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Friday, September 26, 2014

Discernment

Discernment is not just for those who are discerning religious life, discernment is for all of us, as we are all discerning our vocation in life. 

References to discernment appear throughout the history of Christian spirituality, and even before that in writings about the life of the Buddha, for example, although various writers may use different ways to name it. The literal translation of the word has its roots in the Greek diakrisis, which means 'to separate,' 'to sift through,' 'to sort out,' or 'to distinguish' (Discernment: A Path to Spiritual Awakening, Rose Mary Dougherty, 2). 

Discernment is a process, it takes time, and it is important.


The word discernment is not a new word in my vocabulary, although, I am most familiar with its variant discerning, as I was discerning my call to the religious life ever since I was a little girl. Perhaps my call was confused with a fascination in my underdeveloped brain; maybe I was unable to comprehend what religious life actually is and or what it requires.  It is also very possible that I was bias to become a religious sister because my beloved aunt was a religious sister and because I had seen firsthand what marriage is not in my biological parents, who were 16 and 17 years old when they conceived me. Ever since I was born I had been tossed around like a sac of potatoes. Perhaps the little Katie inside of me saw religious life as the peaceful way of life and little Katie was afraid that marriage had no hope of a happy ever after ending. Subconsciously, this is all speculation, although, I believe some truth lies in the subconscious.

As a little girl, there was this fire within me that caught ablaze any time I was around a religious priest, sister or brother. My fire never went out. I remember being in junior high and going to the University of Notre Dame for a week retreat still having this fiery feeling inside of me. It was at this retreat where I allowed others to witness my call. For the first time I shared with my peers that I felt I was being called to be a religious sister, some of my peers were total strangers while others belonged to the local parish I came to the retreat with. It is not uncommon at youth retreats for the topic of discernment or the topic of call to be a component. 


Sometimes during retreats, students who feel they are being called to the religious life are encouraged to make witness to this call, by standing up when they are called. I can remember being one of the few women who stood up. We were among a crowd of a thousand or more students. It was a very solemn feeling.




The feeling inside, beckoning me, to seek religious life never ceased. 


The fire that was within me since I was a little girl, that I witnessed to at retreats when I was in junior high school, continued to be a blazing fire as I moved into high school. Discerning my call while I was in high school was difficult to say the least. No matter how much you try to be "normal" when you have a conviction that you want to become a religious sister and therefore you are a devout person to your faith, you are seen as abnormal by your peers. It is not easy being an outcast. I remember being the girl in my class not being boy crazy, or going to parties--not my scene. I was the "good girl." 

Despite my difficulties, my hope remained as I befriended my religion teacher who became a huge asset to my discernment. Mr. Thomas met with me regularly, so that I had someone I could talk to about religious life. My teacher and friend helped me to stay focused throughout high school by reminding me to keep religious life "on the back burner" so that I could focus on getting though high school, as there was plenty of life ahead of me to discern my vocation. In the process he became my role model. By graduation I thought I wanted to be a religion teacher like Mr. Thomas. Because of this I decided to major in Theology for my undergraduate studies.

Come and See 


The fire was still burning inside of me while I was studying Theology in college. Although, just like high school, fellow discerners where farther rather than near. I was ambitious to share my joy of my vocation with others, so I prematurely announced to many of my Theology professors my call, hoping they would guide me like my dear friend, teacher and role model, Mr. Thomas did, but sooner than later I found that this was not the case. I did not think there was hope.  

Eventually I found a couple of other women on campus who also felt a call, we befriended, but we were still the minority. There was no group for young college students who felt the call, so we were left to our own devices to discern by our lonesome. At one point or another, I put my call to religious life aside and dated a guy but right away a feeling inside of me felt that this was premature. I let my emotions get a hold of me and I dated someone who in my right mind I wouldn't have. It was during this "relationship" that my call to religious life only grew stronger. It was as if God was showing me a sign, this relationship allowed me to figure out that I did not think marriage was my vocation after-all. Certainly there was always a possibility of doubt of the vocation to religious life. Religious life is abnormal and unusual in the world today.  

