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 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Poverty in Friendships

V.J.E.

"The Eucharist destroys distance."
Words of wisdom spoken by the retreat director of my pre-novitiate retreat.

It has been almost two months since I entered the novitiate, and God has not skipped a beat in deepening my love for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  This first year of novitiate is what is called the "canonical year."  Canon Law 652 states:
"Novices are to be led to cultivate human and Christian virtues; through prayer and self-denial they are to be introduced to a fuller way of perfection; they are to be taught to contemplate the mystery of salvation and to read and meditate on the Sacred Scriptures; they are to be prepared to cultivate the worship of God in the Sacred Liturgy; they are to learn a manner of leading a life consecrated to God and humanity in Christ through the evangelical counsels; they are to be instructed regarding the character and spirit, the purpose and discipline, the history and life of the institute; and they are to be imbued with love for the Church and its sacred pastors."  
In other words, the novitiate is the foundation of our formation as religious.  The words of Canon Law 652 are beautiful, but how do directors of formation put this into practice?  Well, in many ways, but one main aspect is the removal of worldly distractions, and this is done simply by separation from the world.  As a novice, I freely chose to be here and to enter into this way of life, and the institute discerned God's will likewise, so in no way am I being held in the convent against my free will.  God is drawing me closer and deeper into His Most Sacred  Heart, and I am choosing to respond to His generous invitation.

Our formators do their best to remove all obstacles that prevent us novices from centering our life on God, but we must detach from the worldly things that we have clung onto and brought into the convent with us.  In my little experience, I have realized that we are attached to more things than we are aware of, but God slowly sheds light upon these things so as not to overwhelm us because He is Mercy.  Most of our attachments are to things that are good, but our desire for them is disordered.  To my surprise, one of my attachments that came to light was friendships.  I knew I would miss my friends, but my concern was how to further cultivate my existing friendships.  I even found myself worrying if I would even make new friends now that I had entered into this way of life.  How do Sisters maintain friendships with friends outside of the convent?  All I knew was constant verbal communication and hanging out, but these have been stripped from me, so I asked God, "How do You want me to do this?"  I found my answer in adoration, in the Blessed Sacrament.

My spiritual director has this "catch phrase" that has stuck with me: "We detach from something in order to attach to something else."  God is asking me to detach from my idea of friendships in order to attach to the friendship of the Holy Trinity.  I have been led to reflect on the poverty that exists in friendships particularly in my life as a sister.  Sure, the number of real friends I have may be low to the world, but where I actually feel the poverty is in the event of not being able to hang out or talk to them whenever I want.  As a novice, I have chosen to renounce the right to direct my life, and that includes the luxury of communicating with my friends to my heart's content.  Yet, this poverty actually leads to richness in my friendships, a richness that is still being revealed to me.

The hugs, the laughs, the conversations, the quality time coffee dates, the group meals, the random phone calls and text messages, and even the simple smile-to-smile exchange in the silence - all have been taken away from me.  But Our Lord, the God of the Impossible, gives me so much more.  My secret is found in the Most Holy Trinity hidden in the Holy Eucharist.  St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (my saint best friend and sister), in the confines of Carmel in Dijon, France, saw the Holy Trinity in the Eucharist as a "meeting place" or "rendez-vous" with those whom she loved and held close to her heart.  Through her intercession, I have come to experience this reality.  It is in the Most Blessed Sacrament that I know I am near those whom I love most. The deeper I hide in the Eucharist, the closer I am to you.  The Eucharist destroys distance.  Jesus Christ embraces you, speaks with you, and remains with you because you carry the Eucharist, and I do everything with my Beloved, so I can embrace you, speak with you, and be with you by the grace of our Most Intimate Friend.  As Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, we are called "to become Eucharist."  That manifests itself differently and beautifully in each Sister.  "To become Eucharist" affects every part of our lives and inevitably leads to total transformation of the human person, including our relationships.  God "is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us" (Eph 3:20).

I have come to recognize more deeply that our relationships are truly poor when they are not grounded in Christ Jesus.  Words cannot describe how God has led me closer in my relationships with others, but I do know that it is real.  As my relationship with God deepens, so too do my relationships with others deepen.  This growth in the love of God affects my relationships with my Sisters in a way only God could have designed.  His grace is always effective and at work whether we perceive it or not.  My love and prayers for my friends are beyond feelings and mere human words because of Jesus Christ.  My words must be His Word, and the Word is transforming.  No one encounters the Word and is left unchanged.  This is my prayer, that we constantly be Christ to each other, and emulate the friendship of the Holy Trinity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
   
My friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, those I love dearly, let us continue to follow and do God's will for the sake of the love of God.  If we are who we are meant to be, we are offering adoration to God together as one.

