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Peace in the midst of unrest

Thursday, July 21st 2016 12:10 pm
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 


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Photo courtesy of Lisa DeLay

Through the screens of our televisions and computers and smart phones we are facing increasing violence around the world. Full of humanity, pain and sorrow for the hurting world, each interview we watch is more than a story. It’s heart wrenching to witness the tears of my brothers and sisters. How do we hold on to hope for peace in a time overflowing with so much unrest?

My heart circles around Scripture—Luke 8:22-25. It reminds me how fear can overturn with a blinding force. In a boat on a lake in a squall Jesus’ disciples panic, let fear steer them to see only the storm. Discerning a certainty of drowning, they choose to react rather than respond.   

Jesus calms the storm: goes to the root of the experience; probes the hearts of his disciples to gain insight; asks open-ended questions and pauses for reflection; invites dialog to stimulate discernment of the source of turbulence. He calls for them to develop skills to deal with stressful experiences and strong emotions in a new way.

Jesus is a model for us: observing and pondering the environment before taking deliberate action. He demonstrates that complex situations call for a commitment to examine beyond the surface. We have the ability to learn from difficult experiences when our faith asks us to look again.

In discernment of religious life, in times of conflict and unease like facing reactions from family and friends, it’s instinctive to seek shelter, to immediately get away from the storm. But taking time to entertain curiosity—to examine your heart even if it feels immersed in a squall—can bring about the respectful response to the call you are sensing.

How do you respond to the storms in your discernment?

What questions is Jesus asking you in the midst of unrest in your life?

Discerning, igniting a revolution of peace

Thursday, October 5th 2017 12:00 am
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 

The first thing I do each morning is check the news app on my phone. Before my feet even touch the floor I become conscious of the violence that has occurred while I slept — horror has erupted in our neighborhoods, wars continue to rage throughout many nations. I say yet another impassioned prayer for peace as I get up to begin my day.  

Yesterday, I rose with the anticipation of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis, known to many as a peacekeeper and the patron saint of animals, woke to his own journey of life almost 800 years ago that was not filled with roses and rainbows. He lived in the middle of warring papal and city states where the feudal system was breaking down. Chaos ruled and many found themselves destitute, starving, and unprotected from the violence around them. I imagine that if there had been 24-hour world news coverage or instant, streaming internet video in his time, his world would in many ways mirror our own.   

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But Francis did not stand idle, watch the problems from a distance or hide from the world around him. God called him to go right into the heart of the system that was crumbling, urged him to move quickly to action. The invitation to “rebuild my church” was not some trite, easy task. It was an epic journey that would take Francis the course of his lifetime to navigate. For good or ill, he learned from success and I imagine much more from his failures. Perhaps in his early days, when he physically rebuilt churches stone by stone (as that is how he first interpreted God’s invitation), his isolation from social pressures and experience of quiet moments allowed him to discern how to be all of who he was before God. Eventually, as the story goes, Francis discovered that he needed to help people around him and started with the group he perhaps feared; the lepers.

Sister Eileen McKenzie reads a reflection of St. Francis by Brother Ruffino during an FSPA Transitus celebration in Mary of the Angels Chapel: "I remember how knowing Jesus and following in the footprints of Jesus was the one passion of his life."

Francis is a model and a light for our world today. He reminds us to reach out to help everyone in need, even those who make us feel uneasy, who we don’t understand and who we’ve previously chosen to ignore. He challenges us not to wait around hoping someone else will respond to the chaos around us. Light is even more contagious than darkness. What else could explain the thousands of silly, tug-at-your-heart animal videos on social media that so many of us tune out the troubled world to see? We are all looking for laughter and joy.

What would happen if, around the globe, we woke up to news stories filled with such love and happiness? A world in which individuals cultivate peace and positivity rather than fostering greed, hate and possessiveness?

Perhaps we could all begin our own revolution of peace.

Our collective wakeup call is here. How is your discernment beckoning you to be a light in our world today? How will you ignite a revolution of peace and joy in your corner of the world?

Where will your journey take you?

*Do you know someone experiencing discernment of religious life? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation. 

Sharing courage to walk in darkness and light

Thursday, February 9th 2017 2:40 pm
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 

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.

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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?


 

 

What if it's you?

Thursday, May 4th 2017 10:00 am
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 

Every now and then the concept of which came first—the chicken or the egg—pops into my mind, particularly when I am pondering something mysterious. I often allow myself a few moments to think about the possibilities but, as of now, I have yet to come up with an answer. As both are important, does it really matter which one was first? I choose to acknowledge that, in a world of fact finding literally at our fingertips, living with a little bit of the unknown is nice.

As I consider the mystery of how each person in the world discovers their unique vocation, I am intrigued. Almost overnight the world grows in complexity and innovation with new career options to explore, intriguing paths to follow. And within the infinite array of possibilities it’s remarkable each time someone says “yes” to their calling in life. It’s incredible when someone says “yes” to discernment.

One of the indispensable tools to use while discerning religious life is prayer. Praying to God for guidance and inspiration is essential. Friends and family also pray for discerners. The circle gets even wider when you consider that the whole Catholic church is praying for you too.


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Mary of the Angels Chapel (image courtesy of Viterbo University)

It’s challenging to absorb the fact that people you don’t know, who you may never meet, are supporting your discernment through prayer. Each time a petition is read at church, prayer circles meet and parents pray for their children, vocational journeys are in motion. You may be unaware of the prayer surrounding you, but it’s there. 

