Responding to Unconditional Love

Pat Dual
Blog by Sr. Pat Dual, OP

Today’s gospel on this Thursday in the 24th week of Ordinary time is one of my favorite stories.  Allow me to set the scene.  The story in Luke’s gospel 7:36-50 recalls the story of a “sinful” woman who arrives uninvited to a dinner where Jesus is the guest of honor.  This uninvited and unwanted woman comes in and goes straight to Jesus, where she proceeds to kneel and to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and to use her own hair to dry them. She washes and kisses his feet and anoints his feet with costly oil.  I love this story not only because it is a beautiful display of love for Jesus, but also because of the message of transforming love that is part of “the back story” to this moving scene.

The back story to this scene, I believe, is that Jesus has surely encountered this unnamed woman in Luke’s gospel before this unannounced meeting.  She perhaps has heard him preaching, or has been witness to his healings.  But she has most surely had her own personal encounter with Jesus, where his unconditional love has touched and healed the core of her being.  She is transformed. Her story of encounter with Jesus—is my story.  Her story of encountering Jesus and transformation—is our story.  Her story has a message for each of us.

One message for me that comes through loudly in this story is that encountering God has the power to transform us in ways we can hardly imagine.  Encountering the Divine enhances our ability to love.  Perhaps a question that this gospel begs us to ask ourselves is “How do I express my gratitude and praise to the One who loves me unconditionally and forgives my transgressions for the asking?   Some years ago, I felt called to discern religious life out of a deep love for God and a desire to serve God by serving the people of God.  Even as I discerned, in the back of my mind, I sometimes would say in prayer, surely you are not calling me to religious life, after all, don’t you know my life story? Well, it turns out that the last time I used that line in prayer to God, immediately and quite unexpectedly, a woman I did not know shared her journey into religious life. Her story was exactly like mine and she was preparing to take her first vows.  That meeting was not a coincidence. It was an encounter with the Sacred.

There is a song that I am always reminded of when I hear this gospel story about the woman washing Jesus’ feet. The song is called “Alabaster Box,” by CeCe Winans and it really brings this scripture to life. I invite you to enjoy a YouTube of the song later.  However, I want to share here the lyrics of the last verse of the song:

I can’t forget the way life used to be
I was a prisoner to the sin that had me bound
And I spent my days
Poured my life without measure
Into a little treasure box
I’d thought I’d found
Until the day when Jesus came to me
And healed my soul
With the wonder of His touch
So now I’m giving back to Him
All the praise He’s worthy of
I’ve been forgiven
And that’s why
I love Him so much.

The lyrics of the song say it well—encountering Jesus and being open to transformation is life-changing.

Perhaps being a Sister is how you feel called to express your gratitude for God’s unconditional love?

Peace.

Posted in God Calling??, News

Come and See Weekend Retreat

Blog by Sr. Mai Dung Nguyen

Have you ever seen a flyer about a “Come and See” retreat posted in a church bulletin or received an invitation for a “Come and See” retreat weekend?  What has been your first thought or reaction?

“It is not my call!” or

“What does it mean? Which group is it?” or

“Should I go to have some immersion experience?”

No matter what your first response is, two important questions to ask are: “How willing are you to give God a chance to speak to you?  Are you willing to give yourself a chance to explore the real life of a religious community?”  Attending a Come and See retreat is a memorable experience. If your schedule does not fit the date posted on the Come and See flyer, you can contact a sister and ask for the date of the next upcoming Come and See retreat weekend.

That kind of situation happened to one retreatant recently. In February 2018, I sent an invitation to her for the Come and See retreat weekend in March 2018. After reflection, she wrote back to me: “Thank you for your thoughts & invitation on Come and See….But this time just happens to fall on my bad week. I have Finals that coming week and already have been scheduled for work on that same weekend. If you do have future dates that I can know ahead of time, then I can definitely rearrange. I hope to at least attend a Come & See event one time in my life so I don’t regret it and not using it as an excuse for not hearing God’s call. Please keep me posted.”

This time, she was one of nine retreatants who attended the “Come and See” retreat last weekend at St. Catharine, Kentucky. Before she came, she did not know whether or not religious life was what she wanted to pursue in her life, but she was open to the experience. Then, during the retreat, she shared with me: “It opens my mind and my view of religious life, about which I had a lot of mistaken ideas. There was much for me to learn.”

