Friday, September 30, 2011

Discernment of one's vocation in life: not cheating oneself

Step 9 of the Ignatian method—In this step, picture yourself before the throne of God on judgment day.  Will all the work you did in coming to this decision confirm your conscientiousness in wanting your will to be in harmony with God’s will in this regard?  Or will you realize that you were trying to cheat yourself by bringing up silly reasons not to choose the vocation which, in the deepest, quiet part of your being, God is nudging you.  If true, start the discernment process from the beginning and ask to sincerely be seeking God’s will, not your own or someone else’s.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Mother Frances Streitel: Keeping her hopes alive

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—Entrance into religious life, spring of 1866: Mr. and Mrs. Streitel wanted their daughter to enter the Notre Dames, a teaching order (Walk in Love, p. 18). They did not want her to enter a religious community that lived a strict ascetical/penitential lifestyle. Neither did they want her to serve the sick—nursing in those days basically meant home nursing. In Amalia’s time the teaching profession was highly revered while nursing profession was considered less dignified (See Walk in Love, pp. 17). Remember that Amalia’s parents were of the upper class. Appearances were important to them, it seems; otherwise why would they not have been as happy if their daughter had chosen the nursing profession.  With the hope of being able to serve the sick, Amalia chose the Maria Stern Franciscans, as both professions were a possibility for their Sisters. Neither did her parents object to this choice. That Amalia’s parents attempted to control their 21-year-old daughter is upsetting to me but understandable. If I delve deeply into my psyche, I realize that I, too, can be controlling at times though I try hard not to be. I suspect that letting go and letting one’s children make their own choices is even more difficult for parents and a source of intense conflict for adolescents preparing for college and adult careers. What is your experience and what do you learn from Amalia?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Young people: the hope of our future

Today and yesterday I spent time with a young woman who is discerning her vocation to religious life and is very much attracted to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. All of us who have met her have enjoyed her immensely and she us.  This was her third visit to Our Lady of Sorrows Convent.  She was deeply touched by community life as lived here and feels at peace with us.   This is what makes vocation ministry enjoyable, as much time goes into waiting and hoping and praying with little tangible results! I pray every morning and evening that young women whom God is calling to consecrate their lives to Him will overcome whatever resistances surface within them and whatever obstacles others put in their way.  This woman is strong, deeply spiritual,  is becoming her own person, is highly motivated, is truly a leader—characteristics we look for in women seeking to enter religious life in this 21st century, qualities that certainly were key in the sisters of all religious communities who built the educational, healthcare, and social work systems throughout the U.S. in the 1800 and early 1900’s and that are thriving to this very day. 

Discernment: Step 8 of the Ignatian method

Discernment: Step 8 of the Ignatian method of discerning your vocation in life includes the following:  Having made your decision, imagine yourself on your deathbed. How would you feel about your decision then?  Should you be pleased or remorseful?  If you would be remorseful, something is askew.  Go back and review your reasons for making the choice you did.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.


Mother Frances Streitel: Conflict with her parents, becoming one's own person

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—Following the hiding-in-the-attic incident when Amalia’s parents threw a “coming out” party for their 21-year-old daughter to meet her future husband, Amalia’s parents came to the realization that their daughter’s call to consecrate her life to the Lord was not an adolescent whim that she thought up at the age of 17.  Developing independence from one’s parents—becoming one’s own person--while simultaneously respecting and honoring one’s parents is a challenging developmental task and can, at times, lead to tremendous conflicts. We don’t know exactly how Amalia handled the four years of her parents’ opposition to her vocational choice but we do know that prayer was important to her and that she lived a reflective life. So we can guess that she probably took her concerns to the Lord and confided her feelings to Him, thus drawing closer to the Lord during those tumultuous years.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Discernment of one's state in life

Discernment: Step 7 of the Ignatian method of discerning one’s state in life—marriage, religious life, the single life and/or priesthood—Imagine a person in precisely the same position as you. She seeks your opinion before making her final decision. You study her reflections, the advantages and disadvantages she’s identified and say to her: “It is quite clear (for such and such reasons) that God is calling you to________________________________.”  Then do the same for yourself as for this person who sought your guidance.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Mother Frances Streitel: the Spirit at work in her childhood

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—Being part of a family whose father was in public service--at one time, assistant provincial judge, then provincial judge and, at another time, administrator of his village/town/city (who we’d probably call “mayor”)—Amalia had plenty of self-sacrificing experiences as a child. Social events  for the Streitel family were part of being a public servant and a certain social decor was expected.  Amalia was challenged to develop the ability to welcome company and socialize with her father’s guests. Imagine that for a child who loved her solitude--a child, perhaps, who probably was an introvert. Setting aside her likes in order to be of service to her father’s demanding career, most likely strengthened Amalia’s character and curbed her natural tendency toward selfishness that exists in every human being.  What contributes/ed to your strength of character and helped/s you curb the natural tendency toward selfishness in your life?

