Archive for March, 2007

Just checking in with you all. My head is spinning. I am now at the point where I am preparing for my classes minutes before I have to teach them. Not fun when the material is something I never learned well as a student myself… To what extent do sophomore electrical engineering students need to know the intricacies of the Discrete Fourier Transform anyway? This is one question (among many more) my colleagues and I will have to discuss as we evaluate this first pass through our new integrated curriculum.

Very early on Friday, probably 5am or before, I will be hopping in the car with two colleagues to travel to Charleston, WV for an engineering education conference. Good thing I did the slide presentation for my paper a couple of weeks ago, as there has been NO time this week. I am also facilitating a special plenary session on the “Year of Dialogue” that is supposed to be taking place about the role of engineering education research and scholarship at universities. And somewhere in there, I’m coordinating the selection of the Best Paper for the conference. I’m not really prepared for my paper presentation, the special session or the Best Paper judging, but I have to just do my best and let go of any expectations of perfection. Not going to be a restful weekend…then on Monday, back to the grind…hang in there, Sandy…

So here I am, pretty stressed out, yet, somehow, I’ve made my peace with what’s going on in my life right now. “Wigging out” is a temptation, but somehow I doubt that it would solve anything. So I just put one foot in front of the other, and try to stay as calm as I can. I feel very keenly the imbalance of lots of work with little to no time for play, prayer, exercise, and I don’t quite know what to do about it. How did life get to be so fast-paced?

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The Gospels the past couple of Sundays seem to me to have a theme about forgiveness, of letting go of judgment and resentment. Not a bad thing for any time of the year, even more appropriate to hear during Lent. I wonder what our world would be like if during Lent, all Christians would fast from judging others?

Today’s Gospel was about the woman caught in adultery. Every time I read that passage my mind seems to go to the question of why was it just the woman who was condemned to death by stoning? Being a celibate religious all these years doesn’t mean that I fail to understand that adultery is not a solitary sin…it takes two!

On another note, I’m still up to my eyeballs trying to keep up with the 3 new courses I’m teaching. There are several more weeks left, and I find myself at what feels like the limits of my endurance. So please bear with the less frequent new entries as we move through these last weeks of Lent and the first week of Easter.

You may want to check out the ongoing conversation on my March 15 blog entry. There are some really interesting responses to my question, Where are all the “young” sisters?

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This week has really gotten away from me…the harder I work, the “behinder” I get…

Anyway, Monday was the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron of Sisters of St. Joseph all over the world. It was also my crazy full day of teaching, but I did make the time to celebrate the feast with other Sisters of St. Joseph from the Detroit area. I went thinking I would be celebrating with the Nazareth SSJ’s from Kalamazoo, but it turned out that the celebration was also for the official foundation of the new Congregation of St. Joseph, a coming together of  seven communities: Sisters of St. Joseph of: Cleveland, OH; LaGrange, IL; Medaille, with centers in Louisiana, Ohio and Minnesota; Nazareth, MI; Tipton, IN; Wichita, KS; Wheeling, WV. Little did I know I was to be witness to a historic event! Congratulations to all in this new congregation! My prayers are with you all as you move into your first Chapter.

I’d like to share with you the adaptation of Matthew 1:18-25 that was used during our prayer Monday night. (I’d cite the source, but it wasn’t provided on the prayer sheet.)

“I stirred in my sleep, uncomfortable because of the news I had received today. The law bids me to one course of action, my heart, to another. And now this voice in my dreaming tells me: “Fear not. This child will be the Holy One.” How can I do otherwise than open my heart and home? The God of our ancestors is always in the realm of the strange and the awe-filled. I pray, O God, help me to trust more deeply. Let your trust be pitched within my heart that your Emmanuel may pitch your tent in our midst.”

One thing that strikes me about Joseph’s life is that had he followed the laws of his religion in this case, Jesus would not have been born, because his mother would have been stoned for adultery…something to think about…sorry I don’t have time to say more about this right now, but I don’t have my 1:00 class prepped for today…

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I just returned from a symposium sponsored by New Ways Ministry, an organization that “provides a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.” Allow me to add a small footnote that I’m proud to say that my congregation (Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden Pennsylvania) was one of many religious orders who endorsed the symposium – and just to be clear, all that means is that the endorsers recognize the need to provide a public forum for addressing critical issues facing gay and lesbian persons and the Catholic Church. It does not imply that the speakers’ views are necessarily those of the endorsers.Anyway, upon arriving, we received our registration packets and found a statement informing us that the Archbishop of the Minneapolis-St. Paul diocese had contacted New Ways Ministry to inform them that New Ways Ministry did not have permission to celebrate the Eucharist at the symposium, despite the fact that three bishops were scheduled and willing to preside at the Mass. Ironic that the theme of the symposium was “Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church”.

Picture this: a praying assembly of over 500 Catholics, including significant numbers of priests, men and women religious, and professional lay ministers who have devoted lives and careers to the Church, being denied the sacrament of the Eucharist, despite the presence and availability of over 40 ordained ministers. Imagine having to choose between leaving the conference to attend Mass elsewhere and hearing excellent keynote addresses by Fr. Richard McBrien and Sr. Helen Prejean.

