Pentecost has always been a special time for me, though wrapped in mystery. I remember as a little girl in the Lutheran church learning, to my great surprise, that it was the second great Christian celebration in the liturgical year, trumping Christmas! How could that be possible? I couldn’t really grasp at that point how Easter even trumped Christmas (hard-boiled eggs don’t stand a chance against candy canes in my books), much less Pentecost. There were no parties for Pentecost, no family gatherings, and no special meals. Church wasn’t even much different than normal. What was the big deal, anyway?

As I look back, my disbelief doesn’t surprise me, as there was a pretty serious disconnect between what we said and what we did regarding Pentecost. Despite what we said, Pentecost just wasn’t as important as Christmas. It ranked somewhere between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July: we remembered it, we went to Church, and we moved on. While both Christmas and Easter were preceded by special seasons of preparation, Pentecost wasn’t.

Things changed a bit when I became Catholic. Then I attended a Pentecost Vigil Mass for the first time, at a parish with a great devotion to the Holy Spirit. I still remember the holiness, the specialness of the Mass – the whole atmosphere was charged with expectation, with the feel that anything could happen next. Most of the congregation was dressed in red, and the church was packed to the rafters and lovingly decorated. I remember the prayers of the faithful, read in all different languages, the incense, the music, and the joy of all present. Finally I saw Pentecost as counting. It really did matter.

This sense has only grown in me as time has passed. In fact, now it seems to me that Pentecost does have a preparatory season: the Easter season, of which Pentecost is both a culmination and apex. You could even say that Pentecost contains within it all the other great celebrations of the liturgical year. It completes the unveiling of the Messiah’s name and mission begun in the Annunciation, inviting all the nations to learn the name of Jesus, first heard by Mary from Gabriel’s lips. Like Christmas, it celebrates a birth – only now, instead of the human body of Jesus, we honor the mystical body of Christ, the Church born after a period of silent, prayerful waiting. Pentecost develops the proclamation heard at Christ’s Baptism, “you are my beloved son” and extends those precious words as an invitation to all who receive the Spirit of adoption in baptism. It announces in many more tongues what was written on Christ’s cross on Good Friday in three languages, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The coming of the Spirit also reminds us of and completes the joy of Easter: the One whose Spirit has filled the infant Church with such life is certainly risen, as he promised.

Our community will be ushering in the Holy Spirit
with the extended form of the Pentecost Vigil Mass, as we have since it became available for use with the new edition of the Missal. This is a lovely end to the Easter season, forming with the Easter Vigil a sort of frame for the whole time. It is a great source of joy to me that this occasion doesn’t feel stale, forced, or old, despite the fact that we seem always to be calling down the Holy Spirit, imploring him to come and fill our hearts. I attribute this constant newness to our community’s love for Our Lady, who teaches us to await and to receive the Holy Spirit. Recently, I was at a votive Mass for Our Lady of the Cenacle, and was captivated by the words of the preface:

"She who waited in prayer for the coming of Christ is still at prayer as she calls upon the promised Paraclete; she who was overshadowed by the Spirit at the incarnation of the Word is once more filled with your Gift from on high at the birth of God’s new people. As she keeps vigil in prayer, her heart on fire with love, she is the model of the Church, enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and keeping watch for the Second Coming of Christ.

Wow! No matter how much Mary has received of God’s life, she is always longing for more, waiting for more, praying for more. May we imitate her as we prepare for and celebrate Pentecost, and may the Holy Spirit “whom the Father sent as the first fruits for those who believe, bring to perfection his work in the world”.

-Sr. Agnes Therese Davis, TOR

“Sister, I have a question.”

These words fill me with a whole array of emotions: fear, curiosity, trepidation, excitement, and eagerness. 

And I must say, I hear these words a lot – most especially on the days when we journey to Athens, OH to be present for activities at the Newman Center at Ohio University.

