Wednesday, March 21, 2018

World Day of Down Syndrome

March 21 is World Day of Down Syndrome. Working with L'Arche in St. Louis, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing individuals who also happen to have Down syndrome.

L'Arche is an intentional community of faith for adults with and without developmental disabilities to live together and share life. Here, I serve alongside four women with developmental disabilities, two of whom are living with Down syndrome. On this World Day of Down Syndrome, I feel the deep desire and need to reflect on my dear friends, Amy and Mary Ellen, who have taught me that their disability is really an ability to love more genuinely, laugh more contagiously, trust with depth, and welcome differences with ease.

Amy is the definition of joy! I laugh harder with Amy than I do with most people. Beyond that, I've come to experience that Amy has the God-given gift to understand people. For example, last week I was getting frustrated as I was filling out necessary paperwork. Amy, reading my frustration, walked over to me, took the laptop off my lap, and gave me a hug. She then kissed my head and reminded me that I am loved by her. All I could do in that moment was look up at her, tell her I love her too, thank her for her compassion, and thank God for being so close to Amy's heart. Through Amy, I have met God more personally and I love harder because of it. I pray that all people may have a friend like Amy; a friend from whom they truly feel God's unconditional love.

Mary Ellen is gentle, wise, and trustworthy. We spend a lot of time at the gym together, riding bikes or walking the track. I spent months trying to get Mary Ellen to walk on the treadmill, but I stopped pushing her because she was afraid. Last month, she asked me out of the blue, "Will you walk on the treadmill with me today? I trust you, Bella-Bella," (the nickname she uses for me). So we did and when we got off the treadmill, Mary Ellen gave me the most God-sent hug I've ever received. In that moment, I realized I need to trust God more with my fears and embrace Him with love and thanksgiving afterwards. Since that day, my prayer each morning has been, "Will you walk with me through today, God? I desire to trust You." Through Mary Ellen, I have learned that a deep trust in God is doable and, when done right, is fruitful in confidence of God. I pray that all people may trust like her.

But, I'm not the only one who has a strong bond with a person with Down syndrome. Sister Regina Hlavac, D.C., has a sister with Down syndrome, Karen. Sister Regina says, "Karen is everything to me that Amy and Mary Ellen are to unconditional love! Karen has always been adamant that she does not have Down syndrome...she has UP syndrome!"

Sister Catherine Kelly, D.C., has also been blessed with a niece with Down syndrome, Chris. So full of love and a total joy to her family, Sister Catherine asks us all to pray for these beautiful individuals who share God's love with the world.

The friendships, bonds, and love that I share with Amy and Mary Ellen are where I find God the most. How blessed I am to have them in my life! Happy World Day of Down Syndrome!

Written by Bella Davila and Sister Regina Hlavac, D.C.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Vow Statues of the Blessed Mother

As stated in the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity: C23, "The Daughters of Charity consider Mary the model and teacher of the spiritual life: 'the Virgin who heeds and welcomes the Word of God, the Virgin who prays, the Virgin who offers.' They turn to her in order to make of their lives an act of worship of God as she did, and to make their worship a commitment of their lives."

When each of us in community makes vows for the first time, it is customary to receive a "vow statue" from the sisters with whom she lives. It is always chosen especially for each individual sister according to her likes, needs, and personality. It can be presented to her on her vow day or placed significantly in her bedroom the evening before while she is on retreat. Of course, each sister's statue has tremendous importance and meaning to her. Many of us keep our statue of Mary in our room, on our prayer table, or some special place of worth and value.

This is a photo of my vow statue, called Our Lady of the Pillow. The sisters I lived with at the time of my first vows gave it to me to remind me to be relaxed in my prayer life and to let Mary sit peacefully and comfortably with me in prayer.

Also stated in our Constitutions: C26, "In their service, the Daughters of Charity strive to be faithful to the Marian character of the Company. They look to her who brought forth Christ...the Virgin Mary...In her own life, she gives the example of the maternal love by which all should be animated who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church on behalf of the rebirth of humankind."

Again, from our Constitutions: C29d, "They place their confidence in the Virgin Mary..." Isn't it easy to see why our Vow Statue of the Blessed Mother is so special to each one of us! And why we take such joy in placing it in a very sacred and significant place of prayer in our rooms!

Perhaps you have a significant statue of Mary that you love. Be sure to reverence it with delight and joy...and let us remember to pray to Mary for one another. "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

Written by Sister Regina Hlavac, D.C.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Remember...You Are Dust

"Remember, man, you are dust and unto dust you shall return."

This is the traditional blessing as the priest distributes ashes to each Catholic on Ash Wednesday. In recent years, the Church has given the choice of another blessing to replace this one. Many use the newer blessing because it is more gender sensitive and, some feel, more uplifting.

This blessing speaks of the most basic of relationships that we, as humans, exist only because of Earth and will continue to exist only to the extent that Earth continues to live. We come from Earth, are a part of Earth, and eventually will return to Earth. Lent is a time to reflect on our relationship with Earth--the home we inhabit. The second creation story in Genesis tells us that God established this relationship between Earth and humans from the very beginning.

Reading: Gn. 2: 4b-7 "In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up--for the Lord God has not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground--then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."

