My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report, in which I reflect on religious life through the lens of Downton Abbey, specifically comparing being a younger catholic sister in elected leadership to the experience of Matthew Crawley being the heir to the Earl of Grantham.
“There I was, sitting in the chapel with my Sister housemates, when I found myself thinking: ‘It’s almost as if I’m Matthew Crawley.’ … I am grateful for my random Matthew Crawley thought because it has helped me to come to grips with some of the responsibility I feel for the future. If I am honest, at times it is a heavy weight on my shoulders, as I suspect it is heavy on the shoulders of many younger members. How can we possibly follow in the footsteps of the women who answered the call of Vatican II so fearlessly? … “
Today (February 8) is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita who has beatified by Pope John Paul II. Today has also been declared, under the leadership of Pope Francis, as the first International Day of Prayer and Action against human trafficking. I wrote about the connection between these two important dates in my latest column on Global Sisters Report.
The column draws upon research I did for my Masters thesis, “Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance.” I see Bakhita as a model of resistance and believe that her story can help evoke in contemporary people of good will the motivation needed to take actions of solidarity and resistance to human trafficking today.
The story of St. Josephine Bakhita invites us to take an honest look at our own connections to the social sin of human trafficking. What are the unjust social and economic structures and distorted social norms which allow human trafficking to thrive? What actions of resistance might we take to heal relationships distorted by human trafficking?
Here are some resources for this first ever International Day of Prayer and Action against human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a social evil perpetrated by human beings. Human trafficking is not inevitable. As St. Josephine Bakhita’s story tells us, it is possible to resist, and it is possible for ordinary persons to resist in solidarity with trafficked persons. We can start today through our prayer and action against human trafficking.
She was a prolific writer in her time and used the power of the written word astutely to spread the Gospel, challenge unjust structures, and advocate for people who were poor. She wrote letters, letters to the editor, and many, many books. By 1870, more than 200,000 copies of her works (most published under the names M.F. Cusack or Mary Francis Cusack) had circulated throughout the world. Profits from the sale of her books were used for the Sisters’ work with the poor.
In one of her autobiographies, she tells the story of her audience with Pope Leo XIII, when she was seeking approval for our new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
“My audience was entirely private … Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. … His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work.”
Our original 1884 Constitutions, written by Mother Francis Clare, described our mission as being “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.” Word and work. I love that!
I can’t help but think that if she lived in today’s era of social networking, Mother Francis Clare would be tweeting for peace, spreading the good news of the Gospel and be on the forefront of the new evangelization. When our new community Twitter account (@SistersofPeace) went live earlier this year , I imagined her smiling in heaven at this new endeavor by her daughters in the 21st Century.
As someone who has been growing into her own identity as both a Catholic Sister and a writer, I find great inspiration in Mother Francis Clare. This month marks ten years that I’ve been blogging my journey into religious life and experience as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, first at Musings of a Discerning Woman and now here. It’s also why I jumped at the opportunity to be a regular columnist on the Global Sisters Report. I am very grateful for the gift of writing, and I feel called to share that gift in the hopes that my words can touch hearts and minds in service of the Gospel.
I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can work through any medium, even the Internet! Actually, I first discovered my religious community online when I was discerning religious life. That’s also why I’ve decided to join a group of younger Catholic Sisters in live tweeting during episodes of Lifetime’s new “reality” show The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. It’s actually been a fun experience, offering some of my own experience and “#realnun facts” as I watch the show. (You can join the conversation at #TheSisterhood.)
A younger Catholic Sister friend alerted me today that the folks over at the Huffington Post have noticed our live tweeting of the show.
“Social media savvy sisters have been doggedly following — and even live-tweeting — the show. They’ve been paying close attention to any potential misrepresentations, while remaining excited that the topic of religious vocation is getting national attention.”
I appreciated that description, because I think it aptly describes the spirit we’ve tried to embody as we’ve been live tweeting the show. Again, the Holy Spirit can work with anything! Even reality TV and Twitter!
