Saturday, November 30, 2013

No [Nun] is an Island

“Pope Francis!”
“Umm...Baby Jesus!”
“The Visitation!”
“No, wait....Sound of Music!”
“John the Baptist!”

If you had walked down the hall on the second floor of the otherwise quiet Sisters of Charity Motherhouse tonight, you would’ve heard female voices enthusiastically shouting these words and names, among others, interspersed with boisterous laughter.  You might have asked yourself:  What is this all this ruckus?!  Who are these people?  And why are they yelling out a random list of religiously-affiliated people and things...and then laughing?!?

The only answer (obviously) is that it was a bunch of young nuns playing Charades!

(Actually, the game was Fishbowl, which is like Charades, but I just said Charades since not everyone knows Fishbowl...yet.  It's truly the most fun party game.  Learn about it here).  Okay, I digress...

The women that gathered tonight are young Sisters and Sisters-in-training (and young-women-thinking-about-becoming-Sisters-in-training) from all over the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  There were 17 of us.  This is the second time the group has met, and some people couldn’t make it due to the holiday weekend. We came from 7 different congregations and ranged in age from early 20’s to 50.

Who says religious life is dying?!
Our Cincinnati young Sisters group - photo courtesy of
Katie Hoelscher

We started the evening with a “speed-dating” ice breaker to get to know each other better.  (One of our Sisters joked, "It's been awhile since I've had a date."  J)  We took turns pairing up and responding to the question, “What attracted or attracts you to religious life?”  The word "community" popped up all over the place.  It seems that many of us were drawn by the chance to throw our lot in with people who have given themselves completely to the mystery that is God.  

We couldn't and wouldn't want to do this alone.  At the very heart of the call to religious life is a desire to share life with other women whose lives are totally centered in Love and driven by the Gospel.  We are women who want to pray together; who want to serve and minister to those most in need in our society together; who want to become the best, truest version of ourselves together; who want to work for justice and peace together.  Being a part of the deep-rooted and far-reaching network of Sisters all over the city, country, and world is a life-force.  I am energized and strengthened just knowing that there are so many others who have chosen and are choosing this path.  Certainly, no nun is an island!

In this season of gratitude, I've been especially thankful for the wider community of religious women.  A few weeks ago, I found myself in New Orleans for "Nuns Build," a week for Sisters from many different parts of the U.S. to come to Louisiana and do restoration work on homes destroyed by Katrina.  About eighty Sisters came for Nuns Build, some of them taking vacation to be there.   Nine of us from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati participated, including Sister Monica who lives New Orleans and co-chaired the entire Nuns Build program.  We stayed with 11 other Sisters of Charity from different congregations at the House of Charity where Monica resides and hosts volunteer groups throughout the year.

Photo: Charity sisters at nuns build!
Charity Sisters in front of the House of Charity
In New Orleans, there are 8,000 families still awaiting to return home since Katrina happened in 2005.  They simply cannot afford to rebuild their houses.  Organizations like the St. Bernard Project that we worked with are striving to help people get back into their homes.  They have 130 families on the waiting list and 15 new applications each day.  Resilient and strong but hurting, the people of New Orleans still need much support.

Some of our SC group with Raymond
The Sisters of Charity (SC) group was assigned to work on a house belonging to a man name Raymond.  Katrina destroyed his home, and in the eight years since the storm, his parents and his wife have died.  He has struggled immensely and is anxious to return home. When we got to the site on Monday, the inside of the house was just a wooden frame.  By the end of the week, it was almost completely dry-walled.  I couldn't believe how hard the Sisters worked, some of them in their 70's!

Gabriela and S. Joyce
That spirit of a shared commitment to the Gospel we spoke of tonight at our young nun gathering was alive in New Orleans!  We started each morning with prayer together.  During the day, we faithfully employed tape measures and box cutters and drills.  Everybody wanted to be there to serve and did so (for the most part) with simple joy (there were only a few choice words uttered when the screw wouldn't go in, or the measurement was off, or the drywall broke...).   In the evenings, we ate together at the house or went on various outings.  We often ended the night playing goofy party games and laughing more than I have in a long time.  Many of the Sisters from different SC congregations had never met before, but there was a natural bond and quickly developing feeling of family.

I would not have traded my spot in that group of women for anything.
S. Donna and S. Carol
hang dry wall

Now, I would be painting a false picture if I told you that being a Sister makes me feel this sense of contentment and pride  I just described each and every moment.  Day to day religious life is not glamorous or romantic.  It's life - sometimes really good, sometimes so-so, and sometimes really difficult.  In fact, the first five months of Novitiate have been especially difficult.  I haven't written much about it because it feels too personal and too much in process still to put it into words.

But encounters like Nuns Build and tonight's get-together have given me a much needed shot of energy.

Maybe it's like when a couple finally gets to step out of their routine and go out for a nice dinner after running on auto-pilot for a few weeks.  They dress up and check out a new Italian place.  Maybe they laugh about stories from when they first met, dream about what the future might hold, and simply enjoy each other's presence in the present with intentionality and few distractions.

I feel that similar candlelit dinner glow in my heart when Sisters gather.  It puts me in touch with why I so passionately want to be here and why I could not not say yes to this path.

In our prayer tonight at the Motherhouse, we used the Gospel reading about "The Visitation," Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with John the Baptist as she is pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:39-45).  It's such a joyful encounter of two women rejoicing in the new life growing in each other.  As Sisters, we obviously don't relate directly to the sensation of an infant "leaping in the womb" as Elizabeth's did upon Mary's greeting.  But we are Christ-bearers and bringers of new life in many different ways, and something certainly leaps inside of us when we come together, embrace, and celebrate our unique and treasured vocation.

The Visitation, artist unknown
As we "speed-dated," prayed, ate, and laughed at our religious Fishbowl answers this evening, it struck me that the Motherhouse, our gathering space, dates back to the 1880's.  How many Sisters have gathered in that very room over the last 130 years?  Our energy seemed to brighten up the wise and quiet halls of the historic building, like we are somehow the new life leaping for joy in the womb of religious life.

I am grateful for the beautiful web of women religious that reaches into history, spans the globe, and leans into the future with faith and promise.  We're in this together, Sistas.

...Except if you're on the other team in Fishbowl.