Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Franciscan Retreat Notes: Discernment, A Spiral of Love

Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity welcomed young women, ages 18-25, for ‘ A Spiral of Love’ Franciscan Discernment Retreat. Weekend guests left their professional and academic lives on hold to board planes and drive miles to contemplate their deepest desires with us.

In essence Scripture and saintly models of virtue were suggested for possible spiritual reflection as a means of discovering the mystery of God e.g.
  • John 2:1-12 'Do whatever He tells you'
  • Luke 1:46-55 'My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior'
  • Luke 13:10-13 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'
  • John 20:11-18 'I have seen the Lord'
  • Luke 18:1-7 'A widow in that town used to come...'
  • Matthew 8:14-17 'He saw Peter's mother-in-law...'
Some hints which confirm discernment:
  • a chance encounter with just the right person
  • a thought or conviction that keeps growing
  • something from the Bible which comes to mind
  • something said in conversation which keeps coming to mind
  • an opportunity which suddenly opens up
  • it bites back, becoming harder to stop the more you or anyone else tries to hold back.

Happily the young women joined Postulants, Novice and Sisters for music outreach at Holy Family Parish, Brillion on Saturday evening for Sunday Eucharist.  Interaction with this faith community provided more moments of seeing the spiral of God’s love in genuinely good people.

Let your prayer be frequent and contrite, rooted in deep devotion and humility of heart...And let your prayer always be rooted in the highest love of God, for Gregory says that "the power of true prayer is the summit of love." - St. Bonaventure, Instructions for Novices.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vocation: Be a Loving Word of God

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora shares the fruit of her reflection in struggling to understand the notions of “vocation” and “call”.

When I was young and in the process of discerning my vocation, it was common to ask young religious and seminarians who participated in vocation retreats to recount how they “got” their vocation. In my mind, it does not ring true to speak of vocations in the same way that we speak about ‘getting’ a new job. My thoughts are born out of much reflection as I struggle to understand the notions of “vocation” and “call”.


The word “vocation: is related to words like VOICE and VOCAL.  These words, in turn, are related to other words like SPEECH and WORD, which in turn bring to mind John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Wtih these opening words, John the Evangelist wishes to call to mind the first words God spoke in the Scriptures…

Then God said: “ Let there be light…Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters…Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear…Let the earth bring forth vegetation…Let there be lights in the dome of the sky…Let the waters team with an abundance of living creatures…Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures…Let us make man in our image and likeness…And so it happened! God looked at everything that he had made, and he found it very good!”

This familiar text from Genesis reveals that God created all things, including the human person, by his Word. This means that in a way, we can say that all of creation was “spoken” into existence. And lest we fail to notice, the creation that came into being at his Word is called good. With this adjective, Genesis reveals that both the speaker (God) and the word spoken (creation) are loving…for goodness reveals love.

Creation was “spoken” into existence. Even more especially, the human person was “spoken” into existence, and each human person is still “spoken” into natural existence by our loving Father. Hence, we say, in a certain sense, that all of creation, and in a special way the human person, IS a loving word of God the Father in and for the world. For the creatures of the visible world signify the invisible things of God. (Bonaventure, Souls Journey Into God, II, 12) Each human person is a loving word of God to the world…and if we are a loving word, we are our vocation.
The Psalmist give voice to his amazement at the grandeur of God’s having called him into existence when he says: When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, that you set in place–What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them rule over the works of your hands, put all things at their feet. (Ps 8:4-7)

God, not satisfied at “speaking” the human person into natural existence, “speaks” us into supernatural existence! At our baptism, God the Father “speaks” us into supernatural existence, through the ministry of the Church, transforming our very normal selves, body and soul, into a place where the Trinity dwells. While all of creation bears traces or vestiges of God’s power, baptism transforms the human person into a place where God’s own personal presence abides.

By our baptism, we are transformed into a loving word of God the Father that is loaded with supernatural grace and capacity..if we but had the faith of a mustard seed!

