, we call it praying.”

                                                               - Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow

Read The Sparrow. Now. The plot may sound crazy, but it was the best book recommendation anyone gave me.

(Sidenote: Way back when, I had Vincentian Quotes of the Week. I certainly still count myself as Vincentian, but I felt it was time to revive the tradition with quotes I find meaningful from all around the spectrum.)

Dear Me: Grief is Survivable

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dear Me,
This is a letter to the girl I used to be.
The girl who drove away that first of October and started a new life, the girl who had no idea what she was going to do next, the girl terrified that she was leaving religious life, which had been her dream for years.

Here's the bad news: you still don't have it figured out.

At first, that ambiguity was absolutely overwhelming.

Even wearing "dress-down clothes", "play clothes", "civvies", whatever you wanted to call them, was overwhelming. What matched, what didn't? The world wasn't blue and white anymore. You remember that the first time you went out in public that very night, you changed at least ten times...and you still felt awkward. You're better at it now...I think.

It was overwhelming to have a day alone. One day, you'll go to the library, get a book, and read for hours. You kept stopping yourself because you were overwhelmed with guilt. After all, you should have been doing house duties, grocery shopping, some kind of weekend ministry, something.
(Truthfully, you haven't done that again.)

And most of the time you recognize what you're going through: it's grief.

You'll smell popcorn and it'll remind you of a Sister you created a deep friendship with, a Sister who you felt truly know you.
You'll hear something said and it'll frustrate you, reminding you of those last few years in community, the struggles, and everything you wish you would have said.
You'll talk about your time in community and the struggle of your transition and you'll see on people's faces that they just don't understand.

But here's the good news: you do more than survive.

You take one day at a time.
Soon, you find yourself taking one week at a time.
Then, one month at a time.
Then one day, you find yourself saying "did all that really happen NINE months ago?"

You'll smell popcorn, get sad, and then a few weeks later, that Sister will text you for the first time since you left.
You're still loved.

You'll hear something, get angry, and then open your email to see a friend that has written you, with superhero clipart and one sentence: "you should buy a cape".
They understand your strength, even when you don't.

You'll talk about your time in community, feel like you're the only one, and then receive a message from another ex-Sister who reads your blog and finds it therapeutic.
You're not alone.

The grief hasn't ended but you start to see the healing. It stops hurting when you hear "Sister". You stop flinching when you pass your old house. You gradually feel your identity as Sister falling away and the authentic parts of you starting to show through.

You'll find out just how much friends care. Friends that pray over you, friends that tell you (repeatedly) that you don't realize how much you've accomplished in all these months, and friends that gently tell you that it's about time to get up, brush it off, and start kicking butt again.

Wherever you are, dear Me, it may be rough right now, but keep moving. 
With each breath of healing, with each step forward, you're moving...somewhere.
But, most of all, you feel God moving. And that's the best part of all.

What Airports Can Teach You About Bearing Witness

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The White Nuns" Copyright (c) 2015 by Andrea Missianto
As I waited in the Southwest Airlines line to check my bag, I caught a glimpse of a white veil behind me. I turned around. I just had to. Of course, I said “hi” and even correctly guessed her community, a community I know pretty well here in San Antonio. I told her my name, which I hope she remembered, but I also thought “I used to be one of you”.

Sister, I used to be one of you. Like you, I used to have random strangers approach me and strike up conversations, just like I did with her this morning. People would tell me wonderful stories about Sisters they knew in their childhood that changed their lives or they'd talk to me about their struggling faith or we'd try to see if we knew the same people. Now, I've become one of those strangers.

In my last blog entry, I mentioned the Daughters being a missionary itinerant  community. They were also a community that traveled. A lot. Even if we weren't being missioned, we were traveling for retreats, for meetings, for conferences, for everything. I traveled to states I've never lived in and never visited since.

A few minutes later, as I passed through security, I thought of the Sister again. I didn't see her in the security line but her experiences are probably the same that I had for years.
Sister, I used to be one of you. I would rip off my coiffe (veil) and put it in the bin. One airport asked me to, so I always did since. Some TSA officers seemed shocked - “no, Sister, you don't have to take it off! It's religious garb!” “No, it's okay”, I told them. But, almost without fail, no matter the city, I was pulled aside after X-ray and patted down. Once because of the cross but usually because of that long skirt.

Sister, I used to be one of you. Like you, I used to be a silent witness. I know some Sisters were bothered by the extra time we spent in security but the truth is I never minded. Let TSA do what they need to do. But, more than anything, I wanted to wear my habit to the airport. I wanted people to know that young Sisters, “young nuns”, still existed. Even if they never approached me, just a glance of me would hopefully remind them of good things – of faith, of goodness in the world, of service, of love. Hopefully remind them of more than just nuns with rulers...which I unfortunately did hear about time to time.
And it was more than the veil, by the way, lest anyone think I'm starting a debate. Even Sisters without habits have a “nun” look. I can point them out from a mile away and would have done the same this morning with an un-habited Sister too.

