Friday, August 11, 2017

Be Kind

Send a message of kindness to everyone you can, including those you don’t know who may be behind you at a stop light or walking past your parked car.  BE KIND car magnets make it easy to remind everyone of the importance of being kind, even when it might be challenging or amidst difference. If you would like a BE KIND car magnet, they are available for a $5 donation to the Sisters of St. Joseph Mission and Ministries Foundation.  Click here to get yours.
Kindness — Get in the Habit!
Too often, we get caught in the busy-ness of life or feel the effects of the seemingly endless negative, divisive and violent messages we are bombarded with each day.  We all need reminders to be kind.
“If we acknowledge and reinforce kindness when we see it, we believe it will foster more kind acts,” said Mary Herrmann, SSJ. “We encourage everyone to use the kindness cards to acknowledge and increase kindness in our community.” 
In March of 2017, during National Catholic Sisters Week, we participated in a Kindness Campaign — a national initiative of several congregations of Catholic Sisters to promote kindness.  Locally we worked with the other congregations and launched a social media effort, ran television PSAs, billboards and distributed kindness cards — small cards given to anyone you see doing an act of kindness.  The kindness cards are available to download and print.
Thank you for your help in promoting kindness!
---from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Erie PA

Friday, July 28, 2017

What happens when they leave?

I recently came across an article about those leaving religious life during the formation program and the appropriate responses that might be given. Read the article.
I've thought a lot about this topic as I have worked with individuals and communities who are making this difficult journey. And I resonate with much that this article expresses.
The article ends with a poem by Tagore, and these lines express an important truth:
No; it is not yours to open buds into blossoms
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
This poem reminds me of the fact that vocation is not the work of vocation or formation directors, or of leadership or the sisters/brothers in community. Vocation is a mystery of gift and response and our task is that of a gardener who prepares the soil, waters and tends. Vocation unfolds in the life of the individual in relationship with their God.
In the vocation / formation journey, some will come, and some will go. Ours is to pray deeply, discern carefully, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God and with those on the vocation/formation journey. The decision to leave formation is complex, whether it is initiated by the community or it is initiated by the individual.

  • The individual in relationship with God and in their sense of self can experience a major personal turmoil. This will vary from one person to another, and with the length of time in formation, the reasons for leaving and the degree of mutuality of the decision. Sometimes the very characteristic that is the cause of departure is the characteristic that will show itself with a vengeance in the departure process. Communities do well to ensure that the individual is supported in discernment and in transition out of the community. Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness will help us to honor the blooming of this person's flower - even if it cannot bloom within the community. 
  • Others in formation are also impacted by the departure of someone in their group. That departure will likely raise questions about their own suitability and perseverance. It may also raise questions about the community and its formation program, and about those serving as leaders and formators. 
  • Formators can also feel the challenge of a departure. They have lived, worked and prayed very closely with the person leaving. From this experience, they can see both the potential and the challenges the individual is facing and they have their own sense of the propriety of the departure, which may differ from the one leaving and/or those in leadership. While maintaining their own personal integrity, as formators, they have a pastoral duty to the one they have been accompanying and the community.  Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness can also be applied to their own personal journey and to their work with leadership, others in formation and the community at large.
  • The whole community is invested in the formation program. Various brothers/sisters may have supported a particular candidate and encouraged them to pursue a vocation with the community. Confidentiality prohibits full disclosure of the dynamics of a departure. At the same time, that same honest and empathy that are used with the departing individual should be directed to those who have supported them in the community. A candidate, novice or temporary professed takes their first steps in our community. This can have the effect of touching each of us at the deep roots of our own vocation. It can be a moment of renewal, or a moment that touches our woundedness or unsettledness in our vocation. Awareness and compassion can guide us in this sensitive time. 
  • Families and friends of those who leave will also be impacted by the transition. Within the constraints of confidentiality, pastoral outreach to family and friends may be helpful both in supporting the individual who is leaving and in addressing the concerns of family and friends themselves. 

Many people experience the departure of an individual from community. When possible, ritual can help to express this experience and bring it to prayer, supporting everyone in their continued journey of faith.
The article touched on many of these factors, and helped me to focus my concerns about this issue. I believe that it is important to consider departure as we design vocation and formation programs. It is a reality of life, and as we invite people to consider our community, we should be ready to walk with them in good times and in bad, in arrivals and in departures.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Called to Serve

I have had several projects this summer that have been challenging for me.
Some months back, I agreed to give some presentations, or take on other projects, and it seemed to be a good idea. I have the qualifications, and they fall within the scope of my ministry.
As each of these projects comes up on my calendar, I prepare for them. I reflect on the topic at hand and do some extra reading and research. This part of the project I enjoy the most, reflecting on challenges that religious life is facing these days, and offering my insights, and the fruit of the many conversations I've had, and experience of the communities I've worked with, etc.
And then when the actual moment comes up to lead the workshop or retreat, or to give the presentation, I realize that immensity of the challenge to offer something new on the topic of religious life. People are looking for insights, for hope, for inspiration. And so at this point, I realize that each person and each community is also on an individual journey. Each person has particular questions, particular concerns and particular insights. All I can do is offer what I have prepared, and pray with and for the group that they will hear whatever it is they need to hear. I also have the gift of hearing from them the new insights that they bring and the new insights that come up for them as our time unfolds.
I feel so privileged to walk with individuals and groups in the challenging times of their lives. In response, I want to do the best I can to accompany them and help them along the way.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Vow of Poverty - explained to wealth managers

I was recently asked to discuss the vow of poverty with a journalist working for a wealth management magazine. "Are you sure you want to talk to me?" I asked. Yes, we're looking for different attitudes and perspectives. Well, yes, mine is different...

