Stepping Stones Back to Serene
The ideas for this note were given by many, including Katherine North.
Pandemic and Politics do not make for serenity, we have found.
So much of what we took for granted – school, trips, holiday get-togethers, elections, visits – appears to be one giant question now. So much of the basic fabric of our lives is suddenly wavering in our hands, changing and uncertain. Now we need to find some basic sense, a little structure, a shape to our days.
And there is no comfortable “Department of the Secure” to make this happen.
In short, it is up to us to find a way to serene.
For me, I need some stepping stones, some perhaps small lovely actions that bring me back to my best self, day by day. And I need to anticipate and celebrate joy, beauty and love. So here are a motley lot of small stepping stones, little actions, delights, exuberance that can remind me of what is good and loving and courageous in life.
What about you? What stepping stones are waiting for you?
What's a simple, delightful idea you can take, one that shows you a tangible way to move forward into your own serene skin?
Read the following carefully, slowly, thoughtfully. Is there one or two that give you breathing space? One or two that give you a little lift just to think about them? The idea here is to do something that sounds warm and delicious, not dutiful or virtuous! Horrors! Try and see…
- Read/listen to one new book a month – maybe in a different genre than your usual
- Take a different hike/walk/path this week
- Create a shrine or altar
- Make some art
- Do one form of activism for a just cause
- Make one request that makes you maybe a little squirmy
- Wear that one fabulous piece of beloved jewelry every day for a month, then switch
- Cook one decadent recipe.
- Write a letter to someone you love.
- Plant something. Watch an amaryllis grow.
- Spend time with your elderly dog/cat, making your short time together wonderful
- Find a safe, friendly, inspiring group to connect with on Facebook
- Allow yourself to be open to gratitude
- Share a story – your story
- Order a “Curbside Takeout” meal from an ethnic restaurant that you have been meaning to try
- Acknowledge solid, loving relationships with friends, family, neighbors.
- Put more color in your life - wear something red
- Play your favorite dance music
- Thank someone who just made your day
- Which delightful thing did we forget? Do that….
The Way Racine Dominicans Carry the Charism
By Mare Wheeler
Let’s talk Charism! Beginning in the September Community Connections, we will be highlighting how we in the Dominican community carry the charism. We will be asking you WHY you carry the charism, and HOW you do it! We ALL have been given this tremendous Spirit gift. Let’s proclaim it! Here are a few entries...
Catrina G.’s WHY and HOW: “But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you, or turn back from following you. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God'" (Ruth 1:16). The above scripture is a commitment verse I made as a Dominican Associate, and one I carry in me as a Christian. During these uncertain and vulnerable times, I feel more than ever that it is important to stay in community and to create one, whenever and however it’s needed, even it’s for a day.
Mike F.’s WHY: I am a Dominican charism carrier because it helps me be a better person and a better member of the Church.
Mike F.’s HOW: I am a Dominican charism carrier in the way I write and share poetry and help other people out.
Joan B.’s WHY: I am a Dominican charism carrier because it comes naturally from an inner glow that I have nurtured for thirty years by giving joy and strength to all my encounters rooted in Dominican hope, trust and love.
Joan B.’s HOW: I am a Dominican charism carrier by staying rooted in new and old ministries with the support of family, grandchildren and the Eco-Justice Center. New this year, I have found so much comfort, peace and love with my prayer partners.
Parables from the Pandemic
Three Racine Dominican Associates wrote about their experiences during the pandemic.
Michael Meier writes about this awakening he had recently. “Schools closed, churches closed, everything closed. What about the children who rely on getting their meals at school? My Dominican Charism kicked into overdrive. These children were not getting anything to eat. So I sought out groups who gathered several times a day to make breakfasts and lunches for these children, that would be delivered to assigned places for them to go to eat. We found organizations that delivered the donated food to several locations. Enough people have been donating their time putting in several hours a day preparing breakfast and lunch trays.
I really enjoy giving my time to do such an important task. It is not work. Just a few hours a few days a week. There are enough workers, and the generosity of the community keeps sending the needed food items. We are watching if school will open to in-person classes this fall term, to inform us if our presence will still be needed. The past month, I have been receiving a little more funeral work as the weeks roll on. Funerals have again been allowed with public gatherings and church services requiring masks and social distancing, so that part of my primary Corporal Works of Mercy has returned.
