Monday, August 7, 2017

Not Your Typical Proposal

"All suffering contributes in one way or another to our happiness" (Power of Silence, p. 88).

Imagine me on an 8-day silent retreat to conclude a not so typical 'cloistered' novitiate year.  As I stared into the sky marveling at the beauty of the setting sun, I caught a glimpse of a hot air balloon and began to think:  If I do commit my life to Jesus, I will never be able to ride in one.  I mourned this loss, saddened at a missed experience but my heart was at peace.

We are NEVER too far from His Mercy!
My dear brothers and sisters, God has miraculously converted my heart to a deep realization of His love for me.  I didn't believe He could love my weaknesses, yet He was safeguarding what I thought I had lost until He knew He could return it to me.  This pilgrimage has not been without painful confrontation with my own poverty of spirit but He has led me to an oasis of beauty which is His pierced feet.  Oh the beauty of these feet (I know not all will agree with me) but allow me to bare my sole..get it?!?!

God has tangibly made Himself present, in the midst of suffering and experiences of joy, always confirming that I was following the Father's will even in what I was living seemed to look to be a desert of nothingness.  To live in the freedom in which you don't know the result but you know you are being led is humbling and truly without words.

Brothers and sisters, the feet I kiss every morning and night walked a road that He now is asking me to follow whole-heartedly.  I too will fall on the dusty path, be kicked, mocked, and misunderstood for choosing to live in His image.  I freely choose such a life.  I recoil from the thought of joining my Beloved on the cross, but it is His invitation to help redeem souls that I cannot resist.  If my hidden prayers and hopefully silent offerings of pains can help a wandering sheep return to the Father's pasture, as I have, then I will daily say 'YES' until He calls me Home.

This path to conversion is my journey to holiness.  I beg you to pray for all souls the Lord is beckoning to kiss His pierced feet and join Him in a relationship as a victim of love through priesthood, religious life or the consecrated single life.  (Married couples, I need your witness of love to better live my consecration, so please know you are not forgotten, you too are victims of love!)  Ask God what grace He wishes to bless you with and then respond to the Father's unique call.  For me, courage, patient endurance, and child-like simplicity will be daily virtues I will fail at but always strive to live more fully!

Believe in His love!  He delights in you not because you are successful at what you do but because He has chosen you as His beloved one; His daughter, His son!  Relish in this truth and live in the promise that He remains with us always!  May the knowledge of my humble prayers offer you the strength you need to tune your ears to the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you by name.

Will you follow me to His feet?

Hide me in Your wounds Lord Jesus, bathe me in Your blood, and heal me, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

Hidden in the wounds of Christ, I remain your sister,
See you in the Eucharist,

~Sr. Marianne  :O)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

May God give you His peace!

A few days ago, Sr. April Marie and I returned to Cleveland after spending a week helping with a Totus Tuus (“Totally Yours,” from St. JPII) camp in South Dakota. This camp was a vocational camp for middle school girls, but also included high school girl leaders. The camp was hosted by the Diocese of Rapid City at their Terra Sancta retreat center (http://terrasancta.org). There were 25 religious sisters from about 13 different communities (including Sr. April and myself) helping with this camp. Talk about funsies with nunsies!

The theme for this camp came from 1 John 4:18: Perfect love casts out all fear. This verse just happened to be the verse given to me by my spiritual director during Lent. Right before the Lenten season began I was struggling with a deeply rooted fear about my upcoming religious profession of vows. Basically, I was afraid that Jesus was not pleased with me. I experienced tremendous healing during that time as I realized that I have to let perfect Love cast out whatever fear was preventing me from going forward. I owe a lot to the loving support of my sisters and to the gentle encouragement my spiritual director has given me. From all this awareness, I learned that I cannot do anything on my own (John 5:30) and that I have to let God love me!

