This past week at the LCWR was awe and wonder filled as close to 700 elected leaders of women’s congregations explored what it means to be the presence of love in our weary world. I am still processing and finding words for the experience.
We used the practice of contemplative dialogue throughout our days. I was invited into the privilege of being one of the designated listeners who paid attention to the movement of the spirit and the wisdom emerging among us.
On Friday, we began our last day with a converation on the stage amkng four of my age peers in leadership. After their sharing, some of the listeners were invited to reflect. This is what I shared as a reflection on what I was hearing and noticing. We are called to conspire together to disrupt the narrative of diminishment and witness to the emerging narrative of communion.
We are called to widen and overlap our circles, to be BIG together just as we become smaller diverse parts of the holy whole:
… living God’s dream, singing God’s song of love in our hearts, in OUR heart, for the sake of the world
… to be good news in a world longing to hear even the faintest whisper of inclusive love, extravagant love, fierce and diverse love, transformative love.
We are called to be present and accountable to love and each other.
Eyes open in a strange room
rested (but not)
ready for what comes next
filled with a wondering
encompassing me in possibility, promise, a wee bit of trepidation.
What if God is inviting us?
What if God is inviting us, through it all, to return home to one another?
What if, through the movement towards smallness, God is inviting us to reach out to those we did not need in our exceptional BIG moments?
What if, through the roller coaster of our geopolitical sphere, not to mention the soap opera of our national whatever is the opposite of civil and reasonable discourse, God is inviting us to love each other out of the fear and division?
What if, through the reckless disregard of our very planet–our common home–and our disposable attitude toward people and things, God is inviting us to bless what is near and dear while we make all of God’s creation our own concern?
What if our Triune God–Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier–is beckoning us, cheering us, drawing us near one another despite ourselves so that we can be one in all our wonderful crazy-making diversity?
Just as the Abba is always that, and the Son is always that, and the Ruah is always that …
Just as together they are also more …
Just as together they transform …
Just as together they bless and permeate and dance the story of all that is and was and will be.
This is my prayer upon waking, that I … that we … live into the questions, wonder at the wondering, and embrace the invitation to dance.
November is a time for remembering. In our Christian tradition we remember all saints and all souls. We also remember our veteran’s on November 11th, which is known as remembrance day in the UK to remember the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the first world war ended. November 11th is also the day I professed final vows five years ago.
I now have another reason to remember on November 11th, because this Friday my dear friend, leadership teammate and local community member Sister Kristin Funari passed away after a rapid yet valiant struggle with cancer. It was an honor and a privilege to accompany her on this journey. We spent many precious moments together these past few months. She has taught me so much about living and leading and loving. My heart aches that she has left us, but she is now free and one with her loving God. As for me, I am a better person for having shared life with her these past two years.
In her last days, she planned her funeral with an old friend who shared the notes with me when the time came to plan the service for real after her death. It was a surprise and a great honor that Kristin wanted me to give the welcome at her funeral liturgy. These are the words I shared at the funeral yesterday:
We gather this morning to celebrate the life of a shining light in our lives, Sister Kristin Funari, who burned with a passion for everything that is good.
Many of us are used to Kristin herself giving the welcome at an occasion such as this. I know I am, yet it is also a deep honor and a privilege to be the one to welcome you today on behalf of Kristin, her family, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
We gather in this beautiful sanctuary, yet we pine to be at home in our own Chapel. As you know, those of us who live at St. Michael’s experienced a major fire last month, and we are still adjusting to our new reality. We are grateful to be able to find shelter here at St. Anastaia’s. As it happens, I discovered this weekend that Kristin took Anastasia as her confirmation name when she was a young woman, so perhaps this was meant to be.
We welcome Kristin’s brother Ralph and his wife Chickie, along with their children Felicia and her husband Stephen, Renata and her husband Craig, Anthony and his girlfriend Kim, and three of Kristin’s grand nephews Ashton, Nicholas and Sebastian. We also welcome Kristin’s cousin Sandra, het husband Joe and their daughter Kristin.