Christ's incredible gift of reconciliation with God--the restoration of the human race by Christ

Reflection on today's Scripture, Nehemiah 2: 1-8--Artaxerxes, the Persian king, is concerned that Nehemiah, a trusted valet of his court, appears sad. He inquires about his grief.  Nehemiah, fearful of the king, finds courage, however,  to respond honestly to him--a courage given him by his God, the God of his ancestors. Saddened by the destruction of Jerusalem, the center of worship for the Jewish people, a sacred place, a place of honor, Nehemiah asked the king to be allowed to return to the land of Judah to rebuild the Temple. His wish is granted.  The destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem is symbolic of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, who was sent into the world by the Father to rebuild and transform humankind and all of creation subject to corruption by disobedience, first of all, the disobedience of Adam and Eve and, second of all, subsequently by all of us.  Our "temples" are rebuilt by Jesus. The holiness of humanity--humankind living in harmony with its Creator before the fall of Adam and Eve--is restored by Christ's death and resurrection, which each of us enters into in our baptism, dying and rising with Christ in this sacrament.  Christ is always at work in us and in the world reconciling us and all of creation to His Father and ours. Sin, death, and hell will not prevail against the Church. God will triumph in all of our lives. This is my belief. This is my hope. What is yours?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mother Frances Streitel: The seeds of her spirituality planted in childhood

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—Amalia was an intelligent, precocious child. We love those kind of children in our classrooms! Amalia didn’t just develop her intellect, however.  More importantly, she developed a sense of gratitude, an appreciation for others, as we learn in the following episode. At the age of 11, she wrote to her father: “For a long time, I have awaited this day with happiest sentiments! With ardent devotion I shall ask our dear Father in heaven today to keep you in good health, contented and happy. My whole endeavor shall be to learn as much and to conduct myself as well as I can, so that you may be well satisfied with me.”  (Walk in Love, p. 6). Imagine a child, at age 11, making the resolve to learn to be contented, to be happy, and to make choices that enhances healthiness and improves behavior. What did you as a child do to show appreciation for others, to deepen your contentment, your happiness, your health and improve your behaviors?  What did you do in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc.,  to achieve these goals? What are you doing now? What will you do this week along these lines?

Our journey into God, a journey to the "holy mountain"

Reflections on Lk 9:51-56 and Zac 8: 20-23:  How deeply compassionate and understanding is our God! Truly, God is a God of understanding,  a God of patience,  a God full of hope, a God of vision—a vision shared with us through the prophet Zachariah and Jesus. Zachariah prophesied that people from many nations will come to Jerusalem, the holy city where Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection takes place.  All will one day, in union with Christ and through Christ, experience the fullness of the redemption on that “holy mountain.”  The journey is a long one, as it was for the Samaritans, who grew to hate the Jews and in no way were ready even to touch the garment of a Jew,  much less follow them to the experience of “God with us.”   Only after Pentecost were a large number of Samaritans converted to Christ. Like the Samaritans and the Jews, our  journey to a total transformation includes periods of exile, intense anger and hatred (sometimes, hidden even from ourselves) that spill out in destructive attitudes and behaviors. God knows that Pentecost and union with Christ will happen for all of us and patiently waits as we move through the stages of grief—anger, bargaining, depression, denial, and acceptance—on our journey to Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.

Discerning one's call in life: marriage, single life, religious life

Discernment: Step 6 of the Ignatian method of discerning one’s vocation in life is to weigh every side, that is, pay close attention to the reasons for each vocation and compare each.  This puts you in a position to know which vocation is best for you.  Discuss your findings with a person you trust.  Do not rush a decision.  Before making a final decision, be sure that you are not being carried away by passion or natural inclinations. This is a search for God’s will, meaning that our human will needs to take “a back burner,” so to speak.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mother Frances Streitel: her compassionate nature developed in childhood

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—I would like to reflect a little more on Amalia’s childhood, as I believe that her spiritual formation is rooted there.  Watch children. They are totally open to the now experience, are always exploring, are, not yet, prejudiced against anyone or anything.  An open mind. An open heart.  We learn from her biographers that Amalia’s mother was “kind and energetic” (Walk in Love,  p. 5). That is a very important part of Amalia’s strength of character. We can come to that conclusion when we look at the impact of growing up with parents who are unkind and severely depressed.  Amalia assumed her mother’s compassionate nature already as a child. What of your mother’s characteristics have you inherited and given “flesh” to? Amalia’s preference of playmates were the poor children of her neighborhood (Amalia, remember, comes from a very wealthy family).  What are your attractions?  

Restoring faithfulness and holiness

In today’s Scripture reading (Zachariah 8: 1-8), the prophet tells us that God is “intensely jealous for Zion, stirred to jealous wrath for her.  Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and I will dwell within Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.”  We may not be exiled to Babylon, as were the Jewish people. Yet we are exiled, nevertheless. Exiled from a safe world, a world of integrity, a world that acknowledges God as God and man as man dependent upon God. Many Jews in exile did not believe that Jerusalem could be or would  be restored.  Perhaps, many of us do not believe it either. I do! The confirmants of one of the parishes her in NJ will be making a retreat this Thursday and Friday.  They had parishioners sign up to pray for them every hour that they are retreating. God is returning through our young people and through all of us who do acknowledge our dependency upon one another, upon God and upon prayer.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The gift of the weekends

It is Saturday. How I love the freedom of weekends. So much to be done. But, first and foremost, is a leisurely breakfast with the Sisters with whom I live—that is if they slept in as late I allow myself to do. Weekends are also a time for me to treat myself to a large dose of spiritual reading and reflection upon the Scriptures.  It is also time to explore nature, to drink in the richness of nature’s gifts: the beauty of the  forest, the landscaping around St. Francis Residential Community and Our Lady of Sorrows Convent, to take a longer walk .  And, yes, the habits of childhood return. Weekends were a time to spiffy up the house—every nook and cranny had to be cleaned from top to bottom. I think that is part of my Dutch heritage.  A clean, orderly house,  a sparkling environment was a prelude to what Sundays were all about: spending special time with the One from whom all beauty originates, inside and out.  So Saturdays was part of what made Sundays so special for me as a child. If I don’t do some cleaning on Saturday in some corner in which I live,  Sundays seem cheated in my book.  Strange, but cleaning and putting things in order are in my bones.