“Like Odysseus from Homer’s saga, we all are on our own odyssey of some kind. Unlike Odysseus who found his home in shambles, we get to continually define and refine what home is from the beginning to end. Home is what is inside our hearts and sound, our own sanctum from the raging world around us."
"Now is the time to throw our nets high in the sky and deep in the water. And if we fail, we really don’t because we initiate again and self-renew. Life is about dancing not surviving so let the music begin. Embrace it – the best is yet to be.” – Patrick Wood, Publisher (permission verbally granted for quote)
Gail Jacobsen writes about self-ministry. Often people want to know how you’re doing during this horrific pandemic. I think I’m coping normally, but I notice I’m more irritable or short-fused. I ask myself, why is this? I have everything I need. I’m not struggling like some are with life-altering illness, job loss, restless children, financial pressures and so forth.
I count my blessings and turn to nature, as many others have. Mother Nature goes on. The birds still make their nests and feed their young. The squirrels chase each other in the yard, around the flowers and up the trees. And, occasionally, a hummingbird flits by – a gift from God and the universe. Yet, I feel this need to have a good cry, but haven’t been able. A friend suggested watching a good tear-jerker movie or a comedy. I’m not quite into movies these days, though I’m sure it would help get my mind off it all.
I do know that staying upbeat only works when I reach out to others through prayer or action. When I’m less self-absorbed. So I continue to shop for some seniors, help where I can, do * kindness calls, send notes or emails, make little gifts. And so many of you are doing the same—ministering to others as best you can. But, underneath it all, there’s still this irritableness, this unnameable frustration I feel. So I began to realize that, yes, ministering to others is at the core of being a compassionate human being. But there’s another side to ministry. Maybe four kindness calls were delightful and fun, but the fifth was exhausting, draining. Maybe someone was extremely negative, demanding, or even hurtful. Here’s where self-ministry comes in, especially during such a trying, frightening time. One needs to make sure one’s compassion tank is refilled. So recently I turned to my loom and while weaving put on a soft, relaxing piano CD and found it lifted my soul a bit.
Yesterday at zoom church, the priest shared a picture of Jesus looking tired, sitting in the desert. I wondered how often He needed to get away from conflict, challenges, or accept the hurt from the nine cured lepers who never returned with a “thanks.” Was the desert where he replenished his compassion tank? Many of you have spent challenging years reaching out and giving far beyond the call. Tell me, what filled your soul so that you didn’t find sadness or compassion fatigue pulling you down? What keeps your spirits soaring in spite of dark clouds overhead? Why not email me and share some of your thoughts, your ways of coping, and I’ll share them in a future edition.
*Kindness calls originated with Interfaith Caregivers of Washington County. Reach out to a friend or relative who is isolated or you haven’t talked to in ages but always meant to call. This is an opportunity to finish unfinished business.
35 Years of the “Third Wave”: Associates in Jubilee
By Mare Wheeler
In our Chapter proceedings back in August 2005, S. Carol Wester presented "Associate life as the third major religious movement" or wave of the times. She wrote, “The addition of associates was seen:
• as a way to extend the community’s focus and direction;
• as a vehicle to broaden our knowledge of structures needing to be influenced in the creation of a more just world, and
• as contributing to the evolution and direction of the Racine Dominican community.”
From an idea presented in 1972 by S. Barbara Kukla, the associate wave developed into a program with the first formally committed associates admitted in 1985. The sister-associate relationship grew with the direction, coordination, and imagination of: Ss. Rita M. Martin, Marie Gertrude Mlodzik, Marie Burnaby, Maryann McMahon, Athy Baum (now associate), Associate Barbara Sharp, Ss. Karen Vollmer and Ruthanne Reed, and Associates Catherine Gundlach, Stacey Walsh, Connie Roybal and Mare Wheeler.
