What's your six word discernment story?
In moments of despair and grief in my life I have longed to hear the words “It’s going to be okay;” okay meaning others will walk with me through times of pain and loss (although not everything will be exactly like it was before, even when my heart longs for the way it was). Affirmation and assurance of care and concern have been like balm for my soul, in my own experiences of loss.
In the Gospels this week I have found companions in the lives of the disciples. Pain and sorrow shroud their vision. The mantle of grief is so heavy on their shoulders that they could not recognize the risen Christ. Through tear-stained, bleary eyes each one encounters transformation and deeper faith as they recognize who stands before them. Patiently Christ extends love and compassion to each one, revealing the truth of his resurrection to be more than a prediction. With renewed energy and purpose the disciples hasten to share the news of the resurrection. These stories stand as not only testimony to the truth of the resurrection of Jesus but also as encouragement to face our own moments of crisis; when the death of someone we love or the loss of what we thought was our direction in life suddenly shifts.
We stand in the grace of time as we know that Jesus has risen redeemed as the Christ, journeying together through the church year as we celebrate the events of the conception, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is difficult to see this same cycle at work in our own lives as we experience our own grief-stricken moments; situations in which the grace of time has yet to be revealed and our faith is stretched nearly to its breaking point. Like the disciples, we have to learn from the events of our day. We cannot fast forward our lives and look back from the future, expressing to our past selves that what you’re experiencing now is going to help you in the long run. We must rely on our faith in God and know that when we need it most, we'll recognize Jesus standing before us with our own resurrection moment in hand.
There are times in discernment that grief will be a part of the journey; where you may feel all is lost and the happily ever after you long for is not yet on the horizon. Remember the disciples; remember that the transformation is just a few dark nights away. Easter alleluias always come; God will not abandon you on your discernment journey. As in the Gospel you will be renewed, transformed and then sent forth to help others in their own passages, singing your irreplaceable alleluia as you go.
This week, ask yourself …
How have your worst experiences transformed into new life?
What barriers did you have to break through to come to this realization?
Who were the agents of transformation—those who helped you open your eyes to the reality in front of you?
This week I have witnessed traditional signs of love with Valentine’s Day as flowers were delivered to St. Rose Convent for employees; their spouses taking time from their busy lives to pause and send a symbol of their love. From my office window I’ve seen many women, fighting the strong breeze with smiles on their faces, carrying blowing balloons and other gifts from their jobs at the hospital where every day they show their love and care for each patient in pain. Viterbo University students have also drifted by, proudly toting tokens from their significant others (or those who long to be).
Image courtesy of freeimages.com
It is the time we are reminded, especially commercially, by the idea of love in our world. But this impression must also exist beyond the gifts, outside these celebrations, in the reality of everyday life. From moments of elation to those heavy with grief, love is present always.
Do we see it in all its forms?
Today I sit from another vantage point inside our convent—the Adoration Chapel—watching as adorers (who pray forward the FSPA ministry of 24/7 adoration that began in 1878) offer their love to a hurting world. Each one allows the intention to move beyond their earnest eyes and folded hands into the recess of their hearts. The love poured out desires healing over injury, common ground over fighting, friendship over division. This kind of love requires laying down one’s own preconceived notions and personal agendas to allow the heart to awake to needs far beyond the doorway of the chapel.
A candle, made by FSPA hands with lard, lights perpetual adoration in the chapel.
It is this Gospel love for others that is at the very heart of discernment. Are you willing to allow the needs of others to enter your heart? Are you willing to choose to be an advocate for your brothers and sisters who are in need? Are you willing to allow the encounter to stretch your heart, open your eyes and grant you new vision? These are the transformational questions at the core of discernment.
There is a story from the Gospel of John that is circling in my heart as I write this post; just as it did when I imagined what my own religious life could feel like. It is the pinnacle of Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches; Jesus’ request to love others. Love is what it is all about. It’s also what discernment—and religious life—are all about.
What is in your heart this week full of Valentines?
Who, or what, are you in love with?
Come to peace
Home to self
Loving Source of Life
Tender font of love
Turn to light eternal
Live in loving presence
Franciscan Way is a series featuring prayerful reflection by Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
Image by Graham Soult, courtesy pixabay.com
May the joy of the Christmas season fill your heart all through the year.