Just last week, Sr. Maria Pio and I went down for the last Newman Night of the semester. As dinner was wrapping up, a freshman girl came and sat next to me, looked me in the eye, and said it: “Sister, I have a question” – and we were off! 

We passed through a whole range of topics in the next twenty or thirty minutes, from the nature of prayer (Why do we pray at all? What if God doesn’t want what we want?) to questions about our duty to be informed about our faith and its teachings (Can’t I just, like, turn the other way and not think about it?). By the time we finished our conversation, about ten students were at my table, their posture (leaning forward, staring intently) indicating that they were serious about what I was saying, that they cared, that they knew they needed to know. As we wrapped up, several students expressed their gratitude, “Everyone wonders about this stuff, but nobody ever talks about it,” they sighed.
Being a sister and wearing a religious habit is a little bit like walking around wearing a sign that says, “Ask me all of your existential and/or religious questions! I have all the answers!” I can’t hide from people. 

And while it can be exhausting to field the world’s questions and humbling to have to admit that I don’t have all the answers, it is a sacred burden to carry, and I do so with gratitude and reverence.

But I have also been thinking that it shouldn’t be just religious who take the questions of the world into our hearts. Indeed, the document Gaudium et Spes from the Second Vatican Council seems to feel the same way, opening as it does with these lines, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”
We who follow Christ – lay and religious alike – are called to take into our hearts the joys, hopes, griefs, anxieties, and questions of our neighbors. 

And who is my neighbor? 

The guy in the cubicle next to mine, the lady who checks out my groceries, the kids in my children’s class at school, the waiter who takes my order – these are all my neighbor. 

So often we are afraid to let these people into our hearts or we are afraid to enter theirs because it seems too difficult; the cost seems too high. So we don’t talk about the stuff we wonder about. We don’t invite real conversations. The most speculation we do focuses on the question of whether it will rain tomorrow. We keep things on the surface, where we feel safe.

Christ invites us to more! 
Christ invites us to cast into the deep. 
He invites us to leave the safe relationships and safe conversational patterns that we’ve grown accustomed to and to journey into the hearts of our brothers and sisters. 

Let’s not be afraid to ask the real questions in our hearts, and let us not be afraid to be asked questions. 
-Sr. Agnes Therese Davis
Some sisters like to say that our simple way of life makes us easy to entertain. It's another way of saying that our simplicity makes us childlike. It opens our eyes to the miracles that are of the everyday variety - like Chesterton's God who cries, "Do it again!" before each new sunrise.

Birds hatch all the time. But that doesn't make it any less of a miracle, especially when we come close and can see it with our own eyes!

This is our second year witnessing the growth of a killdeer family at our motherhouse. Last year, a killdeer couple decided to build their nest near our driveway. This year, they were a little more prudent and built it a little further from traffic - in the grass behind the professed house.

Now, one of the things about killdeer is that they build nests on the ground. Yes, on the ground. It sounds pretty vulnerable ... until you learn the other thing about killdeer. They have a system of defense that is nearly incomparable in the birdie class. The mother guards the nest (with a rather threatening and ear-splitting cry) while the father distracts all predators away with an elaborate "hurt wing" show. This is really quite entertaining in and of itself (It would also be admirable if it were not for the fact that the bird is not virtuous and performs this self-sacrificing act merely out of instinct).

This being the second year, some of the especially enthusiastic sisters attempted to predict when the four little killdeer eggs in the nest would hatch, based on last year's numbers, and were often found checking the nest as the climax approached.

That brings us to the evening of Mothers' Day, a few days ago. I was out planting the kitchen garden with Sr. Della Marie. We decided to move a particular bean plant to a place that faced the east and would get more sunlight. Sr. Della Marie moved it and happened to glance over at the killdeer nest (she being one of the aforementioned enthusiastic sisters). Her intuition told her something was afoot, er, a-cracking.