Sister, I used to be one of you. But I'm not anymore.

Now I am a random stranger in the airport, traveling to who-knows-and-who-cares-where.
Now, I blend in.
Now, I'm now free to sit and read my book or sleep leaning against the window, two things I missed about traveling when I was a Sister.

Nonetheless, I may be able to finish my book but take off the veil, take off the title of “Sister”, take off the religious community's initials, and being a witness of faith, goodness in the world, service and love becomes a whole lot harder. Not just in the airport but in life. It's no longer obvious, no longer implied by my very lifestyle – but it's not something I'm willing to abandon. It's still something I want to remind the world.

So, Sister, in that way, I'm still just like you.

When the Nomad Stops Roaming

Saturday, July 8, 2017

About this time last year, I sketched a tree in my journal and wrote something to the effect of “I’m tired of moving. My soul longs to plant roots.” This was revolutionary for the one who prided herself on being a “nomad for the mission” (or "a Vincentian nomad") but everything was changing. I was changing.

Since college ten years ago, I had not lived in any same city more than two years. I was constantly moving. First, country to country, then state to state. In fact, before I became a Daughter, I almost took a job in Panama until a friend there told me “No, Amanda, you’re a butterfly. I know you; you won’t stay here for long.” She was right. I joined a missionary itinerant community and I soon become an expert at moving. By the time I was a postulant, I had my personal possessions down to two suitcases and a carry-on. (Although, I’ll admit it- I sent my books through the mail)

I personally, in or out of community, had no pattern either: the indigenous culture of the valley of the Andes, the urban jungle of the nation's capital, the contradiction of continued racial segregation and joyful friendliness of the Bible Belt, the scrambled Mexican/American culture that is the Rio Grande Valley, the proud and quiet Midwest, the snowy Northeast, and then the festivity of Central Texas.

But, now it’s all different. Now, my wish from last year is coming true. I had lived in San Antonio two years when I decided to leave the Daughters - that magical number. (Not to say that they would have moved me, but I would have moved eventually)
And what was truly radical is that I decided to stay in San Antonio instead of moving back to Maryland. I broke my own cycle.

I'll celebrate my three-year anniversary in San Antonio in October…which also means that some of the friendships I’ve built here have also lasted this long, which is amazing longevity for me. More or less, I know the different “sides” of the city and I understand the city’s inside jokes. While I’ll never be a local, I’m beginning to feel more and more like this city is a second home.

However, something happens when you've been a nomad or missionary or wanderer...when you finally stop, it feels strange. Awkward. Clumsy.

Or at least, for me, that's the truth.

I realized I really don't know how to say goodbye when I'm not the one leaving.
I stumble through digging my heels in deeper, like allowing myself to be vulnerable, because I'm trying to build lasting friendships, not fleeting or long-distance ones.
While the Daughters took road trips, it seems peculiar to satisfy my wanderlust by exploring the areas around San Antonio in my car, rather than getting on a plane every few months for meetings or retreats.
I feel a goofy pride over small victories like figuring out routes without my GPS.
And as I see other 30-somethings that were more stable in their life, I get jealous because growing roots is incredibly hard.

But I have to tell myself that every mile mattered (this blog entry was inspired partly by this song by Nichole Nordeman). Every state mattered. Every area mattered. Every person I met, from such backgrounds and cultures, mattered.

I may blunder as my roots grow, but I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't been a nomad all those years.

I wouldn't be as dedicated to service of the poor if I hadn't lived with abused and neglected girls in Bolivia, took a suicidal girl under my wing in Washington DC, heard a mother tell her son that she gave up on him in Georgia, listened as an immigrant described her unjust work conditions in the Rio Grande Valley, joked with middle schoolers who said they wanted school all day so they would feel safe in East St. Louis, and smiled with a refugee couple from Afghanistan as the wife rejoiced that there are no bombs there in upstate New York.

I wouldn't be as flexible or open-minded if I hadn't lived and worked in so many cultures, some of which I spoke the language and others I didn't. They affected me both the same.

I wouldn't have heard so many stories from people from so many different walks of life: consecrated, married, single, citizen, immigrant, young, and old - stories that show me the power of vulnerability, survival, and resilience, stories that teach me we are all wounded.

I wouldn't have gotten to see and know God in so many different ways because of my wandering - in words and silence, in others with religion and in those without, in my language and in not.

And, of course, it would take pages to write about how each of the Sisters I lived with changed me.

Being a nomad was worth it, but I've reached the point to set down my walking stick.
And God will continue to form me in different ways just as He has in the past.
His story for me continues to unravel.

The Wicked Witch of the West And Me

Saturday, July 1, 2017

This blog has been named after Maria from The Sound of Music, but lately I've declared an affinity and sympathy for Elphaba in Wicked - that is, the Wicked Witch of the West.
In case you've never seen or even heard of the musical, it's about "the true story of the witches of Oz" based on the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire.

