Friday, December 26, 2014

Unlocking the 54 Day Novena

There is an event on Facebook called 54 Day Rosary Novena beginning January 1, 2015 and ending February 23, 2015.

A novena is traditionally 9 days. It comes from the Latin word novum, which means nine.

You need to mark the dates on your calendar (or keep checking the event page on Facebook). 9 traditional novenas times 6 equals 54. If you divide 54 in half, it equals 27 (9 traditional novenas x 3).

So it looks like this:

First half = 27 days (the length of 3 traditional novenas)
Second half = 27 days (the length of 3 traditional novenas)

Each day, you pray the rosary. There are no additional prayers. However, while you are praying it, you are focused on a particular intention.

The first half of the 54 Days is a prayer of petition. Focus on expressing this need or desire to God and asking for Mary's intercession.

The second half of the 54 Days is a prayer of thanksgiving. Whether things are turning out how you wished or not, you thank God for all He has done and for all He continues to do, as well as Mary for her faithful intercession. This can be where the rubber meets the road, because things may appear to be getting worse. It's a prayer of surrender.

Novenas are not magical and I believe that the 54 Day Novena illustrates that in a beautiful way. We come before the Throne of God, turning over all that we need and desire to Him.
I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. I have spoken; I will do it. -Ezekiel 37:14, NAB
In the description on the event page, there are specific prayers provided, so if your prayer style is such that you prefer praying from what has been already written, you can find those prayers there. If your prayer style is more free-flowing, or if you struggle with scrupulosity, then simply follow what is written above.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Preaching in the Parade (No Words Necessary)

This past Saturday, our school participated in the 20th Annual Waimea Lighted Christmas Parade. In previous years, I was a spectator. It was fun to march in it this time. My arm got really tired from all the waving but I loved seeing many people I knew as we walked through the streets. Most critically, the children were very excited about being in the parade!

Our Float

We had four boats that represented the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as well as the four weeks of Advent and their themes (hope, peace, joy, and love). In the middle, you can see our lighthouse sculpture and banner. To find out how we became a Renaissance Lighthouse School (an academic award) click here. As a Lighthouse school, we are guiding others to their own achievement. Our ultimate goal, however, is something that cannot be measured. We want to become saints in heaven. We are on our way and hope to bring many others along for the ride!

The littlest ones got to ride in the boats while others pulled them through the streets!
Father Arnel, Santa Claus, teachers and lots of parents were there to help! One of our preschool teachers, Kacie Pratico, is on the far right.

We had such a wonderful time and I am especially grateful for all that the parents did to make everything go so well. I continue to be edified by people. Sure there is evil in the world but there so much more that is good in it! So much aloha. I am frequently humbled and inspired.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review of the Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Episodes 5 & 6

Left to Right: Francesca, Claire, Eseni, Christie; Stacey

The fifth episode began with people at a bar commenting to the women, "You're too hot to be nuns." I was so grateful that the young women replied back that a calling has nothing to do with how someone looks. When someone says that to me, I don't know what to think or feel. I'm flattered that they find me pretty, but even more so, I feel like a mama bear for Sisters everywhere. Obviously, they haven't seen many Sisters.

Again, how someone looks on the outside has nothing to do with one's vocation. I don't even know how those two things relate to each other. It's not like married women are still available, so it can't be "a waste" to give your life to God.
"For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7b, NRSV
The remainder of that episode as well as the finale had a central question of "What is authentic discernment?" The answer is not so simple that a person just needs to follow a checklist. Every person's journey is different. Some people have been in romantic relationships before entering religious life. Some have not. Some have visited a variety of Communities before deciding on one. Some only needed to visit one or two. Regardless, when you know, you know.

As I watched the final two episodes, I was so excited for Christie and Claire! I saw so many parallels to finding my own Community and I could not be happier that they discovered where to begin formation. Not everyone can say they found their Congregation on a reality TV show, which is another wonderful example of God calling people in different ways! For those who could not watch the show, Christie discerned to enter the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Chicago, Illinois, and Claire discerned to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Kentucky.

