Triduum ... Three Days of Prayer, Solidarity, and Hope

Somehow, I find it hard to believe that it is already Holy Week. Blogging has been light here of late, I know. I could list the many things I am busy about, but you can probably guess. In any case, I've not been here. Tonight, however, I thought I would just post something short about these Holy days we are entering of Triduum.

Triduum is my favorite part of our Catholic liturgical tradition. For those not in the know, Triduum refers to the three holy days of holy week: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  We come together on these days to tell our story, to remember, to ritualize, and finally to celebrate the hope of the resurrection and welcome new members of our Christian family.

We open our hearts to the call to service on Holy Thursday, remembering Christ's love for his friends and his model of service and love.

We open our hearts to those who experience violence, oppression, and suffering on Good Friday, remembering Jesus who carried the cross on which he would die.

We open our hearts to joy and hope at the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday, when we stand again at the tomb and realize, along with the women, that Christ is risen!

The journey through Triduum is always a transformative one for me.  Part of my love of the Triduum might be the fact that even though I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic school, I never really experienced it until I came back to the Church as an adult. And luckily for me, and my own faith journey, my first Triduums were experienced as part of a faith community at St. Phil's that took it seriously and journeyed together in a meaningful way.

Tonight I was invited by a young sister friend of mine to join her congregation for Holy Thursday liturgy at their mother house. It was a beautiful way to enter into these days. Tomorrow I will be joining the 8th Day Center Good Friday Walk for Justice through downtown Chicago. And on Saturday, I'm planning to attend the vigil at the University of Chicago Calvert House community.

Wherever and however you are marking these days, blessings of peace to you as we anticipate the joy of Easter!


A woman of prayer, hospitality, and peace

I got word today that Sister Elizabeth Ann Brennan, CSJP passed away this morning in Seattle. She has been struggling with some serious health issues, and so it was not entirely unexpected. In many ways it is a blessing to know that her struggle is over and that she is in the arms of her loving God, but she will be deeply and dearly missed.

Elizabeth Ann will always hold a special place in my heart. She was one of the Sisters who first welcomed me, literally into her home, when I was a candidate and spent long weekends living with the Sisters at one of our local CSJP houses in Seattle (St. T's). Long time readers of the blog may remember this as my "groovy sister reserves" era. Elizabeth Ann was one of those groovy sisters at St. T's who helped me realize that I made the most sense as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and made me feel at home.

Elizabeth Ann was a woman of prayer. That was one of the first things that was clear to me living at St. T's on my groovy sister reserve weekends. Praying together was a priority in that house, and it was by no means going through the motions. We prayed the prayers of the church, we prayed for our wounded world, and we prayed for peace. Elizabeth Ann had an amazing presence, as evidenced in her relationship with God, community, and others. She was spiritual director to a group of Lutheran pastors for a few decades and they LOVED her. I loved knowing that they loved her.

Elizabeth Ann was a woman of hospitality. My first experiences as a candidate at St. T's made this part of our tradition very clear to me. Here's a reflection I wrote on the experience as a candidate:
My Sister housemates here at my weekend groovy sister pad have taught me the value of hospitality. There are always “extra” people here. They’re not even really guests, because if you’re here, you are part of the house. At Christmas & Thanksgiving we had at least 25 people at dinner. The house seems to have a way of magically expanding to meet the needs of those present. Laughter, warmth & good food are always on the menu here.
Elizabeth Ann was a big part of that experience. I experienced their gracious hospitality just a few months ago when I was home visiting in Seattle and was invited over for dinner by the St. T's community. It was clear to me that Elizabeth Ann was struggling with her health and lamenting her lack of energy. And yet, she was gracious and engaged in conversation, asked questions about what I'm learning at school and my thoughts on our community planning process. I am so grateful I had that last moment to experience her hospitality! And to pray with her. The evening of course was not complete without prayer!

Elizabeth Ann was a woman of peace. If you knew her, you knew that. Enough said. And now she is at peace with her loving God. I know that as our community moves toward our Congregation Chapter, she will be praying for us and cheering us on.

Goodbye Elizabeth Ann. Thank you for everything.