Who do people say that I am, asked Christ (Lk 9: 18-22)

As I was reflecting on this Scripture passage, the following thoughts came to me in prayer, as I imagined Jesus asking me the question: "And who do you say that I am?" My imagination took me to the following challenge from Jesus:
   Dorothy Ann, do you believe in me as God and Savior?
   Do you know Me as the Light in your darkness?
   Do you know Me as the Hope in your hopelessness?
   Do you know me as the Creative Energy in your accomplishments?
   Do you know me as the Energy in your motivations?
   Do you know me as the One which moves you from apathy to life?
Then in prayer Jesus reminded me of Who He is with the words:

   I am the Divine Presence that illuminates all you do.
   I am your Savior; you are saved!
   I am Strength; you are the strengthened one.
   I am the Light; you are the one brightened by my Light.
   I am the Life; you are the recipient of life.
   I am the Way; you are the one for whom I open the way.
   I am the Truth; you are the recipient of truth.

Needless to say, I left that prayer hour energized, strengthened, grateful to be an adopted child of God!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Discernment--Step 5 of Ignatian method

Discernment: Step 5 of the Ignatian method of discerning God’s will is to  list the advantages and disadvantages of  each choice: the single state, marriage, and/or religious life. In other words, what do you think would be the pros and cons, for you,  of consecrating your life to the Lord, of entering marriage (becoming a spouse/a mother) and finally of serving God as a single person?    Weigh all sides.  Pay close attention to the reasons for each vocation and compare each.  You will then be in a position of knowing which vocation is best for you. Before making a final decision, be sure you are not being carried away by passion or natural inclinations.  Discuss your findings with a qualified spiritual director, someone who has training in the art of spiritual direction, someone who will lean neither to one or the other state in life for you , does not tell you what to do or not to do, what choice to make or not make, but is totally open to what God is asking of you and, with you, is seeking God’s will.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Practicing Lectio Divina

This afternoon, in preparation for Sunday’s liturgy, I met with some residents from St. Francis Residential community to engage in Lectio Divina.  In Lectio Divina I have participants read the given  Scripture three times, each time allowing the Spirit to touch their hearts more deeply and bring the passage to life.  After each reading participants share as the Spirit prompts them to share:  after the  first reading, what word or phrase touched them; second, the significance of that phrase; and, third, what changes in attitude/behavior might  the Spirit be calling them.   We do this with each of the Sunday readings.  What a powerful experience, as the Spirit makes connections between the three readings and draws each participant deeper and deeper into the faith context of the passage. The readings, so to speak, come alive, melting the hearts, transforming one’s thoughts, and enlightening the mind. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

God in the silence

What a day!  It began with an awesome experience at the beginning of my meditation period. I went outside to enjoy the solitude of nature and feel the presence of the Lord.  I could only describe the atmosphere in terms of softness.  The air was a soft mist, a light soft gray color, warm as a soft  wool blanket, not a sound in the air, not even birds chirping in the morning mist, the soft hum of nearby traffic was the only noise.  Not a leaf on a tree stirred in the soft morning light. It truly was a “wow” experience.

As I reflected on the day’s  scripture passages, the silence was as nearly as deep. Perhaps God wanted me to steep myself in the solitude and allow His Spirit deep within me to pray on the behalf of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, our SSM Associates, our partners in ministry—that all baptized Christians—and all of our family members about to begin a new day.

Discernment--Step 4 of the Ignatian method

Discernment:  Step 4 of the Ignatian method of discerning God’s will is to pray from the bottom of your heart for the grace of enlightenment.  In this step you are asking the Holy Spirit to turn the light on within your mind—“let me see, Lord, what it is that you are asking of me.  Move me out of darkness into the light of knowing what your will is for me.” In the same token you are asking for the strength that only God can give to do that which God is asking of you and, again, with the end in mind of giving glory to God and procuring your salvation.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Amalia/Mother Frances: source of joy/thirst for justice

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—Amalia must have been very talented in languages and music, as her parents, following her elementary education, sent her to the Maria Stern Institute, an educational facility that specialized in these subjects.  Maria Stern was an educational institute of higher learning only  for the elite girls of Amalia’s day. This class system was troublesome to Amalia, as it seemed to be unjust to offer this opportunity only to girls of wealthy families.   As a student at the Maria Stern Institute, Amalia excelled in all of her subjects, but especially in French and music, was especially attracted to the study of religion and found joy in prayer, liturgy and religious studies. In prayer or solitude, reflect on the following questions: Where do you find joy? What injustices of our day are bothersome to you? What do you learn from Amalia and/or about her that attracts you to the Lord’s will for you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Step 3 of the Ignatian method of discernment

Discernment:  According to the Ignatian method, step 3  of discernment is another question-- namely, asking the Lord  in all sincerity to know the state in life you need to embrace so as to more surely attain the end for which God created you. That end, of course, is, first of all, to give highest praise and glory to your Creator God in the use of your talents, educational background, and all that makes you the person you now are and are capable of becoming. Will that best be as a mother/a spouse, a woman religious, a single person.  Second of all, the end for which you were created is to realize  your salvation purchased for you by Jesus shedding His blood and dying on the cross for you. The price was His very life, not a monetary ransom. You want to sincerely know in what state of life you will best accept this gift of salvation by the choices you make: again, will that be as a woman religious, a married person or as a single person? In effect, you are sincerely saying:  “Show me, Lord.  Your will, not mine be done.”
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Three-fold vocational call

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew, a tax collector, a sinner, engaged in a career with a bad reputation. “Who’d call such a guy to the priesthood? Who’d call a woman engaged in scandalous activity, men/men scorned by society, we ask.  Jesus, who  knows our thoughts before one of them even comes into our consciousness, responds: “I do. I come to call sinners, not righteous people” (cf. Mt. 9:  13).  Jesus condemns sin, not the sinner.  God has no favorites, we learn in another Scripture passage.  Any call from God flows from God’s mercy and love. It is God who empowers us sinners to work in His vineyard, building up “the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood [womanhood], to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4: 13).

