Remain in My Love

Inner_FireArt:  Inner Fire, Mary Southard, CSJ

Love. Love. Love. The Sunday’s readings open doors to the complicating depths of love. John’s Gospel offers us a formula that can be and should be applied to our lives together today: Remain in my love, this love is joyful and whole, this love generates friendships, fruits of love will remain.

  1. Remain in my love

Remain in Latin means re (expressing intensive force) + manere (to stay). To stay not just again and again, but expressing intensive force. Perhaps a similar sentiment is to be rooted. Be rooted in my love, God says. Be here, dwell here, stay here. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t look for other places. Be here. Be in my love.

Professionally, I consider myself a nomad. My string of experiences sometimes translate to jobs with benefits, but my spirit to work aligns itself to the whispers of the Holy Spirit whose movement is graceful and fluid.

Spiritually, I am inclined to follow God as a pilgrim does, journeying from one place to another, intent on paying attention to “the way” of the journey, of relationships, of moments of grace.

All this is to say that remaining does not come naturally to me in the concrete sense. Like the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness, I spend much time being reminded of God’s rootedness in my heart and God’s location to have been recorded in a constellation of my past discernments.

To remain in God’s love invites us to be centered and rooted in a love that is boundless, endless, all engulfing, so generous, so caring, so true. We develop a confidence of God’s providence whether we find ourselves in a land of much bounty or a land with minimal resources. To remain, or to stay in God’s love leads us to a deepening or trust that frees us to take risks.

  1. This love is joyful and whole

You wouldn’t think that taking risks leads to joy and wholeness, especially if the risk involves a loss of some sort. Yet our faith excessively pleads for a unity and reconciliation that is only genuine to our merciful and compassionate God if it were filled with awe, wonder, gladness, and sometimes even surprise.

Ironically, I felt joy and wholeness when ministry meant being with people who were suffering. When I was in New Orleans, I felt a deep sense of unifying purpose each day as I lived in the realness and the mess of a broken world that required real decisions to bring about change. Learning from my students as they explore oppressive systems, connecting history with our story, and tending to the gentleness of a question or curiosity that seeks truth or clarity or wholeness is also a deep experience of joyfulness now.

  1. This love generates friendships

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had a chance to be with young adults

from all Christian denominations as they explore their own vocations of service to God and God’s people. Just as the first retreat was beginning, participants already experienced a trusting and abiding friendship possibility with one another because they sensed their own purpose being cared for in this new community. God is breaking through the divisions of class, gender, race, theology, doctrine, practice, geography, language, and time… and we are be-friending one another.

Because of globalization and social media, friendships, these days, are not restricted to one place, one time, one language. Friendships in the Lord happen each day as we like or share experiences with one another that are important and offer us gravitas as we live lives respectful and mindful of one another’s experiences.

I trust that my friendships with Quakers, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Seekers, Nones (people who do not identify with any tradition) will last because they are rooted in a God of love, of wholeness, of joy and reconciliation.

Love is expansive. Just when I thought I wouldn’t have any more time to make a friend, God’s grace is effervescent, and time for friendships in the Lord seem to rise to the top of my “to do list” or my ability to prioritize. It is with intention, prayer and discernment that I ask God how else I can be a friend to those who are strangers and estranged by me. Because, really, if we were all just friends, we would love one another with intensity, thoughtfulness, and hope especially during times of injury, impatience, fear and mis-communication.

  1. Fruits of love will remain

Now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 13

Love abides, remains, stays… there is no way to lose or destroy love. And love will bear fruits. Perhaps the fruits of love are good relationships, maybe a lasting non-profit, or even a series of good choices that cultivate both your own image of yourself and God’s dream for you. Fruits of love may also be in the real experience of those things that are opposite: the end of a relationship, the closing of a business’ doors, a series of poor decisions that led you in a circuitous way towards a few trusted people or experiences.

St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks about the ability to be and remain indifferent in sickness or in health, in richness or poverty. Love remains when we are free from all the things, ideas, people that bind us. Love remains when we live into the joy of God’s providence, mercy, and compassion.

Take a moment to reflect on this Sunday’s reading with great focus, fervor, and discipline. Use the prompts below to help you in your practice of love. And as Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ has said, “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

Prayer Prompts:

Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18

Perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s. St. Augustine

On the Contemplation to Attain Love from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

In contemplating the love of God, we ask for the grace to love as God loves. To this end, Ignatius offers two critical insights:

  1. “Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words” [230]. Love must be put into action; words are not enough. Having been schooled as disciples these many weeks, we must now do something. Ignatian spirituality is one of mission.
  2. “Love consists in a mutual communication between the two persons”[231]. Just as the love between two persons is marked by giving and receiving, the love we share with God enjoys a certain mutuality. God wants our friendship. God wants to be known by us. These divine desires are the source of our desire to know, love, and serve God.