Eseni discerned that God is calling her to be a wife and mother. She also decided to go back to school to become a pediatric nurse. She was glowing in the last episode! I was just as happy for her as I was for Claire and Christie.

As for Francesca, their discernment will continue into the future, but she seemed to get a lot out of the process and was able to inspire others. She had a warm connection with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, NY and said that she would continue to keep in touch with them.

Stacey had probably the biggest turn of events, because on the show she had said she might join Christie in Chicago, but she just tweeted the following:

This even came as a surprise to Francesca who had been discerning alongside her on the show:

Only God knows how things will turn out for these five women. Even Christie and Claire are free to end the process if they feel God calling them elsewhere. A person who enters a convent does not sign her life away and she most certainly is not brainwashed into doing so. All God asks of us is that we are faithful to Him and to love with the fullest sense of the word agape.

In my final analysis of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, I believe that it was a worthwhile program and a good introduction to the Year of Consecrated Life! I have enjoyed covering the episodes, and I am looking forward to continuing the discussion of living religious life through future blog entries.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Episodes 3 & 4

These back-to-back episodes felt rather "heavy" to me, as it brought back memories of people either leaving the convent or thinking about leaving. In these episodes, Eseni gets a surprise visit from her boyfriend, Darnell, who wants to take her home. Eseni wrestles with the decision, but ultimately decides to stay and complete the six week discernment program. This struggle sends a ripple effect toward the other women. 

There is something to be said about the bond that forms when one is going through a radical growth process with other people: they become a part of oneself. Even if it wasn't their calling to stay, when they leave, a hole always remains. One may begin to ask, "Why am I still here?" More questions may come to the surface, but ultimately, after bringing these concerns before the Blessed Sacrament, one's resolve is strengthened.

Lastly, even as I have enjoyed watching this show, I am very concerned. These five women so generously sacrificed their privacy in order that others could be inspired to become Sisters. They became vulnerable before an industry that profits on their openness. Their words and actions have been edited for our entertainment. As viewers, we are not privy to the workings of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of these women. It is not up to us to decide whether they make the right or wrong decision. Besides, initial formation lasts several years. Trust the process! 

Sister Susan Francois, CSJP, said it best: 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Epsiode 2: "We're All Broken"

In this episode, the "honeymood period" for the young women is over and conflicts begin to arise. This is the kind of thing I feared as I mentally prepared myself for this series on Lifetime. Initial Formation can be tough with many eyes watching you. Now add in millions of viewers who sometimes forget that you are not a TV character but a living breathing human being with feelings? The word scrutiny does not even begin to describe it.

I have already seen numerous cases of cyber bullying, and I never buy the excuse that "they are adults. No one forced them to do this." Because nothing prepares a person for public humiliation; it does not matter how thick one's skin was ahead of time. Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, did a courageous vlog about this issue:

That said, I enjoyed watching this episode. It was refreshingly real. The conflicts in the episode are not atypical. People enter religious life from a variety of backgrounds, and it can be hard to know what is going to trigger a strong emotion in someone else. As Sister Cyril pointed out, after sharing a story about a Sister getting upset over laundry, "It's not about the laundry." Even when a conflict seems futile, there is always something deeper going on underneath the surface. Additionally, culture shock creates heightened emotions, and everyone who moves into a convent experiences this at varying degrees.

It can be a blessing and a curse to have these kind of conflicts on TV. The blessing part of it is that the young women can watch themselves, see what they sound like to others, and use it as a catalyst for personal growth. After all, the purpose of formation is to be continually improving oneself, as I described in an older blog entry. The curse part of it is that television has a way of immortalizing moments in time. It is critical that we allow each other to change and grow! As humans, we have a tendency to lock people into boxes. This helps no one.