Photo from The Western Sky
To most, my departure from the Daughters was sudden and surprising. For me though, it was a discernment that dragged on for months, maybe even years. 

It would have been easier for me to stay with the Daughters. Not easier emotionally or even spiritually, but easier in terms of my life. (If you thumb through my journal during that time, you'd find that was a big factor I considered.) I would be staying with the "status quo". You entered the Sisters; therefore, you stay. People know you as "Sister Amanda" and slowly it becomes who you are.

The same was true with Elphaba. She was a normal citizen of Oz (you know, except for the green skin) until....

Well, I won't give away too much. But in the song, "Defying Gravity", Elphaba finally voices that pivotal moment. It's the moment where she realizes she can no longer blindly follow the Wizard, the moment where she knows that she's meant for something different, the moment where she lets go and gives it all up - the hope for a successful future but also the hope of acceptance into a community that she had started to think that maybe she would belong.
There's fierce empowerment in that song but there's also a renouncement of any normalcy she may have had.

There are numerous lines in the song that resonate with me and my journey. One of which is "something has changed within me, something is not the's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!" There was a moment when I personally reached a point when I knew I had to leave and, at that point, there was no turning back. It was absolutely terrifying, but, like Elphaba, I changed, everything changed.
And I leapt.

The leaping now is a blur. So much happened in such a short amount of time. Phone calls, revealing my decision to the local community, visits to apartment buildings, meetings with my work supervisors, and then a massive email to all the Sisters. And then, before I knew it, I was out. Everything truly changed.

As for Wicked, the story we all know comes to pass. Elphaba becomes jaded by betrayals of her friends and community. It's up to you to figure out whether it's rightfully so or not. And well...

The leaping, that "flying into the Western sky", wasn't easy for me, either. There were betrayals, misunderstandings, and even ostracizing. Part of me wants to believe it's all because my departure was such a shock or because I left most without a proper goodbye (not because I didn't want to, but because I was so far away).

Elphaba, I get you, girl.

But there were also numinous moments - co-workers giving me a laundry basket full of apartment essentials, friendships here in San Antonio deepening, the joys of re-connecting with others months after not being in touch, and countless others.

I listen to the Wicked soundtrack, sympathize with Elphaba, and grieve that she wasn't able to experience those moments I did. In bad times, those moments that could easily turn me "wicked" (and sometimes do momentarily), I try to remember those times and I know it's all going to be okay...because neither life nor people are truly wicked.


Ode to a Girl Scout

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I tried many things as a kid - dance, soccer, Girl Scouts, flute, altar-serving, just to name those I can remember. Most didn't last for long, probably because there wasn't anything I enjoyed quite as much as reading books.

So, it's very ironic that now I'm the leader of a little Girl Scout troop. The Girl Scouts have a terrific program for fellow non-profits so they can have their own special closed troops. I connected with them about doing activities with our after-school girls and then it evolved into a troop. And then somehow I became the troop leader. An advice often given to women who have left religious life is "Take up something new and different after you leave community". I just wasn't expecting this one.

Not my troop. But you get the point.
As much as I fumble through it with the help of another troop leader, this really is the perfect group of girls for me. Our girls aren't your stereotypical middle-class vanilla troop. Out of the stories I know, three girls are cases with Child Protective Services, two girls are former foster-kids that were adopted last year, one girl has a father in jail, and almost all of the girls live in poverty, their afterschool care paid for by childcare subsidies. Their transition and raggedness mirrors my own.

But it's Tatiana (not her real name), who I specifically want to focus on.

We have only a few girls that are not Daisies (the littlest of the Girl Scouts) and Tatiana is one of them. And if I had to pick one of my favorites, Tatiana would be one of them. It's not because she's one of the most well-behaved...because she's not. In fact, the teachers are frustrated with her, searching endlessly for what might actually make Tatiana happy.

At first, I thought this attachment to Tatiana was because she reminded me so much of another girl I knew about ten years ago - a girl that was in my dorm in the hogar in Bolivia, a girl whose hard shell I wish I could have cracked, a girl I wish I would have treated better.

But as time passed, I realized that it wasn't just that. It was because I saw myself in Tatiana. I saw the anger. I saw the unhappiness. I saw the brokenness. I saw that it's still not okay.

See, Tatiana's mom is also my client, so I knew her story perhaps better than the teachers did. Tatiana's mom struggles to pay the bills and when her boyfriend, the only dad Tatiana knew, was arrested and put in jail, it was devastating both financially and emotionally for the family. Tatiana was already a rebellious girl but that was the tipping point.

While Tatiana's little brother was a bit more of a blabbermouth, Tatiana herself was tight-lipped. And if you asked her about her situation, she probably would have said "Why would I care about that?"

In Tatiana, I saw everything I was feeling - but kept hidden - played out in front of me. Every time she disrespected authority (which was often), I thought of the times I wanted to do the same when I disagreed with a decision but didn't. Every time I caught of a glimpse of her brokenness, I thought of my own.