The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

Wandering for God: A Weekly Pilgrimage

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St. Paul’s in Burlingame, St. Ambrose, St. Aidan’s, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Mary the Virgin, Church of the Epiphany, St. Paul’s in Oakland, Transfiguration, St. Mark’s, Holy Innocents’, Grace Cathedral, All Saints’, Holy Name of Jesus, St. Cecelia, St. Gabriel’s, St. Augustine’s, Sts. Peter and Paul, Mission Dolores, St. Patrick’s, St. Paul the Shipwreck.

I have been to at least 20 churches, worship services and communities in the last 4 years. Ever since moving back to the Bay Area in 2011, I have been guilty of going to one church because I resonate with their homilies, another church because I deeply connect with the music, another because I enjoy their faith sharing groups, and yet another because I experience their efforts of inclusion in a positive way. I, like many in this young adult generation, roam around each Sunday in search for the most complete, authentic experience of community.

The nice way to say it is that this young generation is filled with spiritual seekers. The critical way of saying it is that this generation is spoiled and highly selective.

For many of us that have attended and graduated from college, our schools have exposed us to experiences of mentoring, critical thinking, and service to others. We often think fondly of a powerful community experience that has guided our way to the people we are becoming today. Many Campus Ministries around the nation provide deeply faithful retreats, worship services, and spiritual companionship.

Then we leave those incubators of faith and mystery only to find ourselves in uncertain places of purpose with our jobs, relationships, and now places to share and express our faith.

Although I regularly and intentionally select a different communal experience almost each week, I decided to actually become a member of one church about 2 years ago. I filled out the card in the pew, placed it in an envelope, and handed it to an usher. I received a phone call the following Tuesday from the Parish Secretary greeting me with a cheerful “welcome!”

I had actually worked in that same parish about 15 years ago, and the routine greeting was awkward because Scott and I used to work with one another! He proceeded to tell me that he was surprised that I hadn’t been a parishioner until now, but was so thankful I was “in the system.”

Those words me in the pit of my stomach. What system am I a part of now? By becoming a parishioner, what have I signed onto? What can this community expect from me?

I soon began receiving letters from the Archbishop asking me to contribute to meaningful ministries. I am troubled by the inconsistencies I see and hear. I wanted to respond, “I am exercising my free will, my faith, and my conscience when I support the organizations, causes and ministries outside of this troubled, hierarchical church.” When I give to my church or to my Archdiocese, is that endorsing their most recent decisions to support exclusion and judgment?

No one at my college taught me how to contribute with conscience. We were always assumed to be poor and without… yet, my high school students raised $11,000 last week for a good cause!

I am still learning how to be church wherever I am and with whoever I am with. The tension that persists is between the vertical experience of the Hierarchy and the horizontal experience of the church.

Ahhh… the cross…

So, this Lent, as I wander through the desert of young adulthood and trudge through the disappointing experience of church hierarchy, I am consoled with the invitation to practice praying, fasting, and almsgiving. I will pray each day for a clean heart, able to forgive and love. I will fast from those relationships that lead me away from God’s joy, compassion, and mercy. And I will give of my time and my money to the organizations that I support whose mission is aligned to building God’s kin-dom where all are welcome, cared for, and loved.

You Can’t Teach Feminism Without A Desire to Change the World

I just started teaching a semester long selective course to high school junior and seniors entitled “Feminism, Christianity, and Society.” Here are a few reasons why I love teaching this course:

  1. I get to have conversations about equality, fairness, and justice with 16-18 year olds
  2. I get to share my own passion for those on the margins of every story by introducing a Hermeneutic of Suspicion
  3. I spend hours preparing and grading and begin to see the connections with the tradition of feminist thought to its current expressions and developments in a generation of gender-balanced youth
  4. I get to name the obvious elephant in the room, and I get paid for it!
  5. I get to accompany young women and men in their movement from unknown to knowing, observer to ally, voiceless to speaking

From the First Wave when we fought for the right to vote through the 1960s and 1970s and the Second Wave of Feminism that continued to attract criticism and diversity, feminism and feminists have endured critical judgment and scorn for claiming equality, fairness, and human status. From the Third Wave of differing voices to a new technologically-influenced, post-feminism wave of young girls and boys willing to understand the world beyond binary structures force-fed to them, the term feminism have undergone multiple and repeated shifts as we convince ourselves that language matters.