I also liked watching this episode because Christie gave a wonderful glimpse into her spiritual journey. She was beginning to feel spiritually dry, which is an agonizing position to be in, but in reality, there are so many graces that come from being faithful to prayer during it! Christie, if you are reading this, I have two book recommendations for you. The first is Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of Calcutta. Make sure to read the footnotes! The other is When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings by Thomas Green, S.J. Both books are wonderful resources for when God is silently working in one's life. Remember that Satan wants you to feel discouraged. Don't let him win.

I also want to give Eseni a hug. I'm proud of you for reaching out and breaking the silence. You are so courageous and strong! Be assured of my prayers for you. Sister Maria Therese was absolutely right: "All of us are broken." As someone once told me, God cannot work with us and through us unless we are willing to acknowledge our own brokenness. He told me that in his job, he works with vessels. After some time of being used, the vessels start to break down and water flows through. We are called to be broken vessels. The Holy Spirit is the water. If we are broken, He can flow through us and out to serve others more effectively.

Lastly, I loved the part at the end of the episode when the Sisters took the young women to the Holy Cow for ice cream! It was so clever to say they were taking them to a shrine! As Sister Maria Therese said, "We work hard, we pray hard, but we play hard, too."

Shameless plug: You can download an awesome Advent/Christmas song for free on my Community's blog, Franciscanized World. Every month, a new song is featured on our blog. "Awake the Voice" by Krista Detour centers around the theme of finding the meaning of Christmas in the midst of commercialism.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Epsiode 1: "I'm Not Ready!"

I first would like to say how grateful I am to be watching this from Hawai'i where TV timing isn't always accurate! I wasn't looking forward to watching this show at 10/9c, especially when it gets closer to Christmas and we'll be getting up early for Misa de Gallo. I happened to turn on the TV at 8pm, and there it was!

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the young women on the show were not actually in an initial formation program. That laid to rest a whole slew of fears I had had. It is more of a "come and see" program, or an extra long "nun run." Granted, discernment can feel intense during pre-convent days, as this episode illustrated well, but things get a bit more personal during pre-postulancy/postulancy.

On that note, there was a lot going on in this episode. My heart went out to Eseni as she described her family situation and how she feels that Sisters are peaceful and free of drama. I have met young women who are looking at religious life for that reason and it is always so sad, because what they really want is to be happy. They will find happiness if they keep working on it and perhaps find a good therapist to talk with, but it won't magically appear within the walls of a convent. Maybe they have a calling, maybe they don't, but now is not the right timing for them. As Sisters, we all are broken and we all have a past, but we didn't run away from anything. It's not a running from; it's a running to.

Additionally, there is drama in convents. One of the Sisters on the show said it well: "It's a miracle there hasn't been any murders." I laughed because I've heard that before! I personally cannot stand drama and find it to be a waste of energy. However, any time there is a lot of people with varied upbringings, personalities, and generations living closely together, there will be rumors, there will be occasional hurt feelings, and the different ways of dealing with conflict are as varied as the Sisters themselves. Granted, we as Sisters are always trying to improve ourselves and our relationships and when it comes down to it, we truly care about each other.

The young women on this show expressed this caring presence in a beautiful way when Francesca was coming to grips with having to remove her makeup. Honestly, this is a real issue and I am glad that the editors of the show did not make light of it. I will be interested to find out how she feels after six weeks of not wearing make up. To answer the question that was brought up: "Yes, we do shave!" :)

While many Communities do have their Sisters give up make up, mine included, something that should never be given up is a person's passions. It is best to find a Community where you can continue doing what you love to do. For example, I love teaching, so it would not have been a good idea to join a Community that only works in soup kitchens. I also love to ice skate, and I was surprised to learn that our Sisters ice skate on the lake in our backyard during the winter. (Click here for pictures. My apologies to Sister Anne for giving out this link! Actually, I'm not sorry though. My students had a good laugh last week when I was teaching them about winter.)

