We admit it has been a long time since we have posted a blog.  It was September 28, 2017 to be exact, when Sr. Miriam shared with us about the lessons she had learned on the vows from her 2 year old nephew.

That is because our time and energy has been focused on building a new website.  Sr. Therese Marie and others have been designing and building pages for our new website, and it has now been brought to birth.  It was officially launched on September 15th, the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows! 

We will now be posting our blogs directly onto our NEW Website!!!  www.franciscansisterstor.org/news/blog

“A Reply to Love” might have a different location and look but we still write with the same inspiration.  Here are a few quotes from our VERY FIRST blog post: 
  • In his Apostolic Letter opening the year, Pope Francis wrote: “To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.” We hope to do just that as we share our story in words and images.
  • We chose the title, “A Reply to Love”, because our whole life is a reply to Love; it is who we are. We have encountered a love so profound, so intimate, and so total in Jesus Christ that we cannot help giving everything to follow this Love. 
  • Our prayer is that YOU will also encounter this LOVE that has seized us.  May you join us in making your own reply to Love.

If you would like to continue to receive our blog posts via e-mail you will need to subscribe on our new website.  Please go to www.franciscansisterstor.org/news/blog.

Then, scroll down, and below the Blog Archives, Labels, and Social Media Links you will find the words “Follow by Email”.  Click on the link below and follow the simple directions to complete your subscription.

There are a few new blogs that have already been posted on our new site, so don't forget to check those out too!
The most adorable, extroverted and winsome little two-year-old in Ireland just happens to be my nephew, Daniel. He lives in Dublin, Ireland with his mom and dad and in utero sibling. I went home to Dublin in July and had the privilege of spending a lot of time in Daniel’s company. 

To give you an example of his adorableness, on more than one occasion, we had friends or extended family over for dinner. Naturally, from time to time, everyone would laugh at something funny that someone had just said. As the laughter began, Daniel would proceed to toss his curly, blond head back and give a very real, loud and prolonged laugh that made it look like he fully understood the joke and was, quite naturally, joining in! It was hilarious and provoked yet another round of laughter on our part!

As well as enjoying his company, I found myself observing closely how a child sees the world, and, to my surprise, found myself learning more about the living out of the vows. 

While I live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the context of religious life, each one of us without exception is called to live poverty, chastity, and obedience according to our state in life, as this was what Christ modeled for us when He was on earth. We are all called to live in a way that is mindful of those who have less than us, to love chastely with deep respect for the dignity of the other person (though some are not called to live celibately), and to be obedient to rightful authority (lawful government, civil and Church law, etc.).

It struck me one day that Daniel and I both live a kind of radical poverty. Neither of us owns bank accounts, phones (dumb or smart), cars or houses. Neither of us wears labeled clothes or gets fancy haircuts! We use things but don’t strictly own any of them. We don’t really have much more than we need. Everything has been gifted freely and generously to us, including his little blue boots and my worn sandals (see picture). Our needs are provided for, but not necessarily our wants. Neither of us can just get up and go somewhere else when life is not going according to plan or we’re having a meltdown. Our lives are ones of quite radical dependence and this can lead to tears for both of us on occasion! 

But it also leads to great freedom! Not being so preoccupied with material wants and worries, I observed Daniel being present in the present moment. I walked with him to Mass one day. What could have been a brisk, blinkered, future-focused 4 minute walk on my part took about 18 minutes because with Daniel, every twig on the path had to be examined, flowers in passing gardens had to be pointed out and admired, cars going by had to be waved at, random people walking by had to be engaged with in some way, the teddies on the children’s graves by the church had to be hugged and any open gates had to be pointed out (All doors and gates in Daniel’s world have to be closed, and, incidentally, if by chance we forget to put across the child-proof closet latches and close the child-proof gates, he points those out, too, until the house is adequately child-proofed!!). 

In his material poverty, he kept drawing my attention back to the natural beauty of the present moment and the people present in front of me. 

After Mass, he began smiling widely at all the older ladies who were leaving the church. He even took hold of the hand of one of them and was marching quite happily away with her when I had to run after him and grab hold of his other hand! We escorted the lady to her car, and then Daniel proceeded to wave goodbye to her as if she were his third grandmother! He then wanted to wait and wave off every other parishioner as they left in their cars! He loved chastely and widely, with no agenda or expectation of something in return. His love was abundant and reached out to all, including these hidden, holy women whose lives often fly below the radar of our world’s obsession with youth, looks, and materialism.