My students bring a diversity of perspectives, cultures, languages, and values to our classroom. Their curiosity helps me to see my own bias for those on the margins, and they help me stand in that space where I plead and demand justice. As I teach my students how to interpret their world within and outside of themselves, they, too teach me how I am doing this and how my actions either follow suite or don’t.

You can’t teach feminism without the desire to transform the world you live in. In fact, if we all just saw the world from those inconvenienced, hurt, criminalized, or unseen, our actions would be passionate because our lives depended on them.

It is from the perspective of the anawim that we must insist on fulfilling God’s invitation to build the Kingdom of God, or what Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the beloved community.

From scholars to educators, preachers to ministers, we understand the importance of encounter — when we experience something or someone beyond our knowing and grow in compassion, empathy, and conviction for the dignity of God in our midst.  Transformation through the experience of the other is scary and messy. Yet, it is the way that our God chose to reveal God’s self — by becoming human and living amongst us.

I realize how corny and trite this may sound, but I am convinced that when I teach, I am actually the one that is grateful for all the new knowledge I learn from others. I don’t know everything and I want to be influenced by the experience of those for whom normally do not get a say or a voice.

Teaching feminism to high school students challenges me to see the inconsistencies in my own beliefs and actions. I am invited to consider how my language, my behavior, my expectations can be more considerate, more inclusive, more just.

I wish I can say this for others in the church or in leadership. Our society still bathes in misogyny that gets amplified in headlines. I have to learn and teach others how to distance myself from those voices that speak evil and turn me away from what is good: girls are not the source of a decrease in male priestly vocation in our church, men who see and choose themselves in others limits the realization and actualization of the call of many.

I am grateful for Sr. Dominique, a Canossian nun who heard my interest in being an altar server when I was in the fifth grade. At first she smiled (little did I know my desire was just enough experience she needed to implore our then local ordinary Archbishop John Quinn to have girls serving at the altar), then she pulled me aside for an instructional “People are watching. They may not like it that you are there, but know I will train and support you. You and other girls have a place at the table.”

Educating for a more just world must begins in my own community of faith. It’s ironic, but it is easier for me to cry out for equality and fairness outside of my church. But, today, that needs to stop.

I teach from my perspective — inside the church — so that our church can transform and change our hearts so that all are welcome and able to serve.

Doing the Work of Justice with a Bias for the Marginalized

I was surrounded by 1,600 students, faculty, staff, volunteers, organization and community leaders on the 25th anniversary of the death of the Universidad Centroamericana martyrs on Nov. 16. We told stories, sang songs, asked questions, and grew in faith, hope and love for the lives of our friends and the lives of those we have yet to meet.

The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice roughly began in 1998 with an outdoor tent and Mass that Bob Holstein, his wife, Loretta, and several of their friends and companions spontaneously cobbled together. The Ignatian Solidarity Network grew out of this experience to instill a lasting, year-round experience of learning and teaching around social justice issues especially rooted in the stories of El Salvador and the American involvement in their civil war.

ISN celebrates its 10th year with more conviction, centeredness and grace as it continues to organize Catholic schools and institutions to become better leaders in the work of social justice.

Students from 95 Catholic institutions and 25 states gathered to learn how to be faithful leaders, especially around the issues of immigration reform, the Central American humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minors, and sustainability.

High school and college students brought their passion for a more inclusive world to their representatives in Congress and to one another.

IFTI 2014: Ellie and Kimberly share their experienceIFTI Choir

I was repeatedly moved to witness God’s inspiration and work in the lives of yet even younger voices working for the kin-dom of God: How do we get our school to purchase sweat-free team uniforms? How do we support our undocumented students more completely and robustly? How do we engage in dialogue around racial and cultural realities in light of what’s happening in Ferguson, Mo.? How do I keep up this pace of being in solidarity with others that I may lose myself in “the work”?

I can’t help but think that Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría and his companions set off a revolution that now reaches into our American realities. Father Ellacuría’s vision for a university came from deep prayer, real needs in the community and the courage to speak truth to power.

In his 1982 commencement address at Santa Clara University, Father Ellacuría outlines the role of the university:

There are two aspects to every university. The first and most evident is that it deals with culture, with knowledge, the use of the intellect. The second, and not so evident, is that it must be concerned with the social reality, precisely because a university is inescapably a social force: It must transform and enlighten the society in which it lives. …

Liberation theology has emphasized what the preferential option for the poor means in authentic Christianity. Such an option constitutes an essential part of Christian life, but it is also an historic obligation. For the poor embody Christ in a special way; they mirror for us his message of revelation, salvation and conversion. And they are also a universal social reality.