Our vocation, then, revealed in our creation and in our baptism, is not something that we “get”, but it is who we are. By our creation, we are and exist to be a loving Word of God in and for the world. By our baptism, we are and exist to be the ground for a unique personal presence of God in the Church and in the world. Before any one of us speaks a loving word to others, or shows our love to others through loving deeds, each of us IS a loving word to God the Father. This realization is the root of all self-respect and self-love by which we express our dignity as human persons…and it is the root of all service offered within and by the church.

...for He who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be you, my God for having created me. -St. Clare of Assisi

What’s your understanding of vocation?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vocation Discernment Retreat Notes: Life in the Spirit is Essence of Community

Do you want the fire of God's love? 10 young women, ages 18-30, prayed for an ourpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they gathered at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse for a Pentecost Retreat.

This retreat focused on the Holy Spirit in our lives as seen in this icon, The Descent of the Holy Spirit, and prayers from the Rite of the Sacraments of Initiation. See sample:

By your baptism you have been born again in Christ and you have become members of Christ and of his priestly people. Now you are to share in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit among us, the Spirit sent by the Lord among his apostles at Pentecost and given by them and their successors to the baptized.

The promised strength of the Holy Spirit, which you are to receive, will make you more like Christ and help you to be witnesses to his suffering, death and resurrection. It will strengthen you to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love.

Retreatants also read Francis, the Founder, Chapter 10, p. 605 and gave of themselves in service by singing at St. Thomas Parish, Newton, WI. Of course, the weekend provided opportunity to experience prayer and Eucharist with the Motherhouse Community. See more photos.

Go forth in peace. For you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear. -St. Clare of Assisi

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Make a Franciscan Vocation Discernment Retreat

Sister Leslie, a Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Novice, invites you to a Franciscan Vocation Discernment Retreat Nov. 4-6, 2011 in Manitowoc, WI. Other dates to consider are Feb. 17-19 or May 18-20, 2012. Begiin a conversation with our Vocation office today by clicking here.

A weekend is two days or two-and-a-half if you count Friday evening. Often, in this fast paced world, our weekends go by quickly and we might not even remember what we did. However, a well-spent weekend might leave us feeling fulfilled.

A weekend spent on a Vocation Discernment Retreat with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity (click on link to register on-line) is almost guaranteed to be a fulfilling weekend, and it is a guarantee that a weekend spent on a retreat with these Franciscan Sisters will not go by unnoticed.

Each retreat has a different focus. As a result each retreat provides different spiritual gifts. Discernment retreats with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity provide opportunities to receive the sacraments, pray, enjoy bonfires, hike, share with other young woman, with the Sisters, and spend time with young women in religious formation. I also feel that the retreats are very peaceful and a wonderful time to step away from “normal life”. We need to take some time to breathe and to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives in whatever way He chooses.

As a novice, I feel that I got to know the community before I entered it through the discernment retreats. Through the retreats I came to know that the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity truly strive to live the Gospel in their daily lives. I also learned that they care deeply for the natural world that God has provided for us.

They are especially connected to Silver Lake, which is located in their back yard, and to the east, Lake Michigan which is an important resource for Wisconsin.

The more retreats I came to the more I learned about the personality of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and the more I realized how well my own personality fit in. Come for a weekend and let the Lord love you. (Website: www.fscc-calledtobe.org Contact us today!)

He [Francis] used whatever he could to arouse his friars to be zealous in prayer. For whether walking or sitting, inside or outside, working or resting, he was so intent on prayer that he seemed to have dedicated to it not only his heart and body but also all his effort and time. -St. Bonaventure

Monday, August 8, 2011

Franciscan Retreat Notes: For Me, Life is Christ

Sister Mary Ann Spanjers, OSF, and Sister Julie Ann Sheahan, OSF, guided retreatants focusing on the conversion stories of St. Paul, St. Francis and St. Clare at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Discernment Retreat ‘For Me, Life is Christ’ (Phil.1:21).

Some shared references:

  • Paul was a tent-maker. Francis and Clare re-built ruined churches. You and I build our lives.