Maybe you're reading this and thinking "um, I don't think her behavior is the way a Girl Scout should act". And you're right. But, at the same time, I see qualities in Tatiana that were exactly what a Girl Scout should be. I've seen her open doors for others without being prompted. I've seen her smile. I've seen her cry when the same things that she's complained about are taken away. I've seen her progress, each step as slow as a snail, but still. Seeing that little progress in her gives me hope for mine.

Tatiana is the type of girl I see that would make the world a better place, truly living out the Girl Scout Law I'm slowly memorizing. Because Tatiana is strong. Because Tatiana is honest (maybe too much) with herself and her feelings. Because I truly believe that one day, Tatiana will heal and use that healing to help others.

Through the Tunnel

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"The future belongs to God, not to us. Man does not have the imagination of God, so when we think of the future, we think of it being like the past... 
The future is like a tunnel. You can’t see anything inside, and only a fool would expect it to look the same upon exiting as upon entering it." 
- Brother Christian de Cherge
(from "The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria")
When I left the Daughters eight and a half months ago, I had no idea what the future held. I had some resemblance of a practical plan - I had a residence, a job, and a bank account - but there was no predicting what would happen next. What I couldn't predict was the loss of some friendships, the growth of others, general awkwardness, and a spiritual and emotional transition.

It would be nice if I could have easily slid back into being the person I was five-plus years ago. After all, I was happy with a good job, good friends, and on my way to getting a Master's degree. And I had a plan for my life. I left it for the Daughters because I felt that religious life was the "missing piece" I was looking for - that culmination of my desires to serve God and serve the poor. I felt that God was calling me.

But the future is not like the past. I can't be that person from five years ago. I can't be the same exiting the tunnel as I did entering it. There was so much I had yet to learn and so much yet to experience, both good and bad.

I had yet to experience the best and worst of community life, yet to experience the deaths of a number of my friends (including a housemate) and sing "Salve Regina" at their burials, yet to meet several people that are the most Christ-like people I know, yet to know the joys and perils of intergenerational living.

I had yet to see modern-day segregation firsthand or listen to an immigrant working in inhumane conditions in a shrimp factory, yet to be kissed on the hand by an elderly Eastern European refugee, yet to deliver milk cartons to kids in housing projects, yet to hear the words "we didn't eat dinner last night; we're saving the food for the kids".

I believe there's a misconception (one that even I fall into sometimes) that because one leaves religious life, they must have misheard God's call. Perhaps it was the result of poor discernment. Perhaps because they didn't pray enough before entering. Perhaps they rushed into it. In a way, all of these misconceptions imply that their time with their community was somehow a mistake. As if they entered a tunnel that wasn't meant for them after all.
I would challenge that.

I believe God did call me to be a Daughter (and called me to leave too). I believe that those experiences and lessons from the past five years were within God's crazy imagination for my life, each piece somehow fitting in the big puzzle that is me.

And, if that's the truth, then I have to believe and trust that there's so much more wonderment to discover as I journey through this tunnel into the unknown.

The New Me...Or Not

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Maybe it was rebellion, maybe it was a chance to do something simply because now I could, maybe because it was a small way to reinvent myself...but I dyed my hair.

Or at least attempted to.

I dyed it the color auburn because it was a change but not too absurdly far away from my natural color, medium brown. So, last Saturday, with the support of my co-worker and friend, I did it by myself.
Definitely NOT how I did it.
Oh my goodness, I can't even imagine.....
It was barely noticeable. In fact, almost no one at work even said a word.

So, I did it again today - this time with my friend there, doing it for me, using the whole bottle.
And, you know, it's still not that noticeable.

As I waited for it to air-dry, all I could think of was "this is so freakin' indicative of my journey so far"

Just as I checked the mirror every five minutes or so (okay, maybe even shorter than that) as my hair was drying to see if the color was brighter, I too am impatient for a "new me" since leaving the Daughters.
I didn't just leave behind a cross or a habit when I left the Daughters; I left behind an identity. I left behind a life. I left behind people that shaped who I am. I left behind a future.

I grow impatient with myself as I try to build a new life. Why do some things still hurt? Why haven't I figured it all out yet? Why hasn't my support system grown yet? Why do I feel stuck?

What friends have to tell me over and over again is that it takes time.

As I stared at my hair that still more or less looked like my natural hair color, I realized that it's true. My identity as a Daughter of Charity and Sister is so embedded in me that it's hard to so quickly cover up "with a new color", so to speak. Granted, this revelation probably happened because I found that my natural hair color is much darker than I thought. Anyway, having a post-Sister identity doesn't mean that it won't happen, just that it's not that simple. Color kits you buy in the stores only last a few months anyway.

I don't want this post-Daughter "new me" to be one that only lasts a few months. I want it to be one that lasts, one that's thought out, one that I'm happy with.