Reason and faith merge, therefore, in confronting the reality of the poor. Reason must open its eyes to their suffering; faith, which is sometimes scandalous to those without it, sees in the weak of this world the triumph of God, for we see in the poor what salvation must mean and the conversion to which we are called.

A Christian university must take into account the Gospel preference for the poor. This does not mean that only the poor will study at the university; it does not mean that the university should abdicate its mission of academic excellence — excellence which is needed in order to solve complex social issues of our time. What it does mean is that the university should be present intellectually where it is needed: to provide science for those without science; to provide skills for those without skills; to be a voice for those without voices; to give intellectual support for those who do not possess the academic qualifications to make their rights legitimate.

Father Ellacuría’s vision for the role of educational institutions takes Cardinal John Henry Newman’s vision for a place of critical thinking to the place of action.

This is what excites me: that students who were not even born in 1982, let alone 1989, can gather in one place, share their passions, be encouraged and challenged by their peers, and use their voice to create a change of heart in their leaders by advocating with much compassion, clarity, insight and love.

God’s preference for the poor frees us to be in relationship in a much more whole-ly way to the world. Passing this value and way of life to the next generation is an honor and a privilege. I hope I can learn from this generation as we all grapple with human immigration reform. I hope that 25 years from now, students from all over the world are doing the work of justice with a real bias for the marginalized and an authentic desire for deep friendship and companionship.

Thank you, students, for breathing in hope to our world and our church! Thank you, people of faith, for continuing to model attitudes of generosity, hospitality and community.

The Ethics of Being a Catholic American in a time of Global unrest

I am a patriot. In the words of my father, “You could be the President of the United States!” He was so proud to tell me that when I was in high school considering my college options – West Point, Santa Clara, UC Santa Barbara.

I was born in the United States to an immigrant couple. Their dream for my “better” life was realized in his simple excitement, “You could be the President of the United States!”

I spent three years in the ARMY ROTC program at Santa Clara. Filled with leadership training – excellence in teamwork, decision-making and development of the whole person – I, literally, marched beside, in front of, behind many other soldier-leaders whose commitment to protecting American freedoms and human rights seemed paramount.

It didn’t occur to me as a 19 year old how odd it was that Santa Clara even had an ROTC program or that I was under the radar as a Conscientious Objector. 1995 was only 6 years after the Jesuits at Santa Clara got involved in the care and concern for Jon Sobrino, SJ as his Jesuit companions at the Universidad CentroAmericano were martyred by 26 members of the Salvadoran military (19 of which were trained at the School of the Americas). My conscience told me that killing was wrong, so I simply checked the box on my application form that read “A firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief.”

As the years unfolded my vocation as a minister committed to efforts of non-violence, I consider my personal and social responsibility as a “privileged” American during these times of conflict, war, and terror.

Being a woman in a patriarchal church, I experience the tension of residing at the margins of a dominant culture. Being an American whose immigrant family prioritized my education, I live in the tension of privilege, opportunity, judgment, and responsibility.

So, how does my faith inform my human responsibility in a time of Ferguson, Isis, gang violence in Central America and all over our world, hypocrisy, and scandal?

I wonder: If I were the President of the United States, what would I believe? How would I act?

The Deontologist in me wants to believe that despite the outcomes, the right and the good are defined by my actions or inactions, my duties and my obligations. In this case, my obligation to those less fortunate ought to trump my actions to secure my own wealth and prestige.

The ethicisist who values striving for virtue considers her character, how it’s developed and continues to seek out the good and learn from past decisions. Now I consider advocating for the children who cross three borders to arrive in my country. Whereas, my place in life was different a few years ago, perhaps the right moral action is to step up in 2014.

And then, really, the human, care-full and compassionate person in me wants to roll up my sleeves and be with those most hurt by our policies because my obligations towards the good should not be in a vacuum. In fact, it is because of stories of those disenfranchised in our church, in our schools, in our families, in our world that compel me to act in the service of their dignity.

Do we send ground troops to secure cities and towns in danger of being controlled by Isis?

Does the federal government loosen our borders and offer amnesty despite all the scary implications onto our economics and our communities?

Do I encourage a slash in pensions when the very investment may help to develop a better, humane police force?

Do I speak out against the crimes of the religious and the business corporations as they overlook the needs of the poor, the hurt, the victimized?

So many questions. Perhaps I remain open and influenced by wisdom figures all around me. Perhaps I stand with those whose lives have been challenged, broken, and demoralized and see how they approach these complicated relationships.