Stacey, you could keep your passion for making dolls. I would love to introduce you to Sister Caritas, our archivist and one of our nurse practitioners. She has many hobbies! We have Sisters who love the theatre and have directed plays. (The plays are in a school/camp setting though.) God finds a way to fulfill even the smallest wishes.

Finally, I'd like to address something that could be misinterpreted by viewers without a lot of encounters with Sisters. It was probably an editing issue, but you never know what people are going to think. It is true that Sisters are brides of Christ. However, this is by no means a sexual relationship, as one would naturally find between married couples.

I am a romantic person by nature. I have experienced the feeling of walking down the aisle toward my Beloved. It is a special memory that I like to hold onto, but it is entirely platonic. Our relationship with God is intimate, but it does not go beyond that.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to next week's episode!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Backwards Pilgrimage

I love going on pilgrimages. I was fortunate to be a pilgrim at World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada in 2002. While I have been in the convent, I have gone on pilgrimages with my fellow Sisters as well as with my family to a few different shrines in Wisconsin. I have Assisi on my bucket list, and I have what I consider a pipe dream of walking the Camino. I sometimes walk it vicariously through Martin Sheen in the film The Way.

Whenever I've been on a pilgrimage, I'm always grateful for the holy respite, but conscious to remind myself that God is fully active everywhere and that I can carry the graces of the pilgrimage with me. As humans, we have a tendency to believe in a spiritual geographical cure, but God is present here and now.

This week at St. Theresa Church, we had what could be described as a backwards pilgrimage. Some of you have probably attended one. The International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought here for a brief visit. One of the visionaries, Lucia, had described what Mama Mary looked like to Jose Thedim. He first made a statue of her to be kept at the shrine in Fatima. Then in 1947, he sculpted the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue that has traveled the world ever since. Instead of going on a pilgrimage to see this famous statue, the custodians of the statue brought her to us.

Isn't that exactly how God is? It is not we who seek Him; it is He who seeks us.

Yesterday, I took time to prepare my students for the visit. We watched The Day the Sun Danced.

After the video, I pulled up the Wikipedia page for us to skim as a class. As soon as I did, one of my students recognized the "somewhat credible" site and said, "Wait! This story is real?!" Another student said, "That means it's history!" (History is a buzzword in my classroom right now because that is the social studies unit we are in, and they just learned what that word means not too long ago.)

This morning, my students were wiggly on the way to the all-school Mass. I turned around and saw them peering into the Church to catch glimpses of the statue. I heard their whispers: "She's in there! I saw her!" I quickly affirmed their excitement but reminded them that we still needed to be quiet in God's house. Fortunately, we sit in the front of the Church so they got to stare at her as much as their little hearts desired. During the homily, Father Arnel called up one of the Custodians, Patrick Sabat, to share the story of Fatima and talk about the statue. My little theologians kept raising their hands and nodding their heads with elation.

Later this morning, I told my students that even though we usually pray a decade of the rosary after lunch/recess, we could go kneel under the statue and pray it, but we had to whisper the prayers because there would be other people praying. They were thrilled! While we were there, they were so reverent and prayerful. It was truly inspiring for me, and I'm sure it was inspiring for the other adults in the church, especially considering the story of Fatima.

I made sure to remind them that they were really praying to Jesus and that we don't pray to Mary but we ask her to pray for us. They nodded. I drill that into them, but it's important.

Every year, I entrust my students to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "Mary, bring them to your Son." That she does.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Anticipating Lifetime's Reality Show "The Sisterhood"

The Sisterhood premieres November 25th at 10/9c on Lifetime

I am feeling a nudge by the Holy Spirit to provide commentary on the new reality TV show that will showcase five young women as they undergo a deeply personal experience: initial formation in a convent. Ever since I began this blog, I have had the goal of giving you, the reader, a good look into our mysterious life. Now there is a TV show that promises to take care of that.