That means time. That also means graciously accepting that part of me will always be a Daughter of Charity, no matter what...just as I have to graciously accept that, no matter how many times I try to dye my hair auburn, those dark brown strands will still be there.

(And don't worry, I'm done dying my hair for now 😏)

The Whisper of Calls

Sunday, May 14, 2017

As Elijah, the Lord spoke to me in the whispering wind - the unexplainable feelings in prayer, in other people.

At first, He whispered "Serve My poor". And so I did, being with the poor of the cities and the poor of the mountains.

Then, I heard "Be a Sister".
"Certainly, I imagined this," I thought, but the whisper came again and I realized it was God. This time I spoke. I spoke of my unworthiness. Perhaps He made a mistake and meant to call someone with more faith, with more gifts. But God persisted, so I asked "When? Where? How? Show me a sign!"

I searched and searched, never finding a definite sign. I remained faithful to serving His poor, but this call was more troubling, more impossible.

While serving His poor in Itocta (Bolivia), I saw the sign - a community I laughed with, a community I loved. I followed His call and joined them, but I soon realized it was no sign at all. Instead of increasing in holiness, I was increasing in unhappiness. A Sister begged me to plead for a sign from the Lord - surely, He would tell me to stay. I was tired of signs. I didn't understand them. But out of holy obedience, I asked. No sign came and I left, pretending I had never heard that first whisper.

But soon He returned with that same whisper: "Be a Sister..."
"Don't You see? Look what happened! No, Lord, You're mistaken" I replied and began to ignore His voice.

But the whisper became louder and louder. I then wrote the Daughters of Charity, an old address from years ago. "If they don't respond, I'll take it as a sign," I thought. They responded but still I wasn't convinced.

I was cautious until one night, in prayer before His presence, I heard Him say 'Give Your heart to me and to the poor'.

And so I did, finding my sign - the two calls intertwining in beauty.

And now I hear a different whisper: "Love. Always Love.", adding "See, they were all signs because I used it all to form who you are. Your story, already written, is being played out and, in it, I hope you see My love for You...and pass that Love to all the world."

                                                                                                                 - October 2013

One of my favorite things is to discover poems and prayers that I've written that I have long since forgotten about. This essay, titled "From the Book of Amanda", was one of them, written just ten months after entering Seminary. It was a homework assignment - "write a Scripture account of your call" for one of our classes on "calling".

It amazes me how much it all, especially the last paragraph, still sticks. Finding the Daughters wasn't the end of my call or the end of my story. My 2013 self knew that, even if I couldn't quite express it further. I had no idea that, in a few years, God would be leading me somewhere else.

Now, four years later, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that:
    All those paths have made me who I am.
    My story is still being played out.
    And my mission is still Love.

For Those Who Mourn

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Her rocking chair lets out a creak as she leans back. Physically, she's not a commanding presence, to your surprise. If it weren't for her wrinkles, she could easily be mistaken for a child in that chair. But you know different. She's, after all, Saint Louise de Marillac. And she's your director for this year's retreat on the Beatitudes.

She pats the Bible on her lap. She opens her mouth to speak and her voice is comfortingly soft. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted....I believe you know enough about me that you will understand why this has been my favorite Beatitude. I've had a lifetime of mourning. Later in life, I understood my way to holiness was the way of the Cross. I suffered much...beginning with my very birth."

Yes, you knew. Louise de Marillac was born illegitimate. She never knew her mother nor do any of her biographers or historians. While Louise didn't end up in a home for foundlings (as did many other illegitimate children), her relationship with her family was...well, complicated. Her father sent her to live with her aunt, who was a Dominican nun. There, Louise received a great education - better than some of her counterparts - but she never experienced love from her father.

She continues, "I mourned the mother I never knew. I mourned the loss of my family through their rejection. I mourned over breaking my promise to God that I would be a nun - I married Antoine instead. And then, of course, later...later, I mourned the loss of his warm and loving personality when the sickness fell."

Silence. You notice Louise is no longer looking at you. Instead, she's staring off somewhere in the distance. Fighting off the bad memories? Praying? You realize, at that moment, there is more to the story than you'll ever know. What you do know is that, even during his illness, Louise contemplated leaving her husband and joining the convent. It was the time of her Lumiere (Pentecost Experience) that would lead her to found the Daughters of Charity ten years later.

She clears her throat and nervously smooths out her dress, obviously flustered with herself. "I then mourned the loss of my husband's physical presence. And while I would never physically lose my son Michel, I lived in constant fear that I had lost him emotionally and spiritually."

I know you have had your own moments of mourning during your life as well...and not always over deaths.

She lovingly looks intently at you and sympathetically smiles. "Perhaps you've even going through one of those times now?"

Your eyes give away the answer. Suddenly, you share everything with this woman, this stranger, this saint. Yet, something strange has happened. By listening to Louise's story in her own words, in her own voice, she is no longer a holy card, a medal or a character in a biography - she has turned into a real person, maybe even a friend. And she listens more intently than anyone else you've ever met. 