Are you discerning religious life? Walking with someone who is? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation. And, stay tuned to Show me a sign for new videos in the FSPA discernment series!
My time with television news at home or listening to the radio on my way to work has been full of sorrow and worry. There's been very little positive news woven into each broadcast. Sometimes I just need to turn it all off and pray for peace.
Yet I know, no matter what the issue is or where you may personally stand with it, it's important to be informed about what's going on in the world. There’s also intrinsic value in holding on to your heart in times that can feel overwhelming. God is always present: the way forward will be created as we all rally as a human family. When we watch for one side or the other to succumb to defeat we also lose sight of the Gospel call to love one another. Does love want others to lose in order for someone to win? Is being right more essential than being compassionate?
Is any of this uncertainty affecting your discernment?
I've yet to meet anyone who can say their time of discernment was filled with only light because, inherently, fear and discouragement are all around us; part of being human. But when we encounter situations that stop our progress even for a moment we can, and not just as an afterthought, invite God to come closer: to center us and walk with us and help clarify the call for us. Learning to rely on God's guidance is essential. And whether it be uncertainty of the world or religious life, sharing your disillusionment with close family or friends is also essential to finding light in oblivion. Faith, hope and love are the antidotes of fear.
And strength of character in the depth of your commitment is often revealed when you find ways to befriend your moments of challenge.
Karen Lueck, FSPA, joined a recent solidarity rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin
Our world is a wonderful example right now, because despite the gloomy surface-level appearance, joy continues. Couples fall in love, students achieve their dreams, and elderly see another generation added to their families. The human spirit cannot be contained. Love and joy will find ways to shine even brighter against the dark horizon.
How has joy triumphed over disillusionment in your discernment this week?
How will you bring hope to others?
Will you share your courage to keep walking, in a world of darkness, on the journey of discernment?
In a spirit of collaboration, we enter into the celebration of National Catholic Sisters Week (March 8 through 14). There are over 45,000 women religious in the United States, and FSPA is a member of one of the organization’s partnering groups—the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. They have come together in a campaign called “Kindness: Get in the Habit.” Billboards and advertisements as well as a school curriculum for the week are all aimed at encouraging individuals to find ways to be kind to one another.
Kindness is a basic human value that’s often lost amid a world filled with competition and sometimes questionable motivation. As we walk through the second week of Lent we recall that the tenets of the Lenten season include prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Kindness easily supports each tenets. We are invited to open our eyes to our own actions and reflect on the ways in which we are attentive to the invitation of the season.
The readings placed before us today are like a glowing neon sign along the Lenten road of spiritual growth. The words flowing from the lips of Queen Esther are those of intercession on behalf of her people. Choosing to give voice to the concerns of her heart, she pleads for wisdom and courage to have eloquence of speech to persuade those who can protect and champion her cause.
How many times—in the defining moments of your life where everything is on the line and God is your advocate—have you prayed like Esther?
Eileen McKenzie, FSPA, deep in the tenet of prayer (image courtesy of Vendi Advertising).
There are many Esthers in our world today as prayers of refugees, immigrants and others displaced pray on behalf of their communities for safety, food, water and asylum from the horrors they have fled; to be heard in their suffering and feel the presence of caring from God and all of us who walk in humanity by their sides. What does the season (and not just during Lent) call us to but the obligations of being Catholic Christians?
Esther bows in prayer and supplication to God. She aligns her interior and exterior reality of life situation as queen, advocate, subject and co-creator. She has not walled herself into the security of the palace. She knows the struggles her people face as it was once her own experience. Her actions have a direct impact on others. She is accountable for what she chooses and she holds God accountable to guide her.
Esther is a model for all who discern. She exemplifies the courage, strength and perseverance that is indispensable to remain rooted in Gospel values as you make a choice for your own vocation. Challenges are a part of life, and how you choose to move through them speaks volumes of who you are.
How can the choices you make in your life alleviate the pain and sorrow of a hurting world?
How does your vocational discernment bring relevance to humanity at this time in our history?