As someone who has been in initial formation for the past five years, I have my reservations about this show, particularly after viewing the preview. As one of the young women said, "It's something personal, and there's cameras here!"

Initial formation is not easy. I wrote about that topic in a previous entry: What It Means to be in Initial Formation. I can't imagine what it would be like to go through it behind cameras. 

On the flip-side, and perhaps most importantly for young women who are discerning, I do hope that the show does not focus on solely on the struggles of initial formation. It is a beautiful life and there are so many blessings that come from following God's call for your life. We spend so much time assuring people that God won't call them to a vocation unless they will be happy living it. I hope that the reality show will affirm this.

Within twenty-four hours (Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time) after each episode, I will be posting a review on this blog. I hope it can serve as an unedited supplement to the reality show. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Love of the 'Aina

For the second year in a row, I shamelessly solicited trick-or-treaters to come to our door. For those of you not familiar with the practice, it means verbally asking the parents to send their children over. We don't live in the trick-or-treating neighborhood so I take matters into my own hands. We had five tonight and they each got a huge handful of bite sized chocolate candies in their respective bags. They looked surprised at the amount of candy but they didn't realize how thrilled I was! It took everything in me not to dump the whole bowl in those bags.

So I'm having a lot of fun and I'm really enjoying teaching. The children's enthusiasm is contagious. It's fun to watch them grow academically, socially, spiritually, and personally!

Living on Kauai can carry lots of vacation-like images in people's heads, but unless you work for the tourist industry, life here is a lot like life anywhere else. A lot of my enjoyment comes from my ministry and time with my Sisters. It is very beautiful though and I love the people here!

Last weekend, I even got to spend time with some of our "cousins," the Sisters of St. Francis. They live on Oahu and they are delightful! I only wish I had more time to spend with them. I was there for a teaching seminar, so I didn't have time to sight-see, but I did drive by the Iolani Palace, which was very special for me. I said a prayer of thanksgiving that traffic was moving at a snail's pace so I could glance up at it every now and then. Knowing the history of that structure, I was simultaneously taken in by its beauty and the sadness of the loss of a great dynasty. No matter where life takes me, the love of the islands will never leave me. 

Speaking of that, please keep the people who live on the Big Island (Hawai'i) in your prayers as they deal with the lava flow. It has already destroyed a cemetery and we don't know what else could happen. Two people were arrested for getting too close to the lava flow, but for the most part people are staying far away from it. Hopefully this will all come to an end soon!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jesus Shall Carry Us

If you haven't yet, I invite you to peruse Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel. He writes in refreshingly plain language and it is quite profound. I chose a paragraph from it to be my daily message for this school year with its unforeseeable ups and downs. One line from it that sums it up well is "No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted" (paragraph #279).

This paragraph ended up being helpful right away. The school year came in like a lion as we were met with hurricane warnings. We were scared. The children were scared. We put on our brave faces for them. The hurricanes were headed directly toward the islands. Our families, friends, Community, and people we don't even know were praying for our safety. The storms downgraded, then one went below our island, while the other traveled above. The Big Island, however, wasn't so lucky. They were hit by Hurricane Iselle, and aid money has been sent their way to help pay for damages. We are so thankful for all the prayers because we believe that they helped to dissuade and downgrade the storms.

Around that time, I told my second and third graders the famous story of the Footprints in the Sand by Mary Stevenson. In this poem, Stevenson writes about Jesus carrying us through difficult times. About a week later, I was struggling to get a jam out of my "jam-free guaranteed" stapler. I happen to have a very expressive face. One of my students came up to me and whispered, "Jesus is carrying you, Sister Monica!"

My students delight me so much! I love their curiosity and enthusiasm. We are studying Earth Science and it's been fun to watch them explore rocks and soil while soaking in new terms like "erosion." The much anticipated volcanic eruption will occur this week!