This year we honor eight associate jubilarians, including three of the very first associate group! They all have carried and continue to carry the Dominican charism in distinctly unique ways. The Associate Leadership Team asked each of them, "Throughout the years you have been part of the Dominican Community of Racine, for what/whom are you most grateful?” Their replies follow.
Elaine Fogarty: “I am most grateful for the spiritual life of our Racine Dominicans and our position on things that matter.”
Pat Fogarty: “Our relationships, our goals that reach outward, and meeting prayerfully with folks are most important. And the food rocks!”
Jacqui Loughan: “To be part of the Racine Dominican Community has helped me grow in my relationship with God and our mutual relationship.”Racine Dominican Community Connections August 2020725 Years
Judy O’Connor: "My spiritual life really took off after I entered the training to become an associate. I appreciate all the articles on justice and other topics that put us in the right way.”
Mary Jane Lorentzen: “In reflection of my 25 years as an associate, I more fully realize the working of God in my life, and continue to grow spiritually. Associateship has also given me good opportunities for service. A high point of my associate life was to co-sponsor Lynn Yarbrough with S. Mary Raynoha. It gives me joy to be able to share my art with sisters and associates.”
Kathy Teresa Rowland: “I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I have a new way of looking at life. Dominican spirituality has helped me stay on the road.”
Athy Baum: “If I won the lottery, I’d give it all to the Dominicans. They turned my life around.”
Mary Kay McVey: “I am most grateful to be part of a community that courageously preaches the Gospel and advocates for justice in a world so desperately in need of healing.”
Parables from the Pandemic
Associate Jean Gfall, a seasoned chaplain, actor and director, is very aware of the new stories told from our new COVID reality. Her idea that we have new parables to tell because of pandemic has struck a chord with many in our community. Here are four such parables.
“When Differences Don’t Matter...and Making a Difference Does"
Associate Jean Gfall
A month or so ago I was struck by a young man speaking to a reporter. He was part of a gang in Minneapolis. I don’t know the names of the gangs, but there are a bunch of them. The guy he was with was also part of a gang – a different one. They usually fought, pretty violently sometimes, for the same territory and for lots of reasons. But on this particular day, in fact for several weeks, pairs from both gangs had been going out together delivering food to people who were out of work, who couldn’t get out for fear of the pandemic, or didn’t have any way to get food. It wasn’t the day to day stuff they usually did. But when the reporter asked him why they were working together to get food to people, he simply said, “Because people need help.” When she asked if they’d go back to fighting when the pandemic crisis was over, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” But for this time, in this crisis, what mattered was people needed help so they, the guys who regularly carried knives and fought with each other, went together and handed bags of groceries to someone who needed help. Finally, differences don’t matter and making a difference opens our eyes to see differently and to making new things possible.
Associate Shirley Talbot
Mom is locked in place.
The toilet paper is gone.
People die alone.
“A Parable Teaching Moment”
Associate Marilyn Lauer
“The great blessing of the parables for us now is not just to meditate on each one and look for personal meaning, but to imitate Jesus by finding parables in our own lives.” (From NCR Pencil Preaching for Sunday, July 12, 2020 “Parables Everywhere,” by Pat Marrin.)
Recently, while riding my bicycle in a local park/nature center, I had two encounters with a fellow seeker of early morning peace and solitude. After our first brief encounter, I made a promise to God and myself that if by chance we met again, I would gather up the courage to share a personal insight with this 27-year-old black man.
A couple days later, as our second and longer conversation unfolded, I felt uneasy with nervous butterflies in my stomach. I found myself in the midst of doing something scary and unfamiliar all over again for the first time. It was exactly how I remember feeling as a parent supporting our daughter who courageously fought and lost her battle with cancer 17 years ago.
After sharing conversation and before parting, I verbalized that we respected each other and that life mattered in opposition to the recent unfortunate encounter that transpired in Central Park between Amy Cooper (a white woman) while walking her dog and Christian Cooper (a black man and no relation, while birdwatching).
I affirmed with Jamal, a father of six children who lives on the south side of Racine, that even though we were total strangers to each other, we could calmly, respectfully and intelligently talk and honor each other as human beings. With a smile on his face, Jamal agreed and thanked me for taking a few minutes to talk about the fractured world and current state of affairs. Upon reflection, I gathered that this encounter was in imitation of Jesus. This truly was an unforgettable “parable teaching moment” in my life.