In this retreat, she had many chances to interact with sisters and retreatants. She went to the hay ride with us and visited the historical St. Rose church and the original place where the first Dominican Sisters in the USA were called, lived, and began ministries almost 200 years ago. She also played games and ate with the retreatants and Sisters, laughed through jokes, and listened to the sharing of stories from both the Sisters who are in different stages of religious life as well as the sisters who live at the Motherhouse.

She experienced different kinds of prayers, had time for personal reflection and more. At the end, when I asked her how the retreat was and how she felt, she stated “Great! Awesome! Inspired!” to me in front of the video camera with her big smile.  I can tell her real inspiration through her eyes and her conversation with Sisters. I don’t know what her vocational choice will be, but at least she was open to exploring this opportunity and the journey still continues. How about you?

For more news and pictures about our September retreat in Kentucky, visit our Vocations Facebook page.  And, be sure to mark your calendar now for our March 2019 Come and See weekend retreat. The specific date and location for this retreat will be posted soon on our Facebook page.  In the meantime, contact one of our Vocation Ministers to talk about a religious call and to learn more about our community.

Posted in God Calling??, News

What’s Your Story?

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

Stories are an important part of our lives.  Early on, our parents tell us stories about our birth and introduce us to bedtime stories that comfort, teach, and delight us.  Through storytelling, whether oral or written, we learn about the world, we unleash our imaginations, and discover ideas and possibilities for transforming ourselves and our world.

Stories can be inspirational, fictitious, realistic, historical, or biographical.  Stories can be humorous or serious, factual or imaginative, visual or textual.  Stories can connect us or separate us.  Stories also have the power to influence us to take action on matters of conscience or they can leave us feeling powerless about our options to eradicate personal or societal concerns.  Stories may be about the preyed upon or about uplifting endings resulting from those who have been prayed for.

Stories can challenge and enlighten us.  We may hear stories that make us uncomfortable, that expose our prejudices, and that articulate a different point of view from our own way of thinking and feeling.  Or, we may hear stories that give us hope, that invite us to broaden our perspective on an issue or event, that  reveal truths that we’ve hidden from ourselves or others.

Jesus was the consummate storyteller.  He told stories in the form of parables to impart lessons and principles for living a compassionate, purposeful life. He used images and characters from everyday life to communicate his message.  Jesus’ stories focused on empowering people to take action, often on behalf of the marginalized or forgotten ones.  Countless stories are recorded, of course, in the Bible about Jesus, about his life and his teachings so that he and his messages would be remembered.

Everyone has a story to tell.  In my elementary school years, I was always fascinated by stories and wanted to become a writer of children’s stories.  I remember sending for a writer’s kit and submitting a story to an organization that evaluated your potential as a writer.  The feedback I received was positive and though I did not pursue a career as a creative writer, I did work for many years as a technical writer.

What is your story?  What joys and sorrows have shaped your life?  Who are the people, places, and events that elicit cherished or unforgettable memories?  Sharing our stories can be self-affirming, healing, and a way of connecting with and understanding ourselves and others.  Your story is an important piece to the whole story of humankind.  Let your story be told.

If you want to share your story of how God has been present to you and of how God is calling you to consider religious life, our Vocation Ministers are eager to listen and to help you discern this call.

Posted in God Calling??, News

The Comfort and the Challenge that Joy Brings

Blog by Sister Bea Tiboldi

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.” (Mark Twain)

Have you ever wondered why you were born? I wondered a lot. However, when I was a teenager, there was one Mass during which I caught myself crying silently. I felt very embarrassed, and with my mind racing, I tried to figure out the cause. In a few seconds, I realized that they were tears of joy. For the first time, I felt God’s immense love. I was no longer embarrassed about my tears. I felt happy. I felt grateful. Even more, I felt compelled to let others know about how much God loved them, especially those who most needed to know.

I believe that this was the moment when I discovered why I was born and that God had a plan for me. This is how it all started.

However, I needed to wait until I could pursue that call.

