Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Medieval Tree Hugger and the Reluctant Franciscan

It's confession time.

Thirty-five years ago, Pope John Paul II proclaimed that Saint Francis of Assisi would be the patron saint of those who promote ecology.

Five years ago, I walked into my interview to enter the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

Honesty in the interview was important to me, because I figured that if I didn't make it through the interview then it was not the right Community for me. So when I was asked how I felt about protecting the environment, I said, "I am glad that so many people care for the environment so I don't have to." Sure, I cared about the earth. However I was more concerned about the 1.2 million abortions performed in in the United States each year, the number of soldiers going off to war, Invisible Children, the genocide in Darfur, human trafficking, teenage suicide, domestic violence, elder abuse, and global poverty. I had enough on my plate.

I was granted entrance, and in the years that followed I experienced a certain degree of cognitive dissonance. I loved Francis, and I knew that caring for creation was important to him. I loved becoming a Franciscan, and I was aware that the environment is important to Franciscans. However, I wasn't feeling the whole Save the Planet thing. Still, I went along with it. I was even in a YouTube video that featured our service project in which we cleaned up a beach alongside Lake Michigan:
I figured that I'd fake it 'til I made it.

Yet the thing to truly convert me to environmentalism was living on an island. You can't run from caring for the earth when your bit of earth is just 552 square miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A sobering moment for me was when a member of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Foundation brought in a pile of trash that a seal ate and died. My best teachers though, were my students, who in their innocence see the world as it is meant to be:

Two of my former students hugging a tree in Koke'e State Park
So there you have it. I am officially concerned with the environment. Here's the best part: putting these concerns into action is relatively simple!

On a local level, at Saint Theresa Convent in Kauai, we recycle and compost everything we can. As a result, the amount of trash that we contribute to the landfill has been cut in half! This truly amazes us, and we can't help but think of the impact it would have on our planet if everyone was committed to recycling and composting.
These are our recycling bins that we use for sorting. We routinely bring our recyclables to the local recycling center.

This is our indoor compost bin. Every day, we empty it into our outdoor compost bin. We are careful not to put meat or fish products in there, among other things that we've been instructed should only go in landfills.
There are so many ways that we can all make positive changes in the health of our planet. In our Community, we Sisters were emailed a resource packet with many excellent ideas. It's a free download and is great for families and small communities! It is called "Earth as Our Home" and it's a project of Catholic Sisters for a Healthy Earth: http://www.sinsinawa.org/peace_justice/earthasourhome.pdf

We were also informed to save the date of October 4, 2014! Naturally, this date is significant on any Franciscan's calendar, because it's the Feast of St. Francis. However, this year that date will be significant for Catholics everywhere. The special event is called: Creating a Climate for Solidarity: From St. Francis to Pope Francis to YOU!
For more information, visit: http://catholicclimatecovenant.org/resources/feast-of-st-francis-2014/ If you are a youth minister, catechist, parish or school administrator, now is the time to begin planning.

A little extra time and attention can make a big difference!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Finding What is Beautiful

 My heart goes out to all those enduring the long winter weather in the Mainland. For most of my life, I absolutely despised winter, with the exception of days when I got to ice skate outside or go sledding. However, someone once gave me a reflection on winter that made me rethink it a bit and even come to appreciate the season a bit (Cecilia S., if you are reading this, was it you? If so, I apologize if I get this wrong.) How we approach winter is great practice for how we approach life in general. If we can come to embrace winter, with it's dark, bitter cold, and find real beauty within it, then we can also learn to embrace suffering in the rest of our lives and find beauty in the midst of it. That winter after I heard this, I made it a practice to look for, for the first time, beauty in winter. I found it. I found it in the white and dark blue, almost black contrast of the night. I found it in my neighbors in Eastown, as we would work together in the evenings to dig our cars out of the snow and move them to the other side of the street for the plow trucks. I found it in the snowflakes that looked more like glitter as they glistened and glided under streetlights. Every winter since, I have looked, listened, and felt for something beautiful. Within the suffering that happens in daily life, I have also looked, listened, and felt for something beautiful. I've always found it, even if it took some looking.

Yet, this winter, it seems even those who ordinarily love winter are ready to be done with it. My mom is that kind of person. She has always loved winter, but this one has been rather difficult, to say the least. Fortunately, she had a respite. She came to visit me in Kauai, and it was a wonderful week! We thoroughly enjoyed the island, and most importantly, our time together.