2020: A Challenging Year for All
Associate Kathie Solie
Who could have known when we celebrated the start of this year, that the issues of homelessness and mental illness would not only continue to influence the lives of so many of the people who find their way to HOPES Center, but would be heightened by the COVID-19 virus. By mid-March, I began to work “from home” as the services at the HOPES office were curtailed out of concern for the health of clients, staff and volunteers.
The important efforts of our PATH Program, which assists people who are homeless and have a serious mental illness, had to continue in some form. Face-to-face meetings in the office were no longer an option. Fortunately, most PATH participants have cell phones. I started checking in with them on a fairly regular basis. It was important to know that they knew where to find essential services and assistance. For many, the most important thing I could offer was the time to talk and share concerns.
As HOPES made new contacts via our Street Outreach Team or through phone calls to the office, I was able to arrange off-site meetings to do intakes. Benches in quiet parks worked well. Masks and 10- foot-long benches kept both of us safe. One encounter was made from my car window to that of a new PATH participant. Phone follow-ups allowed for their ongoing questions and suggestions of ways to meet their needs through referrals.
Drives down Main Street offered more than one opportunity to check in with active participants. Conversations at a safe distance were so much richer than a phone call. Nothing can beat looking into the eyes of someone you care about, and sharing a smile. Never again will I take for granted being able to sit down in the comfort and privacy of my office to share in someone’s story.
Associate Commitment Ceremony Reflection on Isiah 42: 1-9
by Associate Jim Kruse
What’s striking about this scripture is that the servant is never clearly identified. What is emphasized is the activity and character of the Servant. It seems at this point Jesus is interested more in what is accomplished rather than who does so. A servant is one who is obedient to the commands of God. Do you know what delights God’s heart? Could it be when we delight in God? When we make it our aim to want to be pleasing to God. When we offer ourselves (even when we seem broken and useless in many regards), when we offer into God’s hand all that we are, that is what delights God. A lesson for us as Associates, fostered by a vowed community that continues to do so much for so many with, so little is to stay focused on service.
Isiah verse 3 states A bruised reed shall not be broken. A dimly burning wick God will not quench, ajustice will be faithfully brought forward. Most of Jesus’s followers did not understand why he did notfight and take the rule away from the Romans. But God’s way, is not through violence or boastful wordsor conversation, Jesus came as a babe in a manger, as a Savior of gentle, peaceful, to teach, forgive andsave.
Jesus dealt tenderly with all the people when he ministered to them. I believe the smoking flax (dimlyburning wick) represents those who believe in God. They will not be overcome, but taken into the fold,Justice and truth will be brought forth. God’s chosen do not execute justice by force. This is a portrait oftender care for those who are vulnerable, for ideas still coming into fullness, for small efforts strugglingto plant their roots “A bruised reed God will not break,” Isiah says, “and a dimly burning wick will not bequenched” (verse 3).
True leadership protects what is weak until it is strong enough to stand, and keeps gentle hands cuppedaround a weak flame until it can burn on its own. Our Dominican Mission committed to truth andcompelled to justice is allot like true leadership, the type we want to emulate, always nurturing andencouraging. Our actions to bring forth the ways of Our Lord will not fail nor be discouraged. That is thehope that we have, what we look for. Until that day, we need to behold and continue to improve theServant in us that we are called to do, and that will continuously please God. Our diligence in Servantleadership will turn our eyes and investigate God’s face only to see that God is indeed in us through ourServant service to others, true change will come, and this will be that delights our God.
Reflections about the Feast of Catherine of Siena
by Laura Gellott
April 28, 2013
I am grateful to S. Peg Gabik and to the planners of today’s liturgy for inviting me to share these reflections with you, although to preach on Catherine of Siena to a community whose members include Suzanne Noffke is either an act of incredible bravery or a fool’s errand. I hope that what follows will fall somewhere in between, with a balance towards the former.