Notice a three-fold vocational call: a call to a state in life (priesthood), a call to build up the Kingdom or the Body of Christ (baptismal call to all Christians in any walk of life) and a call to become a mature woman/man  that extends to  the full stature of Christ (again, in any state in life).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seeking God's will above all in terms of one's vocation in life

Discernment: Step 2  of the Ignatian method of discernment, in a nutshell, so to speak, was  to pray from a place of deep  inner calmness to know God’s will only and to set one’s own will aside completely.    Step 3 is a petition to the Lord, asking  the Lord to move your will toward His will concerning the vocation to which God is calling you: that state in life in which you will give glory to God and procure your eternal salvation, a gift already purchased for you at great price.  This is another way of saying to the Lord: God, I want only what you want for me, not what I want for me. Do you want me to pursue marriage, the single life or religious life (men: priesthood)?  What is it, Lord? Show me!  Then wait! (“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies”—Is. 30:15)

Passion to share God's love

 Today I spent the morning at a Diocesan Vocation Committee meeting. Vocation Ministry is a faith journey, as hundreds are not knocking at the door to enter the seminary or convent.  Yet men and women religious and diocesan priests devote their time and energy and talent to promoting church vocations. Why? Because we have been given a rare gift in our day, our culture, our world; our religious and/or priestly vocations. We believe in our vocations and we  value them highly.  Let me share with you what  one  young person recently said is attracting her to religious life: she wants to devote her entire life to the Lord, wants to do the work of God,  follow God’s will and share God’s presence with the world, especially with the youth and adolescents of today.  She also wants to spread God’s love and make a difference in the lives of others in the way others have impacted her life.  “I love God so much and want to share that love.”  Those of us in religious life have been blessed in the way this young person describes her passion to consecrate her life to the Lord.  If God is calling you to a deeper commitment to the Lord in any state of life or if you are first being called to commit your life to the Lord as a woman religious, please do take that first step. Call me! Visit me! Attend one of my discernment retreats or sessions in getting to know Mother Frances Streitel and her passion for God. Or contact any vocation director in your area. She can help!

A religious tradition that nurtured Amalia's vocation

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother—We read in one of Mother Frances’ biographies that devotion to the Sorrowful Mother was a strong tradition in Mellrichstadt, Germany, and perhaps in all of Germany. Religious traditions that impacted me as a child were weekly Mass, weekly confession in preparation for receiving the Eucharist at the liturgy, daily rosary, prayers before and after meals.  Truly, for my parents, religion and the nurturing of their faith were central to their lives. There was never a question of attending weekly Mass, come rain or shine or piles of snow. We got to church! The whole village must have been of that mindset, as winters were harsh; yet we were always plowed out on weekends, as much as I can remember. And never, never, was the rosary not a daily priority, even when we children objected!  Is it that kind of atmosphere/attitude on the part of adults in my life that fostered my religious vocation? Possibly! And, from my perspective, I am grateful.  What stands out in your childhood as positive influences to the vocation to which God called you or is calling you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not my will but yours be done, O Lord

Discernment: Step 2 of the Ignatian method of discernment is  to be totally open to what God wants, setting aside that toward which one is  personally inclined.  St. Ignatius is suggesting that the petitioner be totally indifferent, totally detached from the answer God gives when saying to the Lord: Lord, which state in life do you want of me?  Are you calling me to be married? To remain single? Or to enter religious life?  He asks that we neither desire one vocation over another but that we desire only  that which God desires of us  and to pray in that vein.  In other words, if open, our prayer might go something like this: Lord, show me what you want of me? Reveal your will to me.  In the words of Jesus spoken in the Garden: "Not my will but yours be done, O Lord." Or the words of Mary at the Annunciation:  "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your will." 
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Jubilees: Celebrating the call to grow in charity,in serving others and in intimacy with the Lord

Yesterday, in the U.S./Caribbean Province of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, we celebrated our Sisters’ jubilees, that is, in lay terms, the anniversaries of the day they vowed to consecrate their lives to the Lord and live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience and, in the words of our vow formula:  “Through the grace of the Holy Spirit and with the help of Mary, Mother of Sorrows,…seek perfect charity, placing.. [themselves] in the service of God and of the Church…”   Three of our sisters celebrated 75 years of living religious life, yes, of seeking “perfect charity…in the service of God and of the Church.”  Imagine, those of you who have been called to seek perfect charity in marriage or in the single life and who have grown in love  and in loving over the years, deeply committed to one another and to serving others!  In religious life that means growing in the virtue of loving as Jesus loved and in developing a profound relationship with the Lord.  Some of our sisters succeed in that goal in ways that lead many of us to look upon their saintly lives in admiration of what God has accomplished in them, through them and with them.  I say to anyone whom God is calling to consecrate their lives to Him as women religious, what God has in store for you is astoundingly beautiful as you resolve to allow Christ to increase in your life, as John the Baptist did, as the Foundresses and Founders of religious life have done, including the Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, who is a candidate for beatification and sanctification.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Celebrating the feast of the Sorrowful Mother with fellow Sisters

