A Reflection

Associate Larry Vuillemin

“How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?”

About 30 years ago I spoke at a Kiwanis club dinner.  Essentially I spoke of the difference the Lord was making in my personal and professional life as a lawyer. I also spoke of the work Fr. Norm Douglas and I were doing in Heart to Heart Communications and its focus on the spirituality of everyday life, including our work.

After the dinner, an 18 year old young woman, a foreign exchange student named Christina from Latvia, came up and thanked me for my remarks. She was all smiles and animated—I was moved by her presence and asked her why she was thanking me, and why her excitement?  “I love to hear about God!”

She was involved in a bible study group and was sharing her spirituality with other high schoolers and young adults—and she also wanted to be a lawyer one day, go back to Latvia, and help her country rebuild its government. Intuitively, Christina connected the work she wanted to do in the world with the God she wanted to serve.  And she lifted me up!

No one has ever accused me of having beautiful feet—but in the words of Paul’s letter to the Romans, on that night “how beautiful were the feet of Larry the Lawyer, who brought the good news!”  Christina renewed in me a commitment I had made to the Lord when God put on my heart, “Speak of me Larry, speak of the good news of Jesus Christ.”

I was walking this morning with a friend, a counselor who himself was marking over 30 years of sobriety. I asked him what the word “commitment” meant to him. He smiled and said that in his younger years the word had the connotation for him of being trapped.  What if?  So many doubts and uncertainties….  But my friend went on to say that the word “commitment” now means “Liberation” for him. His faithfulness to the spiritual disciplines of A.A. was liberating, freeing him from his powerlessness and self-destruction.

So what are we doing when we make our commitment as Dominicans, as associates of the Dominican Sisters of Peace?  Pondering this question, I noticed on the window sill my OPA block– reminding me to Be Peace, Build Peace, and Preach Peace. That’s what we Associates are committing ourselves to—being, building and preaching peace in a world which is becoming increasingly hostile, divisive, and hateful.

So what does that mean, practically, for each of us?

“Be Peace:” Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “above all else, guard the condition of your heart because everything you do flows from it.” What we think, feel, and believe expresses itself in the world in which we live and work and communicate. Our “preaching in the world” involves our interior life, what is in our heart.  We might ask ourselves what has been disturbing our peace lately? What spiritual commitments might we make or renew in order to experience the peace of the Lord that is beyond all understanding—even in the midst of difficult circumstances?

“Build Peace.” We may think that Commitment is “another thing to do” in the midst of all that we are already doing.  As a lawyer, and after experiencing quite a spiritual awakening in my life, I struggled with the question “What to do? What to do?”  The Lord answered that question for me as I was reading Pope John XXIII’s Diary of a Soul.  As a delegate to Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, Angelo Roncalli often struggled with why he was there, what he should be doing. God broke through his questions with the response “ Do what you are doing.” As I read that, God also said to me, “Larry, do what you are doing.” Proclaim the Good News, build peace, Larry, as father, husband and Lawyer.”

The issue is not so much what we are doing as why and how we are doing it.  “Bloom where you are planted.” The Lord worked in, through, and with Angelo Roncalli, as he did what he was doing on the spiritual journey toward the Papacy and sainthood.

Preach Peace.  We are called  to preach peace, to proclaim the good news according to the gifts we have been given and the circumstances of our daily lives. We can preach the good news of Jesus our Lord in any number of ways, from many different pulpits.

I believe it all starts with a willingness and courage to share our own stories of that time in our lives when we fell in love with God. As is inscribed on the tombstone of my dear mother: “Make of your life a prayer.”

 

Posted in News, Weekly Word

Building Barriers of Love

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Last week, Associate Theresa Kempker shared her reflections about “building a barrier of love” to protect Muslims being harassed by a hate group.  I was there also and it made a lasting impression on me.  I kept thinking, “why do they (the hate group) hate these people so much?”  Perhaps it’s ignorance because it certainly isn’t Jesus’ teaching to hate.  This experience made me curious about American Muslims and I share my findings.