Margaret Anna Fridays

I am getting back into the groove of Margaret Anna Fridays, even if blogging has been light as I try to balance school, community, and family commitmentsThis blog feature is a favorite where I share some words of wisdom from the founder of my religious community, Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare. She was a prolific writer, with more than 200,000 copies of her works in circulation by 1870. This week's installment is from her seminal (and controversial) 1887 book, The Question of Today: Anti-Poverty and Progress. She asks many challenging questions in this work, including:

We are, then, put face to face with the great fact of Poverty, we are put face to face with the certain consequences of the continuance of such a condition of things, and if we have one spark of humanity we are put face to face with the question, What can we do personally and individually to lessen poverty, if we cannot abolish it?


Margaret Anna Fridays

It's Friday, and it has been a while since I have run an installment of Margaret Anna Fridays, where I share some words of wisdom from the founder of my religious community, Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare. She was a prolific writer, with more than 200,000 copies of her works in circulation by 1870. This week's installment is from her seminal (and controversial) 1887 book, The Question of Today: Anti-Poverty and Progress. She asks an insightful question, and one which our current Pope seems to be asking us daily:

Which are we to have, the real Christianity taught by Christ Himself, with all its sacrifices, or modern Christianity, which makes the way of life easy for the rich and cruelly hard for the poor? - MF Cusack


Remembering Romero

Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. If you'd like to spend time with Romero this week, I recommend this free online version of some of his writings, including this gem:.

'God's reign is already present on our earth in mystery. When the Lord comes, it will be brought to perfection' (Vatican Council II, The Church in the Modern World) 

That is the hope that inspires Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands. 

These were the words spoken by Oscar Romero minutes before his death, as he concluded his homily during mass at Divine Providence Hospital where he lived. He was killed by an assassin who entered the chapel from the back door and shot him, as he stood at the altar.

The picture is from my trip to El Salvador in 2007. The letters engraved on the wall say: "At this altar Monseñor Romero offered his life to God for his people. "


Go to Joseph - St. Joseph's Day

Wednesday is St. Joseph's Day, a special Feast Day for my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  As our CSJP Constitutions say:
From the beginning of the congregation
Joseph was chosen as our patron
because he is a model of peace.
His courage to live a life of faith
inspires us to trust in God's abiding love
especially in times of struggle and uncertainty.  
As I reflected on this blog a while back: "We certainly live in times of struggle and uncertainty on a  grand scale, and each of us in our own lives may also face certain struggles and weariness from time to time.  And so did Joseph.  I'm spending some special time walking with Joseph these days, and invite you to do the same."

When Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in 1884, she chose Joseph as our patron because he is a model of peace.  In her words: "No doubt we may point to St. Joseph as the great model of every virtue, but it would seem as if peace was his crowning grace."

When I find myself in times of struggle or uncertainty, I go to Joseph, model of peace. I had a recent experience of this, today on the vigil of his feast day in fact, and all I can say is, Joseph had my back. I felt his peaceful presence, his commitment to family, and his trust in God's abiding love.

To celebrate this day, I made a video prayer reflection a while ago, set to "Joseph, Better You than Me" by the Killers (featuring Elton John and Neil Tennant).  Enjoy ... and remember to "Go to Joseph."


Theology Quotes: Eric H.F. Law

It's cool when you get a chance to read work for school by someone you've actually interacted with in real life.  This semester I'm reading an oldie but goodie by Eric H.F. Law for my class on spirituality and leadership, 1993's The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community.

I've never met Eric Law, but I did work with him a little in my role as editor of A Matter of Spirit, the quarterly journal of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle. In that role, I had the unique opportunity to cold call (or cold email as the case may be) lots of folks, from Richard Rohr to Michael Crosby to Elaine Prevallet to Frida Berrigan (Catholic theology/religious life/peace activist nerds will know who those folks are). The conversation went something like this: "I'm the editor of a journal for a peace and justice center in Seattle. We've got an upcoming issue on X and think that you would be uniquely positioned to break open the topic for our readers." Then, assuming they were still on board, I'd give them a very short time line, an outline of what we were looking for, and break the news that this would be pro bono. I was often amazed at the gracious response and genuine desire to move the conversation forward with our readers. (Sometimes of course my cold calls/emails went into a black hole where they were never to be seen again).