I don't know what the months ahead hold for us, but Jesus will carry us when we need it. :)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Free Music from Franciscans Offers Inspiration

Update: Click here September's Song of the Month. It's a catchy song by Ken Yates

One of my passions is music. I love all kinds of music, except the yelling kind. I happen to have a really awesome Pandora Christian Rock station that I have been developing since 2008. It all began with Tenth Avenue North. I added in Jennifer Knapp, Jars of Clay, Toby Mac, Group 1 Crew, Barlow Girl and Matt Maher. Pandora fills in the rest, providing me with music by artists such as David Crowder Band, Mandisa, and Needtobreathe.

When I get tired of listening to all that, I listen to Motown Radio. I was raised in Michigan so naturally Motown music played a crucial role in my development. To date, I have never had to give a Motown song a thumbs down!

A lot of our Sisters share my love for music, and every month we provide free downloads from indie artists. If we can't work out a free download deal, you are at least able to listen to it on Franciscanized World. The Song of the Month for August is beautifully done. It is On the Road to Human Being by Kerry Patrick Clark. The message is simple but one that bears repeating: that we as humans are more alike than we are different. We all want to find meaning in our lives, but we can get sidetracked by surface level endeavors.

Kerry Patrick Clark
I think I was beginning my freshman year in high school when I had an epiphany that everyone, no matter what mask they wear on the surface, wants to be liked by others. I reasoned that there was no one standing in my way of providing (mainly nonverbal) affirmations to the people around me. A personal experiment soon became a lifestyle, and the theory became a given.

At the beginning of his book, The Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote, "You have made us for Yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." God is Love, so we were made for Love. When we show love to others, we give them a glimpse of God's love.

All these thoughts of mine stem from listening to our August Song of the Month. To listen to this song and all future free downloads, visit our Community's blog: Franciscanized World.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Summer Program

Left to Right: Sister Regina Rose, Sister Carolee, Sister Pamela Catherine (from Perpetual Vows Summer Program), Sister Theresa, myself, and Sarah (postulant, soon-to-be novice)
Every summer, we Sisters come home to the Motherhouse to reconnect, renew, and recharge. I take part in the Temporary Vows Summer Program. We take classes, have instructions, wash cars, clean windows, pick strawberries, plan the Fourth of July community events, and my personal favorite: recreate with each other. So far, we have played Pinochle, Polish Poker, Hand and Foot, Time's Up, Three Fifteen (a Rummy card game), and Ticket to Ride.
"Ticket to Ride" board game: It looks a lot more complicated than it is. It's a fun game!
Last week, we were able to travel to Shorewood (near Milwaukee) for Cor Jesu, which is Latin for "Heart of Jesus." It is a weekly gathering of young adults for Eucharist Adoration, Reconciliation, Praise and Worship, and Mass. We were amazed with how many young adults were able to come together in the middle of the week to adore Christ. If any of you live in the Milwaukee area, I invite you to take advantage of this and the other programs that the Arise community has to offer.

The class that we are all taking together has been enlightening, and I hope to write about that soon!

Friday, June 13, 2014

7 Quick Takes from My First Directed Retreat

I signed up for this directed retreat for a very practical purpose: by going on retreat this week, I would be able to do my homevisit in July. Later this month, my sister-in-law will give birth to my niece and I want a chance to meet her before returning to Kauai. I've never been an aunt before and I'm really excited to meet this little girl whom I already love dearly.

In the past, my retreats have been limited to three types: the loud youth group or Steubenville-type retreats, the silent preached retreats (where you attend talks), and the busy-student retreats that are common on colleges and universities. Yet this kind of retreat, while silent, is quite different than the others.

I decided to bring along some treats from Hawaii to share!

