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Called and Sent To Announce the Good News

[caption id="attachment_3410" align="alignright" width="200"]Sr. Rachel Sena Blog by Sr. Rachel Sena, OP[/caption] When I reflect on the dawning of a religious vocation, I remember the sequence of steps as if hiking through a traveled path one often sees on the mountainous desert landscape of Arizona. The first step was easily found within the Mexican American and indigenous cultures so embedded in the early seeds of the Catholic faith giving rise to the sacred truth that we are all called and sent to be about the mission of God (missio Dei) as families, elders, young adults, youth, couples, and children. In the southwestern US, Arizona was considered a place for missionaries. There were few religious sisters and priests. The Church depended on the mobility of the lay community to evangelize, catechize, and accompany the faithful on their journey as a people of God. I understood, as was common in our area, that we are entrusted to share the Gospel, tell the stories of faith, and travel if needed to other neighborhoods to pray with others, share the Good News, respond to local needs and invite others into the journey of faith. My great grandmother was a catechist, as was my grandmother, mother, myself and other family members and friends. Men and women together on mission. We had a local church to gather for Mass, fiestas, and community projects in our town. Some places did not have a chapel nor a church as a gathering place for the faithful and many families would open their homes to the traveling priest to celebrate Mass or itinerant preachers like our Sisters. The family’s dining room table was used for the Altar and after Mass, the table was used again as a community table. It was easy to link Eucharist to the table, and the Bread of Life to the daily bread of the people’s lives. This simple connection is a pastoral way the early missioners evangelized by their flexibility as shepherds, adapting to the contexts of the mission. I remember the processions to and from the small churches, the fresh flowers we placed on the grave sites of our loved ones at the local cemetery on the feast of All Saints and All Souls. Lots of families lovingly laid their flowers and told faith stories of family members in whose honor we were present, some would lead in song, others brought candles to light in the evening. Sometimes colorful blankets were used to sit near the headstones. Some brought food, then one would begin a prayer of thanks for the saints in our families. It was like a community retreat, a time of silent joy and reverence for the Gift of Life and Faith meant to be given to the next generations we are to journey with. Our family calendar followed the liturgical year interwoven within our cultural heritage. It was a cultural tradition for young mothers to present their children to the Lord by going to the local church and stand or kneel before the Cross at the altar or the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe giving thanks for the wealth of children and invoking a blessing on their children with the hope they would walk in their footsteps to continue to be a disciple and witness of our Christian Faith and bless the world in the process. When I spoke of my desire to explore and discern the call to religious life as a Dominican Sister, my family and close friends were very supportive. In the next step, I began as a volunteer living with the Sisters. Being with the Sisters, I learned more of the itinerant way of preaching and experienced their pastoral approach to people of diverse cultures. The Sisters were at home with different language groups as so many were bilingual or multilingual and could converse with the local faith leadership in each parish community. As people of diverse cultures opened their doors to the Sisters, they would often invite them to their kitchen table and share a meal which became the place of not only breaking open the Word of God through conversation, it was also the place of prayer, praise and breaking bread. I learned from the Sisters through their example and witness to place cultural gifts, language, and intellect at the service of the people of God as mendicant and itinerant preacher. The next culturally customary step for me on my discernment journey was a pilgrimage to Mexico to visit the site where the Aztec Saint Juan Diego encountered Our Lady of Guadalupe. There with thousands of pilgrims, I walked, knelt and prayed, inspired by the sight of pilgrims like myself. Their deep faith was a blessing and confirmed the path the Spirit was leading me on. Over the years, I have learned from others along the journey of faith; they continue to shape my vocation as one sent to evangelize, discover the seeds of faith in every culture and rejoice as Jesus, Dominic, Catherine, and your family would do. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation" (Isaiah 52:7).

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