I also observed his obedience, not yet perfected of course! It was my last time to see him before I flew back to the U.S. We were having dinner in my mom’s house and we were eating meatloaf (I was trying to introduce my family to some U.S. recipes!), carrots and potato wedges. Daniel’s plate contained a little of each. The wedges were his clear favorite and were speedily eaten while the carrots were all piled over the top of the meatloaf as if to hide it and pretend it didn’t exist! 

Daniel gestured that he wanted more potato wedges. His mom told him that he couldn’t have any more wedges until he’d eaten his carrots and meatloaf. This produced an indignant outburst, a very red face and lots of tears. Shortly after, his mom, dad, and grandmother left the room temporarily. It was just me and him. He climbed up on one of the chairs and suddenly the coveted wedges were within his grasp. He could easily have done a “grab and gobble.” But he didn’t. 

He picked one potato wedge up, looked up at me with a questioning look and when I shook my head “no,”  he quietly and without fuss put it down. It was clearly a difficult “no” as he had campaigned long and hard for it, and it was now easily within his grasp, but in the end, he freely chose to be obedient and to do what he was asked. He didn’t realize it at the time, but this act of obedience maintained him in a better physical balance and was ultimately for his greater good. It was a good reminder of how rightful obedience keeps us within the parameters of what is ultimately in our best interests.

I came away from my home visit with a deeper gratitude for the vowed life and a new resolve to live our way of life more fully and freely. I also acquired a new perspective on being present to those who are right in front of me and of living in the present moment (and, I should add, the importance of eating my carrots and meatloaf when I’d rather be eating potato wedges!). 

Have you ever sat in adoration, waiting for Jesus to say something to you, to make himself known? Have you ever just needed to know he loves you, and in desperation you felt like shouting, "Please, tell me!"?

It can be difficult when God is silent. You feel like you're doing something wrong, like there's some magic code that will get you into the place where he speaks clearly and you hear easily, and you just don't have it. Sometimes you just wish he would walk into the chapel and sit next to you, and look into your eyes. And say it.

In my sonic search for the voice of Jesus, I've been turning to the pages of Scripture. Recently I was surprised to discover, or rediscover, situations in Jesus' life when he was silent. So much of the Gospels are made up of parables, discourses, sermons, and sayings of Jesus, that sometimes we can gloss over the times when he is silent. It's like reading one of those Bibles with the red ink for the words of Christ, and the black ink for everything else, and having eyes only for the red. But what about all that black ink?

Jesus spoke to teach about the love of the Father and life in his kingdom. But he also conveyed this through his actions: his healings and other miracles, and ultimately in his Passion, death and Resurrection. Jesus' crucifixion was the fulfillment of all he said. Doesn't a simple crucifix speak so much to us? The whole Gospel is contained in it.

There are other moments, too. Take John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. John, who writes so eloquently of the Word, and gives us so many of his beautiful words, pauses for a moment here, midway through the Gospel. He stops to look, not at Jesus' face or his mouth, from which the Word comes, but at his hands. His hands, so accustomed to chisel and plane, reach down to labor once more for his own. Jesus' hands speak. His flesh speaks. The Word became flesh ...

John 13:3-5: "Jesus ... rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded."

He says not a word. But grow very still, as the disciples do, and listen to the movements of Jesus. Hear the rustle of his clothing as he lays it to the side. Listen to the water as he lets it fill the basin. Hear him unloosen the thongs of the sandals. These are the sounds of his love. Jesus, bending low to serve, says everything.

Of course, we do not always understand. Peter refuses Jesus' offer at first, and so the good Teacher explains. Then Peter wholeheartedly accepts. There are times when he will help us understand. But that doesn't mean he loves any less when he is silent. When you are in adoration and it is hard to hear his voice, don't think, "Nothing is happening! He has left me alone!" but think, "I believe You are with me in the silence, Lord. I trust that You are acting to love me, to do me a great service. I do not understand, but I will let You wash my feet."

Jesus, from the monstrance You silently love us, You silently wash our feet. You have laid aside the dazzling white garments of heaven so as to appear before us as a servant. You serve us with Your presence. You speak through Your silence. You are the Word-become-Flesh, dwelling among us. Your emptied hands, frail and fixed, can no longer hold the orb and scepter. Your hands, nailed to the cross, do us the greatest service: they wash us clean so that we can sit at your table, so that we can be with you forever. Thank you for your silence. Thank you for your love.

                                                  - Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.
The Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, is immediately followed by Christmas when the Light of the World comes and shines into the darkness of our lives.