We all met as a group to pray morning prayer, evening prayer, and attend mass together each day. We took turns planning and leading the liturgies. We also met individually with our retreat director daily for forty-five minutes. The rest of the time we were in silence.
What I very quickly found out was that a directed retreat is personalized. In many ways, it is a more challenging retreat than the other types I have attended. It's like a hard workout: difficult, but in a good way. While I do not wish to expound on what my personal retreat was about, I would recommend the experience to anyone.

It is always recommended to continue to get some physical activity during retreats. For me, that meant rollerblading. For anyone considering joining our Community, we have great places to rollerblade here, and the best places happen to be around St. Francis Convent, where the retreat was held. Mom, I included my helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads in the picture for you. You're welcome.

One of the many things I've learned as a Sister was how to sew. I felt quite domestic as I sat sewing laundry numbers on my clothes. I am all caught up with them now.

Yet most of the time was spent kicking back and hanging out with God. Yes, my relationship with Jesus is as casual as the prayer-selfie suggests. I'm a product of LifeTeen, what can I say?

While I had a practical purpose for signing up for this particular retreat, I can clearly see how attending it was part of God's providence. He guided each of us to this week, from our fearless director in the back row, Father Gearoid (Francisco) O'Conaire, OFM to the participants: myself, Sister Regina Rose, Sister Mary Ann, Sister June, Sister Winifred, and Sister Mardelle.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Enter Like a Child

It's amazing to think that another school year has come and gone. Yesterday was our last day, and everyone seemed to be in high spirits. It didn't hurt that there was an awesome water-slide in the school yard to reward the children for making Lighthouse School! In my classroom, we also watched the movie Charlotte's Web, since my students and I had taken turns reading the book aloud.

I have some things to finish up in my classroom this week, but it's great to have a break from lesson planning and record keeping. I am reminiscing on the good times that I had with my students this year and all that they have taught me.
A rare picture of all of my students. We were at the Lodge (restaurant) in Kōkeʻe State Park.

This is probably my favorite photo of my students. Here they are joyfully running to what they called "Heaven." There is an awesome cloud formation on the top of Kōkeʻe (the mountain/volcano), and you get to be in the midst of it up there. I especially loved it because I had just read to them in religion class from Matthew 18:3: "Truly I tell you unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (NRSV). One of them had raised her hand and said, "Sister, I know what that means. It means to go to Heaven you have to be amazed by God. We children are amazed by everything. If I went to Heaven and saw God, I don't know what I'd do, I'd just be amazed!" I had never heard that interpretation of this verse before, but I believe that she was spot on! This picture proves it! I heard some tourists grumble about not being able to look down and see the Waimea Canyon and there were my students, rejoicing about being in "Heaven" with the angels! May we all become childlike.

A week from now, I will be beginning my annual five day silent retreat. This time, I will be spending it at St. Francis Convent's House of Prayer. I look forward to retreat all year. It's a great gift! If you have any special intentions, please add them to the comments section. Our House of Prayer is not open to the public but if you desire to go on retreat, there are other options for you. If you are a young woman, you can come to our Motherhouse for a discernment retreat. Anyone can find retreats elsewhere.

God bless you all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Time to Celebrate

I am proud to say that Saint Theresa School is the first school on Hawaii and the fifth school in the nation to become a Renaissance Lighthouse School of Excellence! Let me tell you: this was not easy by any means! It required diligence, grit, and optimism. As teachers we would spend hours pouring ourselves over pages of data, adjusting our teaching methods, finding incentives, and turning ourselves into motivational speakers and cheerleaders. For our students it meant pushing themselves beyond what they ever dreamed of accomplishing! Yes, it really did take their blood (paper cuts), sweat (it is Hawaii), and tears (lots of them)!  I felt like I was leading them on a major wilderness expedition as they went through a roller coaster of emotions striving to meet their individual goals. I watched in admiration as they became each other's biggest fans. They are the true winners of this award!