This story recalls the special triune relationship between God, Earth, and humans. God formed us each from Earth and breathed divine spirit into us--making us both Earth-beings and God-beings. There is an unbreakable connection among God, Earth, and humans. We carry both God and Earth within every strand of our being. We are dependent not only on God, but also on Earth. In a society that values self-sufficiency, it is easy to believe that we are strong if we do not depend on anyone or anything, but striving to be independent is going against our very nature. We have been dependent on God and Earth from the very beginning. To the extent that we humbly recognize this dependence and live in respectful and loving harmony with both parts of our essences, we become more fully human and will encounter holiness. So, spend some time this Lent not only becoming close to God, but also closer to Earth.

Reflection: What is my relationship with Earth at this moment? What would a right relationship with Earth look like for me? What are one or two simple actions I can take during this Lent to remind me that my health is dependent on Earth's health?

Prayer: Lord God, as Lent begins, I am reminded that I am dust to to dust I shall return. You are the One who created humans as both God-beings and Earth-beings, thus placing me in an unbreakable relationship with You and with Earth. During this Lent, help me to choose actions that will enhance this precious triune relationship. Amen.

Written by Sister Kathleen Shannon, D.C.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

From Slave to Saint

Each person forced into slavery has a personal story--a story of struggles, hopes, and dreams. The story of St. Josephine Bakhita is a story of a survivor of human trafficking.

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in southern Sudan in 1869. As a young girl, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and Karthoum, she was subjected to brutal treatment from her captors. She did not remember the name given to her by her parents. Rather, Bakhita, meaning "fortunate one," is the name she was given by her captors.

In 1883, she was bought by an Italian diplomat who sent her to Italy to work as a maid for the daughter of a family friend who was studying with the Canossain Daughters of Charity. It was there that Bakhita came to know about God whom "she had experienced in her heart without knowing." In 1890, she was baptized and received the name Josephine.

Years later, the Italian family came to take their "property" back to Africa, but Josephine expressed her desire to stay. When the family insisted she go, she remained firm, later writing "I am sure the Lord gave me strength at that moment." With the support of the Superioress of the Canossian Sisters and the Cardinal of Venice, she won her freedom and, later, entered the novitiate. For the next 50 years, Josephine lived a life of prayer and service as a Canossian Sister before her death in 1947.

St. Josephine was canonized in 2000 and her feast day is now February 8. She is now the patron of Sudan.

St. Josephine Bakhita once said, "If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today..."

St. Josephine, provide comfort to survivors of slavery and let them look to you as an example of hope and faith. Help all survivors find healing from their wounds. Click here to learn more about modern day slavery.

Written by Sister Michelle Loisel, D.C.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Rosalie Rendu: On Fire with Love for the Poor

She was born Jeanne-Marie Rendu on September 9, 1786 in Confort, France, not far from Geneva. The eldest of four girls, Jeanne-Marie came from a family of small property owners which brought along a certain affluence and respect throughout the area. She was baptized the day she was born in the parish church of Lancrans.

Jeanne-Marie was three years old when the French Revolution broke out. Starting in 1790, it was compulsory for the clergy to take an oath of support for the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Numerous priests, faithful to the Church, refused to take this oath. They were driven from their parishes, some being put to death while others hid to escape their pursuers. The Rendu family home became a refuge for these priests. The Bishop of Annecy found asylum there under the assumed name, Pierre. Jeanne-Marie was fascinated by this hired hand who was treated better than the others. One night, she discovered him celebrating Mass.

It was in this atmosphere of solid faith, always exposed to the dangers of denunciation, that Jeanne-Marie was educated. This exceptional environment forged her character. One night, in the basement of her home, lit by candlelight, Jeanne-Marie made her First Communion. 

Later, the deaths of her father and youngest sister just two months apart shook the entire family. Jeanne-Marie, aware of her responsibilities as the eldest, helped her mother, especially in caring for her sisters. Six years later, on May 25, 1802, 16-year-old Jeanne-Marie arrived at the Daughters of Charity Motherhouse in Paris. This was just 17 months after the reopening of the seminary, free from suppression by the Revolutionaries. Upon entering the community, she was given the name Rosalie.

Prodigious worker and organizer model of the 21st century for empowering the Vincentian legacy, Rosalie experienced incarnational mysticism. Rosalie lived her spirituality every day, much of which she received from the poor she served. She meditated on the words of St. Vincent de Paul and on the holy card she received and used for prayer and examination of conscience.

Like Vincent, Rosalie knew how to be a friend to the rich and the poor. The poor loved her deeply because they sensed that she lived out precisely what she asked of the sisters who accompanied her. She asked of them, in the words of one of the witnesses: "welcome everyone, speak to the poor with both kindness and dignity, do not make them wait. 'Treat them,' she said, 'as you would treat your father, brothers, and sisters.'"

Why is Rosalie significant for us today? She developed a network of charity. This tender woman was fearless although she lived in turbulent times. Rosalie lived her spirituality every day, much of which she received from the poor she served.

Elizabeth Johnson writes: "...paradigmatic figures who emerge in the course of history are like a Milky Way thrown down from heaven to earth ... a shining river of stars spiraling out from the center of the galaxy ... to light a path through the darkness. They are women and men who shine like the sun with the shimmer of divinity, showing the community the face of Christ in their own time and place. They distill the central values of the living tradition in a concrete and accessible form. The direct force of their example acts as a catalyst in the community, galvanizing recognition that yes, this is what we are called to be."

That is precisely what Rosalie Rendu says to us today.

Written by Sister Michelle Loisel, D.C.