We remember too Kristin’s parents Ivo and Helen, her Auntie Viola, Uncle Joe, and her sister Ricky. I have no doubt that they are enjoying great Italian meals and catching up on all the news of the Funari family among the stars.
When 20 year old Elaine applied to enter the Congregation in 1965 as a postulant, she wrote in her application that she wished “to bring myself and others to God.” Decades later, in an interview with Jan Linley, Kristin reflected that “seeking God and seeking truth is part of why I stay and why I entered. You know, really wanting to know God.” Kristin has finally lived into the deep desire she expressed in her final vows, “to live in the joy of a celibate love that does not lie in a separation from but a deeper penetration into the universe.” She is now at one with God, with the angels, and the stars.
But we all know that Kristin’s life shined bright like the stars when she was with us. She was passionate about community, her family, and poor and marginalized people. She was passionate about good food and a nice drink at the end of the day. She was passionate about life … and of that, any of us who were ever on the losing side of an argument with Kristin, have no doubt.
When Kristin was featured in an article in the National Catholic Reporter in 1996, she outlined her passions.
“I’m passionate about the gospels,” she said. “Passionate about the economy. I want to get more passionate about the poor. Get more passionate about the violence in our cities in the United States and say what can we do to change that. … I get passionate about the suffering that’s caused by all that and then the wrong people who are blamed. Passionate about the beatitudes. Passionate about the truth being the way. None of us have the total truth. Passionate about us being able to peel that apart together and break it open together and single-mindedly staying in community, pursuing those gospel truths. That’s what makes my passion. I get passionate when I see real struggle around who we say we are or want to be.”
Community was a constant in Kristin’s life. She built community wherever she was. As a social worker in Rockleigh and in Jersey City, at St. Boniface and of course, the York Street Project, Kristin loved and learned from those she served and accompanied them as they made positive change in their own community. In Congregation leadership, Kristin challenged us to face the future with gratitude and hope, while staying true to our roots as what she called meat and potato women. Before her death last year, Sister Jeanne Keaveny, who taught Kristin in Penns Grove, described Kristin to me as someone who had one foot firmly in the past, and one foot firmly in the future.
Kristin was unforgettable. We heard many stories to that effect last night at the wake. She left a lasting impression on everyone she met. I would often joke that Kristin would even make the local dog catcher feel like he was her dear friend. You felt like a valued whole person in her presence. Relationships and community, presence and hospitality were part of Kirstin’s core. Who among us did not enjoy her delicious cooking, her infectious laughter, her open heart, her willingness to always make room at the table for one more?
And so today, we gather at this table, to celebrate this shining light in our lives. We know that she is now one with her loving God, penetrated by love. Let us now give thanks for her transformation from death into life through the celebration of this liturgy.
Susan Francois, CSJP
My novitiate classmate Sister Chero texted me this morning to remind me that ten years ago today we were received as novices and added “Sister” to the beginning of our names.
Then I wrote on my old blog: “Mostly I’m deeply happy and grateful to God for this invitation and the whatever it took to finally say yes. Not to mention this amazing community of friends I have found to journey with. Wow…”
Now, ten years later, I can only say that my joy and gratitude has deepened in ways I could not have even imagined then. I continue to be amazed at the joy, love, grace, and blessing that comes with being a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.
Life is filled with many Holy Saturday moments. Time upon time we must let go of what was before we can even begin to be open to what will come. I think of the way the first Holy Week after my own mother’s death was different than any other before or since. I felt it in my bones. I think of friends who have lost their job and struggled to find their feet again, or friends who have lost a child far too soon, or seen the end of their marriage. There is always that messy middle space of witnessing the love lived and lost before something new emerges to call us forth to witness to love and life in new ways.
Theologian Shelly Rambo identifies Holy Saturday as the “middle day, as the site of witness to a more complex relationship between death and life” (Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, pg. 46.). And what is at the core of this complex relationship? Love of course. “Between death and life, there is a testimony to Spirit, to a love that survives not in victory but in weariness” (pgs. 79-80).