Anyways, after learning that the theme was 1 John 4:18, I felt that God was challenging me to live out all that I learned during Lent and to share this with others. Each volunteering community was also given an activity or talk to lead during the camp. For us, we were asked to give a talk/activity for the high school leaders about spiritual mothers as leaders, and we were also asked to lead 3 rounds of a talk/activity for the middle school campers about the life of St. Philomena and overcoming the fear of being unlovable.

Very briefly, St. Philomena was an early Church martyr. She was the age of most of the middle school girls at this Totus Tuus camp when she was killed for refusing to marry the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Her refusal came from the fact that she was consecrated to God. Her story is unique in that she was tortured and miraculously healed multiple times before she finally died. Her testimony won many converts to Christianity. How was she able to withstand the horror she endured? My theory is that she knew and believed that she was loved by God and she was able to love Him in return to the end. This is something we are all called to today!


When I asked each group at the Totus Tuus Camp, “Who here struggles with the fear of being unloved/unlovable?” almost every hand (including those of the sisters) went up. The Holy Spirit prompted me to talk about being rooted in an authentic relationship with God. Just like any relationship, they take work! We make time to be with our family and friends, we reach out to our loved ones, and we listen to them when they want to share something personal. How much more is this with God! We are challenged to make time to get to know Him (prayer), to vulnerably share our hearts with Him, and to LISTEN to Him!

All of us at some point have been hurt by others, but so often this gets projected on God. God is love (1 John 4:8) and He is always wanting to give Himself completely to us…but He also doesn’t force Himself on anyone­­­––that wouldn’t be love! The ball is in our court, so to speak, to receive the total gift of Himself. By receiving His love, we are then challenged to reciprocate (remember, this is a relationship!) by making a gift of our very selves. This is often where the fear of being unloved/unlovable creeps in.

“What will happen to me if I give myself to Him…?” “How can God love me if I…?” The Enemy does not want us to be in a relationship with God, so he does everything he can to make us believe the lie that we are unloved/unlovable. We become captives of this fear when we believe the lies of the Enemy.

The interesting thing about overcoming this particular fear is that we have to let ourselves be loved by Love Himself! In this way, Perfect Love literally casts out all fear! I can say that this is true because this is something I have experienced myself. May God help you to let yourself be truly loved so that He can cast out all of your fears!

Please pray for me and be assured of my prayers for you!

Love always from your Sister,
Sr. Katie


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Hundredfold


V.J.E
When first beginning to discern religious life in my junior year at the University of Florida, one of the things that made it very hard to even accept the fact that I needed to discern this vocation, was the thought that it would mean leaving my friends and family behind.  
The Lord had given me my family, and constantly reminded me to care for them, and to be present to them. My friends were also a gift from the Lord, despite their having very different world views compared to mine. It had been clear to me all of my life that I was meant to be with them, to show them the love that God gives. I took very seriously the idea that as a Catholic, my way of acting, my choices, and my behavior should reflect the love and mercy that Christ poured out on the Cross. When the thought of religious life entered my mind though, I feared that it was an option that would make my parents lose their daughter, and my friends lose the only face they had to put to Catholicism (outside of the image which the media tried to feed them). With time, as I began to make Catholic friends, I soon began to see them also as people I would lose. This time it seeming like a greater loss for me than for them. 
I began to see parting with those I loved as being the necessary sacrifice that the Lord asks of anyone He calls.The desire to be with Him was too strong, and too urgent to ignore, and I had to have faith that He would provide for them, and me, the graces necessary to part from each other. Little by little, my family began to support me in my discernment through insisting that I make whatever sacrifices the Lord asked, that nothing else mattered. This was a motivating push which gave me the courage to go to the gospel, and recall all those passages where Jesus says, “Come follow me,” and the listener drops everything and just goes (Mark 1:16-20) and then of the rich man who is told to give away all his possessions (Mark 10: 17-22). All these became readings to remind me that it is a radical trust, that I did not understand, but that I had to respond with in order to become who He meant me to be.
By the time I entered, ten months ago, I had heard plenty of times, and had the intellectual understanding of the fact that in entering religious life I was not abandoning my family or my friends, but rather I would love them in a new way. What this would look like I did not know, but I trusted that God would make it so. In His Divine Providence, He has heard the cries of His lowly servant, and answered with gentle and unfailing love. I have not felt the pain of separation from friends or family, from this I have been saved, not because I do not love them, or because I love them more from a distance, but because I never left them and they never left me.
In the gift of the Eucharist it is revealed to me that I am united to all those in my life, as He is in me and I am in Him, and all of creation has been claimed by His love, whether or not they acknowledge it. Even in my dreams this is made evident, as I would find myself waking up often having dreamt with particular friends or family members, dreams in which I would sit and simply talk with them to see how they were doing and offer my prayers, and sometimes receive particular prayer requests from them. This often meant waking up feeling as though I had not slept at all, but rather had just been back in Gainesville, or in Tampa, or in Puerto Rico. I call these my mini home visits, but really they are beautiful opportunities, through which the Lord shows me that I have not left anyone behind, for in having Him I have everyone, even those who do not know Him.
This is the love that God gives and offers His children, a love that in Him brings us to be joined with all those we have known. It allows me to love more, and to love in a new way, yes, but not because of distance, but because of an indescribable closeness. The closer we are to God the closer we invariably are to everyone else. The more time I spend gazing at my Beloved, and letting Him gaze at me, the clearer it becomes that I have given Him everyone, and He has not taken them away, but instead has given them back to me a hundredfold.