Formally, across the world, parishes will join together on May 7 and pray for all discerners as we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As communities access the needs in their cities they may pray that you are the one to come and serve; that your specific gifts and talents are the answer to their search for help.

What if it’s you they’re praying for? Are you prepared to say “yes” and choose life as a sister, brother, priest, deacon or lay minister to serve the people of God? Are you willing to also pray for others to join you?

This week, pray for openness to attune to the needs of the world. As you join your faith community in praying for vocations, ask yourself if the petition is spoken for you.

If so, how are you going to respond?

Open eyes can change world views

Thursday, January 19th 2017 11:00 am
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 

This week we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a charismatic civil rights leader who offered a new vision for the United States; who gave to the world “I Have a Dream.” He dared to imagine a different way of living his life to promote change on behalf of millions of others—most of whom he would never know. Those who accept his public declaration of an attentive worldview can harness that power; declare and realize their own dreams.

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Image courtesy of freeimages.com

Throughout my graduate school classes, conferences and formation studies I have continually been reminded that where we stand has a direct correlation to what we see. If you choose to perch from a place of power in order to maintain power you will not see the horizon from the vantage point of those with little control over their struggling existence. It’s a paradox starkly reflected in the refugee crisis in our world. Each time I see a photo my heart is twisted by the pain and anguish I see on the faces of those unnamed and suffering and unsafe before my eyes.

It’s these images that remind me of one of my professors in graduate school, Carla Mae Streeter, O.P. She gave us an assignment to search magazines and newspapers for an image of a person whose vulnerability spoke to our hearts. She challenged us to keep the image in a place of remembrance throughout our studies to remind us of why we were students of theology, and what the Gospel calls each of us to do. This assignment was more than just a class requirement: it continues to be a lasting life lesson. Each time I enter discernment--from ministry to volunteer opportunity--I reflect on why I am discerning and choosing action. Will the choice before me reflect Gospel tenants?

Questioning motives and desires is an important part of discerning religious life. If the dream is driven by power and recognition it may dissipate quickly in the face of challenge; crumble under the weight of commitment. Following the call of the Gospel requires not only response to the needs of others before your own, but laying down your life for the world around you.

What do you see in your discernment dream? What heart-held image inspires you? Are you responding to a need in your community, or do you envision crossing borders and oceans to give your life and service in missionary fields? I am perpetually motivated by the founders of my own religious community who heard there were people in need in the United States. They left their family, friends and comforts of their Bavarian homeland in 1849 to follow the call God placed in their hearts. Their lives were transformed in the moment they said “Yes” and their work of collaboration and co-creation with God began. Proclaiming your own “Yes,” waking up and making your own dream a reality, has the potential to not only change your life but also the lives of those you serve. Experience in the encounters will teach lessons far beyond any you could have ever imagined if you're open to mutual transformation.

What if your dream is the one the world needs now?

Are you willing to take the next steps in your discernment to make it a reality?

Honoring lives lost, praying for world peace

Thursday, May 25th 2017 4:25 pm
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

Obituaries and celebrating St. Clare

Thursday, August 17th 2017 10:00 am
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 

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St. Clare of Assisi

Reading an obituary can fill us with tension and sadness; loss as well as insight and inspiration. I have read a lot of obituaries. As a former parish pastoral associate I have been present with family members as they carefully chose the stories and words for the final public statement about their loved one. I have shared in laughter and tears for life stories shared in the sacred experience of death. How do you explain a lifetime of love and care through good times and bad? How can words convey what the heart feels and recalls, from ordinary routines to extraordinary experiences? Death can be a revelation and a time of reflection of the contribution that every life makes in our world. 

Our loved ones live on in us when stories of their lives are passed from one generation to the next. Last Thursday evening, as we marked the anniversary of her death, our community gathered in Mary of the Angels Chapel to hear witness accounts of the Acts of Canonization of St. Clare of Assisi and stories from the "Legend of St. Clare." Over 800 years later, the witness of her life continues to transform our world and shape the Franciscan family.  

Sister Mary Kathryn Fogarty reads the reflection by Lady Benedetta from "The Legend of St. Clare"

St. Clare followed the light of Christ through the darkness of greed, corruption and abuse of power that left many people of her time discarded and unprotected. She refused to be a part of a system that would perpetuate division between rich and poor. Striving to live like her beloved, poor Christ she fought for the privilege of poverty for her monastery, refusing the bishop’s persuasion to allow it to be endowed. Endowment would bring power and influence, two agents she desired to avoid. St. Clare listened to the voice of her conscious until her dying day. Just prior to her death, she received approval for her community’s rule of life. St. Clare’s entire existence on earth was aligned with her love of Christ and serving the needs of all those around her. 

What are you willing to stake your life on? Is there a cause or group that needs your help? Is there a system that perpetuates violence or oppression in which change is possible? Are there others who have the same cares and concerns as you? 

How would being part of a religious community allow you to have support and encouragement as you stand with and work alongside your brothers and sisters in need?    

Discernment is a time to take stock, to ask yourself what you believe. Where is your conscious leading you? How will you be an agent of change in our world today? 

In the far off future, what will your obituary say about you? Will it share the ways you sought to serve others, courageously using your voice, your gifts, your talents?

Sister Pauline's Six Word Mission Story

Tuesday, February 21st 2017 10:00 am
Sister Pauline Wittry, FSPA

 

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Are you willing to share (post a comment below) your own Six Word Mission Story?

Love beyond measure

Thursday, February 16th 2017 10:00 am
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

 

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).


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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.


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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?


 


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