She called to me: "The eggs hatched!" I echoed her call to two nearby studious novices. I regret to say my temptation was a welcome one to them : ), and we all soon joined Sr. Della Marie in oohing and aahing at the 3 baby killdeer who were quickly morphing from wet, ugly aliens to cute fuzzballs with little dinosaur feet. The fourth stubbornly remained in its shell, and night prayer called us into the chapel.

But the next morning, as soon as we finished morning prayer (we have no more than 15 minutes' break between morning prayer and Mass), sisters went to the nest, summoned alike by that childlike wonder and desire to see. This time the crowd had grown, since news of the hatching had spread like wildfire at the motherhouse (I regret to add, some spread just before or during grand silence : ) ).

And it was just at that moment that the fourth killdeer chose to emerge. Well, since we know the birds are driven by instinct and not by choice, I must say our heavenly Father chose to grant His daughters a wonderful gift: witnessing a bird break freely into this strange, beautiful world.

It was a surreal experience. I felt privileged to see what seemed to me such a sacred thing. It spoke volumes of the awesome gift of life we share with all God's creatures - even more of the new spiritual life we have in Christ. It was really something to ponder. And you should have seen the joy we sisters shared in that 15 minutes!

I do have another regret ... we frightened the parents out of their wits (or lack of). But no harm was done; we went to Mass and they instinctively returned to the nest.

I wish I could say, "Do it again!" Maybe next year?

-Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.

A few months before I entered community, I received a list of things that I could bring with me to the monastery as well as a list of our policies. My roommate at the time was discerning marriage and she and I were looking at this list together.

She began to "canonize" me as she stared in awe at the paper and all that I would be giving up.  I thought I was pretty holy myself and accepted the canonization graciously with what I thought at the time was humility : ).

There were three things that I specifically remember her “canonizing” me for. The first is that she couldn’t get over the fact that I had to wake up at 5AM every morning (We both loved sleep!). That was quite heroic and worthy of a martyr’s crown!

She also mentioned to me how hard it would be to not have the freedom to just hop into a car and go wherever you want (a prisoner for Jesus!).

Lastly she came to the realization that I will lose the freedom of winding down at dinner with a glass of wine or drinking a beer while watching football.  (Of course there would be no football to watch in the monastery either).

Under the pretense of humility I listened, nodding my head and saying to myself, “I really am a martyr.  … Bring on the canonization!”

Four or five years later, my old roommate and I were talking on the phone during one of my home visits.  She had gotten married and had two or more children at that time.  We were mutually sharing the joys and struggles of our vocations.

She began to recall the day that she canonized me and all that she had said. She laughingly began to take back her canonization as she said, “Do you realize that I now wake up not just at 5 AM, but at midnight, at 2AM, and at 4AM?  I never get a full night’s sleep since I have had children.”  She went on, “And I never get to leave my house because I have three little ones that I have to dress and bring with me.  There are days when my patience won’t allow it.”  She topped it all off by saying, “And do you realize that I haven’t had a glass of wine since my honeymoon because I have either been nursing or pregnant?”
my college roommate and her family

Oh, the beauty of motherhood! What we both had in common was our motherhood and it was beautiful to see! I had always wondered why most men’s religious communities had more freedoms than women’s.  Many are allowed access to alcoholic beverages more than three times a year and they very often sleep later than we do. 

Men are not mothers.  They are fathers.  Their fatherhood requires different sacrifices.  

I made a striking realization: Every time I wake up early it is to nurse spiritual life into the souls He has given me.

Every time I feel the sacrifice of not getting to hop into the car and go where I want to go whenever I want, I am making a home for my spiritual children.

Every time I feel the pinch of not having a glass of wine at dinner or a cup of coffee in the morning, I become aware that I am pregnant with my spiritual children or am nursing them.  

That conversation called me on in our life of penance and sacrifice to be the mother I am called to be and not neglect my spiritual children. I recognized in a deeper way how the penances we voluntarily take on are intrinsically linked to our call to spiritual motherhood. 