September 15th is the feastday of the Sorrowful Mother.  We Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother celebrate this feastday on the third Sunday of September.  Those of us here in NJ gathered for a festive dinner in the garden room of St. Francis Residential Community. It was great to get together and hear each other’s stories and offer support.   Sister Thomasina’s  biological sister Ehrentrudis, a widow and grandmother of four lovely grandchildren, is visiting from German y; she was our dinner guest.  Sister Thomasina, of course, is delighted to have her with her for a few weeks and says “I’ll put her to work in my office”—Sister Thomasina is a social work who is extremely generous in her service to the poor in Sussex county. Two of our sisters’ convent home was flooded during the hurricane. In visiting that home this week, I was appalled by the odor of mold and, being allergic to mold, my voice was almost silenced in less than five minutes.  Unable to fathom how the sisters living there are surviving in this environment day and night, I invited them to move into the convent where I live.  Another sister stated that the basement of Sacred Heart Church in Rockaway was flooded by the hurricane and that, some of her teachers (she is a principal of a school in the area) have difficulty taking their children to Mass during the week. The mold interferes with their ability to breathe.   These “hurricane” stories are prolific here in NJ, many families and businesses suffering serious damage to their property and significant trauma to themselves.   Please pray for everyone effected by the hurricane and that persons will continue responding compassionately to their need for help from Fema and other sources.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A mini-retreat on Mother Frances

This morning I did a mini-retreat on Mother Frances Streitel, using the DVD "Mother Frances Streitel: Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother". A significant part of this and future mini-retreats is educational, acquainting the participants with who Mother Frances is. We reflected on the very first segment of the DVD entitled "Family Life."  The participants were able to identify the similarities and differences between the childhood of Mother Frances and their own, the impact of the environment upon Mother Frances, the characteristics of her parents as reflected in the personality of Mother Frances.  It was obvious that the religious environment of her day impacted Mother Frances, for example, the traditional devotion to the pieta or Sorrowful Mother. For one participant Mary also had a central role in the spirituality of her family. That Amalia was developing a strong relationship with the Lord as a child was obvious. Already as a thirteen-year-old, Amalia wanted to belong to the Lord above all and even, at this young age, would do anything to commit herself to the Lord's will, as the creator of this DVD pointed out.  The group realized the significant role Amalia's mother played in her learning to live the Gospel life in that she taught her children to share their wealth with the poor. Some of the participants confirmed that their mother, too, played a major role in teaching them how to live the faith, becoming doers, not just hearers. Mother Frances, truly was a doer, an authentic disciple.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vocational discernment according to the Ignatian method

Step I of the Ignatian method of discernment is to think of the end for which we have been created:  1) to praise and glorify God and 2) to work out our salvation.  We have been placed on this earth to make choices both in terms of becoming the persons God meant us to become and choosing that state in life in which, over time, we will become our best selves, giving highest praise to God our Creator and working out the details of our salvation, a gift given to us at a great price: the death of His Son Jesus Christ.  Where best and how best can we achieve these goals and come to know Jesus personally and develop a deep friendship with Jesus, our Savior, both of which are necessary if we are to reach our end: glorifying God and achieving our salvation, that is, accepting the gift of salvation and all that is necessary to realize this gift, our complete transformation into Christ Jesus, a life-long task.
Source: Discernment of Spirits by Warren Sazama, SJ, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago, IL 60615.

Mother Frances: taught to serve, to give of self, and to live a life of integrity

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother: Amalia’s siblings, like herself, were highly educated. Both her brothers chose military careers and rose to high ranks. Her sister Hedwig, like Amalia, was educated by the Maria Stern Institute in Augsburg, also earned a teaching certificate and entered the teaching profession.  Amalia’s siblings looked up to her and maintained a close relationship with her throughout her life.  Amalia, as we will learn more of later, and each of her siblings, pursued careers and lifestyles that demanded self-confidence, integrity, and self-less giving. The stamina to achieve high standards was rooted in their upbringing as children. Both parents, themselves, were high achievers: her father as a husband, a father and a judge; her mother as a spouse, a homemaker and an educator/trainer of her children.   When I reflect upon my life, I, too, realize that much of my strength of character as an adult and my expectations that I strive for ever higher quality in ministry,in community life  and in relationships stems to the values modeled by my parents. What about you?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Discernment: How can I gain clarity about my vocation?

Discernment:  Many times, I get the question: “How do I know whether God is calling me to religious life? There’s an attraction to religious life but how do I really know for sure?” One of the ways to arrive at  some clarity and a deeper knowing is to explore all vocations—religious life, single life, and/or marriage.  Take time to look at your hopes and fears of each. For you, what are the pros/cons of marriage, of religious life, of the single lifestyle? Take time in a prayerful atmosphere, a time of solitude and quiet to answer those questions for yourself and do so in writing.  Then, talk to someone you trust about what surfaced for you. Or email me—I’d love to enter into a dialogue with you about your findings!  Or if you are in the area, drop by and talk with me.

Mother Frances Streitel: as a student, her values, her call,her desire questioned

Thursday, September 15, 2011: Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother: Let’s look at some other details of Amalia Frances Rose’s life both as a child and as an adolescent. . As an academic student, Amalia’s leadership qualities were recognized, even though she was a quiet student.   She was bothered by the class system of her day— persons who belonged to the elite and grew up in well-to-do families were afforded a higher education not accessible to other children. As a student of the Maria Stern sisters, who ran an academy for such children, she loved the study of religion and also excelled in French and music.  In 1862, she earned a certificate in teaching.  It was in August of 1862 that she wrote in her journal: “Call to religious life.” I believe she returned home following the acquisition of this teaching certificate, believing that her next step would be, not to seek a teaching position, but to pursue this call to religious life.  Her desires were thwarted for four years, as her parents who initially believed that this desire might simply be an adolescent whim. Ever have your deepest desires dismissed as a whim that will not last and that, certainly, should not be taken seriously by adults in your life? More tomorrow!