Please pray for me (and all my Sisters) that I may continue to grow in love for God and others in the Eucharist.  I am confident that you are with me, and I am with you because the Holy Trinity dwells in us (1 Cor 3:16).  May the Kingdom of God flourish within us and through us.
See you in the Eucharist with our most Loving Mother Mary,

Sr. Kathryne
Ephesians 4:1-7

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Your Life Will Be Demanded From You

Our faith demands our life--different depending on one's stage in life, yet just as crucial regardless of its specificity.  This word 'demand' requires from us an obligation, a responsibility, a duty that must be fulfilled.  Everyone--baptized or not, Christian or not, young or not--needs to discern how we are being called to put into practice the Truths we proclaim.  So, what then do we believe?  Have I succumb to the lies that I must be self-sufficient and trust only in me, myself and I?  Do I believe that this world is all I have and so I will do what I have to in order to succeed according to the world's standard?  Or do I trust in God, in the Supernatural Being that existed before me and will exist after me?  An abandonment to Divine Providence must be accepted here:  one consents all control to Him who knows our every need and want, and will satisfy us; He will fulfill us, He will bless us in abundance.  If that level of faith is what I hold as my foundation then I have nothing to fear--my free will is upheld because our Merciful Lord 'heals as He wounds' (my mind is blown every time I pray these words--Friday Daytime Prayer Ant. 3, Week II).

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God loves us so much that He chose to partake in our flesh and blood so that we may share in His Divnity.  He accepted death willingly, so that we, who though so undeserving, may have eternal life.  When you love, you sacrifice, you suffer, you live for the other.  This comes at a cost to us; yet when authentic, it doesn't compare to the joy received (not always tangibly felt) but known in the depths of one's soul.  If we live what we proclaim, then the demand we are invited to take ownership of is nothing less than counter-cultural.  I have to 'labor' in virtue.  When I want to give up, I must fight.  When pain has gripped my every bone, I choose to offer the ache (which is very real) for another.  I never compromise what I know is true.

Yet we live in a broken world (which really only means we are constantly reminded of our humble need for a Savior and that we are not it).  Every moment is not always going to be to our liking.  Decisions might be made that we disagree with or that may even oppose some of the previous statements of belief which we claimed as foundational.  Our life is even more demanded of us at this point.  If I am confronted with opposition, I can't quit and concede to falsity.  I reject those lies which seem to challenge me, but I remain firm and confident that Who I live to serve and love is:  with me, guiding me, protecting me, directing me, sustaining me.  I keep trusting especially when all feelings of emotional consolation have left and actively wait in hope.

My brothers and sisters, no matter the present situation in your life, in the world, at your job--your life is being demanded from you.  Are you willing to put forth the effort and live with an intensity beyond understanding.  We will not comprehend the why to every what, but can we willingly choose the present even though everything seems unknown.  God delights in our striving, so fall into His arms, close your eyes and rest assured that you are loved, you are His, and He will NEVER let you go!  I told my sister the other day, sometimes God throws us up in the air and plays catch with us, but we always come back down right into His extended arms of love.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I Love Fall!

One of the perks of being up north for a Florida girl is getting to experience actual Fall weather. I love the colors of the leaves as they change. I have been so fascinated by how quickly and intensely this happens! This past Tuesday all 6 of us novices and our Madre took a much needed outing to take advantage of this cool and beautiful weather. Three of our seminarian friends graciously guided and hiked with us at a local park. One of those three was just ordained a deacon on October 22, so he was all decked out in his new clerics….and his Cleveland Indians gear. 

When we arrived at the park, I was struck by the sea of fall colors. This was definitely a nice change from the inner city environment of the west side of Cleveland. After exploring the abandoned “castle” (http://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/Main/Squires-Castle.aspx), we began our hike up some big hills (Note: remember, our habits are white, so I felt like a rebel or something). Initially, there was a well marked path as we ascended. Two of my Sisters decided to take a more challenging route as the rest of us followed the path that was covered with red, orange, and yellow leaves. At one point these two Sisters got a little stuck, but our newly ordained deacon and our other two seminarians literally ran to help them across the hilly terrain. After our group was reunited, we continued the follow the windy path.

There must be something about being in the woods that taps into our “primal” human behaviors. Suddenly, our beloved deacon began to break branches against tree trunks, throw rocks over ledges, and high jump over fallen trees. I recalled my cross country running days and really wanted to run up and down the path we were following. Several of my Sisters were very amused by the big black squirrels we would occasionally see. Madre took lots of pictures with her phone. I sensed a free spiritedness among my companions.

When we began our descent, I was walking alongside our deacon and he asked some “deep” questions about our community’s formation. As I answered his questions and offered some of my own reflections, I overheard one of my little Sisters behind me say to the seminarian next to her, “We are walking this path together.” This really struck me. I believe she meant something much deeper than being on the literal hiking path we were all walking on.