My students (one missing, one camera shy) showing off their hard-earned banners of Model Classroom for Accelerated Math, Model and Master Classroom for Math Facts in a Flash, and Model and Master Classroom for Accelerated Reading.
Everyone was jubilant at the ceremony on May 14th! After the ceremony, the staff and other special guests went to the home of one of our families to share an ocean-side meal under the stars. It was such a delightful, upbeat evening!

I am so appreciative of all the people in this photo! Our Principal, Mary Jean Buza-Sims is in the front, holding the trophy. She's very supportive and helpful! The next person on the right is Terri, our school's Renaissance Representative. We couldn't have done it without her. For me personally, she spent a lot of time consulting with me about my students' data and how we could help them reach their goals. On the far right is one of our city council members who showed her support and pride for our school. On the top level, starting on the left is Val Parker who helped connect our school with the Renaissance Program and wrote the grant. To her right is the Vice President from Renaissance who made the trip down here, and last but not least is Mayor Carvalho, who continues to be a major supporter of the Saint Theresa School and Community.
In my excitement, I may have left you with a few unanswered questions!

What is Renaissance Learning?

Renaissance Learning is a company that performs assessments on students and makes it easier for teachers to provided individualized instruction. Through Renaissance Learning, all students are able to be challenged in reading and math, no matter how they well they perform in relation to their peers. Since the goals for each of the students are individualized, through hard work and discipline, all students are able to meet and exceed them! My favorite part about this program is the confidence that it gives children. I will never forget hearing a student say, "I believe in myself now!"

Renaissance Learning also makes classroom and school-wide goals possible. For instance, we have eighty-eight children enrolled at our school, so we created a goal that our students would read and pass Accelerated Reading comprehension quizzes on 2,500 books.  Our students have read and passed quizzes on over 5,000 books this year!

Renaissance Learning is used in more than a third of the schools in the United States and more than sixty countries worldwide.

What kinds of programs does Renaissance Learning offer?

It's always expanding, but here are some of them:

  • STAR Assessments (Early Literacy, Reading, Math, Reading Spanish)
  • Accelerated Reader
  • Accelerated Math
  • Math Facts in a Flash
  • Keywords (keyboarding/typing skills)
What is the role of a Lighthouse School?

As a Lighthouse School, we can guide other schools to success just like actual lighthouses guide ships. As a staff we have learned so much from this process, and we are here to help others.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Exciting Things are Happening on Kauai and in Michigan!

This weekend will be the culmination of several months of planning and hard work. Our school grounds will be the destination for thousands of people from all over the island. The annual carnival is our largest fundraiser and it is truly an enjoyable time!

Here is this year's poster. I personally love it! :) 
I must have done a decent job with the face painting booth last year because I was signed up to do the same booth this year on both nights. I have some enthusiastic helpers and I appreciate this! My students have already started making requests. They are so excited for the festivities, especially as the tents have been going up right outside our classroom!

A few of my students will be showcasing their talents on stage, and the whole school will be singing "We are the World." I hope to record that! In addition, each class has been in charge of putting something together for the Silent Auction.  Sister Verone graciously created a Pinterest page featuring different Silent Auction ideas and I found one that I wanted to try: I changed a few things about it, so my class did the following:

I was really pleased with how well my student did in the process of making it and I am excited about the final product! So are my students!

If you are unable to make a last minute flight to Kauai for the carnival, there is another exciting thing going on this weekend in Farmington, Michigan! A few of our Sisters will be traveling to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish for a Vocation Day from 9:30am to 1:30pm on Sunday, April 27th. That means they will be in the Detroit Area this weekend, and are able to come to a coffee shop near you! As scary as that might seem, I can attest that each of these Sisters are friendly and easy to talk with! So if you want a latte and some good conversation about what it's like to be a Sister, please don't hesitate to contact Sister Julie Ann by clicking here and filling out the form! She'll be able to see it and set things up with you. 

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:

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: 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

Join in on the 2nd Annual Keep Love in Lent Link-up!
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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.