Being compassionate as Mary was

Feast of the Sorrowful Mother:  In prayer this morning, I was reminded that people are nailed to the cross every moment, in agony, by the acts and words,  the deafness and blindness,  of others. The questions I was confronted with were: Can you be there when my Son asks that of you? When your God calls you to show compassion and support , can you do that without striking out at the source of that person’s suffering whether of his/her own doing or coming from others, without condemning that person or those causing the suffering?  Can I stand in the midst of “violence” without resorting to “violence” in words or deeds, without condemning anyone, neither the “crucified” or the “crucifiers”? I was reminded that neither Mary nor Jesus lashed out at those who were crucifying Him. Jesus said: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.”  Do I realize that those who do or say things that hurt another human being usually do not realize what they are doing? Who would intentionally kill the spirit of another human being, seriously cripple anyone’s self-esteem, self-confidence, initiative and creativity? Probably no one, really.  Like Mary, can I stand with, show compassion and give support to “the wounded” without causing further damage by lashing out, ranting and raving, doing violence myself?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mother Frances Streitel: her childhood experiences and influences

Wednesday, September 14, 2011:  Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, aka Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, had two brothers and a sister. Her oldest brother Adam was two years younger than she, Hermon, 7 years younger, and  her sister, Hedwig, 9 years younger. One of Mother Frances’ biographers states that she was a strong-willed child and had a willful temper.  Imagine her relationships with her siblings, given that information.   From this same biographer, we learn that punctuality and order characterized the Streitel home. Thus, I believe, Amalia learned to be respectful of other people’s time and space and probably also learned how to handle her willfulness in a way that maintained the order that her parents expected of her and between her and her siblings.  She was taught the art of homemaking and of decorative needle work, excelling in the art of embroidery, an activity that can have a very calming effect upon the craft-person.  How would you describe yourself as a child? How would you characterize your home environment and what impact did that have on your formation? What skills were you taught by your parents?

The mystery of life of identical twins

Yesterday I celebrated the birthday of my identical twin and I.  Unfortunately—or for my twin Doris fortunately—my twin died of a freak accident at age 2 ½.   I reflected on the fact that a fertilized egg split into two human beings: two persons who looked very much alike—I am told it was difficult to tell us apart and relatives who view pictures of us as toddlers and think they know who is who will say:   “You were skinnier than Doris.” Perhaps because I only weighed 2 ½ lbs when I was born and she 3. That I survived birth was not expected and yet in the mystery of life I am here and Doris is in eternity.  I reflected on the mystery of our lives. Before we were born, according to the psalms, our days here on earth were numbered. Hers a mere 2 ½ years. Mine? I have celebrated 70 birthdays without her physically with me. The pain of that separation, at times, is still felt—more so as I grow older, for some reason, though spiritually we are very intimate with one another.  The mystery of life: both of us have been created for a reason, a mission that no one else can accomplish in our stead. And both of us, though we looked so much alike that persons had a hard time figuring out who was who, would have been called to develop unique personalities, discover our unique talents and interests in life and follow God’s will that, also, would have been separate from each other. What a mystery! And what a gift to be an identical twin, even though physically apart for most of our lives.  In her spirit self, Doris is always with me!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The value of community living

Yesterday I was engaged in three meetings, all of which make me proud to be an SSM: one with my local community, another with the two combined local communities here in NJ and another at the parish where another sister and I worship and serve on Sundays.  My local community met for renewal, at which we reflected upon one of the virtues of Mother Frances, namely that of prudence.  We were amazed at the way our Foundress practiced this virtue and the number of persons who gave testimony of this fact.  She was prudent in all of her dealings whether conducting community business with the laity or priests associated with the community or assuring that the values of religious life and community building were being respected by the sisters.  What an example to all of us. What also inspired me during this meeting was listening to each sister share the highlights of her summer experiences. Not only did the experiences touch me but so, too, did the respect given each sister.  The meeting of the combined local communities focused on the positive impact of the visit of our general superior with each member of the province. She, too, is a woman of great prudence  who also lives a deeply spiritual life.  We concluded that meeting with a resolve of how we here in NJ can continue to improve our ways of living out the charism of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother.   The two sisters with whom I live closed the day by attending an ecumenical prayer service at St. Matthew’s Parish in Randolph, NJ,  to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 and pray for those who lost their lives on that day and the survivors of that day who carry the burden of grief to this very day.

Mother Frances Streitel: the origins of her faith

Mother Frances Streitel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother: Before we look more deeply into Mother Frances following her call to religious life, I would like to reflect more deeply upon the elements in her family life that, I believe,  prepared her to be open to the Lord’s will for her.  Her mother was a very conscientious Christian who lived her faith, not only by participation in the Eucharistic liturgy and the other sacraments, but she also passed her faith on to her children by teaching them to pray and to cherish the Scriptures that were read and preached at each liturgy. Is it possible, also  that the Bible was more than a shelved book in the Streitel family?   I wonder that based on the fact that Amalia as a little child attempted to understand what the Scriptures meant when it said that Jesus would draw all things to Himself when He was lifted high upon the cross.  She must have learned the art of reflection upon the things of the Spirit from her parents. Amalia’s mother also taught her children to be concerned that the poor had food to put on their tables—Amalia would go with her mother when she brought food to the poor.  Love of nature--its beauty, its solitude--was also a value instilled in the Streitel children. What familial elements have led you to the Lord and/or deepened your faith?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mother Frances Streitel: What her parents passed on to her

Our personalities and character are shaped in part by who our parents are. Amalia’s  parents were strong individuals. Her father, Adam Streitel, pursued the legal profession, a break in the  tradition of  family members choosing a  career in forestry set  by 5 generations.  To choose something different from family tradition, I believe, takes a lot of strength and can be met by strong opposition. That her father was his own person, acted on his beliefs, is again confirmed when later in life he retired early rather than go against his faith when the government of his time wanted government officials to back a decree whereby church properties were seized.   We see this same strength to stand up for what she believed when Amalia’s parents opposed her call to religious life to the point of choosing her future mate, a promising young lawyer. Amalia, we are told, hid in the attic of her family home  all dressed in the formal she wore for that night’s momentous occasion.  How strong is my faith to oppose those who want something of me that is against my conscience?