This is a long way of saying that I had one of these interactions once upon a time with Eric Law. Except that he exceeded my expectations.  Not only was he gracious and genuinely desired to break open the key elements of culture and diversity for our readers, he surprised me. You see, his article was due the day after our nation executed it's target killing/assassination of a certain big name terrorist. Fear of the big bad wolf was replaced by college students partying in the streets. It was a strange moment, if you recall. Anyway, that morning I had an email from Eric Law. He asked for an extension, not because his article wasn't finished (it was), but because given this change of events he knew he had to approach it differently. Two days later, he sent me this article: Fear: Conqueror, Exploiter, and Miner.  Not only was the article amazing, I was impressed by his integrity, honesty, and commitment to this little side project for a small non-profit in Seattle.

Back to my homework. I spent a bit of time this afternoon reading his chapter on the need for leaders in multicultural community to be engaged in power analysis. It really struck a chord and is something I want to spend more time reflecting upon (and trying on). So I thought I'd share it with you, my bloggy friends!


The High Cost of Detention

I was very inspired today by reading news reports about the hundreds of immigrants held in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington on the fourth day of their hunger strike seeking better living conditions and treatment during their incarceration. So I created a petition in support of them on change.org. Please consider signing!

[Note: Here is a link to another more "official" petition circulating - please sign this one as well!]

I first learned about the Northwest Detention Center a few years ago when I wrote an article for A Matter of Spirit, the Justice Journal for the Intercommunity Pace and Justice Center in Seattle. If you read the article (copied below), you'll probably see why I was so inspired by the actions of the immigrants held in detention and spurred on to take action. I hope you will join me.

The High Cost of Detention by Susan Francois (Winter 2012 Issue of A Matter of Spirit)

Adriana’s* immigration detention experience began when she was rear-ended in a traffic accident. Local police who responded discovered that she had a deportation order. Her lawyer had failed to inform her that she had lost her pending immigration case and was going to be deported.

Even though she did not have a criminal history, Adriana was immediately taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. That’s where Jorge Barón, Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), met her. “We identified that because she had been a victim of severe domestic violence, she may be eligible for one of the protections available, but it would be a difficult case,” said Barón. In the meantime, she would need to spend 2 to 3 months in detention away from her 7 year old daughter, a U.S. citizen. “She almost gave up because the prospect of being detained and not knowing was too much.” She persevered, however, and after 2 and a half months in detention, with the help of NWIRP lawyers, she was reunited with her daughter and granted permission to remain in the country.

Detention of people facing deportation proceedings has become the default, says Barón. “Reliance on detention increases the likelihood of an incorrect outcome. People are more likely to just give up because they don’t see any hope when they are detained.”

Barón has witnessed a “huge expansion” in the number of people detained in recent years, many in private for-profit detention centers like the one in Tacoma. This is problematic. “One, it dilutes accountability. Second, you get this incentive for these very large corporations to perpetuate the system and spend a significant amount of money to lobby for continuing the expansion of the system.”

The general public seems largely unaware of our immigration detention system. “I will talk to people in Tacoma who say, ‘I didn’t even know there was a detention center here.’ And here you have the 4th largest immigration detention center in the country, a mile from downtown.” Education of the public is key, as is advocacy.

“You can still have a deportation process, but do we need to keep them detained while cases are pending?” asks Barón. He points to the high costs of detention at a time when drastic cuts are being considered to things like health care and education. “It’s such a waste of resources, and it has this human cost that is
very disturbing. I think we can do better.”

*Name changed for privacy


Introducing ... National Catholic Sisters Week

Today is International Women's Day. It also happens to be the first day of the Inaugural National Catholic Sisters Week (March 8-14)! As a woman and a Catholic Sister I am happily celebrating both and invite you to do the same.

There are National Catholic Sisters Week events happening in certain parts of the country (like my young friends Sister Julia Walsh and Sister Julie Viera appearing on a special "Sisters Stories" event in collaboration with the awesome people at the Moth Radio hour - it will be live streamed today at 3PM Eastern).

The internet is also the place to be if you think #nunsrock, with websites and Facebook and Twitter happenings galore.

If you are on Twitter, enjoy the fun with these hashtags: #NCSW, #NationalCatholicSistersWeek, #CatholicSisters, and my personal favorite, #nunsrock.

The Facebook and Twitter (@SistersofPeace) pages of my own groovy Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace will also have special posts for National Catholic Sisters Week each day. Be sure to check them out!