According to Teaching Tolerance (Tolerance.org) America has one of the most diverse Muslim populations in the world. The breakdown looks like this: 1/3 are African-American, 1/3 are of South Asian descent, ¼ are of Arab descent, and the rest are from all over the world.  One half of the 3.5 million American Muslims were born in the U.S.

Some of the first Muslim immigrants were slaves brought to the U.S. from Africa in the 17th century. Scholars say that ¼ – 1/3 of the slaves were Muslims. The next wave came in the late 19th century when large numbers of Arabs, mostly from Lebanon and Syria came to the U.S.  Most were Arab Christians but there were many Muslims who settled in the Midwest.  The first mosque was built in Ross, North Dakota in 1929.

American Muslims are present in all walks of life, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers, accountants, homemakers, academics, media personalities, athletes, entertainers.  Think Muhammad Ali, Fareed Zakaria, Shaquille O’Neal, Dr. Oz, Cat Stevens.

In an annual survey conducted by the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding whose mission is to conduct objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States, they discovered:

  • 80% of Muslims reject violence carried out by an individual or small group
  • 76% of Muslims say violence against civilians can never be justified, compared to 59% of the general public
  • Someone perceived to be Muslim accused of a terror plot received 7 times the media coverage as someone not perceived to be Muslim.
  • Attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks.
  • 46% of Muslims agree that wearing a visible symbol such as a head cover or hijab, makes their faith identity known to others.

Interestingly, they also found that:

  • 86% of Americans say they “want to live in a country where no one is targeted for their religious identity.” There was agreement across faith communities ranged from 95% of Jews to 78% of white Evangelicals.
  • 66% of Americans agree that “the negative things politicians say regarding Muslims is harmful to our country.”
  • 55% of Americans say that most Muslims living in the United States are committed to the well-being of America.

Many of us believe that all religious contain a piece of the truth about our creator and compassionate God.  Without our Muslim brothers and sisters, we would be missing a piece.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Angry at the wrong time?

Blog by Sister Amy McFrederick

I’ve had a complete set of Barclay’s New Testament Commentaries since around 1985. Over the years I often used them as a reference when studying a NT passage or preparing a preaching. Though I appreciate the rich historical perspective it brings to each passage, as well as its very practical application of the bible to our lives, I have never read all the books from beginning to end. Recently I decided to do that, starting with Matthew, using it as part of my daily prayer.

On page 96, Barclay reflects on the Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Referring to Aristotle’s definition of meekness—“the happy medium between too much or too little anger”—he concludes with a first possible translation of this beatitude: “Blessed is the [person] who is always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.”

It was the next sentence that stopped me short. “If we ask what the right time and the wrong time are, we may say as a general rule for life that it is never right to be angry for any insult or injury done to ourselves; that is something no Christian must ever resent; but that it is often right to be angry at injuries done to other people.”  Whoa! I had to think about that one! I was conflicted.

Whether someone is slighted, insulted unwittingly, treated unjustly, or outright oppressed, most people get angry when that happens to them, don’t they?  Isn’t it natural and healthy to feel hurt and angry when treated badly, and NOT to accept abuse?

On the one hand, doesn’t such anger empower a person to move away from an abusive situation or relationship? On the other hand, long held anger withholds forgiveness and fuels resentment—which poisons a relationship and one’s spiritual life, becoming an obstacle to eternal life in Christ.

Jesus, taught: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your transgressions.” Jesus’ teaching about anger is a very important lesson in the first 25 verses of Matthew Chapter 5. We cannot be disciples of Jesus if we do not grapple with this teaching and apply it in our life and relationships as Jesus did.