Bearing good fruit, nourishing our faith

Saturday, September 10, 2011:  Today’s liturgy speaks about a good tree bearing good fruit and a bad tree bearing bad fruit.  In every fruit-bearing tree is a seed: apple, pear, plum, chestnut, apricot, banana, breadfruit, mango, oranges, etc. The fruit does nothing but await the nutrients the tree feeds it: water, sun’s rays, and its own sap or the nutrients from within the tree. Within you and me, a seed was planted by God’s creation of us. We are all created in the image of God. That image grows at its own pace, as does the apple, orange, mango, etc.  Besides the gift of being created in God’s image is the gift of faith given many of us at our baptism.  This seed also grows, if we give it the nourishment  it needs. And it grows, also, at its own pace. My faith today is very different than my faith as a adolescent, for instance.  The question is:  Am I providing the nourishment my faith needs every day to grow into a “strong oak”: prayer, solitude, the sacraments, reflection on the Scriptures, and relating to others in the events of each day in a way that my actions and attitudes are life-giving and flow from the power of the Spirit at the core of my being?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mother Frances Streitel

Amalia Frances Rose Streitel,  aka as Mother Frances, Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother,  grew up in the Western part of Germany, at the foot of the Thuringian Forest and the Rhoen mountains in a town of about 5000 persons (the population today is around 6,000). The environment abounds with beauty. Picture yourself in a opulent forest surrounded by mountainous terrain, stretches and stretches of pristine foliage.   What a gift nature is to all of us who long for the solitude and spectacular experiences of the out-of-doors.  There is a saying that goes like “Nothing is more like God than solitude.” Nature abounds with silence. Hikers, mountaineers, outdoors persons, landscapers and others absolutely love it, seek it, drink it into the marrow of their bones. Amalia did, I believe, and it may have been this closeness to God through nature that nurtured her faith. What nurtures yours? Tune in for more tomorrow!

A choice: Focusing on other's faults or transforming one's own

This morning I meditated on today's Gospel (Lk 6. 39-42). Last night when the sisters I live with shared faith based on their reflections of this passage, I was touched by the opening phrase another emphasized: "Can a blind person guide a blind person?" All of a sudden I realized that the statements that follow this describe how I become blind, that is, when I am focusing or obsessing about the mistakes others are making, or I think they are making, complaining about their weaknesses, I am then actually blinded--that plank in my eyes fogs my vision of what God asks of me. While criticizing others, I am not engaging in constructive behaviors/attitudes that will make a difference today in building a Kingdom of peace and justice and love by what I do or say or leave undone or unsaid.  I cannot serve that part of me tearing others down and also serve that part of me called to build the Kingdom.  I cannot simultaneously follow good spirits while serving evil spirits.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Special people, blessings

We just celebrated several birthdays of sisters with whom I minister here in NJ. There are several of
SSMs celebrating birthday this month. This led me to thank God for His creation of us and of
 of people who cross our lives. One such person in my life is Amalia Frances Rose Streitel, aka Mother Frances, the Foundress of my religious community. Amalia was born on November 24, 1844. It was a dreary, gray day.  As was the custom, she was baptized that same day. In spite of no sun, the room lit up like a Christmas tree and the priest quoted Scripture, asking: “What will this child turn out to be?”   As mind-bottling as her baptism is her life with God. The same is true of each of us, even if the room in which we were baptized did not burst into unexplainable light! More tomorrow!

Happy Birthday, Mary--a woman who cooperated with God's plan of salvation

Today we celebrate the birthday of our Blessed  Mother. No ordinary birthday, to say the least.
Here is a woman who always said “yes” to God’s plan of salvation. Her “yes” was not an easy yes.  She risked her life when she said “yes” to the incarnation, to allowing God to use her womb to give human form to His Son, whom He was sending into the world to carry out His plan of redemption. He was not going to lose any part of His creation. His love for us was too great to let that happen. Yet, God has given each one of us a free will. We can say “yes” or “no” to our salvation and to what it takes to choose that which leads to eternal life with God, to eternal happiness, to eternal peace and, in the meantime, to peace with ourselves, with others and with God.

 Mary believed in God. She accepted His plan and did not ever thwart it. She sums it up at Cana when she said to the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.”  Do I do whatever God tells me? Do I even take time to inquire of God what His will is for me or do I just plow ahead each day doing my own thing? And when obstacles come—I don’t get my way—do I simply rant and rave, become quarrelsome instead of stepping back, taking time to reflect and pray about the situation that I am ranting about?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A mini-retreat opportunity

I just completed a mini-retreat on Mother Frances, the Foundress of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. I am very excited about it. I will be offering this retreat (two hours in length) here at Our Lady of Sorrows Convent, 9 Pocono Road, Denville, NJ, on Sept. 17th from 10:00 to noon.  I will be using the Mother Frances DVD, section I, "Her Childhood."  We will view this section of the DVD three times, listening to what happens within our deepest self as we view the scenes and listen to the narration.  It is awesome, let me tell you.  We will then reflect on how our childhood compares to Amalia's (similarities/differences), imagine ourselves being a member of Amalia's family and what that might be like for us. We will then imagine that someone creates a DVD of our childhood: what would be the environmental, the family, and the religious/spiritual highlights.Finally, we will imagine what  the author would say about us as children. The retreat experience will end with us writing a thank-you letter to God, expressing our gratitude for our childhood, its memories and highlights. If interested, call me at 973-627-0424 or email me at