It’s a far cry from Mother Francis Clare’s in person discussion of her writings with Pope Leo XIII, often considered the founder of Catholic Social Teaching. But nonetheless, I feel it is important to be part of the discussion where people are.
And, ok, I’ll admit it …. it’s kind of cool that the Huffington Post article includes a screen shot of one of my live tweets from last week’s show!
In the end, I have to think that Mother Francis Clare would use the media of the day to communicate for mission. Would she be on twitter, blogging, and on instagram? I have to think the answer would be yes!
By the way, be sure to check twitter when #callthemidwife returns to PBS …. a group of us have been live tweeting that as well!
My latest column is published over at the Global Sisters Report. It’s my attempt to engage the pesky and sometimes polarizing question of distinctive religious dress (aka habits) in a helpful way.
I am blessed to have younger religious friends, women and men, on both sides and in the middle of the distinctive dress question. Some of my sister friends are in communities that wear a habit. Most of my sister friends are in communities like my own that transitioned to simple dress almost 50 years ago, before we were even born. And some belong to communities that wear a habit for prayer, liturgy and ministry, but dress simply the rest of the time. This seems to be an option mostly for male religious, although I know a few sisters in this category.
As younger post-Vatican II religious, we made a decision to enter communities that have already made communal decisions about this question. We go where we feel at home. But in my experience, we do not judge those who make a different choice. We do not deride our peers either for wearing an “anachronistic costume” or for being a “plain-clothes nun.” Those labels belong to other generations, or perhaps should belong to none. Our attitudes of respect and inclusion affirm the both/and nature of the question today. Left to our own devices, over time, I believe we can heal this polarized division and in turn help heal a rift in religious life and the church. We find our common ground in the habits of love we develop, which form us as religious and shape the witness of our very lives as ones who follow Jesus in a particular way.
My most recent column on Global Sisters Reportis proof that while you can take the girl out of the city elections office, you can’t take the city elections officer out of the girl, even when she takes the unlikely step of becoming a Catholic Sister. You see, not only am I the daughter of a local elected official, before I entered religious life I spent eleven years working in local government myself, eight of those years as City Elections officer in Portland, Oregon.
Democracy is important to me, and truth be told, I’m more than a little worried about the state of ours. So, with election day almost upon us, I reflected on elections and decision making through my Sister lens.
The decisions that we make together matter, especially decisions that impact the common good and our future. This is something that I firmly believe. It is why I take my right to vote, earned through the literal blood, sweat and tears of my foremothers, very seriously. Yet I also can’t help wondering, especially after another election season filled with negative campaign ads and outrageous corporate spending . . . is our system broken? Is there another way we could be doing this? …
Truth be told, I don’t really know what we can do about our current political system other than show up, speak out and act for the common good and the needs of those on the margins, always with respect and integrity. I think this is part of the great popular appeal of NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus efforts. Yes, people enjoy the novelty of nuns rolling around on a campaign-style bus in the great tradition of whistle stop tours. But even more, I think people who are really paying attention appreciate the way the Nuns on the Bus and their supporters engage the issues respectfully and with a common heart.
So what would it be like if the rest of the world made decisions the way that sisters do? I have to believe that the world would be at least a little bit kinder, gentler and focused on the common good.
For the past few months I have been a monthly contributor to the Horizons Column at Global Sisters Report, dedicated to the reflections of younger Catholic Sisters. My latest column was just posted. It’s not the column I was planning to write this month, but it is the one that kept coming to my heart and that my fingers wanted to type. I generally find that in such cases, what I am writing needs to be said and shared. Here’s a snippet:
I recently found myself playfully adapting the opening line from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Thinking about, and praying for, some younger Catholic sister friends who are grieving the loss of dear wisdom women in their religious communities, I repurposed the quote in my mind and heart: “It is a truth increasingly acknowledged, that a younger Catholic sister blessed with friendship in community, must be in want of religious life age peers.” …
Increasingly, my experience of religious life friendship – both intergenerationally in community and with religious life age peers – has confirmed my belief that engaging in play together makes us better able to grieve and live into the unknown future of religious life.