For today, I gain inspiration from my Jewish sisters and brothers, who continue to struggle for identity, belonging and dignity, as they mark the beginning of another new year. Perhaps I take their stance of repentance on Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps I continue to reflect on the ethics and morality of my own decisions and the decisions of my community… and then ask for God’s help to be better today and in the days to come.

What do you want of me, Lord? July, 31, 2014

Journal entry — Feast Day of St. Ignatius — San Salvador, El Salvador

I fell madly in love with El Salvador 20 years ago. I suppose the conditions were perfect — 2 years after the peace accords, connected with the humanity of the hospitable and organized community of Las Vueltas, encouraged by a trusted teacher to examine my own privilege and opportunity as a US citizen to insight change, and in a transition myself. This 17 year old kid was looking for the next step, the new frontier, and wanted to commit myself to a just relationship.

Former general of the society of Jesus, Pedro Arrupe, captured this sentiment in these words, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love. In a quite absolute, final way, what you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you up in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

I didn’t know that immersing myself into a new culture would begin a life-long movement from infatuation to kinship. As a teen, my catholic education around the Eucharist and among people pushed me to take risks. I thought everyone felt this passionate about faith and competent enough to take initiative in just relationships.

I fell hard for the children in Las Vueltas. The joy amidst the suffering spoke to my deep formation and experience of the paschal mystery. I was tenderly touched by the memories of civil war and the desire for a new society. Hope was in this new generation, those who survived, and those willing to say yes to truth-telling.

Looking back, I can begin to see that this romantic notion in a new way. No longer is this relationship on a scale of one dimensional rhetoric in my head — “if you are not doing anything for El Salvador, you are failing as a human” or “thanks for the experience, off to the next thing to be consumed.”

20 years later, I can understand and appreciate the profoundly deep impact those 14 days of living in community with my classmates and neighbors had on me.

I am taking part in an active witness of the lives and work of the martyrs of El Salvador through a delegation of jesuit affiliated high school teachers, university staff, parish participants, and colleagues through the Ignatian Solidarity Network. We arrived last Thursday, and through the help of Crispaz, an organization committed to companioning Salvadorans and those who us willing to walk with them in their pain and joy, and are receiving an experience of reality and an education of justice. There are 46 of us on this journey together culminating and illuminated by the celebration of the life of St. Ignatius this day.

We listened to stories of colleagues here in El Salvador — from university president, Fr. Andreu Oliva, SJ at the Universidad de CentroAmerica to Catholic Relief Services Deputy Regional Director, Rick Jones. Stories filled with facts and figures that rooted their work in the reality of the current situation helped to ground us in the overwhelming truth. We also have listened to stories from our friends — organizers in the countryside and their stories of war, repopulation, and tribute and history.

I am scared, though. We are coming to end of our trip, and I don’t want these stories and experiences listed among the “things that I have done” or the “people I got to see.”

We have heard much about the misery associated with immigration, especially the plight of the unaccompanied minors. I don’t know why my love for El Salvador and its recovery from war blinded me from actually “letting in” the stories of horror and injustice. American society — both Central and North — must create a way, a safer way, a healthier way to live together peacefully in this world.

My love affair compels me to act with responsibility and clarity. The migration issue is not just a headline, or sadly yet a shallow blimp open the radar of my consciousness. This issue must become my issue now, too.

I want to be held accountable. I want to open my door just as Rosa did for me and my friends in Arcatao, Chaletenango. I want to put my education at the service of the least of these just as the 6 Jesuit martyrs (Ignacio Ellacuria, Juan Ramon Moreno, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Armando Lopez) and their two companions, Elba and Celina Ramos had done. I want to denounce evil and injustice, just as Archbishop Monsenor Romero grew to do. I want to live with open eyes to the truth and make no accommodation for irresponsibility.

Good and gracious God, help me re-commit my life, my choices, my purchases to encounters of peace. In a world so broken, so divided by power, poverty, and self- concern, strengthen me to become an instrument of courage, compassion, forgiveness, and unity.

 

 

 

Walk the Walk

I was hungry, tired, sweaty, and responsible for 7 high school students.  We had just walked through the city of New Orleans praying the Way of the Cross through the lens of justice, injustice, and dignity of each person. But now after miles of walking, praying, and singing, we get to the Mississippi River only to discover that we must return to our vehicles, where we started.

Alex, the other faculty chaperone, offered to walk and pick up a car while I shepherd the teenagers through the French Quarter.  We needed to make it to Café Reconcile for lunch before they closed at 2:30pm.  It was 1:51pm and counting…

NOLA WalkingAs we paraded through the Quarter on Royal Street, we ran into brass bands and street performers that reinforced our expectations of good music and good fun.  We saw beautiful pieces of art inside the galleries, bumped into a few other sight-seers, and briskly walked so as to shorten the time and distance between us and our lunch.