God's compassion and blessing

September 7—Today’s responsorial psalm reminded us that God is compassionate toward all of His works. That means that God is compassionate toward you and me. God understands the challenges we face as human beings to live as Jesus lived: being nonjudgmental; caring toward the oppressed, those who are crippled emotionally and/or physically, the hearing impaired, the mentally challenged, the needy, ourselves, children and adolescents when they test our patience.  Jesus says to us in today’s Gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” We might translate that into “Blessed are you when you know how dependent you are on me.” To be compassionate as Jesus was we need His intervention; we need grace.  Neither do we develop a sense of compassion without being in relationship with others. Therefore, to put on Christ, we need one another as much as we need God. We do not grow spiritually in a vacuum or by isolating from others and from the challenges of life.  Being poor in spirit and therefore blessed means that we depend upon the Lord and one another, that we believe in the goodness of God, in our own goodness and the goodness of others.  For me, this brings me to the foot of the cross, begging for God’s mercy and His help and thanking Him for the grace of redemption .

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Meditation: a gift of incredible value

The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, according to their Rule or Constitution, set aside a minimum of 30 minutes each day for meditation upon the Scriptures or another source of spiritual nourishment. This morning I meditated on the first reading of today’s liturgy (Col.2:6-15). What an awesome reading in which we are reminded that we share in the fullness of the diety in human form in Christ Jesus.  We share in the fullness; we do not, obviously, possess the fullness. But even to share in the fullness of the diety is awesome.  How is it that we are given this gift? St. Paul  tells us that, on the cross, Jesus took our transgressions upon Himself, obliterated them,  removed them, nailed them to the cross.  All that causes death was nailed to the Cross with Christ and all that causes new life in God was raised to life with Jesus. In baptism, we, too, die and rise with Christ. The self that was alienated from God and the things of God by sin and selfishness, greed and lust for power, prestige and worldly pleasures—the allurements of the world, worldly philosophies and ideologies—was buried with Christ at our baptisms.  We rose with Christ through the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. The self that rose with Christ is a new self. We put on Jesus Christ in baptism.  We are now rooted in Christ Jesus.  Our hearts have been circumcised , that is, we underwent a spiritual circumcision, not a physical one.  Our hearts, not a physical part of our bodies, were changed by baptism into Christ.  By dying and rising with Christ in our baptisms and through the faith that was given to us in baptism,  we are now spiritually dead to sin, selfishness, worldly philosophies and ideologies, jealousies, lusts for power, prestige and popularity, fear of death (saving the self, not losing it in love, in truth, in purity). We rose with Christ transformed into new persons, reconciled to God and to one another. What a grace!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vocation: a precious gift from God

I am preparing for our monthly renewal day--every month Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother set aside a day for prayer, spiritual reading, reflection and discussion. This coming year, my local house community has chosen the first Sunday of each month for this experience.  As I prepare to lead this Sunday's day of reflection, I am reading an article in the HORIZON magazine, a resource for Vocation Directors.  I am at awe as I read about one religious community that numbered 10 sisters, the youngest being in her late sixties,  had made a decision to no longer accept candidates, who sent an 80-year-old sister to the Orientation Program for New Vocation Directors sponsored by the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC). Puzzled that she would be attending this orientation program since her community had made the decision to cease accepting new candidates, the Director of NRVC asked her the obvious question: why are you here, then?  Her response was:  "Because we have chosen not to accept, does not exempt us from the responsibility of promoting what is most precious to us, which is the gift of our vocation. Even though my community will some day no longer be here, my community will live on in other communities through the men and women I hope to send to them. This isn't about my congregation. It's about the church. It's about religious life."  What a privilege as Vocation Director for the U.S./Caribbean Province of the Sisters of the Sorrowful to promote what I so strongly believe in: that all vocations are a call from God, a gift from the Almighty, and, above all, a gift that uniquely fits the person to whom God gives it!  I want young men and women to find that treasure. I did!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Believing in the face of tragedy

September 1, 2011: The sad news about Hurricane Irene abounds here in the Eastern States. The good news is that the flood waters are receding.  Thousands of businesses have sustained considerable losses and are wondering how they will survive. Just as God witnessed the dire straits of the Israelites in Egypt and called upon someone to take up the task of leading them out of a destitute situation, so, too, God is sending persons to help. God cares as much today for persons devastated by nature’s fury as He cared for the Israelites oppressed by Pharaoh’s cruelty. God weeps, I believe, with those who weep and is stirring up the hearts of neighbors across the country to reach out in compassion to provide in whatever ways possible.

As we deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, today’s Scriptures are consoling. They tell the story of Peter being asked to cast his net into the deep. He objects, saying “Lord, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing,”  but if you say so, we will try again. People’s nets are not only empty, they are ripped apart by Hurricane Irene--that for which families worked hard all their life has been snatched from them .  What they “caught” over time is gone, swept away in the flood waters. “Try again! Start over, find another way”—“cast into the deep” are probably not happy thoughts right now! 

 In times of disasters like this one, the only thing most people have to cling to is their faith in a caring, merciful  God.  That was true of my parents, who, as farmers, often struggled to make ends meet. That was certainly true when bills piled up as cancer ravaged my mother’s life and stole it from her a month after she turned 50, leaving four elementary-grade-school children without a mom.  Hours before she died, my mother writes to me: “When I get out of here (Sacred Heart Hospital in Tomahawk, WI), I am going to get a job so we can make ends meet.” In the face of death itself, she did not give up hope. Many people whose livelihood has been destroyed by Hurricane Irene are saying:  “We will survive. We will find a way. It may be tough for a while but we will come out of this.”  What strength rises within the depth of one’s being, where the human spirit meets the Spirit and the power of God.  What inspiration people with faith and trust are to a world marred by tragedies.