Since being adopted by the seminary community, my Sisters and I have come to realize that we go through a lot of similar things that our seminarian brothers go through. Though different, there is a complementarity between religious life and diocesan life. Since our community is intensely Eucharistic and Marian, I think there is a unique and beautiful complementarity between us and our diocesan priests, deacons, and seminarians. They pray for us, we pray for them. They offer support for us, we offer support for them. They want to become saints, we want to become saints. We really are walking this path together!

You all are in my prayers. Please pray for us!
-Sr. Katie

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Really God, THIS is Your Invitation of Love?

Image result for christ the bridegroom icon
God, Your love hurts!  

You know all too well of this painful love through Your sacrifice on the Cross.  Yet, You don’t act in our lives expecting an equal return, but only fidelity to the daily tasks asked of us.  

On the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mercy, my two sisters and I received a fuller outward sign of our consecration to Christ as His bride.  The Bridegroom demonstrates His self-gift through humbly and obediently accepting death; stripped of His outer garments, He seemingly has lost all, or has He gained all?  The icon of Christ the Bridegroom depicts brutality yet powerful omnipotence--paradoxical!  He is Whom I love and Whom my sisters and I were clothed in, yet this act was only a manifestation of the inward transformation slowly being done in hiding, in the secret of our hearts.


Formation in religious life is such a unique opportunity to die to oneself while also receiving insurmountable and unexplainable graces.  Honestly though, this is the faith any baptized Christian is called to live.  The paradox that underlines the foundations of our beliefs is challenging, yet we must not succumb to fear. Our human nature so easily allows fear to consume our being and paralyze us from living as authentically as we were created to be.  This emotion is unwarranted given Christ crucified and risen, yet we wrestle with understanding this merciful act of love.

God created the world out of nothing, so there is nothing He won’t do for us.  God simply IS:  present, alive, merciful, compassionate, loving, patient, faithful, a Father.  With this next step in formation, I must live in the Truth that God is not distanced from me.  Sure, I’m wounded and broken and in need of daily healing:  none of this is ‘too much’ for God (even though I can be treading water and seemingly drowning).


"Yes, my daughter, I invite you to love Me specifically through the crosses you encounter."

God’s invitation for me demands that I respond by offering Him my life through a consecration in religious life.  How is He begging you to love Him?  Offer yourself as a living sacrifice today!  Wounds will be formed, but only imitating those of Whom you follow.  Know that my sisters and I carry you in prayer!  How can we pray for you? My desire is to offer my Novitiate intensely for the intercessory needs of the Church. Every day, every moment is grace.  May you be filled today with such love.  United in the suffering and joys of life, we stand at the foot of the cross, in hope.  See you in the Eucharist!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Wisdom! Be Attentive!

V. J. E.

Image result for holy wisdom icon

This post actually has nothing to do with Byzantine spirituality, despite the title and this Russian icon of Holy Wisdom... but while I'm on the topic: Random shout out to our other half of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Double Stuff Oreo Cookies and Milk, haha! (Inside joke with the Sisters of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery) Love ya'll :D

This post is about my wisdom teeth extraction adventure this past Monday (yes, how fitting to have my teeth removed on the feast day of John the Baptist's beheading). The experience was quite emotional. For one, I went in knowing that I was receiving the service under the graciousness of a benefactor of our community, through the referral of another gracious benefactor of our community. While on the surface I thanked Divine Providence, I nevertheless asked questions of how to repay or at least show gratitude for such a gift?

We decided on sugar cookies. Despite the fact that these cookies are deliciously addicting, I didn't think they were enough. So we gave them a thank you card as well. But this too wasn't enough, so I did not cease to give the staff countless smiles and hugs and thank yous. Still, this was not enough. Then I realized that I could never do enough to repay such a gift.  And in this realization I felt overwhelming smallness.

Of course, on the part of any giver, there is simple happiness in being appreciated; indeed, to any giver, the very act of receiving, on part of the receiver, in gratitude and thanksgiving is repayment enough. But on my part, it was killing my pride not being able to repay in a big way for a big gift.

But isn't that such a stupid mentality? How does it ever make sense to match a gift with an equal or greater gift? Does not the first gift cease being a gift? Does it not rather become null and void? If I would have given a gift in gratitude for the service that cost just as much as the service, how is that different from simply paying for the service in the first place? Thus, there was something great to be learned in the midst of this adventure, namely, that Divine Providence does not wish and will not be out done in charity and the art of gift giving, or else it would cease to be Divine Providence... 

So, in His great mercy, seeing that I had not wisdom (teeth nor virtue), but rather four gaping holes in my mouth, the Lord filled me with holy wisdom...teehee #puns

On top of that, all the readings for Mass and even the Liturgy of the Hours this week have spoken about Wisdom...o the humor of God!


-Yve

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