After a couple of years of college, one of my fellow discerning friends and I made a trip to Ann Arbor Michigan to visit the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist(https://www.sistersofmary.org/). This was a community my friend was interested in, I tagged along not realizing what I was getting myself into, but I figured it would be helpful to network with other women my age. Just a couple of months later, in March 2010, this same friend and I attended a Come and See with the Sisters of the Precious Blood (http://preciousbloodsistersdayton.org/). This being the community my aunt belonged. 

This Come and See relight my fire ablaze. I had a wonderful time getting to know other religious sisters and other women who were like me, I was excited once again to continue discerning my call to religious life. At this Come and See I told the vocation director that I was very serious in my intentions to continue my discernment to religious life. I was then assigned a mentor sister to meet with once a month. My relationship with my mentor sister grew strong and we became great friends. All of this time I was still in college.  

My Journey to the Sisterhood: Joys and Challenges 


Before I knew it, I graduated from college and I moved into a house with a couple of Precious Blood Sisters while I continued to discern my call to religious life, specifically to the Sisters of the Precious Blood (C.PP.S) all the while I attended graduate school. By living in this community, I agreed to live a life as though I was a sister, which meant I lived the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I also tried to be a part of the local community as much as possible, which meant I prayed and ate meals with them as much as my schedule allowed. While I lived in this house of discernment as they called it, my life and commitment was fairly flexible. I continued to meet with my mentor sister about once a month as we continued to discuss the vows (Poverty, Chasity/Celibacy and Obedience)and the life of a Sister of the Precious Blood. I was really enjoying this new way of life. I had no doubts I was being called to the Sisters of the Precious Blood and I was trying to prepare myself to live my life as a religious sister. 

After happily living in community for a year I requested and was accepted as a candidate/pre-novice. Little did I know, but I believe I was forewarned, that this change of status within the community could bring other changes to my discernment. At the time I continued living in the same house for another six months and then I was relocated to a new house which housed two different C.PP.S Sisters and would also house a woman from Guatemala who was my age, who would be attending the local University to study the English language while she discerned her call to religious life. This later part was exciting, as I had been the youngest and only discerner living in the discernment house for a year and a half. 

I moved to the "new" house in December of 2013. I do not handle change well, who does? This particular time in my life was a chaotic one. In addition to the move, I was in the beginnings of the most stressful part of my graduate career, I was admist my practicum year. The location of my practicum was nearly an hour and a half away from where I was living. I was also working in a parish which gave me about a thirty-minute drive so that made an hour drive round trip.  

Despite my feeling of being uprooted, or thrown around like a sac of potatoes, the same feelings I once learned how to bury as a child, I tried my best to adapt to my new living quarters. I tried to get to know everyone I was living with. Our community began eating, praying and playing together. All of the same things I did previously in my year and a half of discernment in the other house. Internally though, something was wrong. I ignored these feelings though, since I was going through a lot with school, work and with the new living conditions. I was advised by my good friend, a priest, to "hang-in."   

I continued to plow through my feelings, but after living in community for two-years my feelings were not changing. I did not feel like I was happy any more. I was spending more time alone, hiding in my room, than I was around my community members, like I did previously while living in community. I tried to keep my head on straight as I sifted through everything that was going on. I acknowledged that this sifting is a big part of my discernment process. As my feelings did not change, I began sharing more of my feelings with others whom I trust the most, my mentor, my mom and my best friend. When my best friend told me that she does not think God is the same anymore for me, and my mom said that she can tell I was not happy, I knew this was not goo. These were red flags.

Looking back I now realize that in the later part of my discernment, I was really becoming a Chameleon in many aspects of my life, by camouflaging to my surroundings. I did what was expected of me and watched what I said so that I did not project how I really felt. I was making myself miserable. Whether or not I was subconsciously camouflaging, I was not being true to myself.  

I have to constantly remind myself that I need to be Katie. That I am not my parents. Therefore, my marriage, if I marry one day will not be like my parents marriage. I am not my aunt, so religious life for me will not look like it did for my aunt. I need to find myself, I need to FOCUS on me! 