In all the years that I taught history, I would approach the Fourteenth Century through the paradigm sketched out by many a historian, most famously Barbara Tuchman, who used the phrase “a distant mirror.” And indeed, the events of just the last three months have made the reflection seen in the mirror all the more sharp and focused. The resignation of a pope, in the midst of a church beset by careerism, corruption, and scandal, the loss of a Christ-centered vision: all of this describes our time – and hers. The dates of Catherine’s life span a mere 33 years: 1347-1380. Yet within the wider concepts by which historians frame an era -- the so-called “Long Nineteenth Century” that stretches to 1914, or “the Age of Ideological Revolution” that spans the two centuries 1789 to 1989 --we can locate the years of Catherine’s life squarely between 1294 and 1415. These years, spanning little more than a century, are bookended by papal resignations, events that were cited three months ago in media references to the precedents of “700 years ago” and “600 years ago.” Catherine was born 53 years after the resignation of Pope Celestine V, an episode that served to usher in the events that drew Catherine into papal politics. She died 35 years before the resignation of Gregory XII, mandated by the Council of Constance, which drew to an end the Great Schism. To briefly fill in the contours of that era, Celestine was aided in his resignation by the cardinal who succeeded him as Boniface VIII, one of the great “lawyer popes” of medieval history. Boniface’s quarrel with King Phillip IV of France would lead, more or less, to the death of Boniface in 1303 and the election of a French cardinal as Clement V. It was Clement who moved the governance of the church to Avignon, beginning that period known at the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was to Avignon that Catherine and her followers would travel, in 1376, to persuade Gregory XI to return to Rome, and it was the reassertion of papal power in Italy which threatened to re-ignite the quarrels between the independent city states of Italy, for which reason Catherine journeyed to Florence to plead the papal cause and advocate for peace. And it was Gregory’s untimely death, in 1378, shortly after his return to Rome, which triggered the disputed election which resulted in the Great Schism: rival popes in Rome and back in Avignon. This was a development that grieved Catherine deeply, and led her to devote the last 18 months of her life to the cause of restoration of the unity of the Church under the Italian pope Urban VI. Her prayer of self-sacrifice to this cause is recorded in last letter of Raymond of Capua:
O eternal God, receive the offering of my life in this
mystic body of holy Church. I have nothing to give
except what you have given me, so take my heart and
squeeze it out over the face of the bride [the Church].
So while the particular details of the crises within the Church do differ between Catherine’s time and ours, the rare event of papal resignation triggers thoughts of comparison. So too does the unfolding “next chapter” in our time: the election of a man who takes the name “Francis.” With this we are again drawn back into Catherine’s world: the world of Francis and of Dominic, whose spirituality and charism Catherine, living as a Third Order Mantellata, embraced. We are drawn back to the time of the mendicants, who called into question a Church hierarchy clad in gilt robes and dwelling in palaces, elevated literally and figuratively above the faithful whom they were meant to serve. The same media which, a month earlier, had been absorbed in the parallels of papal resignation, now reacted with surprise and joy to the words and actions of Pope Francis, who explained his choice of name:
[My good friend Cardinal Hummes, Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo] gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: "Don't forget the poor!" And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of
Assisi. . . . He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man …
How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
Now, past those first weeks of exhilarating visuals: the pope taking the bus back to the guest house, paying his hotel bill in cash, phoning home to Buenos Aires to cancel his newspaper subscription, eschewing the papal palace and the red shoes, washing the bare feet of juvenile offenders: young women and Muslims included, we have what for many of us is the first disappointment: the decision to let the disciplinary actions against the LCWR / Leadership Conference of Women Religious proceed.
And yet even with this, perhaps especially with this, we are drawn back again to Catherine’s world, and to her unrelenting zeal for speaking Truth to power, even to papal power.
The historian Catherine Meade, CSJ / (Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston), in her book, My Nature is Fire: Catherine of Siena characterized Catherine’s world as follows:
[There existed] the strange dichotomy of a laity growing in personal intimacy with God . . . while estranged from official religious authority . . . . The papacy . . . [felt it necessary to] defend its authority over powerful . . . religious groups [to preserve] the unity of Christendom. . . . These factors operated in a superstructure whose foundation was itself in flux as changing patterns of family life, new civic and national awareness, and emotional strains of pious religious expression made change more constant than custom. . . . Changes in established gender patterns … contributed to the overall dynamism of the period. The combination of new roles for women with increased emphasis on gospel traditions . . . incorporated a uniquely feminine dimension of witness and/or service, some characterized by singular forcefulness, power, and even leadership. 
