Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Passing the Baton

As I was transitioning to the seminary, the Olympics were just getting started. I couldn't help but think of the 4 x 100 relays and passing the baton on to the next runner as a great analogy for my time of transition from postulancy to seminary. While I was packing up all of my belongings and reflecting on my wonderful year in Philadelphia, so too, was Kate packing her belongings. Kate was heading to Philadelphia to begin her own time as a pre-postulant.

For me, the baton is the passing on of the Vincentian tradition. It is the joy of finding your place in this world, where the world's deep hunger and your happiness meet.

Transitions are not always easy. There is excitement and an uneasy feeling, but knowing that the baton was passed to me and now I get to pass it on makes the transition time smoother. I know others who have walked the same path. I am grateful for my time as a pre-postulant and postulant and all of the Daughters who have passed on the baton and entrusted me with such a long-lasting and beautiful tradition. Just as Vincent and Louise passed the baton on to the first Confreres and Daughters, so too, I hope to cultivate the Vincentian tradition everyday and pass along the baton.

Written by Sister Michelle Hoffman, D.C.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

St. Catherine Laboure: A Saint We Can All Emulate

On November 28th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Miraculous Medal, Mary's gift to us. On November 29th, the Church remembers St. Catherine Labouré, the chosen messenger of the Miraculous Medal. The life of Catherine Labouré has much to teach us and there is much about her life that we can imitate.
I have always found the story of Mary's apparitions to Catherine awesome. Imagine being led to the chapel by an angel in the middle of the night to find Mary waiting there and then to spend several hours in conversation with her! Years later, Catherine would say they were the sweetest moments of her life and she could not begin to describe them. This visit with Mary was followed by an apparition while at prayer with sisters in the chapel. Mary appeared holding a globe which she said "represented the whole world and each person in particular." This image was followed by the image of what we now know as the Miraculous Medal: Mary's hands extended bestowing graces and the word "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

These apparitions and Mary's words to Catherine surely affirm Mary's love for each of us and her constant intercession on our behalf. The apparitions are not part of what we can imitate of St. Catherine; nor are the apparitions what made her a saint. Rather, it is Catherine's fidelity to keeping room for God in her life, paying attention to life and people around, and using the gifts God gave her that make her a saint. And these are things that each of us can also do.

For example, Catherine was a small child when her mother died. Catherine accepted this reality, putting confidence in our Blessed Mother to be her mother and accepting the guidance of her father and her older sister and aunts who cared for her. And Catherine prayed, often in the small village church, and sometimes walking six miles to Mass in the parish church. Some years later, when her older sister wanted to enter the Daughters of Charity, Catherine stepped up to manager the household for her father and brothers who worked the family farm. Each of us can find ways in our life to accept what befalls us, to pray regularly, and to step up and use the gifts God has given us to do what needs to be done.

When Catherine wanted to enter the Daughters of Charity, her father's first response was "No. I have already given one daughter to God." He sent Catherine to Paris to help her brother run his restaurant, thinking that Parisian life would distract her. Catherine went to Parish and worked hard to help her brother, but she was not distracted. She continued to keep room for God in her life. eventually, her father gave his permission and Catherine entered the Daughters of Charity in the Motherhouse at 140 Rue du Bac. It was here during her Seminary that Catherine had her apparitions. She shared the apparitions with her confessor who helped to get the Miraculous Medals made. No one else knew to whom the apparitions were made.

From the Seminary, Catherine was sent to work at a home for the elderly outside Paris. She lived and worked with the local community of Daughters of Charity here for years. She was a faithful Daughter of Charity: a good companion and a gentle and attentive caregiver to the elderly men given to her care. No one knew that she was the one who had received the apparitions of the Miraculous Medal. Catherine was a country girl, not very well educated and, for the most part, unnoticed by others. Her Sister Servant did not particularly like Catherine and often berated her. Catherine never took offense at this behavior, but instead would find a reason to approach the Sister after a confrontation to ask a permission or make a comment so that she would know that there was no offense taken. We can imitate these choices of Catherine: to not look for the praise or attention of others, even for "special" things that happen to us; to be the first to forgive and forget.