As I focused on myself during my final months of living with community, I realized that there are things I want to do and experience before I make a life-long commitment. There are some people who may think I am petty that I want to experience living on my own, or that I want to buy a brand new car, of my choice, right off the lot, or simply being able to buy new clothes and not feel guilty about it, because I have two closets full already but these are some of the things that I want to do or experience. These things are part of life, these are things I need to experience for myself. 

Therefore, in June, after talking to my mom and my dad, and knowing that I am always supported by my friends, I decided that I wanted to discontinue my discernment with the Sisters of the Precious Blood. This was not an easy decision and it was made with a heavy and torn heart but it was a decision that had to be made. I had to be honest with myself and do what was best for Katie. 

Aspiration of Religious Life Ceased, Awaiting New Vocation to Blossom


I do not know what the future holds. Immediately upon leaving community, I did not have a job, and I found out that I was going to need surgery on my feet, I had no choice but to move back home with my parents. This was heart breaking because this was not on my radar. At 25 years old, I did not want to return to living under my parents house, I feared being confined. In some ways this was something I was feeling in community. My plan was to get my own apartment and enjoy furnishing it with my STUFF. It may not be much, or the fanciest collection, it would be a hodgepodge collection of stuff but it would be mine! 

Since I have moved back home after being away for two years, I have learned how to be an adult living at home. I am fairly independent in that I still have my own bills, money, car insurance excedra, but I know my parents are here for me when I need them. I have had one foot operated on so far and in about two weeks I will be walking again. I was also hired as the Director of Religious Education at my home Parish where I grew up. 

After spending approximately 15 years of discerning my call to religious life, I have discerned that I do not think religious life is for me. I have had the opportunity since I moved back home to make a list of goals and aspirations for my life. God-willing one day I will meet my best friend and soul-mate and travel all over the world with him and one day settle day and have a family together. I just want to be me; I just want to be Katie. 

Remember, you are loved! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pope Francis Marries 20 Couples

Headlines Go Rapid Over Pope Marrying 20 Couples


I am sure you have seen the headlines by now about Pope Francis marrying 20 couples at the Vatican. Some of the popular headlines found from a simple Google Search lead me to the alike: "No Scandal Here: The 20 Couples Married by Pope Francis were Legit", "Pope Francis Turns Heads After Marrying 20 Couples Despite Cohabitation", Pope Francis Marries 20 Couples at Vatican: Why It's Important", "At Wedding, Pope Says Spouses Make Each Other Better Men and Women", 40 'I' do's' at Vatican as Pope Marries 20 Couples" and so on they read.

Don't jump to conclusions, like any good academic will say, 'consider the source!' 


Many people are jumping to conclusions way too quickly these days, especially as they see Pope Francis doing things a bit differently from his more recent predecessors. For example instead of living inside the Vatican in fancy housing, Pope Francis lives in a modest apartment. We do not see the Pope driving around in the fancy cars with bulletproof windows, and surrounded by security guards either, rather he takes public transportation, the busing system. Francis does not even wear a fancy cross, rather he wears a simple, but elegant, Jesuit crucifix.

An example of Pope Francis' Crucifix 
Francis is a not showy, rather he is very simple, as these examples above prove. Based on the examples above, we cannot jump to conclusions and assume big changes are coming. Francis is just living a bit more modest! Many people are quickly assuming he is going to jump right in and make radical changes during his Pontificate. Error, wrong answer, try again!

Many of the Churches teachings are hundreds of years old. Francis, yet alone any Pope, is not going to come in and change things in a radical fashion. This is not good policy for anyone's business or organization no matter how big or small and whether you are running a parish or an entire Church! It is my belief however, that it is necessary on our part to have hope for our near future as I believe Francis is going to continue to slowly implement positive changes for our Church in the world today as he continues to be our fearless leader in these troubling times. (Please do not misinterpret what I mean. I do not believe Pope Francis is going to permit gay marriage, or even married priests. As such examples would go against age-old Doctrines). Perhaps such topics may be explored at another time.  