Those words, of course, describe our world as well. And this is, I believe, what Joan Chittester had in mind when she wrote, only last week:
So what is going on? Especially at what seems to be a moment of the great change in the church of the autocrats and monarchs to the church of the Jesus who walked among the people and loved them?
Well, for one thing, what's going on is the same thing that's been going on for more than 1,500 years: Nuns everywhere are working with the people, hearing their stories, attempting to meet their needs, having a presence in their lives, simply intent on being the caring face of a merciful church -- . . . witnesses to the Gospel of unconditional love.. . .
Sister Joan continues:
[W]hat is going on now is a mysterious work in progress. . . . . The church now has as its model, it seems, a man who is committed to the poor. . . . [And] it is impossible to say you are committed to the poor and not know that two-thirds of the hungry of the world are women who get only the leftovers after their husband and children have eaten; two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women enslaved by their lack of education as the chattel of men; two-thirds of the poorest of the poor . . . are women. . . . It is simply impossible to be really committed to the poor and not devote yourself to doing something to change the role and status of women in the world. 
A work in progress. A work that requires the same unrelenting zeal that led Catherine to speak of God, of love, of her God-directed zeal as a “fire always burning but never consuming; . . . a fire consuming in [its] heat all the soul’s selfish love, . . . .that light beyond all light who gives the mind’s eye supernatural light in such fullness and perfection that [it] bring[s] clarity even to the light of faith.” 
And so we return to today’s second reading, composed two years before Catherine set out on her journey to Avignon to admonish Pope Gregory.
“Oh blazing fire ever burning, you are indeed a fire! This it seems is
what the mouth of Truth said: “I am fire and you are the sparks”.
From whence came such images and metaphors? We can read in Catherine’s words evidence of at least an acquaintance with the emerging scholastic philosophy of another Dominican, with whom Catherine now shares the title “Doctor of the Church,” Thomas Aquinas; Thomas – whose wisdom pervaded the sermons preached at the church of San Domenico in Siena, and whose insights were already familiar to Catherine’s learned Dominican associates  Efficient, proper, and final causality: -- all those Scholastic terms -- effects which are like their causes, causes which must exist by the very essence of their being: In Catherine’s words:
The fire always wants to return to its source [its cause], and so it always goes back up. Just as the sparks receive their being from the fire, so let us acknowledge that our being comes from our first source.
Yet Catherine’s thought was ultimately inspired less by the rational than by the experiential, the affective, the mystical: by the sights and sounds of her home and of the city of Siena: “the kitchen fire eagerly consuming the wood thrown on it, light filtering through a narrow street, a tall tree laden with fruit, . . . .the mirror in which she sees her own reflection, a Tuscan vineyard. ”  Even the Lorenzetti paintings in the City Hall of Siena: the “Allegories of Good and Bad Government” informed her critique of the governance of church and state in her day.  And how easy it is to picture Catherine, gazing into the fire on the family hearth in the kitchen of the Benincasa home as she prepared the noon meal, and forming the image:
“I am fire and you are a spark.” So let your soul rise up like a spark, let it first go up and then come back down. Open wide, open wide your soul to embrace your neighbor in love! Let us run eagerly along the way of truth! Sow, Sow God’s Word! Make good on the talents entrusted to you! Be enterprising in your use of them.”
Let us here today, women and men of Dominic, of Thomas, of Catherine, go forward with that same zeal, imbued with that fire that lit Catherine’s life. Fire that warms, fire that rages, fire that draws us in, fire that causes the unwary to flinch and recoil. Fire that burns but does not consume, fire that forges steel. Let each of us resolve anew to be the sparks, sparks that share in the same nature as their source, the fire that is the eternal love of God, the fire that is Truth itself.
 Catherine M. Meade, CSJ, My Nature is Fire: Saint Catherine of Siena (New York: Society of Saint Paul, 1991), 14-15.