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Return to the Father

V.J.E.

"Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart." (Joel 2:12)

On the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday), we heard these words of hope.  We, the Church, are being asked "to return to [the Lord] with [our] whole heart" with the God-given hope that even now is not too late.  So, "do not delay turning back to the Lord, do not put it off day after day" (Sirach 5:7).  The season of Lent is not about what we are doing, but rather, about relationship.

No matter where we are in the spiritual life, we are being asked to deepen our relationship with God.   In the Gospel, Jesus gives instruction about giving alms, praying, and fasting. He emphasizes doing all these things "in secret" or in a hidden manner.  Notice that Jesus teaches us that all that we do is directed to the Father "who sees in secret," "who sees what is hidden."

These verses throughout the years always gave me the impression that we must hide, that we must be alone where no one will see us.  It is true, we are being called to be hidden in humility and charity in our actions, but the Word shed light on something different to me this time.  In every instruction to be "in secret," or "hidden," we are always with the Father.  We are not alone!  I think we can take our relationship with God for granted to the point that we turn our backs to Him, not necessarily because we want Him out of our lives, but maybe because we think we don't need God all the time, or that He doesn't need to be involved in everything.  Yet, Jesus, by His whole life, shows us that our lives - every iota - must be offered to the Father.  It is through Jesus Christ that we are invited to do so.

The Word revealed to me something about my own relationship with God: I was hiding from Him. Sure, in the convent, there's nowhere to hide or runaway to, but in the monastery of my heart, there are places to run and hide from God.  Really, God is always with us and sees us always, but He waits with divine patience for us to recognize His glory and to let His light shine upon our souls.  Jesus tells us to hide our actions from worldly recognition, but then in turn, He teaches us not to hide from the Father!  I was running away from the invitation to "be with Him" (Mark 3:14).  By God's grace, and with the help of my spiritual guides, I am choosing to accept Jesus' invitation, but with no idea of what He has in store for me, but I know this journey can only be one of Mercy and Love.  I ask that you may pray for my increase in trust in God's loving will and to embrace it!

This Lent, ask God where He wants you to grow in your relationship with Him.  Be open and receptive to the response God wants to give you.  Maybe He wants you to grow in your relationship with Him as His son/daughter, brother/sister, or even as His most trustworthy friend.  Whatever or wherever that may be, then don't forget to ask God how He wants you to grow.  God desires to share with us His secrets, but are we willing to give him a listening ear and a "listening heart?" Whether you have your "plans" for Lent already or still waiting for your Lenten plans to be revealed, choose to do everything with God and for God.  He wants to be beside you not above you.  God dwells in you.  Don't hide from God, return to Him.