Despite the sadness (and to be truthful, some other emotions) I felt, I have to respect the integrity of the New Ways Ministry staff in changing the program to comply with the directives of Archbishop Flynn. I think the decision really models the desire and commitment of this organization to build rather than to burn bridges.

And while the para-liturgical service that took the place of the planned Eucharistic celebration may not have been “Sacrament” in the formal sense, I know in my heart and gut that Jesus was present with us in a very real way. As consoling as that is to me, my heart also breaks for all lesbian and gay Catholics who have been hurt in significant ways by ignorance and intolerance on the part of persons speaking for the Church. I have to remember the refrain of one of the songs we used for our prayer during the symposium, “knowing we are all the image of God” and really lean into that reality, especially when the judgement of others tries to deny that basic truth.

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I’m kind of using my last post as a springboard into a new topic, but please, let’s keep the previous thread going, by all means…

I’ve heard from different media sources that some religious communities are experiencing a resurgence in interest in vowed membership among younger women (20’s).  I may be risking a generalization here, but it seems I’ve heard that a lot of the growth is happening in new orders that have embraced a more traditional way of living religious life, a lifestyle similar to what many of my sisters lived in the 1950’s, prior to the Second Vatican Council.

I’ve also heard on occasion that some think that today’s young adults are looking for more in the way of absolute answers and that’s what draws them to the more traditional orders. It seems to me that this attempt at an explanation does justice neither to the young people seeking to serve God nor to ourselves as members of long-established congregations who have responded to Vatican II and reformed our congregations. If we can explain away our diminishment in the numbers of women coming to our congregations by dismissing the concerns of young adults as “not quite adult”, then we have no motivation to really take a good, hard look at ourselves and ask some hard questions.

Now I’m not saying that we (and I mean many congregations of women religious) are failing to grapple with some of these questions. I think we give it a good shot, AND I think we’ve become very comfortable with the way we’ve operated the last thirty years or so. I think it’s the human condition.

We talk about being “counter-cultural”, but just how counter-cultural can we afford to be when we are preoccupied with many things? Just a question…

The answer that seems to come to me in this moment is that it is up to the individual members of a congregation to answer God’s call the best way we can. That the main role of an “institution”,  whether that be a congregation, or religious life, the Church, etc. is self-perpetuation. I like to think that we are fundamentally different than other institutions in this regard, and perhaps with a lower fatigue level I would think that, but when it comes right down to it, religious congregations are human organizations, and like Janet said in her comment on my last post, subject to the politics that are part of any group or organization (hopefully on a smaller scale).

Love to hear from some of you, whether you are from a congregation like mine, or a more traditional order, or someone who stands outside both and can lend a more objective perspective.

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Poverty and prophecy

As you may or may not know, as a Roman Catholic religious, I take a vow of poverty. There are many books written on this and the other vows, so I won’t even attempt to give a complete explanation here, but simply share some insights that are coming to me as I reflect on this vow (as part of a congegational process in which we are engaged).

The gist of the question I’m asking about us (and really, I’m sure it could be asked of any congregation) is this: To what extent does our concern for financial stability make us afraid to accept the prophetic dimension of our mission to imitate Jesus? I think of Jesus upsetting the tables of the money changers in the temple, challenging the practices of the religious authorities of his time. And even though we are not a congregation rich in material resources, I wonder sometimes if we have too much invested in our status in church and society to risk confronting some of the injustices we see.

I think I’ll just leave it at that for the moment. I probably have a lot more to say, but let’s start the conversation and see where it goes.

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Happiness and maturity

I was listening to a radio talk show while driving to Pennsylvania yesterday. The guest was a psychiatrist who claims that in order to be truly happy, one must possess a high level of maturity. He went on to describe three attributes of maturity (a) capacitance – the capacity to handles stresses and anxieties without “discharging” in ways that are destructive to oneself or others (I liked that one because he used an electricity analogy), (b) the ability to learn from past mistakes without remaining a victim to past hurts, and (c) satisfaction in meeting obligations.

I found myself wondering about this connection for myself. Certainly I’m more mature now than I was in college.  And the happiness I experience at this stage of life has a different quality, depth than at other stages in life. However, I’m a little reluctant to minimize the freedom and enjoyment of my college years as not real happiness. The guest would characterize my state of mind during those years as being carefree, but not really happy.  I’m not sure I agree.

What I do know in my gut is that happiness is about both gift and commitment to growth. If I try to “chase” the warm, fuzzy feelings of a profound sense of well-being with which I’m blessed from time to time, that’s the one sure-fire way to make them disappear. Living in the moment, with gratitude – I have a hunch that this is really the secret to living well. I know that sounds tired and trite, but in my bones, I feel the truth of it.

It is really touching to me when I meet others who have come on hard times, like the guests from the rotating homeless shelter we hosted at Gesu a few weeks ago, who when asked how they are, respond, “I’m blessed.” Talk about a lesson…

Any thoughts come to mind for you about a connection between maturity and happiness? Or anything at all about what gives you joy?

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