 Joan Chittester, “Tainted by Radical Feminism? More Like ‘Living the Gospel,” National Catholic Reporter, 24 April 2013.
 Mary O’Driscoll, O.P., ed., Catherine of Siena: Passion for the Truth, Compassion for Humanity: Selected Spiritual Writings (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993), 136.
 Meade, 18.
 Meade, 22-26.
Rooted in Hope, The Story of the Dominican Sisters of Racine, Wi
by Sister Mary Hortense Kohler
For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease. Even though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the dust, yet the first whiff of water it may flourish again and put forth branches like a young plant. Job 14:7-10
Grace and peace to you in the Compassion of the Spirit which grounds us and keeps us. Amen.
It’s been said here lately that we all live in our stories. So let me share one of mine. In my front yard there’s an apple tree – three actually – but only two look like apple trees. The other pretty much looks like a stump. It used to look like an apple tree but a couple of years ago, the small leaves died on it even before the blossoms came.
When I pushed it, it wobbled in the ground as though it’s roots had come loose. It’s bark was bruised as though something – a riding lawnmower? – may have rammed into it. I made some ‘inquiries’ of my family as to how this may have happened but no one seemed to know.
Here at Siena, you can imagine what I felt, having just recently lost – and blessed – and saved some trees yourselves. I was mourning this apple tree. It was special. It had been planted for me by a friend in memory of her son who had died tragically when I was their pastor. “Well, there’s no sense in having that dead tree out there in the yard,” I said to my husband, George, and I was ready to have him pull it out. But he, being wiser - and maybe more compassionate than myself - said, “No, I don’t think it’s dead. Let’s just leave it for a while.” So we cut off the clearly dead part and left the stump.
Last spring, it still looked like just a stump. But early summer, George came in and said, “The apple tree’s growing.” Sure enough, with a rest over winter and the “whiff” of spring rains, from the base of the stump had sprouted two tall shoots, leaves open, reaching for the sky. The truth was that it wasn’t dead. It’s deep roots, however loosened, held it’s wobbly life secure, waiting in hope of renewed life. Over this past winter, I noticed sadly that the rabbits had nipped those two new shoots off. But this spring, yet again, there were new ones at the base of the stump…living in ceaseless hope of bearing fruit once more.
Our stories are always like that, of being cut down and of new growth. Our 150 history and my considerable shorter personal one both know those places. We know that particularly well here at Siena, as lately we’ve watched and waited through endless meetings where village boards, the DNR and other entities lay out what seems an endless list of requirements before moving ahead with the new building.
Almost four years ago, I retreated here, struggling as the pastor of a small parish whose vision for their ministry had turned out to be very different from what I felt God was calling me to be about.
Hope can be difficult to find in times like that. It’s anxious, waiting for the gentle rains to come, difficult to rest in the dark earth waiting for the life that will come tomorrow. Like Job’s story, and this community’s, and mine, things can look hopeless sometimes. Yet….here you are – on the brink of this exciting new collaboration with ‘the Lutherans.’ And here I am, a Lutheran pastor about to become a Racine Dominican Associate. Who would’ve thought? Except the One who grounds us, and waters us, cuts away the dead parts, and makes us flourish.
It is that rootedness that has brought me – and all of you – sisters and associates alike, together…for in this place, we see the indwelling of God in and for each other and the world. Here, God’s vision of truth and justice is that ‘whiff, that ‘scent’ of spring rain that seeps into our very roots, keeping us grounded – even when we wobble – and daily renewing our hope that we might just indeed be the bearers of compassion and justice…at least for this time and this place...and that is all god asks of us…to live rooted in that hope. Thanks be to God.
Through the Valley of the Shadow
by Jean Gfall (New Richmond ,WI)
I walked with my dogs last week through the DNR land near our home where they had just burned. It was black and dreary and little puffs of gray ash formed around our feet as we traversed this valley of the shadow of death. It was a bleak landscape. Yet the dogs, being their normal busy selves, were even then nosing out evidence that life continues here.