When there's nothing more to tell, she speaks, "What got me through those mourning periods was the belief that somehow God was still in control. It's not an easy concept to grasp. Easier said than done, as you say. But I had to believe I would be comforted - in this life and the next.

She leans in and her hands clasp yours.

And I am comforted. We must trust, dear friend, always trust Him."

(Note: I wrote this in 2014 as a draft for a heritage project about St. Louise de Marillac. The project was originally a 8-day retreat with St. Louise in this style. I ended up going forward with a different idea but this draft survived in one of my writing notebooks.)

The Disciples and Me

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I've been thinking of the disciples a lot lately - those crazy screwups like Simon Peter, Andrew and even Mary Magdalene. For three years or so, they knew what their life was. They followed that nomad named Jesus, sat and listened to his preaching, and did some fishing while they were at it. Jesus was unpredictable but they knew what their life entailed.

And then He was gone.

I've been thinking of the disciples a lot lately.
Because for five years or so, I knew what my life was. I followed that nomad community Daughters of Charity, sat and prayed with my community and served the poor while I was at it. Life was unpredictable but I knew what my life entailed.

And then it was gone.
(Granted, it was by my own choice and I do not regret it, but it was still gone.)

In the dark of Holy Saturday, memories probably flooded the disciples - memories of the amazing unbelievable miracles, chatting and laughing with Him in the boat, etc.
In the dark of Holy Saturday, memories flood me - memories of the amazing unbelievable Easter Vigil at St. Vincent's in St. Louis, chatting and laughing with the Sisters in the kitchen (with popcorn or banana bread) after each late-night Vigil, etc.

The difference between the disciples and me is that I have to find my own resurrection.
I have to work at my own resurrection.
But there are so many lessons that I can find in this Holy Week and Easter season: that Jesus felt the same way as me in so many ways, that the disciples also had to live through painful impatience like me, and, that, through resurrection, life completely changes.

But the biggest lesson of all is that resurrection comes.

Why Emilio Estevez was Right about Journeys

Monday, April 3, 2017

Do you have a book or movie that you can go back to again and again and always find something new? For me, it's the movie The Way with Martin Sheen (directed by his son Emilio Estevez).

I recently watched it again and, for the first time, I saw myself in Sarah.
Sarah, the sarcastic angry Canadian.
(And it came from more than the fact I call a friend of a certain generation "Boomer" like she does with Tom.)

Sarah carries a heavy past, a sad story, with her as she walks the Camino. I won't share it because it's up to you to see the movie. I will share that Sarah tells no one and instead masks her journey as a quest to "quit smoking". Tom, our main character, and a very hostile Sarah meet for the first time at a hostel on the Camino and Tom says:
"You sound really angry."
"Yeah. Sure. I'm angry. I gotta quit these and I'm really, really angry about that."

So, how did I see myself in Sarah? Am I really that angry? Am I really that secretive?

The answer is yes, yes, I am.

It's been six months and I'm still very angry about things that didn't happen but should have and things that did happen but shouldn't have.
It's been six months and I find myself questioning basic things about others - trustworthiness, goodness, etc.
It's been six months and most who have met me for the first time since October have no idea I used to be a Sister nor do I really want to tell them.

The truth is I'm not okay. Not completely anyway.
I'm in the process of healing and of grieving. And according to others that I've shared this journey with, it takes awhile. I personally wish it would hurry the hell up.

When does the healing journey end? I know there's an end. There has to be.
Strangely enough, out of everything, I'm not angry with God. I plead with Him and even complain to Him but I'm not angry with God.

Muxia, Spain - the final stop in the Camino for the characters in "The Way"
At one point in the movie, when Tom was walking way ahead of the group, Sarah stopped and said "why does it piss me off so much that I haven't seen him stop to take a break? Why does something that should be inspirational make me so angry? Totally irrational.
The same could be said for this entire journey."

Sarah's right. Emilio Estevez is right. The journey is irrational. But I have to remind myself that "irrational" doesn't have to mean "bad".
God doesn't seem to speak in logic anyway. All is mystery.

I Can't. You Must. I'm Yours.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

To me, the most powerful scene in "Romero" is not his martyrdom. It's not the assassination of his friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande. It's not even when Romero travels through the slums, those families living in the trash heaps or when he's in jail.

It's long after Fr. Rutilio Grande's death. It's when Romero feels abandoned by those who had previously supported him. It's at the height of Romero's personal change, but also the height of his fear and confusion.

Romero goes to visit the graves of Fr. Grande and the two others murdered with him. After walking away from the graves, he falls to the ground, kneeling and says:
"I can't...You Must...I'm Yours...Show Me the Way."

I've prayed this a few times in my life and most notably and recently, the day I waited for news of my sending on mission from the Seminary to San Antonio.

I thought about it again today as I listened to a group sing "Oceans" and "Holy Spirit" and tears filled my eyes.