Our hopes of catching a Street Car were dashed when it passed us without stopping.  I suppose I should grow in some kind of understanding after all, the Street Car was bursting at the seams with locals and tourists alike.

So we continued to walk. Alex picked up half of the group and drove to Café Reconcile while four of us remain carless and running out of time.

So we continued to walk. With the gentle breeze and the ease of Spring on our side, our strides took us from one block to another, one corner to another. We swiftly took the most efficient paths from points A to points B… straight lines.

As we continued to walk, I noticed myself at the front a good 10 people’s length. “You should walk a marathon, Ms. Sideco,” said one of the students. “You’re really fast!” said another whose legs seemed too long to control. Their only real chance to catch up with me is when we consider pausing at the light, but if they are not too quick, my start out of the gate is stealth!

I began to walk backward as if I were giving them a tour of the city on foot. I found myself encouraging my students to dig deep and keep walking. I took their orders along the way and texted them to Alex so that our timing would work out. I began counting down the blocks left in our journey as though to signify our success upon completing the previous feat.  Little smiles would emerge on the corners of their mouths and an audible sigh seemed inherent in the moment.

twilight in New Orleans fa

With each turn at each corner, the student energy level seemed to fade. There was a moment when I began to consider how food could not and would no longer be enough of a motivation to counteract the exhaustion and the rising disappointment each new block represented… the “are we there yet?” sentiment seemed to loom over us like a dark cloud waiting for it to take main stage as thunder called it to action.

Then the hope of the end came into full view, “3 blocks!” I cried. The students seemed to perk up – their eyes brightened, their shoulders stretched tall, their strides became confident and certain.

Looking back I began to see how leadership works: some people lead, some people follow, some people encourage, some people or structure undermine, some people or situation motivate, some people are ambitious, some people accept the bare minimum as sufficient enough.

This walk through New Orleans helped me process my own  experience of managing and leading a non-profit agency amidst the disaster and brokenness of everyday life.

A shared vision and purpose enhances each individual person’s potential to self-initiate and cooperate with others.

Leaders must be at the front and walk alongside.  If the distance between those following and those leading becomes too great, this lack of communication will result in a breakdown of the process. And soon enough the vision will be lost and uncertainty will plague those following at the turn at each corner.

Leaders cannot just say one thing and expect people to blindly follow with similar charisma, energy, and clarity. Leaders must empower those who follow by fostering a safe environment where they are appreciated and where they can risk the big strides even in uncertainty.

And timing is crucial. Depending on others and not giving into doubt allows the grace of the Spirit to work and gently fill into those liminal spaces.

We walked those 1.9 miles within 35 minutes. We celebrated with Sweet Tea and generous portions of the best catfish in town. Upholding the dignity of each person, the story of our day goes like this: we walked the way of justice, we walked the way of “just us.”

two-feet-of-love-montage

 

 

A New Dawn…Again

Special highlights this Advent include Pope Francis being named Time’s Man of the Year, Nelson Mandela’s death causes the world to reflect, ObamaCare continues to be under attack.

I guess you can say we are still waiting for the coming of Christ even when we have experiences of hope in the limited experiences we have now.

Pope Francis

Millennials are feeling free-er to question and doubt their faith with this new Pope. Last January, we held a Young Adult Retreat that was so needed that our spaces are halfway filled up this year even before the advertisement went out. Archbishop Dolan has seen a resurgence of youth in their 20s and 30s returning to church each month in New York. (Wayward millennials flocking to church).

This latest generation, un-churched or wrongly churched, is finding some kind of relief and joy with Pope Francis.  How fitting was Evangelii Gaudium as his most recent Papal Encyclical! Afterall, this does translate to the Joy of the Gospel.

As a friend of mine said, “I am always skeptical when leaders in the Church are not joyful. I wonder what Gospel they listen to.” Although she is not a millennial, she, like many others are feeling a sense of excitement with Pope Francis—not because he takes selfies with people or returns the phone calls of people who personally seek out his help, but maybe because cultural catholics, who have been accused of being cafeteria catholics (or picking and choosing which teachings and  doctrines to follow) are seeing themselves accepted by the “official” Catholic Church. 

Pope Francis as a “teacher” has extended humility and grace through his listening and his example of simplicity and modern sense.  I wouldn’t say common sense because the Church does hold a stance as a bold contradiction to some of the world’s priorities, but modern in the sense that his lived experience has connected with 20 and 30 year olds and many others in a truthful and authentic way.

Nelson Mandela

I was sitting with a friend when he read a tweet he had received announcing the death of long-time activist and moral beacon, Nelson Mandela.