During Advent, we sing quite frequently, "Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha!" But what does this really mean to us in our lives? I find in my darkest times in life- times when I am ashamed or afraid or anxious or doubtful- those are the times I need most the saving and loving Light of Christ. Unfortunately, like our fist parents Adam and Eve, when these occasions of sin arise instead of running into the loving arms of Our Lord, I often run away, afraid the Lord will see my own imperfections and sinfulness. Isn't this the world though our Lord willingly came in to save? This world of imperfection and brokenness and darkness. And what is even better! He comes as a little baby so easy to hold and love. "Be not afraid!" How many times do we hear this in the Scriptures? Just as much as we desire for Christ to come to us, He desires us to come to Him.

So, be not afraid! Christ is the light that is never dimmed. He is the Savior who made Himself weak, poor and broken. When we find ourselves in darkness may we always have the courage to say, "Come Lord Jesus! Come into my heart and life of brokenness and darkness. Come be my light! Come make me whole! Maranatha!"

"Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out your holy and true command."  -St. Francis of Assisi

                                                                                                                 -Sr. Chiara Joan, novice
I've had the opportunity to visit many, many churches during my first semester serving Franciscan University in Gaming, Austria. Every time I walked in, my goal was to find the tabernacle and pay a visit to Jesus, if only for a moment. But on one visit, instead of a tabernacle, I found a stripped-down, empty room. Nothing but walls and windows, ceilings and floors. It was now just a museum for those interested in 13th-century architecture. It was one of the saddest moments of my semester.

Even when I was in magnificently-decorated Baroque cathedrals, they would have felt absolutely empty without the presence of Jesus. Today, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, it got me to thinking. Mary was the perfect tabernacle for the presence of the Lord, prepared at her conception for Jesus to come and dwell within.

Each of us, flesh and bone that we are, was also made for this purpose. And we are nothing without Him.

These walls will stretch 'till you abide
Vast, vaulted ceilings higher climb
Beams and bricks without you there
Beams and bricks without you living there

This dust was made with you in mind
These stones are but a waiting bride
Empty if not filled with you
Empty if not filled with all of you

Who am I, that my Lord should come to me?
Who am I, that my Lord should dwell inside of me?
Take my body, take my blood
Take these sticks and all this mud
And build a shelter where your heart can come to rest

Basilicas and sanctuaries
Cathedrals, shrines, are just so many
Empty shells without your presence, Lord
Marble, gold I don't possess,
But, Lord, it is my happiness
If you would make this humble heart Your home
Make me your home

So find a candle, strike a flame
And leave it here to light your name
Jesus walks along these halls
Jesus lives and loves between these walls

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

I walk in and find myself immediately flooded with many tasks to do.

While people come over to say hello and give hugs, I'm given instructions for the day. Before I can start any of these tasks, I have an unhappy customer complaining about this or that and two people waiting to receive food and clothing assistance. This might seem like a mad house, but it's really just another day at Samaritan House, a thrift store and emergency food bank our sisters assist at in Downtown Steubenville.

After meeting with a client in need of food and clothing, I soon find out they can't find much of what they are looking for in the way of clothes. I make up a list of their needs and decide to run downstairs where we have a bit of an "overflow" supply. As soon as I step our of the door, another client is awaiting clothing assistance. Asking him to please wait, I ask one of our volunteers to fill out the food order for the first client while I run downstairs to find clothing. It's been a few years since she's done an order, so we decide to do it together. When I come back upstairs, there are more people asking for food and clothing assistance and people wanting to know if we help with this, that or the other. The other sister I'm working with comes to the rescue and helps some of the people needing assistance. I hear glass shatter behind me. The first client says none of the clothes I brought up would work and they will come back another day. I desperately seek out the shattered glass being told by 3 people they heard it shatter from 3 different spots. As I was searching for the glass, I realized the clothing I brought up needed to go back downstairs. Once finding the glass nestled between some boxes on the floor, I begin to do clean up. As soon as I begin, I receive a phone call. When 3:00 hit (the time we usually pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet), I found myself in the middle of a clothing order, needing to take clients downstairs for their needs, finding no rest even at that time. I was starting to wonder -- is this what a mother of many young children feels like?

With so many tasks to be done and not enough time to do it. Never have I wanted to receive the gift of bilocation so badly. Being overwhelmed on days like this is an understatement.

The rest of my day continued in a similar fashion with many people needing assistance and only two of us to meet the many demands of the day. Before I knew it, my 2 1/2 hour shift was over and it was time to clean up and go home. Our usual clean-up crew however went home early, leaving Sr. Maria Clare and me to fend for ourselves, taking us twice as long as normal.