As an adult, my enthusiasm to share the love and Word of God was still there, but I wasn’t sure which way I was to fulfill this call. There were so many vocations -being single, a mother, an associate, a vowed religious sister – to consider! I kept thinking about the call, but all it did was just make me restless.

Later, I heard the song Take a chance on me,” and was moved to pursue discerning (prayerfully discovering and sorting out) God’s call more intentionally. As I started to discern, I started to feel less restless and more joyful – not necessarily just the joy that comes with smiles, but the joy that Pope Francis talks about in his Joy of the Gospel encyclical. It is not a temporary joy; it’s a joy that lasts. It’s the joy that takes a heart, compassion, attentiveness, and courage to act upon our faith, and to help others experience God’s grace of liberation, forgiveness, faith and love.

I discovered that living a life of prayer, study, community and ministry keeps boosting my energy to continue to spread God’s mission. After a long day, I might feel physically worn out, but my energy to continue to serve never wanes. As a Dominican Sister of Peace, joy continues to fill me with hope and peace, and at the same time, it challenges me to, as we say on the Dominican Sisters of Peace website, “strive to live a life of peace-making wherever we are and in everything we do. (…) The Gospel message of love and compassion lead us to be concerned about peace and justice issues, including comprehensive immigration reform, sensible gun control, alternatives to the death penalty, and advocacy against human trafficking among others. (…) We serve God’s people in many ways, including educationhealth carespirituality, pastoral care, prison ministry, the arts, and care of creation, among others.” You can learn more about who we are and what we stand for here.

Pope Francis encourages us, “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm!” (The Joy of the Gospel, #80)  I invite you to reflect on the comfort and the challenge that joy brings to you.

This is becoming rather a long blog. Since you have read until this point, you might want to ask yourself, “Why am I still reading this?” I invite you to pray with what you have read and see where it takes you. If you would like to experience a glimpse of religious life, come and visit us any time, or follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Also, we invite women between ages 18-45 to our “Come and See” weekend in Kentucky, Sept. 7-9, 2018. Email vocations@oppeace.org for more information.

Posted in God Calling??, News

Stony Heart

Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP

Prayer, both liturgical and private is an integral part of my daily life as a Dominican Sister of Peace.  As I have grown in prayer, I have found Lectio Divina – holy reading and reflection upon the scripture – to be a particularly fruitful one for me.  Here I would like to share my reflection upon today’s first reading.

~~~

“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”  Ezekiel 36:26

When I have read and prayed with this scripture, I have felt God touching my heart and softening it, making it less stony and more natural or new.  One such time, I was praying to forgive someone who had wounded me deeply when I felt God asking me, “Why are you holding onto your stony heart so tightly when I want to give you a new one?”  I replied, “Because…my stony heart can’t feel the hurt as much and I don’t really want to feel the pain.”  I was surprised at my answer that had risen from within me without my conscious effort.  It made me take a deep breath and then I heard God say to me, “Keep breathing and when you are ready, I will be with you.”

I wasn’t ready that day to let go of my pain, but as I prayed each day, I felt a gradual loosening of my grip upon my stony heart…until one day I realized that I was no longer holding onto it.  I don’t remember letting go of it, but I had.  Then, God was able to lift this old heavy heart from me and gave me a new one.

Yes, this new heart feels more pain than my stony one did.  It also feels joy, love, and peace more deeply.  I didn’t realize how much I was missing.  Thank you God for loving me and waiting for me to be ready to let go.

 

“I will put my spirit within you and make you live. . .” Ez 36:27

What is keeping you from letting go of your stony heart?

Bring it to God . . . let God lift it from you . . . when you are ready.

Come close to God and God will come close to you.

~~~~~

“To contemplate and to share with others the fruits of our contemplation” is one of our Dominican mottos.  In community, we often take time for Lectio Divina and the sharing of the fruits of our prayer with each other.  When we are together in this way, it is then that I feel the profound grace and depth of life in community.  What a blessing it is to live as a religious sister – as a Dominican Sister of Peace.  I give thanks to God that I was called and that I said “Yes!”

If you would like to know more about becoming a Dominican Sister of Peace, please contact one of our vocation ministers or consider attending our Come and See Retreat next month in St. Catharine, KY.

Posted in God Calling??, News