Two persons, who learned and lived this lesson well and have much to teach me, stand out in my mind: Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King. Mandela after having been unjustly imprisoned for 27 years said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”  “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

Dr. M. L. King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence, modeled by Mahatma Gandhi in the nonviolent revolution in India, were based on and derived from Christ’s life and teaching:

  • Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people, not for cowards.
  • Build the Beloved Community everywhere you go.
  • Attack the forces of evil, not persons doing evil.
  • Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the just cause.
  • Avoid inner violence of the spirit as well as outward physical violence.
  • The universe is on the side of justice.

Since reading and praying about the first half of this Beatitude, I am on a spiritual cleansing diet: examining and ridding myself of any “anger at the wrong time,” any resentment toward anyone no matter how far back it goes. And I offer it as an ongoing practice for any of our readers to adopt as needed.

As to being “angry at the right time”—I will save that for another blog…

Posted in Associate Blog, News

A World Full of Pain

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a case of poison ivy.  Now, I’ve never had poison ivy and didn’t quite know what to expect but after some Googling, I knew to try Calamine Lotion, anti-itch cream, soap, alcohol. I had the ability to learn about and obtain these ‘cures.’ Although there were times when the itching drove me to scratch, I mostly was able to let it alone to heal.  Now it’s pretty much run its course and I can see an itch-free time ahead.

But it got me thinking about the many people in our world who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or freedom from the pain they are experiencing. They don’t have the knowledge or resources to alleviate their pain.  For instance:  what about the doctor who has run out of medicine because of a civil war …. or the father whose child has been taken from him at the border…. or the young girl, raped by a terrorist, who is now pregnant… or the child who has seen her parents die of HIV…. or the humanitarian who can’t get food to where it needs to go.  What about the little boy trying to be reunited with his mother or the mother without enough food to feed her children.  So many of us have no idea of the immense pain suffered around the world.

Let us take a minute of silence to remember them.

In the big scheme of things my poison ivy was inconvenient, irritating, and itchy, but I had recourse to heal it.  Let us remember and pray for those who aren’t so fortunate.

Posted in Just Reflecting, News

The Life-Giving Gift of Quilting

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

Quilting has become my avocation and passion; it all began with a gift given to me by a hospice patient.  Wanda was my first “client” when I started serving as a hospice caregiver.  She loved to quilt and being terminally ill with COPD was not going to stop her from enjoying this life-giving hobby.  Not knowing anything about quilting, she invited me to learn alongside her, even hiring a teacher to work with us in her home.

Every week we would work together on individual projects, exchanging ideas about what fabric colors to select or what designs to complete.  We would have “show and tell” sessions to share what we were working on or completed.  Oftentimes during my visits, she would have to stop and do breathing treatments, and then she would continue talking about quilts and offer encouragement with the projects I was working on.  (Her family told me that they felt her quilting interests gave her life in the midst of her dying.)

Wanda’s projects were dedicated to family and friends, wanting to leave them with a remembrance of her love and care for them.  We enjoyed our quilting adventures for almost three years before Wanda met her Creator.

Before Wanda died, she talked about how lap quilts would provide warmth and comfort to other hospice patients.  Taking this suggestion to heart, I started a quilters group called Wings and Prayers in her honor and memory.  Her idea of providing for others gave birth to the making of almost 200 quilts over the years our group was together.  With each knot that we tied to secure the quilt, we said a prayer and a prayer card of comfort was pinned to each quilt.

What Wanda taught me was far more than quilting.  She taught me to always embrace the moment, to give joy to others, and that creative expressions can be a way of sowing seeds of delight for both the giver and the receiver.  And so I’ve found that God can use me through my quilting to bring joy and comfort to others.  Quilting is a way for me to co-create with the Creator, connecting my creative gifts with the creative genius of God, whose own creativity led to the design of each of us and all that exists in this world.

What are your gifts?  What life-giving gifts can you share with others to make a difference?  Could being a religious sister be your calling and way to be present to others?  If so, take the next step and contact one of our Vocation Ministers.  Let God use you to fulfill the Gospel message of love to all people.

 

Posted in God Calling?, News