It need not be ignored that Pope Francis followed all proper procedures and policies to marry these 20 couples in the Vatican. Namely, they certainly had gone through the Churches process of an annulment prior to saying their 'I do's'.
 Annulment: unlike a divorce is usually retroactive, which means that the marriage was invalid in the first place.
 Unfortunately annulments can take time and can cause many unwanted emotions to be stirred up. Many people do not like to share their intimate details of their love life and past with clergy either, which can make annulments difficult for some individuals. Note: Please be assured the clergy has heard it all before, a good priest will be compassionate and will not look down on you for your sinful past. At this I am reminded by what the great Saint Pope John Paul II said readily, "Do not be afraid."  

Have you ever noticed that anytime something even possibly scandalous in the Catholic Church happens, the media gets a hold of it and blows it out of proportion? 



 As my professors always told me, check and double check your sources and never use a source that is not academic one! This holds especially true for anything the media tries to convey to us. Especially in regards to anything that happens in the Catholic Church, as she has had a target on her back for a long time. The media is always trying to create or make some "scandal" in the Catholic Church larger than life.

To us as Catholics this happening is more than a story it is an event. These couples deserve an applause for what they have done. At one time they had turned away from the Church in some way or another, but they all share one major commonality, they were all living in some kind of state of sin (i.e.. Some we know had children out of wedlock, some were living together before they were married).

AND 


now they have turned back to the Church through the process of annulment and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (prior to entering into the Sacrament of Marriage). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing. The beautiful thing is this, Pope Francis has helped these couples become reunited with Jesus so that they are now able to join us at Mass and fully and actively participate in the Holy Mass!    

Despite the possible scandal in the Catholic Church the media has directed its attention, these 20 couples being married in the Church has more to say than the media's hoopla. As the media focuses on the "sin" Pope Francis focuses on the "sinners."  


Lead By Example, Lead By Faith


Unlike the media, Pope Francis did not focus on the couple's sins, rather he focused on their humanness. As humans we have free-will, our free-will allows us to make mistakes and therefore our free-will allows us to commit sin. Guess what? None of us are perfect, we all sin. Imagine that! The Church has always preached about forgiveness of sins; the Church has always been forgiving. Therefore, as Pope Francis has done time and time again, he has preached about God's forgiveness and God's mercy!

Based on how I have perceived Pope Francis, I think it is safe for me to say that Pope Francis accepts these 20 couples as they are, as sinners, because Jesus accepts them too. We are all called to this mission that Pope Francis is graciously and continuously leading us too, Discipleship--Disciples of Christ. We are all called to this mission. Jesus has given us many wonderful sacraments to help us live by faith, to help us become his disciples. There are Seven Sacraments they are Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Holy Orders and Matrimony.

The Priest is Jesus' Interceptor 
I have alluded to the Sacrament of Reconciliation above, and I believe it is proper that I mention this sacrament again. Sin causes us to turn our backs on Christ. We need the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help us face forward, so that we can face Christ again with a clean slate.

Pope Francis focuses on the fact that these couples faced towards Christ again, as they have completed their penance, after they had turned their back on Christ, and after they have gone to reconciliation and asked and was granted God's mercy and forgiveness, through the priest, for their sin and they come out of the confessional with a completely new, clean slate.

During the ceremony, Pope Francis' homily was truly heartfelt, in which he told the couples that Jesus Christ, "will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path." This is certainly in line with Pope Francis' belief that God is merciful, which he continuously reminds us since he has been elected pope.

Based upon the actions and words of Pope Francis, I believe Pope Francis is a modern day example of someone who is Christ-like. I do not think that Pope Francis' actions or words are far from Jesus'. Pope Francis is leading by example. He is leading us by his faith which is exemplifying how we are all called to be Disciples of Christ.

  

     A Piece and Part Pope Francis' Message


We pray that the positive momentum that is happening in the Church continues. We pray that we are not obstacles to such a movement, and we pray that we do not not let the medias pettiness turn us away from Christ or the Church. May Pope Francis continue to guide us as a true and faithful servant, as his warm heart penetrates new believers daily, and may he continue to remind us and show us that God is a merciful God who is ever forgiving. And may we ever be Christ-like. Amen.








Remember, you are loved.