Now that I've been a lay woman for five months (wow), there are a few things that are hitting me.

I've noticed that my support system has shrunk exponentially. While I do understand that to a point because I've left the family (so to speak), it is still painful.
I feel stuck in the present, living one day at a time. I used to know what my future held, always wearing the Vincentian cross, always surrounded by the same women, praying the same prayers and following the same traditions. Now, the future is a question mark, a scary question mark.
I know that I have to discover who I really am because my identity is no longer determined by my outfit, by the living of the vows, and by the initials after my name.

The truth is this prayer of Romero's is for me right now. This short, profound prayer.

Because I can't. I can't do this by myself. My life is not up to me anyway.

Because, You, God, must. No one else. Not only are You all-powerful and all-knowing but You love me more than I could ever imagine. (You know, considering Romero's mission and ultimate death, I used to think the "You Must" was God speaking back - "no, Romero, you HAVE to do this. You CAN do this." but, as the years past and experiences shaped me, I saw it differently. It's Romero telling God: "You, God, must. It must be You leading, not myself. It must be You I rely on.")

Because I'm Yours. I'm still Yours. I didn't abandon You when I took off the habit. I didn't abandon You when I took off that beautiful cross. I still choose to follow You wherever You lead me.

Please show me the way. I trust in You.

(As a short sidenote, I can thank my friend Nicole - who is one of the writers of Messy Jesus Business - for first introducing me to the depth of this scene. She spoke about it at our VIDES orientation ten years ago and it never left me!)

Rachel Scott: What She's Teaching Me 15 Years Later

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I have a number of heroes in my life.
I have heroes that have passed on long ago, never having known me physically, but somehow reach me and walk with me through life in some way.
And I have heroes who have literally been by my side at the right moment and with their personalities, life stories, and work teach and inspire me more than they know.

Lately, in this time of transition for me, I've been thinking and praying of all my heroes.
And silently thanking them.

I've written a lot about the first type, some of those who lived in seventeenth century France, one who died just a few years before I was born.
But before St. Vincent de Paul, before Ita Ford, there was Rachel Scott.

When I was in high school, I received a copy of The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High (which, by the way, aren't really her journals but writing based on her journals). Rachel and I had lots of differences but I connected with the similarities.

We were Millennial high-school juniors, she being born in '81 and I in '85.
We were aspiring writers.
We avidly journaled our thoughts, fears, and prayers.
We struggled with the faith journey - the joy of finding Him, the grief of His silence, the confusion of not knowing His path.
We believed, against all odds, that we could somehow change the world.

With her, I felt like I had a companion on the journey. Her story pushed me to continue on as I grew deeper into figuring out life and faith and the future. It didn't matter to me whether her life ended with the "do you believe in God?" question or not. I still felt that I had a hero that taught me that people like me could change the world.

 As my life went on, Rachel and her story phased out of my mind. New heroes came in, accompanying me in new ways that I needed at the time. She didn't appear again until I saw on Facebook that a movie, I'm Not Ashamed, was being made about her life.

At first, I was just excited that a movie was being made about one of my heroes almost twenty years after her death. But now, watching I'm Not Ashamed, I realize the movie's timing, Rachel Scott's story re-entering my life, was Providential for me.

It's easy to narrow Rachel's story down to her not being ashamed of Jesus. After all, that's the thought process behind the title and I could certainly understand why. It's something to admire about her - something I admire - but I think it's just a piece of the bigger message for me (and probably a message that everyone can relate to):

Be true to who you are.
Don't pretend to be someone else just for the convenience of it.
Because it's you, the true you, that will change the world.

Or, in her own words,
"Don't let your character change color with your environment. 
Find out who you are and let it stay its true color." - Rachel Scott

It's a very appropriate message for a high school student. Peer pressure, trying to figure out who you are, discovering the depths of faith and all that.

But it's also a message for me now. Almost 20 years later after her death, 15 years after reading the book.
The truth is, when you leave a religious community, you lose an identity. You're no longer "Sister". You're just you, a face in the crowd. But if being "Sister" was an identity that you discovered never fit you anyway, there's some soul searching to do.

Who is my true self?
How do I show my faith now?
How will I change the world?

And then this question appears - is "changing the world" youthful naivety?
In a way, yes. I no longer believe that the entire world can change because of someone I did or said or wrote. I'm 31 now, not 16...
...yet I think of those heroes in my life that I mentioned earlier - the ones who have physically been at my side. They've changed my world for the better, giving me the inspiration to do the same for others. That's changing the world.

I'm still trying to figure it all out but I'm following the example of Rachel -
I'm letting myself be me, even the parts of me that may not be too popular;
I'll wrestle with the words and deeds of the faith journey;
and continue to believe that one day, I will change the world.

"To Hearts Broken": On My Anniversary

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In a chapel in St. Louis, a Sister belted out Psalm 34, the quintessential psalm for any Daughter of Charity: "The Lord hears the cry of the poor, blessed be the Lord..."