Surrounded by children barely born in 1999, I sat there grateful for his witness and convinced that I can continue spreading his legacy by the mere act of sharing his story and re-telling his story.

President Obama spoke at his memorial celebration capturing the truth of Mandela’s life – that this generation will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. And yet, these words come from the first African American president of the United States, a possibility and dream to many of us just decades before.

Mandela’s witness to reconciliation, just action, and persistence echo in my being as rising doubt and fear try to paralyze me into believing that change is not possible or that the status quo is what will win in the end.

The Affordable Care Act

First it was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 that introduced a concept of government assisted healthcare, then it was Johnson’s Administration that enacted the Social Security Act in 1965.  Now we have agreed (certainly and tentatively according to some politicians) on the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

What a gargantuan effort to provide health care access to many more Americans.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long advocated health care for all. In their 1991 pastoral letter, Health and Health Care, the bishops called for a “comprehensive health care system that will ensure a basic level of health care for all Americans.”

And yet, so many are disappointed in the website, criticize the lack of preparation and continue to nay-say the efforts of many people to transform our current insufficient system.

And, of course, we Catholics are all over the map when it comes to our opinion on this new law and its consequences. Ethically, how can we promote life in all its forms?  From the struggling family in poverty to the unborn child to the person who has sinned and committed crimes against others…

Hope is in what we say and what we do

St. Paul, in his first letter to the people of Corinth writes, “Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)

With the example of Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, and President Obama and all the LOVE-ly people that support them and their visions for a better world, may we, too, learn to speak of a better future AND act in LOVE and kindness to others as we build this kin-dom of peace, justice, grace, and love. May we begin to see ourselves in the examples of these men… that we are capable of humility, discipline, and truth.

And yet, here I am, a woman in the church, pressed for some GREAT examples of women includes in this column.  So, who better but Mary?  The  celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) gives me a new vision of Church and of kin-dom. A friend reminded me of Yolanda Lopez work and prayer.She depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe in three images. As I have just reflected on the three male figures that share the worldwide stage, I continue to reflect on a world that is inclusive and has room for all people.  Ms. Lopez’ depiction of Our Lady is stunning because she in the in reflection of herself, her mother, and her grandmother.

May God’s likeness be reflected in our very lives as well.  May WE bring about the revolution of a New Dawn, the Advent of our time… a CHRIST-mas! of sorts….

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Sacred Spaces and experiences of the Trinity along Europe

Saints and sinners alike greeted me as I entered Santiago and made my way to the Cathedral. I finished the ancient pilgrimage of over 600 km in about 25 days! I looked around to see tears running swiftly down cheeks of those who are not even the slightest religious, huge arms outstretched in thanksgiving and hospitality by some of the quietest people who spent most of their time walking alone, and the chanting, cheering and singingof hundreds of youth groups. Santiago was the place to be. Santiago was like heaven on earth.

It was here that people celebrated life. Exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, and proud, we all knew that our accomplishment was achieved and shared by many others. We made it. We did it. Wow.

We reflected on moments of difficulty with a lightness some people justifying just how worth it the entire journey had been.

We planned for our future reunions, collected Facebook requests, and attended mass together…wanting to bask in the glory of a shared transformational experience.

I snuck in to greet St. James early the next day so that I could have private moment to thank him. For his example, for his courage, for his inspiration, for his service and for his faith. Traditionally, pilgrims arriving to Santiago would come up to the saint behind the altar and hug him before visiting where he lay. Such a simple gesture, this hug. This was big for me. I do not consider myself a huggy type of a person. Yet, this action helped me to simplify my attitude and my posture in serving God and God’s people. I need to open myself up just a little more in order to welcome the holy spirit in my life and offer the peace and grace of God in the form of hospitality to others.

This invitation to embody this embrace continued to resonate with me as I journeyed through Cologne, Canterbury, London, Rhyl, Harrogate, Glasgow, Oban, Mull, and finally to Iona Island off the western coast of Scotland where St.Columba first arrived in the year 563.

It is in this sacred space that I witnessed God’s continued efforts to pronounce the Good News in sunsets and thin horizons that drizzled red in a clear blue sky, single boats adrift in the quiet sea, century-old stone that nourished new plants and flowers, a reconstructed abbey and ruined nunnery, puffins, otters, and seals, communal prayers where inclusive language is a way of being, and seekers from all over the world who believe that the trek is worth it in order to obtain peace and glimpses of the kin-dom.