Theology Quotes: Kenneth Himes

My bureaucratic past, political childhood and political science education are neatly meeting my religious life and study of theological ethics these days in a course titled "Catholic Moral Teaching and Public Policy Debates."  Our main text is hot off the presses (2013): Christianity and the Political Order: Conflict, Cooptation, and Cooperation by Kenneth R. Himes, OFM, a professor of Christian Ethics at Boston College. It's a great book that looks at the engagement of Christianity, specifically the Catholic Church, with the state and political realm in historical and global context.

This week, I read some of his thinking about social sin (a major research interest of mine). I figured this was highly appropriate as we move into Lent with Ash Wednesday approaching. Not familiar with Social Sin? "Social sin refers both to the ways in which our personal sins become embodied in unjust social structures and to the ways in which these structures, having taken on an independent life of their own, make it harder to resist the evil they embody" (Himes, 249). For example, an act of discrimination or hate speech is a personal sin, but is embedded in our social structures as racism, which takes on an independent life of its own, in a sort of vicious cycle. With that mini course in social sin 101, I give you this quote from Himes to ponder:


Unexpected Joy ... Remembering the Joy of My Call to Religious Life

There's an article in NCR about the Papal letter to religious issued in anticipation of 2015, the Year of Consecrated Life. The letter is titled "Rejoice!" but is only in Italian so far so I've not read it, but I did read this in the NCR article:
Preparing for the Year for Consecrated Life, members of religious orders, secular institutes and consecrated virgins are asked to spend a considerable amount of time remembering the joy they felt when they first realized God was calling them.
"Pope Francis has asked us to let our hearts dwell on a freeze-frame of the joy of 'the moment when Jesus looked at me,'" said Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
When I read this article on my smartphone on the bus on the way to visit my Dad, I immediately flashed back to my moment of unexpected joy, which took place in a very unexpected place ... the women's bathroom on the 1st floor of the Portland City Hall (2nd window to the right of the rotunda on the 1st floor!).
Can't quite picture it? I can't blame you. It's an odd spot for such a moment. But luckily I already shared the moment on the way back machine that is this blog in a post from the days of my discernment entitled "Unexpected Joy." I wrote this when I was applying for candidacy with my now community:
There comes a point in Harry Potter when Harry needs to remember a moment when he was truly happy in order to fend off some foul creatures that want to eat his soul. His first memories weren't strong enough - they were the run of the mill happy. In the end he needed to find a truly joyous moment.
This all got me thinking about a moment when I was very unexpectedly filled with joy. It was back when I was first beginning to stop actively ignoring this tug I was feeling in my heart. I'd starting talking to my pastor about the direction my life was going and where God was calling me. I'd been dancing around the realization that all signs were pointing to religious life. As I think I've written here before, I wasn't too terribly excited about the idea intellectually. But then the joy hit me. In the bathroom at work of all places. I remember looking in the mirror, washing my hands, filled with joy at the wondrous possibility that I could become a Sister. I could use my gifts to serve God and help transform the world. I was literally bursting with joy. I wanted to tell the whole world. Instead I was a good bureaucrat and went back to my desk to what seemed even more like drudgery in comparison to the joyous possibilities that lay ahead for me to explore.
I've got the last part of my groovy sister application coming up on Wednesday - the dreaded psychological evaluation. It'll be fine I know but I am of course somewhat nervous. But, like Harry, I'm planning to hold on to the memory of this joyous moment in the bathroom to see me through.

Of course, little did I know there's a bit of drudgery in every life, even when it's your calling. But the joy is still there, bubbling up sometimes more than others, but always present, especially when I am with my Sisters or working for peace through justice or using my talents and gifts in little ways to serve God and help transform the world. And that, my friends, is pure gift!


Theology Quotes: Lisa Sharon Harper

I'm taking a course this semester on Spirituality and Leadership. The course has just started but we've already heard a wonderful variety of voices.  This week, our readings include an article by Lisa Sharon Harper, the director of mobilizing for Sojourners. I heard her speak a few years ago at an Interfaith Immigration breakfast in Seattle and was deeply inspired by her commitment to a lived faith that does justice. I just finished reading her chapter, "Singing the Creator's Song in a Strange Land," in the book Learning to Lead: Lessons in Leadership for People of Faith. I am challenged and inspired by this quote, which I in turn share with you in the latest installment of Theology Quotes on the blog.