On days like this I can't help but wonder, "Lord, did I really make a difference today? Did I really build up Your kingdom today, feeling very overwhelmed and running around like a mad woman attempting to give everyone the love and attention they need while still getting my work done? Is sweeping up shattered glass and sorting through clothes really sanctifying myself and others?" 

The Lord gave me a very beautiful word for the beginning of this year -- that faithfulness to the little things we do in life is our path to sanctification.

When we change diapers, hold our tongue with the co-worker who rubs us the wrong way, love our spouse and children in the midst of a hectic day, study for an exam, or do dishes for our parents, we are showing the love of Christ.

I realized on this day that being with the clients who come in won't solve their problems. They will still be poor, still be hungry, still be sick. Mopping the floor isn't exactly bringing about world peace, but little acts done with great love does build up the body of  Christ in a mystical fashion we will never fully grasp on this side of Heaven. The smile from the high-schooler who had been living in a bad situation for months; the relief of a mother to have food for a few weeks for her children; the love and attention received when answering a question for someone; the grandmother whose eyes fill with tears because she knows her granddaughter will have adequate clothing; none of these are earth shattering! They are all the product of simple acts done with love.

At the end of this very hard and trying day, I read a letter from one of the clients at Samaritan House ensuring us of her love for us and calling us "angels sent from God". I don't know about being angelic, but we can all be saints when we live a life of faithfulness to our vocation. No matter how monotonous, trying or difficult our daily tasks may be, we are all called to sainthood. We are all called to love.

"Jesus said love one another. He didn't say love the whole world. If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one... Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person... Intense love does not measure; it just gives. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  -St. Teresa of Calcutta

                                                                                                                       -Sr. Chiara Joan, novice

A relief of Jesus and St. Faustina at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow
"Jesus loves you!"

The room, filled with more than 100 college students, was absolutely still. All listened with rapt attention as the sister with her Polish accent told us of the greatness of the Lord's mercy and love. Our pilgrimage group from Franciscan University's study abroad campus in Austria was visiting the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland on Saturday, the second day of our trip.

We weren't listening to St. Faustina herself, but Sr. Marie Vianney was close enough, keeping the message of mercy alive with her simple and joyful words. She shared about Faustina's diary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the sacraments of mercy: Confession and the Eucharist.

Sister wanted each of us to return home with a word of love from Jesus, so she printed slips of paper for each one of us with a line from St. Faustina's diary. Mine said: "Tell me about everything, be sincere in dealing with Me, reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them, and your suffering will become a source of your sanctification" (#1487). I was comforted by Jesus' compassionate invitation. I knew I could entrust myself to Him, because "all things work for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

Perhaps our ears and hearts were all the more ready for such a message because of what we had already experienced together. 24 hours earlier, we had walked silently through one of the most infamous places of evil and suffering in Poland and in the world: Auschwitz.

I had read stories of what took place there and at other concentration and death camps, but nothing compared to walking through Auschwitz myself. As our guide spoke of the sufferings of the victims and the cruelty of the guards, I felt as though Jesus had suffered His Passion again and again in each person there. Jesus was stripped, beaten, starved, tortured, and killed there. Such rejection of love; such untold evil. What good could come from this?

And yet, even before all of this happened, Jesus was already appearing to little Sr. Faustina Kowalska at her convent. He was already telling her of His mercy for Poland and for the world. Precisely in this place, this place of suffering, Jesus chose to reveal His heart. He told St. Faustina: "Because you are such great misery, I have revealed to you the whole ocean of My mercy" (#718).

From the misery of Auschwitz came the sacrificial love of St. Maximilian Kolbe and perhaps many other unknown saints. From the terror and losses of the war blossomed the vocation of Karol Wojtyla, our beloved St. John Paul II. From the hardships, large and small, of our own lives, come the knowledge of our need and of the Lord's mercy.

Friday afternoon, we walked down the railroad tracks to the ruins of the Birkenau gas chambers. On our right, we saw only chimneys left from the death camp buildings. The tour guide told us the wood from the barracks had been carefully dismantled after the war and used in the restoration of Warsaw, which had been mostly destroyed by Nazi bombs. It was as if Jesus was silently telling us that the wood of the cross must be the means of redemption and the road to resurrection.

At the memorial at the end of the tracks, we stopped to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. It was a golden afternoon, and the light made the grass on either side of the tracks more green and alive. I wondered that there could be beauty in such a place, but then, isn't that what God always does?

-Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.
Powered by Blogger.