Image courtesy of freeimages.com
When was the last time you sat in silence?
Where were you? In the woods, in a church or perhaps in your living room? Daily, we are encouraged to plug into everything around us so we don’t miss anything. Ironically, we are missing out because of plugging in. A common sight on college campuses is a group of friends, sitting together yet busy texting others and ignoring the people around them. Professors have no texting policies to get students to pay attention to the lectures taking place right in front of them. Many parishes announce before worship begins to silence cell phones. We live in a time in history that is running from silence. When we plug in, are we silencing God?
I love to pray with music (from classical to contemporary Catholic) and I know I also need silence to hear the inner stirrings of my heart. Music can be both a pathway to prayer and, when I use it to avoid silence and contemplation, a roadblock. Silence brings a second gift of stillness that is not present when I am immersed in the melody of my favorite tunes.
Creating intentional time for silence and stillness becomes a gateway for contemplation. It takes commitment and energy to allow stillness to seep in. Seeking silence requires moving past fidgeting body movements, racing thoughts about work and family and even letting go of the background noises of ticking clocks and air whooshing through vents.
Investing time in relationship with God without expectation of immediate results is countercultural. A relationship based on devotion of time can transform you from a consumer of prayer, only as needed, to a companion—from passive to active in your eternal relationship. Silence may help you hear a deeper answer rather than provide a quick fix. I want answers to my prayers and requests fast and as I continue to learn sometimes the waiting, even when painful and stressful, eventually opens me to a deeper level of trust in my relationship with God.
In reflecting on silence and stillness the Gospel of Matthew 7:13-14 came to my heart. It is the teaching about the narrow gate. I remember learning in my graduate theology courses that Gospel stories are living stories. They serve as timeless portals and allow each of us to continue to learn even thousands of years after they were written. These verses in Matthew remind us how to make daily choices that lead us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Biblical scholars and homilists have helped shape my understanding of such a profound passage. Each time I hear this piece of Scripture I am in a different part of my life journey and something new is revealed.
Today, I am sitting with the core of Jesus’s message. The narrow way is not the easy way. Unplugging in our American culture takes courage. Perhaps in this context of reflection taking the earbuds out of our ear canals—narrow gateways—will allow God’s call to pass through. Seeking silence and stillness to widen the narrow gateways of your discernment makes room to spread out, to sink deeper into your heart. Choosing to make time in your busy life to unplug the phones, mobile devices and other distractions will help you to plug into God.
How do you create time of silence and stillness?
Are you willing to plug into God and listen for guidance in your discernment?
Will you risk moving through the narrow gateways of your ears and heart?
It’s common for many people to run away, hardening their hearts to a possible call to religious life. Fear, anxiety and worry are sometimes overwhelming and leave little room for joy, wonder, curiosity and trust. The invitation to discern may come as a surprise — perhaps in a comment from a friend or coworker — leaving you reeling at the possibility. This happened to me. Or, maybe you are sensing an emerging awareness in the stillness of prayer. It can be a confusing time. More questions than answers may swirl in your head like...what does this all mean? Why me? What will others think about me? Will my friends still hang out with me?
Image courtesy pixabay.com
Each of these questions has implications not just for those who choose religious life, but for all life. At some point everyone finds themselves asking
“Who am I and what do I want to do with my life?”
Today’s psalm is a great reminder about the attitude we carry when we enter into a time of discernment and how each of us choose to respond when the way forward is confusing or challenging. This passage recalls a time of discouragement for our ancestors in faith, a time when they put God to their own test. Sometimes in discernment we also test God in attempt to know exactly what life would be like if we made one choice rather than another. An attitude that says in its own way “Prove it to me God!”
These are our own Meribah moments.
What better time of year than Lent to turn once again towards God, asking for guidance and courage to prayerfully consider all of the vocational choices that are possible. Considering, researching and exploring are not in and of themselves acts of commitment. There are many steps in discernment and there will be time to say yes or no along the way.
How can the invitation to discern help you develop your own heart of flesh?
What do you hear in the words of today’s psalm?
In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week (which begins today), Show me a sign will feature a series of reflections by Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration surrounding the question "What inspires you about religious life today?" throughout the week.