This weariness is real and of the Spirit. It attests to the depth of love that has been lived. But it also can keep us from seeing the new life that is before our eyes. Think of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, mistaking Jesus for the gardener!
I can’t help but ponder the shifting landscape and transformations taking place in religious life through the lens of Holy Saturday. As I wrote in a Global Sisters Report column last year, “Middle space represents this time as an almost Holy Saturday moment. Much is breaking down, we know something new is emerging, but this is a moment pregnant with not yet.”
We are indeed living in a Holy Saturday moment. “We can say, ‘Oh, isn’t it sad, our sisters are aging, nobody is coming, we’re dying out’ – and that’s real,” said Sister Anne Marie Haas, provincial supervisor of the community’s Montgomery County headquarters. “But we have a choice.”
And that choice is love, even in its weariest and messiest forms. As we say in our CSJP Constitutions, “Confident of God’s faithful love, and collaborating with others who work for justice and peace, we face the future with gratitude and hope.”
This week the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace celebrate the life of Sister Alicia Cavanaugh, CSJP who passed away late Saturday night at the age of 82.
I first met Alicia when she opened her home, and her heart, to me as a novice. I lived with Sisters Alicia and Eleanor for 3 months during my novitiate ministry year. I was placed in two very challenging ministries–three days a week working with survivors of human trafficking, two days a week helping women emerging from domestic violence situations attain restraining orders. Every day when I would come home from work after hearing stories of such hardship and suffering, there would be Alicia inviting me to sit down with a cup of tea and tell her about my day. She was always interested, always inviting, always engaged.
She was also extremely generous. She had a number of people in the neighborhood who would stop by regularly for a visit and a little bit of help. Whenever we went out in the car, she always had a small stash of one dollar bills to give to folks begging on the side of the road. And on more than one occasion, when I came home from work to make dinner, I’d find that the food that had been there in the morning when I’d made my plans for the evening meal was no longer there. Alicia, I’d say, do you know what happened to the tuna fish or pasta or rice? Oh, she’d say, so and so came to the door and she was just so hungry …. We of course made do and never went hungry ourselves. She’d always help me find something else in our ample pantry that would suffice … It was a good lesson for me.
During her time as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, Alicia shared her generous heart with many people. She was a teacher in schools in New Jersey, California, and Kenya! She worked as Director of Religious Education and Catechist. But I will remember her for the lessons she taught me through daily living and compassionate care for all of God’s children, especially the poor and vulnerable.
My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report. This one is more of a reflection where I mull over the communion of saints and what their witness and presence means to us today:
There is great wisdom in our Catholic tradition of setting aside time in the liturgical year to remember all the saints and souls, just as we take time to remember and celebrate the impact of our loved ones upon their passing. As theologian Flora Keshgegian writes in Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, remembering is meant to be oriented to ‘affect present action'(p. 25). We do not remember to stay in the past. Rather, we remember for the present, and dare I say, for the future.”
I am fresh off four days of laughter, prayer, and meaningful conversations with 70 other younger Catholic Sisters at the national Giving Voice gathering. Giving Voice is a grassroots peer-led network of younger women religious. The mission of Giving Voice is to “create spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.”
We gathered in Kansas around the theme “Crossing Boundaries in Religious Life.” We heard challenging words from our conference speakers, Sisters Sophia Park, SNJM and Teresa Maya, CCVI. Our peer GV leaders created a space where we could be present in the moment, an emerging theme of the days. We are living religious life with our elders as we let go of what was, and we are often looked upon as the future of religious life. These days together helped us to remember that we are also the present of religious life. We have touched the religious life that was, and we are building the bridge to the future. Yet we cannot forget that we are also the present. We are here now, called by the love of God to join in prayer, ministry, and service to the Gospel and God’s people in need.
It was a joy to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. It was also wonderful to be there with two other CSJP Sisters to share the experience. This was also the first Giving Voice conference in many years that I did not help plan. I had no jobs and was able just to come and be present and enjoy the light, laughter, and love of my peers. There were also five of us at the gathering who have stepped into the ministry of leadership for our Congregation. This was yet another gift of Giving Voice in my life, to have time to process and connect with peers in the midst of a similar life changing experience.