It wasn't just any day. Or any Sunday. 
It was January 20, 2013 - the day of my Incorporation, the day I officially became a Daughter of Charity. 

"I will bless the Lord at all times, with praise ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord, who will hear the cry of the poor..."

It was the first time I wore the habit, when I signed the dotted line, when I received the Vincentian cross, when I first felt increasingly paranoid my coiffe (veil) was slipping off  my head (and it was), when I first met so many wonderful Sisters in St. Louis, when I first saw my name written as "Sister Amanda".

But now, everything's different.

Back in 2013, I thought I had everything figured out. It was the start of my new life...a new life that was laid out for me. And wow, was I so excited to start it. I had the community to fall back on when nothing else worked out. I had a community to be with, to pray with, to minister with.

I haven't regretted my decision since I left but man, anniversaries suck.

The anniversary hasn't even happened yet and it's already getting to me. I snapped at a friend today because of something it turned out they didn't even do. After three frantic apology emails, I realized what this was truly about - the anniversary.

I'm in a spot I've never been in before. 
Have I lived alone before? Yes. 
Have I had professional jobs before community? Absolutely. 

But I've never before been a 31 year old living on my own with no idea what happens next. Most 31-year-olds are already well on a career path; most are already married and/or parents; some have already graduated grad school...or more. I'm behind the curve - not just in an academic subject or a hobby, but in life.
The world is wide open to me. People tell me that that's exciting. To me, it's completely terrifying. And even sad.

"Let the lowly hear and be glad: the Lord listens to their pleas; and to hearts broken, God is near, who will hear the cry of the poor..."

I did have a plan for my life. But, to my surprise, it was the wrong one. And now it's gone.
It's time to start over. 

But God is near.
And He'll grieve with me.
And walk with me on the new path.

(sidenote: sorry to everyone that I may snap at this week)

"Ev’ry spirit crushed, God will save; will be ransom for their lives; will be safe shelter for their fears, and will hear the cry of the poor..."

Lessons in Faith & Humanity from MASH's Father Mulcahy

Monday, January 16, 2017

2016 took one of its last celebrity victims in William Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy on MASH. Five years earlier, I had written a post on what his character could teach us about religious life.

My life has gone through many twists and turns since I wrote that post, especially in 2016, and now I see Father Mulcahy's lessons as much more universal than I did back then. His character is much deeper than just the token chaplain or a moral compass to tell this shameless cast of characters to calm the heck down. No, Father Mulcahy is there to give us lessons in service, faith and humanity.

One of the biggest lessons that he taught us - all of us - was that to be kind, to be good-hearted in a world full of chaos doesn't require perfection.

He was human, not a robot priest or a flowerly saint too perfect to aspire to be like.
He was just a Christian, trying his best to be as Christ-like as he could.

One of my favorite scenes with Fr. Mulcahy is from the episode "Dreams" (Season 8, Ep. 22). Being the human and overworked religious that he is, he falls asleep while hearing someone's confession. He dreams of becoming Pope. Instead of passing the position up like a “humble priest”, he's elated and even more so that his Mass seems full to the brim. If you've ever seen MASH, you know that Father's Masses (or even ecumenical services) are very sparsely attended.

Like the rest of us, he has selfish ambitions.
Like him, I grow elated when I'm praised and recognized for something, like when a client comes to thank me for something I've done, a coworker praises me for a job well-done, or when I'm chosen for a special task.
Try as one might to be Christ-like, everyone has selfish ambitions. It's what makes us human - and that's okay.

But there's something more to Father Mulcahy's dream. Father Mulcahy – now Pope Mulcahy – is at the altar celebrating Mass when he feels something from above drip on his shoulder. Drip, drip, drip. He looks up. Christ on the crucifix, just as it should be. The Father Pope continues.
Drip, drip, drip.
He looks up again. This time, the camera very quickly pans to the crucifix above him. 

The crucifix no longer has Christ.
The crucifix holds a wounded American soldier...whose blood is dripping on Pope Mulcahy's shoulder.

Screenshot from this blog:

With that look up, Fr. Mulcahy is brought back to the present as the characters operate around him and life continues as normal.

When he saw Christ - particularly, in that American soldier - Fr. Mulcahy is taken out of his completely normal human selfish ambition back to what it's really about -
"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)

Who are the least? 
It's that wounded soldier.
It's that single mother struggling to make end's meet.
But it's also everyone around us, including ourselves.
But, most frustrating of all, it's our enemies.
Like Christ, we're all suffering our own crosses, seen or unseen.

Constantly circling back to that verse, to meeting Christ crucified and encountering God's goodness in those we meet, is what carries on any Christian during the ups and downs of this crazy journey of having faith and doing the best we can. God is here.

Or it's what carries me on, anyway. 

And I like to believe that, if he were real, it would be what carried on Father Mulcahy too...especially on those days he wished he could just get the heck out of there.
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