He called us from the beginning of time to cooperate with Him in giving birth to spiritual life in the souls of His children. St. Thérèse said:

“While in the world I used on waking to think of all the pleasant or unpleasant things which might happen throughout the day, and if I foresaw nothing but worries I got up with a heavy heart.  Now it is the other way around. I think of the pains and the sufferings awaiting me, and I rise, feeling all the more courageous in proportion to the opportunities I foresee of proving my love for the Lord, and of gaining, mother of souls as I am, my children’s livelihood.”

Edith Stein says that “It is the destiny of every woman to be bride and mother,” whether that be manifested physically or spiritually.

It has been a beautiful experience to have a twin sister who has embraced the vocation of  physical motherhood.  She continually manifests the selflessness necessary in mothering. It calls me on in my own vocation. Whenever I am tempted to believe that the grass is greener on the other side I call her, and she is quick to remind me either by holding up the phone to a crying child or sharing her own experience that this isn't true.
my twin sister's family and I- another wonderful model for me of motherhood!

Our culture today does not esteem motherhood precisely because it requires selflessness.  It requires putting someone else’s needs before your own.  It is hard

What culture esteems today as the model woman is the seductive woman. Seduction is the opposite of motherhood. It is putting oneself at the center. Seduction can dangerously suck the life out of motherhood and lead to its destruction. 

Contraception was born out of a self-centered ideology and a seductive culture.  As a woman religious I have come to realize that selfishness is a type of spiritual contraception.  

When I put my needs before others in a disordered way I am blocking the gift of myself from being fully given.  When I am not embracing the penances I have voluntarily taken on, I am saying no to the most beautiful gift God has given me in my femininity: my motherhood.

So on this Mother's Day we shall drink our Franciscan tea (hot water instead of tea) after dinner knowing that our life of penance is united to all physical mothers and that through it we are conceiving eternal life for the world and pumping His Blood into the children He has entrusted to us. 

Thank you physical mothers for your witness and your daily yes that call us on in our own vocation!
 -Sr. Therese Marie Iglesias, TOR

I heard my vocational call during Holy Week of 1998 (the Year of the Holy Spirit) while on retreat in Rome. That week started with Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square with Pope John Paul II. 

Later on in that week is when I “heard” the voice of God asking me to give up my desire to get married because that was standing in the way of me surrendering myself completely to Him. I knew that the path of my life was going to change and I knew deep down that giving up that desire meant accepting the radical call to consecrated life. 

A year later I had been accepted into the community of the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R., of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. 

I have been in the community for almost 17 years now and on this past Palm Sunday (2015), I had an experience of a “full circle”. This time, I was in Krakow, Poland at the Wawel Cathedral with one of the same priests who was at that Palm Sunday mass in Rome in 1998: Cardinal Dziwisz (formerly JPII’s papal secretary.) 
meeting Cardinal Dziwisz outside his office in the room where JPII would stand and interact with the crowds outside the window during his visits to Krakow as pope (note the WYD 2016 sign next to us)
A few of us had met the Cardinal at his residence the day before (and got to venerate a 1st class relic of JPII in the chapel where he’d been ordained) and his secretary invited us to the special Palm Sunday mass the next day.  

When we arrived outside the cathedral, the Cardinal’s secretary gave me a huge palm (reminiscent of the bishop handing St. Clare a palm on a Palm Sunday over 800 years ago) and put me and a few students in the procession so we could be sure to get a seat and have a view of the altar. 

Sr. Maria Clare venerating a first class relic of St. John Paull II in Poland
It was a glorious 2 hour mass (with an eclectic combo of organ music with a choir alternating with folk music led by guitars and a drum.) I was in awe at how JPII continues to bless my life and give me little signs of encouragement in my vocation. 

This “full circle” experience during this year of consecrated life was not lost on me!
Sr. Joan Paule with Franciscan University students at Palm Sunday Mass at the Wawel Cathedral
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