St. Catherine Labouré, pray for us.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Alpha and Omega - Beginning and End - Seminary and Infirmary

So often, women in discernment want to know what this "seminary" thing is all about. What happens in the Daughters of Charity Seminary? What is expected of a seminary sister? Oh, and by the way, why is it called a seminary and not a novitiate anyway?

These are common and important questions to answer.
  1. In the Daughters of Charity Seminary, sisters are set apart for a special time of formation. They spend time studying the history and charism of the community and our founders. Emphasis is placed on immersing themselves in the prayer life of a Daughter of Charity. They join others in formation with different communities for workshops and classes about consecrated life, vows, spirituality, and human development. Seminary sisters also spend one day a week ministering with those who are poor. This is a thumbprint of the seminary.
  2. A seminary sister is expected to fully engage in her life as a Daughter of Charity, to learn to pray as a sister, serve as a sister, and live a rich community life as a sister.
  3. We call it the seminary and not novitiate because, when we were founded in 1633, all communities of women were cloistered. St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac wanted us to serve poor people. So, they were careful to distinguish us from "nuns." That included the vocabulary used to describe out life. We don't have local superiors, we have sister servants. We live in houses, not convents. We become seminary sisters, not novices.
Now, to get to the heart of the seminary. One of the most precious opportunities that we are given in the seminary is time to visit with our elderly and infirmed sisters. Each week, time is set aside for that very purpose. You see, there is something so sacred and holy about journeying with those who have blazed the trails before us. There is something so wonderful about the future and the past meeting up and having a weekly chat--sharing ideas about our lives as Daughters of Charity--hearing stories of life on the mission--talking about dreams realized and those yet to be conceived--the beginning and the end--over and over again. It has been happening for almost 400 years.

As I write this article, one of our sisters in California has just made her way home to God. For many years, Sister Mary Genevieve Moonier, D.C., was the seminary directress for the Province of the West. She was legendary. Yet, she was called home in the same way as any Daughter of Charity. We took turns visiting her, praying with and for her, singing Marian songs, and soaking in the presence of God that exists in that space between heaven and earth that is so thin at the time of our dying. It is holy ground--with unstrapped sandals we stayed.

The sisters who were formed under her are all living in that amazing place too--joyfully remembering the beginning, grieving the end, and with hope celebrating forever.

The Alpha and the Omega - the beginning and the end - the seminary, infirmary, mission and then heaven.

Written by Sister Lisa Laguna, D.C.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Walking in the Footsteps of Saints Vincent and Louise

I have been a Daughter of Charity for more than fifty happy years. During this time, I have tried to be attentive to the teachings of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise and to living their spirit. Recently, I had the privilege of spending a month at our Motherhouse in Paris to participate in a Vincentian Sessions program along with 84 sisters from around the world! This immersion experience in the internationality of the Company and the spirit of our Vincentian charism was humbling, enriching, and energizing.

One piece of this experience that has had a deep impact on me was walking on pilgrimage to the places where Louise, Vincent, and the first sisters lived, worked, and formed the Vincentian charism. The building that was the Motherhouse for the longest period of Louise's life and where she died has been replaced with an apartment house; but to stand on the sidewalk across the street as our guide pointed out the building, then to turn to see the property directly across the street that was St. Lazare (the Motherhouse of the Vincentian priests, where St. Vincent spend the longest part of his life) was an awesome experience. Knowing that I was standing where Vincent actually walked regularly to give conferences to the first sisters and where Louise walked to meet with Vincent at St. Lazare was more powerful than I can describe. Being there physically was so very different from reading about it in a book, as I have so many times before.