Here are a few practical ways to cultivate your relationship with God:
  •  Lectio divina (Divine Reading)
    • Encounter God in Sacred Scripture.  A good place to start is with the daily Mass readings.  Let God speak to you.  Each day a word or phrase may be given to you to receive and pray with.  Let the Word penetrate your life.
  • Attend daily Mass & go to Reconcilation
    • Sunday Mass is a must so if you don't already go to Mass every Sunday, start now. Prepare yourself to be a tabernacle of Christ by going to the sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this sacrament, we allow God to immerse us in Mercy and to reconcile us to Himself through the forgiveness of our sins. Do not be afraid!  The Eucharist is the center of our lives, so celebrating the Eucharist more frequently can only help us grow in virtue and God's grace. Jesus Christ is our source and our strength, so receive His whole life in the Eucharist!  The more we open ourselves to receiving the whole Christ, the more we are able to surrender our lives completely to the Father.
  • Spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament
    • Find out if your parish has Adoration during the week.  Whether Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed or remains in the tabernacle, spending time with Him is essential for our lives.  Start with 10 minutes a day or an hour a week, half hour before Sunday Mass, whatever routine you start, commit to it and cherish this time.  As a friend used to say, "Don't make time for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, fight for it!"
  • Silence
    • Silence is vital in our relationship with God especially in our noisy world.  We aren't just talking about external silence, but also internal.  Silence allows us to be open to hearing God's voice, and hopefully to respond in total surrender.  Again, spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament is a good place to enter into silence, but if you are unable to go to a church every day, find a place in your home where you can enter into this sacred silence.  See this place as an extension of the church. 
  • Mary & the saints
    • As we grow in our relationship with God, we inevitably will grow in our relationships with Mary and the saints.  In my experience, saint friends choose us more than we choose them all in God's design because He knows we need them.  Ask for saints' intercession, but I will say, when you ask for a saint's intercession, it won't make life easier, but it will make you holier.

Remember, we are never meant to travel this journey alone.  So make sure you participate in the life of your parish community,  Ask God who He desires you to journey with.  Pray about having a spiritual director or confidant that you can confide in about what God is doing in your soul.  Don't forget, God is always with you.  He will never give up on you.

With Mary in the Eucharist,
Sr. Kathryne Lopez

"Believe that He loves you.  He wants to help you Himself in the struggles which you must undergo.  Believe in His Love, His exceeding Love." (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

An Examination of Conscience for Any Gamer

VJE

This is a note to all my video gamer Catholics.

Recently a child asked me, “Is playing Call of Duty a sin?” My response, as someone who grew up playing video games with my brother and who is now in formation to be a Sister in a religious congregation, is as follows:
Now personally I was more of a fighter game kind of girl; Soul Calibur was my relaxation and venting method. Nonetheless, the idea is the same. The game in itself is not a sin, but consider: Is your inclination because of the game sinful? Take a moment and evaluate yourself.
When you play the game do you:
-Get frustrated more easily at people around you?
-Do you get angry more easily?
-Are you impatient or irritable when others approach you?
- Are you disrespectful to your parents?
-Does playing the game keep you from being present to others?
Again, playing the game is not a sin. However, has playing the game led you to sin?
Another thing I wanted to touch on was: When do you know the game is your “god”? My dear gamers when you start seeking consolation, peace, joy, and even love in a videogame, then you have made it your god. Now I often would play games to vent or to relax, and to a point this can be healthy, but when you start to think that it is only in playing video games that you can get this then maybe it’s time to step back and seek something less temporary and more eternal. The game is your god when you cry for it. When you think only about it. When you are still thinking about tactics to get to the next level instead of being present to the people in your life. It is then that the game is  “god”, and that is a sin. No matter how real the game graphics may look there is a power button to that world, but this world is infinitely different and the love and fulfillment that one gains from relationships in this world is infinitely more valuable. Particularly, the love, joy, consolation, and peace given by always ordering God first in our hearts is eternally more valuable. It is the difference between the water that leaves you thirsting and the living water that once you drink, you never thirst again.