Originally, I thought the space of prayer and dedication of generations of innovative Christian community and confident acts of justice is was why I was led this progressive abbey. But as the days unfolded, God’s abundant grace came to me in the form of living in community with families from all over the world. It was amongst my peers that God was inviting me to embrace life, open myself to their experiences and our experiences together. From hikes along the island to group reflection exercises to artistic attempts to uncovering God to quotidian tasks of chopping vegetables, setting tables, cleaning toilets, eating with one another, and praying loudly through song, spoken word, and action, God was making my life new again.

Now I know this hug is not just between me and God or between me and a statue of a Saint or me and just one person. This hug is about opening my arms out wider so that the dynamic of relationships takes centerstage.

Thank you, God, for opening my eyes, heart, and arms to a real and deep experience of the Trinity–God in relationship, God made whole through our very lives together.

The Camino and a spiritual way of proceeding

When I did the Spiritual Exercises more than a decade ago, I had no clue that the two main fruits of that retreat would continue to sustain me and my life choices. During those 30 days of silence (with only one meeting with my spiritual director each day), I prayed through the life of Christ with the help of St. Ignatius’ many meditations and exercises. I remember two powerful moments: one, Jesus’ voice calling to me, “Come, follow me”; and two, a passage from the Book of James: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in your heart” (James 1:21b).

Well, after stringing together a few odd jobs these past few years, I was able to save up enough cash for a flight to Spain and an experience of a lifetime. This week marks my second week on the Camino.

For many Spaniards, this is a physical exercise and communal time akin to the American camping experience. People pack their backpacks with enough water, toiletries and clothing to last a day or two. Cash in your pocket is handy and helps to settle your bill in restaurants, bars and albergues (hostels) for each day’s expenses.

Martin Sheen dramatizes an experience of the Camino de Santiago in the movie “The Way.” In his raincoat, waterproof pants and hiking boots, carrying a map and his pilgrim credential (a passport of sorts that has spaces for local stamps to color the pages, proving where you have been received as a pilgrim), he is able to walk and seek refuge among many of the hospitaleros (hosts at the albergues) along the way.

For me, my Camino began in Loila, the birthplace of St. Ignatius. His life and contribution to Christianity and Christian education have shaped my life and how I have come to discern decisions toward a freedom that loves more. He talks about the importance of the “composition of place” in his Spiritual Exercises. Here, the retreatant is encouraged to enter into a particular passage of Scripture and use all of his or her senses to be there. Standing in Ignatius’ bedroom, which is now a chapel, gave me a view he had of a wonderful countryside, a view he had during his convalescence. (A cannonball struck Ignatius’ leg, and he spent many months recuperating. This time is popularly known to contribute greatly toward his own conversion toward a greater desire to do God’s will.)

I continued through small countryside towns, listening to the strong and sharp language of País Vasco, or the Basque region of Spain. Ignatius’ certainty, flair for the dramatic and enthusiastic acts of faith made sense as I met ambitiously confident people whose independence and identity were sources of pride, accomplishment and commitment. Here, Ignatius’ gusto resonates loudly with the messages I heard throughout my years of education with the Jesuits: Magis (the “more”), “women and men for others,” and Ad Majoriam de Gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”). So after climbing the second highest mountain (only by 10 feet) in plain view, my bones and muscles and heart began to understand what my head had already known about how impressive Ignatius really is and why many parts of me follows in his footsteps.

After six days on the Camino Ignaciano, I learned more deeply the value of confirmation. As Ignatius lays out in a discernment process for seekers, he invites the retreatant to seek confirmation through an experience with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Jesus, with God, or with the Holy Spirit through positive emotions or consolations. After trying to decipher directions and minimal signage in Catalan*, the language spoken in Catalunya, a subtle orange arrow would appear about 50 feet ahead confirming my decision. Whew! Thanks, Ignatius, for allowing me an opportunity to truly trust in your ways.

And now, I am writing after a few days on the Camino de Santiago, named after St. James. Centuries of relationship create the way that is both well marked and well worn. I join hundreds of thousands of past pilgrims in this quest for God, for truth, for meaning, for wholeness. In this moment, there are about 50 or so I have seen in the same town each night, occupying the same albergues, the same restaurants, praying in the same sacred spaces. Whereas the Camino Ignaciano was relatively isolated with only two other companions, this way toward Santiago includes companions from Spain, Ireland, Italy, Bulgaria, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Canada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, New Orleans and Oregon. I am overwhelmed.

To my surprise, this ancient trek adjusts to the modern pilgrim whose cellphone now can get the most updated Camino app. As for me, I left my phone, computer and earbuds at home. Here I want to continue to hear how God is calling me with every sense of my body.

To be continued with a reflection on my journey to Santiago, Canterbury and Iona Abbey.