The St. Lazare property, originally built as a monastery, was very large. None of the original buildings remain, only one back wall of a building. On that wall is a plaque recalling for everyone that St. Vincent de Paul lived here from January 7, 1632 until September 27, 1660, establishing many works and institutions to care for the poor, the sick, and the galley slaves for the great benefit of the people of Paris. New buildings now occupy the site, but part of the property has been reserved as a small park where anyone can come to rest a while. In the park is a small monument honoring St. Vincent. These things were not placed there by Daughters of Charity or Vincentian priests, but by the people of Paris who love and honor St. Vincent.

The Church of St. Laurent, situated close by in the neighborhood, was the parish church of St. Louise and the early Daughters. In the church is an alcove honoring St. Louise and the work of the Daughters while another alcove honors St. Vincent.

It was very humbling to see that the people of Paris love Vincent and Louise as much as I do, or perhaps even more. It energizes me and I hope to be more attentive to their lives and their words and to share them boldly with all whom I meet.

Written by Sister Mary Frate, D.C.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Community Review

Life in community is seen as perfect when compared to life in families. However, there is still conflict and it is important to manage that correctly. While there is not a singular "perfect" way to deal with conflict, we utilize the Community Review.

Tiger Catholics may be more familiar with the Community Review in its more traditional form, the Chapter of Faults. Once upon a time, religious communities would regularly gather to publicly admit their faults--and point out the faults of others. The setting was one of prayerful silence; this wasn't a meeting to hash out conflicts, so community members listened to one another's faults without responding. Having one's faults pointed out in public by others could have disastrous effect on community relations, unless the community was filled with exceptionally spiritually mature people.

These days, the Chapter of Faults has evolved into a "Community Review." During the Community Review, the community gathers, and members make an act of humility by sharing ways that they have hurt members of the community. A sister might admit to gossiping or saying hurtful words or being passive aggressive. Sometimes the act of humility regards offenses against the whole community, but other times, a sister might direct her admission of fault to a specific person.

Sometimes sisters are feeling that we're doing what we admit to and they don't realize we're aware of doing that until we come together and share about it. We find it to be a really healing experience and certainly a very sacramental time.

Importantly, the form of the act of humility includes not only an admission of fault, but a positive affirmation that the person really wants to do better and a request for prayers and practical assistance. For example, a sister might say "I'm sorry for the impatience that I've exhibited toward you. I'm going through a really hard time right now and I know I've been impatient with you; you've been trying to share stories with me and I've been cutting you off. I don't mean to do that. I really want to listen to you. I ask your pardon and I ask your prayers so that I can stop doing this because I don't want to hurt you this way and I want to recognize Jesus in you. Please help me out."

The other community members don't respond to these statements, but maintain a state of quiet prayer for the person speaking.

How to use the community review in your life.
Will the Community Review work for you? Our experience suggests it's worth a try! We've always had a positive experience. I'm always amazed at how honest kids are, how they know the things that have affected each other. They always come through. Always the things that I would pray for to surface get brought up.

Here is how to try it.
  • Gather in your prayer space. Consider setting the mood by lighting a candle or practicing thirty seconds of silence.
  • You may want to explain the background of the practice first--maybe even a day or two in advance. Explain the historic origins of the practice, and why religious communities continue to use it today. Talk about the virtues this practice might strengthen, such as humility, courage, self-awareness, wisdom, and love.
  • Offer general examples of acts of humility, such as bullying, gossiping, singling people out, and being exclusive.
  • Some good ground rules: acts of humility should be specific and relevant to the life of the community or family. Also, no sideways accusations of other family members (I'm sorry I yelled at you when you took my iPad with asking!!)
  • Consider starting the Community Review with prayer or song.
  • Parents should make acts of humility first to model the form and show that it is good spiritual practice for people of all ages.
  • Don't be afraid of silence. Set a minimum amount of time for the Community Review--say 5 minutes. If everyone is silent for most of this time, don't worry, make it time for silent prayer instead.
  • After the Community Review is over, offer a blessing and encourage spontaneous acts of love and reconciliation by leading the way: give someone a hug!
Content originally published here.