If you were to put a remote in my hands, my giddy gamer self would still come out ready to button-mash the final battle, to my opponents’ great annoyance. The game itself is not the sin, but if I react to the game with sin, be it in my actions, my character, my thoughts, or my lack of action, then I have allowed myself to be led into sin. We have to be responsible gamers, ready to put the remote down when we are at risk of losing self-control, and ready to press the power button when we honor the game as God. We must remember always that the real goal of our lives is union with Christ who gives us the eternal love, peace, consolation, and joy that the game can only provide for the moment we are playing and winning.

God's will be done,
Lourdes

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Mute Will Sing

I recently was inspired to write a song about our Mother Foundress. A little more than a year ago, God rekindled a passion of mine, and songs began pouring out of me again. What are songs really, but prayers? Not every song can be properly called a prayer, I suppose. But those that are derived from communion with God, that are responses to His movements, that are graced encounters and epiphanies and revelations… those, I believe, are prayers. And they are beyond the level of feeling. Yes, sometimes we may feel elated or sad or awed or alone, and these feelings may color our songs. But prayer is communication, not a way of feeling, and communication with God is always possible, even when our affect and faculties seem to fail us. 

From a young age I have had a great love for singing. I remember my earliest memory of it - sitting in the backseat of my Uncle and Aunt’s car as a toddler and singing along to my favorite song on the radio, “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal. My older sister, Jessica, constantly encouraged me to sing, and I participated in several singing, acting, and dancing groups over the years. Self-consciousness set in a little more around middle school and high school, and embarrassment during a rendition of “Amazing Grace” freshmen year led me to doubt my ability to sing. Later in high school, I felt bolstered up by the accompaniment of a cover band that I sang for, but was still too scared to sing without them. 

It was in college that I began to sing consistently in choirs at the church, and I was told by a musician that I really admired, that God had given me a beautiful voice. He inspired me to continue singing in public, and even to join the Spanish choir and to be a cantor for Mass. Unfortunately, as my confidence grew, so did my pride. Singing became so much a part of my identity that I often did not pray without it. Prayer is a dialogue, and for my part, I was doing much more speaking (and singing) than listening. Song is a wonderful tool for prayer, but it is not the only one, nor should it be dominant. What we receive from Jesus in His silence is greater than anything we could ever offer Him.

He began to teach me this in a very real way about a year and a half ago. Problems with the muscles in my throat seemed to develop out of nowhere, and singing became difficult. Eventually I could no longer help with leading the singing in community, and speech also became difficult. I was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia. I was hopeful, but after months of speech therapy and reaching what appeared to be a plateau, I had to accept my situation as it was. I began to feel like all of the songs that God had put on my heart, that he had inspired me to write, were trapped within me - that I could not even share them with my community. But this was what I needed to accept. What if I was not healed from this? What if God had me write those songs just for Him and I alone? Was I okay with that

The answer is and was, “Yes”. The truth is, when I’m able to step back from the situation itself and try to see what God has been calling me to through it, I have seen grace. Through this silence, God has cultivated within me a deeper appreciation for silence. Through this silence, I have grown in appreciation for my Sisters, and the gifts God has given them. Through this silence, I have learned something about my own dignity, and how it is not diminished by lack of talent. I am still the same April, even if I am unable to speak.

So then, refocusing on the present situation, I asked myself, what can I actually do to benefit my community, in addition to praying for the flourishing of my Sisters? Jesus needed to give me an assignment through my Superiors in order to show me. 