Here's the article - some of the details aren't quite right, but I think she did a good job of pulling parts of it together:

A Nun Tells Us What It's Like to Live With a Vow of Poverty
As a Sister of St. Joseph, Amy Hereford lives a financial life that's a lot different from most of us. But she thinks the lessons from it apply to us all.  Read more...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Northern Ireland

Growing up in St. Louis, I remember hearing about the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. From the reports, it seemed like a constant war zone - bombings, etc. I carried this childhood impression with me to Portadown, where I was staying and into Belfast.
I arrived into Portadown in the afternoon and the Sisters couldn't have been kinder. They welcomed me into their home where we had tea and they showed me around the house. I went out for a little walk, and found a lovely riverwalk that had been the tow-path for the river traffic. It's now a 20 mile walking and biking path by the river Ban.
The next day, one of the sisters drove me to Belfast on her way to work. She brought me by her office. The Flax Trust is a nonprofit organization that is working for peace and reconciliation through economic development. It was so interesting and powerful to see that they have been working to get people meaningful employment as a way out of the poverty and frustration that is part of the tension there. There are signs of the troubled past in the many murals on buildings and fences. The Peace Wall, built to keep the two communities apart, is now the place of many murals testifying to the path to peace.
I also saw lots of old buildings, forts and churches. Our guide read a list of the waves of people who had come in to pillage and plunder over the years. It strikes me that all these old structures are so common place here. You have a bakery, a cafe, then you round the corner and there is a castle. Mixed in you also have book-makers and pubs. It's all part of the mix. There are a lot fewer chain stores as well.
The next day I went to Armagh, with its two Cathedrals of St. Patrick. One RC and the other Church of Ireland. The CoI has the old site where St. Patrick built a church in his day - on the site of a pre-Christian King's house. There was a guy at the library who took lots of time to explain the place and its significance. And there was a library with books and manuscripts all out there to see. They said I could look at any of the books I wanted - just ask for white gloves to handle them. Wow!!! The library was founded beside the church - 'to nourish the soul.'
I'm headed down to the southern shore today - it will take most of the day to get there. Then my workshop starts on Sunday, then I return home. It has been really great to be here. And it will be awesome to get home again as well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mystics and Prophets

I had several meetings over the weekend and it was good to engage with sisters who are living religious life and who know that religious life is changing and that we are changing with it. Together we explored the contours of the changes that we are living and the challenges facing us. At its core, our life is open to God in a very profound way. We are made by God for love and we surrender to the loving creative work of God. This is the task of a life time and it is what makes us who we are.
St. Paul encourages the Philippians: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. These are the things that expand and lift our spirits. For me, it is often in the garden or in nature that I find soul-expanding joy and am absorbed in our loving - creative God.
Once touched in the nameless, but undeniable way, our hearts are re-created, empowered and emboldened to seek the ways of God in our daily lives. We reach out in compassion to the weak and the poor, we work for justice and raise our voices with and for others.
This is the core of religious life, a school of mystics and prophets. And as we face changes in our life together, it is important to remember that this core will never change.
I wrote a book some years ago entitled Religious Life at the Crossroads - that title focuses on the changes and challenges we face as we move forward. The subtitle is a School for Mystics and Prophets. That focuses on that unchanging core of religious life, that is also the core of Christian life and is in fact the fundamental human vocation.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

God Is Here

I just read a reflection from Mary MacKillop, founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Australia. She said that either God is with us here in the every day challenges, or God is nowhere. Don't wait for that perfect day, that peaceful moment. God is here.
In that context, let me tell you about the next leg of my trip. Our meetings for the vocation/formation team of Sisters of St. Joseph in the US and Canada went very well. There was a great spirit among us and we were able to continue our collaborative efforts for vocation promotion. We were also able to share our lives, our hopes and our challenges.
Friday morning, I headed to the airport so that I could travel to Rome. Due to weather in NYC, my flight was delayed, delayed, delayed and finally cancelled. The best they could offer was to fly me to NYC the next day, and I wouldn't be there in time for the next day's flight to Rome. So I rented a car and drove to NY that evening. It was really lovely country, and only occasional rain. After dark, there was a patch of dense fog, in northeastern Pennsylvania. I arrived in NYC after 10pm and stayed with a friend. We had a good visit the next morning. She was free, but had several things she needed to do around the house.
Then I drove to the airport and caught my flight to Rome. That was uneventful. And I'm here now, ready for my meetings to begin today. I've had a little time to catch up with a friend here on Sunday. We'll both be busy during the week. It was a lovely day yesterday - hopefully it will continue to be so.
And God is Here in all of this!