We were a beautiful embodiment of God’s diversity, coming from different congregations and parts of the country/world. While more than 90% of US Catholic Sisters are white, we are representative of the diversity of the US church. At one point of the speakers asked how many present were born in another country to raise their hand … almost half of the room raised their hands! What was perhaps most beautiful to me was how comfortable we are with each other. We laughed and shared, and laughed some more. We had fun and we had poignant moments and we were present to each other. And that, my friends, is pure gift and food for the journey.
Some reflections on religious life in the early 21st Century:
I will never know what it was like in the fervor of the post war years of industry and collective action with and on behalf of the immigrant church. To join a sea of glowing faces in flowing garb, facing a larger sea of shining young faces at their desks or swishing down the long halls of the hospital.
I will never know what it was like to be fresh out of high school and make the leap to this new life with a large group of age peers, thinking you knew what you were getting into, what your days would be like. When you and everyone else would wake up, what you would eat, how you would pray. When you could talk and when you had to hold your tongue.
I will never know the turmoil of feeling the winds of change on your face or in your hair, now that it was exposed to the elements once again. Of everything being turned upside down, everything you presumed would be eternal showing its true nature as fleeting. Of renewal and response to the Spirit and Vatican II.
I will (please God) never know the days of entrenched internal conflict, of community division, of camps and cliques and uncertainty of how to be sister together in the midst of radical change. To lose my large group of peers, to be one of the last ones still here, to wonder why. I will never know the doubt of the years that followed, or the joy of growing stronger together in our charism. I will never feel the relief when we learned to talk together, to listen deeply, to act together for justice.
But I am here now, mingling my own life experiences which you will never know with yours. What it was like to grow up in a Post Vatican II church when there was not yet a new Catechism, listening to Hi God 2 in religion class with my head on my desk not knowing a rote answer to why God created me but just being constantly assured of God’s love. Or growing up with the culture wars and increasing polarized divisions in church and society swirling around me. An adolescence spent in the waning years of the Cold War, only to watch the wall fall and the wars against terror begin. Straddling the line before and after the Internet age. A latch key kid and member of a small generation named with the letter x, labelled as slacker but feeling very much like an industrious link between what was and what is to come. Entering religious life as an adult, one of a very few, but connected by that reality to younger religious of both genders and various theologies across the lines in other communities from the very beginning. Building relationships across generations within community too, mingling my life with yours.
This is a graced time of promise and hope. The future will be what God knows it can be, but also because of who we are and where we have been and how we are able to mix and mingle and navigate the twists and turns together. We are the bridge to the religious life that is yet to come, and we pave the way through our individual experiences and the ones we create together. Our stories are mingling as we write the next chapter in this intergenerational tale of love, service, and faith. And that my friends is cause for celebration and praise to the God who calls us together.
My latest contribution to the larger conversation has been posted on Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones. It’s a snapshot of my musings on some of the recent reports and happenings in the world of religion, namely the Pew Report documenting the rise of the “nones” – the 56 million americans who claim no religious affiliation – and the interest in the future of nuns.
In a society where the numbers of nones are on the rise, the number of nuns is declining. I believe it is possible to view the dynamic forces behind both trends as part of the same rapidly changing landscape of religious life and shared socio-political context of increasing inequality, poverty, violence and environmental destruction. This trend and shifting landscape also apply to the wider church, especially given that the numer of U.S. Catholics is also declining according to the Pew research.
This raises a number of questions for me. First of all, the attention paid to Catholic Sisters, combined with the not insignificant efforts to help ensure our future, make me think that somehow it matters that we are present in the church and society. But are we merely symbolic figures, or is the way we engage the signs of the times and live the Gospel of some relevance and importance beyond ourselves? If so, how can we remain relevant and engaged in the larger questions of meaning and justice in the context of a society which increasingly eschews religion? If I do not want to be limited or defined by popular culture images or stereotypes of nuns, how does my life of ministry and prayer lived in community witness to the Gospel in a sea of growing inequality and indifference?