  • Pope Benedict has held up the life of St. Paul as a lesson to modern Christians...in particular, the pope has cited the apostle's conversion as relevant to Christians of every age. Contemporary men and women, the pope has argued, are also open to that kind of life-changing experience, which is always based on the personal encounter with Jesus Christ. (Vatican Letter-June 27-2008)

  • John's prologue: "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth."

  • "For me to live is Christ," is central to Saint Paul's mission. It is the pivot on which turn all the teachings of Saint Paul. Besides it sums up the true aim of Saint Paul and of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.

  • This is one of the most beautiful expressions that Saint Paul ever wrote. It came from the heart. It is the expression of a lover madly in love, who never tires of ringing inexhaustible changes on this theme, with no hint of luke-warmness, superficiality or superfluity. You're my life may seem a worn-out expression, but how different is Paul's love from that of other lovers and how different the object of his love from theirs. (Patriarch Gregorious' Byzantine Church)
While providing personal prayer time to grow in one’s relationship to God, the young women joined the Franciscan Sisters in the liturgy of the hours, Eucharist, and meals. Personalized mosaic creations concretized the ‘construction’ theme.

A Saturday snow storm allowed the opportunity to walk on frozen Silver Lake and protective, evergreen-lined trails, as well as find healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Thus inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened, and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, may we be able to follow in the footprints of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. -St. Francis

Friday, August 5, 2011

So Many Choices, One Life to Live

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom is a spiritual director for our religious community as well as for St. Raphael Parish, Oshkosh, WI.

What will I do with this one, precious life I have?” This seems to be the underlying question I hear from my younger clients as I see them for spiritual direction. As a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity, I have an inclination to turn to St. Francis for some guidance, myself, as I assist others in navigating this path of choices in life. How did Francis come to understand God’s call, God’s will for his life? He prayed for guidance, he listened, he consulted with others and he was willing to grow in his understanding of God, of life and of his unique call and ministry.

I find some young adults begin to think seriously about their call to a lifestyle late in high school or early in college. Am I called to be single, married, a religious sister, brother or priest or a diocesan priest? Some put this discernment off for several years and concentrate on a career first, be it education, business, health care, or one of the myriad choices one has to make regarding how one will pay bills, serve others and find a certain joy in the workplace. It is easy to confuse a lifestyle and a career choice but they are radically different.

A lifestyle demands a life long commitment, an investment of love, a willingness to blend and negotiate with others, a fundamental focus of time, energy and talents. It is a basic way of seeing the world and finding a “fit” that brings joy and a sense of “being at home” in the world. It is often accompanied by vows to God in a community, vows to a diocesan bishop or vows to a spouse. In all cases a person opens to a vulnerability to others and trusts that their life is given over to a process greater than the self. The single life, too, has its own demands of time, energy and vulnerability where a person commits to caring for others in a unique way suited to their temperament. None of these lifestyles are successful if a person is self-centered and calculates “what’s in it for me?” The nature of a lifestyle is self-giving and other-centered. When questioned about discerning a lifestyle, I encourage the young adult to pray for guidance, listen to how God is speaking in their heart, consult with others and then take some action. Be willing to continue to clarify your calling as your prayer, your significant family members and friends continue to interact with you.

I hear comments that some young adults have prayed reverently and long, asking God for guidance, but to no avail. My response is: God speaks in your deepest heart and in those around you. God speaks to you through others, especially those with the wisdom of experience and true friends who will be candid with you about your temperament and gifts. God is not sending emails and text messages but is very present in your life. Ask for help from others to see how God is working and then listen carefully for a response. A lifestyle call may take some years to emerge so be patient and watchful. A mentor or spiritual director can be helpful in discerning a call to a lifestyle.

A career, on the other hand, is a particular way that people can express themselves in an ever-changing world. As a religious sister, I have had four careers and may have some more in the future. My siblings have both had several careers. As our world and culture change and develop, new careers open and people can find themselves in a position where their career is no longer viable. Some elements in choosing a career are the same as discerning a lifestyle. Consulting with trusted others is a must. They often have valuable information about your talents and gifts and may help to predict some challenges you will face.