As a Home Care Chaplain, I spend much of my time with people who are walking through that valley of the shadow where it appears that death, physically or spiritually, is the only option; that their life is going to crash and burn and there will be nothing left. It is impossible to tell them that all will be well, for they cannot hear my words. But my role as chaplain is not to convince them of anything; my role is to walk with them through the fire, helping them hold at bay the shadows that they fear and the flames that threaten to engulf them. For one man, it was as simple as showing up at his door and listening. He told me how much he missed being able to care for his ‘bluebird trail’ of bird houses since it became impossible for him and his wife to stay in their own home any longer. For another person whose physical life would, indeed, end shortly, it was walking with him back through what he had learned and believed all his life about God’s grace - that it was for him and that he needn’t fear he hadn’t done enough, been good enough to warrant it. In each, I could see the small green sprouts of life appear as the shadows began to dissipate.
Today, just a few days later, I walk near the same expanse of DNR land and rain has come. There are tiny green shoots beginning to emerge from the blackness. I can smell the plum blossoms as they open in defiance of the flames that just a week ago licked their lower branches. The pond echoes again with the cheery voices of spring peepers. Life is returning already and abundantly. The shadows of death are being overrun by it. I think of resurrection. I breathe in the fragrant air and give thanks.
Valentine’s Day Encounter
by Mare Wheeler (Gilbert AZ)
On Valentine’s Day I accompanied Jason, an ER nurse and instructor at the medical school where I teach, on a "house call" to a homeless female prostitute. We drove to a grimy roadside restaurant in a run down section of town. Liliana soon arrived; she was in very bad shape - her right eye swollen shut, she was tremulous from not having money to buy her drug of choice (opiates) and was running a fever. Earlier she had been unceremoniously kicked out of a local ER without being treated. Quickly, before the restaurant owners kicked us out, we figured out the source of infection, got her the needed medications, made sure she had a safe place for the night, clean water, (neither a given here) a hug, and instructions to follow up later with Jason.
St. Catherine of Siena wrote, "To the servant of God... every place is the right place and every time is the right time." My encounter with Liliana was at the right time and place! So Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate human love, was very powerful for me. It reminded me of my Dominican "compelled to justice" commitment to preach by my presence - to show up for those for whom others will not show up, to meet the leper - or the prostitute - or the social justice need - and embrace it (or her!). I see my ministry, my charism as a Dominican associate as not a politely passive thing. It is scary, up for surprises, requiring sometimes brutal truth and humility. I work among the homeless, undocumented and the addicted because it is there I find my passion, my com-passion, the fire in my belly, my best self and a luminous God in the eyes of those whom I encounter. There, I hope, as Albert Camu once wrote, "to do the least amount of harm and maybe a little good."
As a result of our Valentine’s night urgent care visit with Liliana, Jason, that intrepid ER nurse, and I are starting a medical ministry called "House Calls." At least one evening a week we make a "home visit" among the homeless and/or undocumented folks in this very large city. Jason takes his large backpack which contains almost enough for a field hospital. I take a large flashlight, my Spanish dictionary and a prescription pad. If possible we take a "promontora" (health care worker) with us to ensure follow up. The work is nerve-wracking, enlightening, and for me, grace-filled. We never know what or whom we’ll encounter. I only know that it’s the right thing to do. By the way, Liliana recovered quickly from that last nasty infection.
We Are Blessed
by Michael Meier (Racine WI)
As Dominicans, we Praise, we Bless and we Preach. The word "Bless" is a simple word with many uses. It is a polite term when someone sneezes, "Bless you", or "God bless you". It becomes a term of power when used in scripture. We are reminded by God how blessed we are and that those blessings will continue. In the book of Numbers (6:24) we hear "The Lord bless you and keep you." So too, the Psalms are filled with praise and blessings to and from God.
God gives us the biggest blessing…that of life, and all that is needed as followers to journey through life.
God the Son, our Lord Jesus, gave us the blessings of forgiveness and salvation through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. That sacrifice gives us the hope of eternal life with God at our life’s end.
God the Holy Spirit blesses us with the gift of faith, provided by the Word and the Sacraments, including the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, held near and dear to our hearts.
To be blessed by God is an assurance of hope, and a certainty of faith.