September 21st, 2016 would be the 150th anniversary of our Foundress Mother María del Refugio’s birth. A lot of our Sisters from all over the world would be meeting in Mexico for a big celebration. Mother Jeanette and Mother Rosario, our immediate superiors here, gathered us in the kitchen to let us know about the anniversary, and that each community was asked to contribute something to it. Ideas were proposed, and I was thinking of a song that had started formulating in my head (or my heart, depending on how you want to look at it) that morning. Just then, Mother Jeanette looked at me and said, “I don’t want to put any pressure on you at all, but I was thinking perhaps you could write a song.” Yup.

A few days later, the song was finished. It is a bit of a haunting song, written from the perspective of María as she reflects on the love and trial she has experienced in this life. She married probably due to family or societal pressure but came to love her husband very much, lost him and her son, and was left to try to provide for her daughter. There is an interesting twist at the end of this true story, so check out the video to see its conclusion: 





Although singing is still a challenge for me, I feel renewed by the beauty that this project has elicited and solicited, and by the generosity of my Sisters and friend who made it possible. Let us give thanks to the Lord always! ~ Sr. April Marie

Monday, December 12, 2016

Receiving and Giving

“Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
He comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
He comes to save you."
Isaiah 35:4

Ok. Real talk. I don't know about you, but this semester was a tough one….yes, even for a “baby nun.” There were many moments where I encountered my human limitations and had to humbly admit that I truly cannot do anything on my own. I cannot save myself.  

Before entering religious life, I became a certified counselor, worked at a high school, and was very active in ministry. I was often taking care of others in various ways. Sometimes in religious life there is the temptation for me to always be busy in this way. It is easier for me to offer counsel to others than to receive counsel myself, for example. It is hard for me to receive….it is hard for me to allow someone to “save” me. 

This past week I was gently called out on this by 2 different people, in 2 different situations….and these people happen to be diocesan priests. One straight up said to me, “You have to receive.” The other one, “I want to protect you.” When something like this happens, one cannot deny that God is trying to communicate something important. 

For Advent, in preparation for Christmas, I graciously received permission to reflect on a document with one of those diocesan priests. This document is entitled Mulieris Dignitatem (MD), and it was written by Pope St. John Paull II in 1988 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html). 

For every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him. Moreover, we read that man cannot exist "alone" (cf. Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a "unity of the two", and therefore in relation to another human person. It is a question here of a mutual relationship: man to woman and woman to man. Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other “I." This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (MD, 7)

We are created to be in communion with God and one another. We come to truly understand who we are when we become a “sincere gift” to others. “In order to become a ‘sincere gift’ to one another, each of them has to feel responsible for the gift (MD, 14).” This relationship is one of giving AND receiving. 

Why is it sometimes so much easier to give than it is to receive? This is something I am still working out, but I have some ideas thanks to St. JPII:

A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting (of human beings), strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her,” always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation (MD, 30).  

Our current culture is doing a good job at confusing people about what is true masculinity and true femininity. I am not going to go into politics, but I will share that for a long time I believed that I had to suppress anything truly feminine about me in order to “be strong.” In doing this, I was not truly being who God created me to be. God created women with a particular gift of receptivity. St. JPII is very clear in MD that a woman’s strength lies in her ability to receive love, in order to give love in return. We cannot give to others what we do not have.  

When people approach me to ask about why I entered religious life, I often hear comments about all the things I “gave up.” Yes, there is a lot of giving…but  now I am starting to realize there is a lot more receiving going on than there is “giving up” ….and this is much harder! 

It is always God who initiates. He always wants to give Himself to us. He wants to protect us. Are we allowing Him to love us? Are we able to receive?

I will close with 2 quotes from my favorite saint friends. The meanings are essentially the same, but notice the little differences that reflect who they truly are in the context of this giving-receiving relationship: 



“Totally love Him who gave Himself totally out of love for you.” -St. Clare of Assisi 

“Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” - St. Francis of Assisi 

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