For me it gave me a chance to view the island through fresh eyes and experience it with the best mom ever. I was able to see through a renewed perspective why tourists have almost perpetual smiles on their faces and call our home "paradise." Yes, even in a place as picturesque as the Garden Island, shielded from ice and snow, it can be easy to get caught up in everyday life. The people here are incredible and the aloha spirit is alive and well, but they are not immune to tragedy and heartache. The needs of the parish and school take up a significant part of our days. I both laugh and grieve with my students as I share in their joys and sorrows. So the week with Mom renewed my spirit and was simply fun.


Our extra-rainy rainy season made the waterfalls even better! This is Opaeka Falls.

The sunset at Kekaha Beach, just down the road from our school and parish.
Finally, beloved,whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. -Philippians 4:8

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Have a Happy Lent


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Happy Lent!

How many times have you heard that greeting? Admittedly, it felt a little awkward for me to type it. However, to think of Lent as a dismal season is to forget that through this season we are preparing to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, that is the mystery that our Lord's passion, death and Resurrection are a single event! We cannot have the Resurrection without the passion and death; the passion and death are meaningless without the Resurrection.

Upon further reflection of this mystery, we can also find meaning in our own suffering, for God makes all things new. He can and will transform something horrible into something better than we can ever fathom! Positive psychologists refer to this reality as posttraumatic growth. This exciting new adventure in science only confirms what believers have known for centuries: that there is a silver lining, there is hope, there is perfect joy. Our journey in Lent is our journey toward this perfect joy.

From the Vatican II Document, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), we learn that "[the] season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery"  (paragraph 109). We can joyfully recall that through our Baptism we are sons and daughters of God. We are are important to our Father, and we are brothers and sisters to each other.

Knowing this, knowing that we are God's children and family with each other, can be a scary invitation. It changes everything, and leads us to want to change our very selves. Yet do we really change our selves, or do we become more authentically who we really are?

Since we are made with dignity, we are called to lives of dignity. Enter penance. When we think of the word penance, we might think of fasting and abstinence. However, Father Raffaele Pazzelli, TOR writes that these practices are "not the principal meaning of the word penance in the biblical context or meaning. It is only as secondary or derived meaning. The first meaning of penance in the biblical sense is the conversion of the heart, return to God, change of outlook, that is, a resolution for the future to follow the will of God...metanoia, penance and conversion in this context have the same meaning and are interchangeable." (The Spirituality of the Third Order Regular).

This is largely why so many of us have been encouraged to move away from giving up things like chocolate (who wants to do that anyway?) and toward things that truly lead us on the path to sainthood.

Again, I say it, "Happy Lent!"

Holiness is synonymous with happiness. So during Lent, if our focus is on becoming holier we will, as a fruit of our journey, become joyful. Our penance (our conversion) leads us to a life lived for God and others, which is exceedingly more fulfilling than living for ourselves. Again, this is confirmed in Sacrosanctum Concilium: "During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social. The practice of penance should be fostered in ways that are possible in our own times and in different regions, and according to the circumstances of the faithful" (paragraph 110)

Everyone's circumstances are different, and only you know how to spend your Lent in order to increase in holiness. No matter what though, if we resolve to "Keep Love in Lent," we will stay on the right path. God is love so the way to God is through love.

As a local community, we are taking the "external and social" aspect of penance to heart in order to increase our love and bond with each other. We are blessed to have a loving, supportive local community but we are always called to a deeper level of penance. As a result, we have added a weekly "game night" to our time together as community. I believe that we decided to play "Hand and Foot" tomorrow night.

So how are you going to Keep Love in Lent? Will you begin a weekly game night with your family? Will you start visiting your local nursing home? Will you help your friend repair his basement that has been flooded? Only you can know what is possible in your own time, in your own region, and in your own circumstances. By keeping love in Lent, despite what we may be going through in our personal lives, we can have a happy Lent.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

END IT: Shine a Light on Slavery



In July 2011, Franciscans joined together at the Franciscan Federation's annual conference and made a commitment to help end human trafficking, provide healing for the victims, and prosecution for the perpetrators. I wrote a blog entry about it the following February: Slavery Has Not Ended. It Just Has a Different Name.

 I am proud to stay that this commitment still stands today! In fact, in our Community we were asked to pray a special evening prayer for this intention on the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita. As always, we are educated about human trafficking and are asked to pay attention to any warning signs of it in our daily lives.

Human trafficking is a major problem, and the more people who have taken the time to read about it, the more lives we can save. Many times people who trafficked are hidden in plain sight. We can help give them freedom!