Whenever you are making an important decision, whether it may be a lifestyle or a career, here are five important discernment guidelines my clients have found helpful:

  1. What makes you “deep down happy”? When does your “heart sing” with joy? Follow that intuition. God speaks through our deepest desires. God desires our happiness.  
  2. What kind of support do you need to follow your dream? Where will you get that support? Can you ask for support if it is not forthcoming?
  3. How do you manage financially? It is not wise to attempt to enter any lifestyle carrying a lot of debt. What kinds of choices will you make to be financially sound?
  4. Realistically, what career choice will pay bills, offer you flexibility for your lifestyle options and motivate you to get up in the morning? Is the career you are pondering ethical? Will it make the world a better place? Do you have the physical, mental and emotional stamina required by this career? For example: if you plan to have children, will your career allow for spouse and family life? If you think you might be called to a religious life, will this career fit into that vocation?
  5. Are you able to share your thoughts, dreams, ideas, joys and challenges with others? All lifestyles and most careers demand this type of interaction. If you find this difficult, how can you develop these skills?

Whether you are discerning a lifestyle or a career, are you willing to pray, ask for guidance, consult with others and then take concrete steps, actions, to move toward your dreams? With one precious life to live, may you live it abundantly!

Where there is charity and wisdom there is neither fear nor ignorance. -St. Francis

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vocation Retreat Notes: Choose God, Beauty Ever New

Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity welcomed guests for a fall weekend of “Choosing God” and contemplating beauty. Beauty as portrayed in Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and in the Franciscan tradition was a special focus.

In The Exhortation to the Praises of God Francis refers to the Lord God as ” you are beauty, you are sweetness” and “you are beauty, you are gentleness”. St. Clare speaks about beauty in these passages from her writings:

Love renders one beautiful...to become beautiful is to become like the beloved, self growing in love. When the human person mirrors the love of Christ, then the beauty of God reigns in the world.

The young women accepted the opportunity for personal reflection on their relationship with God as well as enjoyed the gift of meeting others searching to find God’s will in their life. All were open to contemplating the Franciscan vocation through various experiences of reflecting on beauty e.g. evening bonfire, personal and group prayer, sacramental opportunities, solitude, and trail blazing.

Given that St. Francis’s own call involved responding to the God’s directive to “rebuild my Church’ and seeing God in another,  the weekend included Saturday evening music outreach to Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton,WI. At the Eucharistic liturgy some of the Franciscan Sisters’ musicians, Novices and Postulants in addition to the retreatants,  gave of themselves in service while the congregation joined in joyful song.

May the Lord be with you always and, wherever you are, may you be with Him always. Amen.
-St. Clare Blessing

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Launch Franciscan Retreat Blog in Year of St. Clare

Just another blog on retreats? We hope not. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity would like to focus this communication on sharing our unique Franciscan Vocation Discernment Retreats and other helpful decision making articles.

It seems fitting to launch a new resource for young women during this 800 Anniversary of the founding of the Order of St. Clare. This Franciscan patroness of communications, along with St. Francis, looked for the good and holy possibility in the people and the daily happenings in their world. Read about young women who actually encountered Christ, found peace and said 'yes' to commitment.

For some this meant following a call to be a Postulant in our Community of Sisters. Others wait with heart-felt longing for the time to begin our application process. While still others know better their vocation to be married or single or just patient in knowing God's will in their lives.

Today we invite you to journey with us on-line. Begin here. Search our Community website and Novice Sister Monica's Habitually Speaking Blog. If you feel at home with what you see and read, a future Motherhouse discernment retreat in Manitowoc, WI may be your next step in going 'forward, securely, joyfully and swiftly along the path of prudent happiness'.

"Those who through the Lord's inspiration come to us desiring to accept this way of life are to be received kindly." -Rule and Life of the Brother and Sisters of the Third Order Regular