Lent begins this coming Wednesday. As many of you know, we are called to pray, give alms, and fast. Many times, when we think of fasting, we think of restricting our food intake. Yet the Lord calls us to a deeper form of fasting, one that requires a greater commitment:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? -Isaiah 58:6, NAB
Let us pray for all those affected by human trafficking.
Let us give alms to organizations working to end human trafficking, provide healing for victims, and punishment for the perpetrators.
Let us fast from something we'd prefer to do and instead take time to educate ourselves about human trafficking so that we can save lives.

If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry. - Exodus 22:23, NAB

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Forgive Them Anyway

There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith's goal, your salvation. - 1 Peter 1: 6-9, ICEL

As a member of the choir in our parish, I am able to attend both Mass times. It affords me the opportunity to hear the homily twice and let it really sink in. This weekend, Father Arnel talked about an aspect of forgiveness that I had never really pondered before. He said that many times people get away with doing terrible things during their lives here on earth, but they will have to face Divine Justice:

Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. - Romans 12: 19, NAB

Justice is one of the cardinal virtues and it means giving everyone their due. God is not a pushover. He made that very clear when he overturned the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. Our God is a God of love, and part of love is protecting the beloved. If we have been hurt, He finds a way to not only make things right but make them better than they have ever been before.

Knowing this certainly makes it easier to let go of our grudges and offer them up to God. Truthfully, as long as we have stood up for ourselves, there isn't much more that we can do. Some people will never experience remorse for what they've done and will find a way to blame the victim. Others will deny everything and try to get other people to think that the victim is a liar. We can always remember that the truth wins out in the end.

Forgiveness doesn't excuse their behavior. Forgiveness prevents their behavior from destroying your heart. - Unknown

By offering our wounds to the Lord and allowing His grace of forgiveness to wash over us, we can be truly free. After all, what is better "revenge" than letting our enemies see that we are still standing? That we didn't just survive but we are thriving?

I was pondering this when the following song started playing on one of my Pandora stations:



Grieving is very important, because if we don't take time to grieve we are left with a false sense of happiness. However even in the midst of darkness we can see the light and the hope from this light is an aid for forgiveness, true freedom, and perfect joy.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. - Philippians 4:8, NRSV

Friday, January 31, 2014

What? You can't have pets?!

This is an exclamation I hear frequently from young women discerning our Community. I can understand this. I know the healing power that having a pet provides. Dogs have a lot to teach us about unconditional love and loyalty. Cats, well...they are entertaining at least. So I get it and I empathize.

The next question that usually follows is, "But aren't you Franciscan? Didn't Saint Francis have a love for animals?" Yes and yes. Actually, it's our love for animals that keeps us from having them as pets. With our schedule of being gone most of the summers, and we never know when we as individual Sisters will move from one mission to the next, it is not fair to the animals to have so many frequent changes in their lives. Stability is a basic need.

It can be sad at times. I had a student last year who had a litter of puppies and offered me one. He knew the convent would be a good safe home for one of them. I had to decline. However, God cannot be outdone in generosity! He finds a way to meet our needs, both great and small. Going back to cats. Our neighbors' cats have adopted us. They probably think that we feed them mice. We find our feline friends all over our yard and garage and occasionally they try to get inside our home.

I wrote about one of the cats in a previous entry: The Queen of the Cul-de-sac. Tonight I had another visit from one of the cats....
I decided it would be fun to plant a pineapple. We heard from a friend of ours that it isn't necessary to put the pineapple in water for the roots to form, but the scientist in me wanted to see what pineapple roots looked like.


I planted the pineapple next to the one Sister Verone had planted. While I was working, this cat came right up to me, totally unafraid. She was curious about what I was doing. Finally she went behind some plants to watch. It was amazing how comfortable she was with me!

Here's hoping! They say it takes a good two years for pineapples to grow. They grow from the ground. I'm not sure that they'll survive the dry summer, but we could be in for a nice surprise come this time next year.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Just passing through....

It is ridiculously early. I am at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). After writing this, I'm going to find some breakfast. I'm looking forward to it. I love breakfast. Nothing was open yet when we arrived an hour ago. No one here looks awake yet, either, but I may be projecting my sleep deprivation on my fellow travelers. Then again, I just heard a small child say to her mom, "Here, Sleeping Beauty!"

I am on my way to the Motherhouse for our Initial Formation Weekend. It's like a mini-retreat combined with a chance to reconnect with each other. The topic is "Contemplative Prayer," and I can't wait!

Aw...said child is playing "house." She's getting her mom some spicy chicken. She's so cute!

I am thinking of my students now. I hope they and our sub have a good couple of days. I left more than enough for them to do. It was kind of hard to leave them. They gave me a group hug before I left and I had to very carefully keep my balance! If I could figure out how to box some snow to bring back, I would.

I have nothing deep to write today. Breakfast is calling.