“The Lord of hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” (Ps 46:4)

Happy Gaudete Sunday! This third Sunday of Advent the Church invites us to rejoice with her as we continue to approach the celebration of God coming among us. The celebration of the Liturgy is a bit more festive, and children everywhere rejoice as we finally get to light the pink candle on the Advent wreath!

As I was reflecting on the beautiful Scriptures for today, I was struck by a simple theme: God is with us. I know that by this time in Advent the phrase has become so familiar that we (or at least I) have a temptation to gloss over it. But I think that would be a mistake. Because as I reflected further, I was also struck by what the Scriptures do not tell us in union with that line: nowhere connected with this promise of the Lord being with us is the promise that all our troubles will be erased, or that difficult situations will be eradicated, or that what we found difficult yesterday will be made easy today. We are simply told, “He is with us.”

Twice in today’s first reading for Mass we are reminded to sing joyfully and fear not, because “the Lord is in your midst.”

He tells us that He has removed the judgment against us…He has taken it upon Himself.

He tells us to not fear misfortune and not to be discouraged. Why? Because He is with us. The misfortunes will still persist, this side of heaven, and yet we are still called to rejoice. Because He is with us.

I know that sometimes I fall victim to thinking that once I really entrust everything to the Lord, and trust Him with all my heart, the external situations, especially the difficult, ones, will change. But Christ never promises that to us – yet He does promise to be with us, and that makes all the difference. Oftentimes it is these very situations – the ones I wish were different or that the Lord would take away – that the Lord uses to keep me close to Him, aware of the earth-shattering reality that He is Emmanuel…God-with-us.

This truth of Him being with us brought me to another place in Scripture where we hear this uttered: a town of Galilee called Nazareth, where we meet a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The angel says to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” In this encounter, Mary is also reminded of the singular presence of God with her, and invited to make a gift of herself to Him in a way that no other human has or will. She is invited to rejoice in the Lord’s presence with her, and to invite Him in to dwell even more intimately within her very womb. As she makes this act of trust and abandonment, she does not know all the answers, or how everything will turn out. She is not promised that all her troubles will go away, that everyone will understand her, and that life will be easy. But she is told to rejoice at the Lord’s presence with her, and as she makes this gift of self to her Lord, He comes to dwell with her…and because of this, He now dwells with each and every one of us.

As we reflect on Christ’s presence with us, we have two options as to how we respond. We can respond in a similar manner to Peter’s initial reaction at the overwhelming presence of Christ’s mercy, and in pride want Him to leave us to do it ourselves: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” I know that many times this is my response: in my prideful presumption of self-sufficiency, I want to solve my problems myself, and run away from the uncomfortable and humbling experience of having to accept help from the Lord, or from other people. However, as I know from repeated experience, this does not end well. But the Lord is relentless in His love, and promises that He will not go away; He pursues us more passionately than we can ever pursue Him.

As we embark upon this second half of Advent, may our response to Emmanuel, God-with-us, be that of the free, total, faithful, and fruitful response of our Lady, who knew that all she had was gift: “He has looked with favor upon his handmaid’s lowliness…The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” She knew and rejoiced in her littleness!

Come, Lord Jesus, and be with us in our littleness, in our brokenness, and in those situations that are difficult and less than ideal. Into those very places, come with your strong and healing presence, and may we have the courage to rejoice that you are with us there. May we rest in the truth of your promise that you rejoice over us with gladness, renew us in your love, and sing joyfully over us as a Bridegroom rejoices in His bride.

-Sr. Anna Rose Ciarrone

Like me, you might be overwhelmed at all the hubbub on the Year of Mercy, which begins today. All the plans, documents, suggestions, reflections, actions, initiatives ... and then there's those Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy! There's 14 of them!

Where is one to start?

 There's so much, and, of course, it's all good. Perhaps the angel's words in today's Gospel can calm your fears. "Do not be afraid ..."

And why not be afraid? Any other girl would be daunted at the prospect of so demanding a missionto be the Mother of the Savior.

But he goes on: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."

"Favor," from the Greek "charis," most often translated as "grace" in the New Testament. Grace and favor are totally unmeritednothing need be done to deserve mercy. God could have chosen any girl to be the Mother of his Son. He could have chosen me.

He is that merciful.

Being the Immaculate Conception was God's mercy for Mary, and He only granted that once. But what is the grace He has for you?

There's no magic trick to receiving His mercy. But it does take patience to know and time to understand. It's not like you'll wake up the morning of November 20, 2016, with the certainty that you've finally made it. That wouldn't be trust. "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33).

You see, nothing is demanded of you this year. Before anything else, the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is an invitation into the Lord's very personal grace and favor, into His mercy. There is nothing you have to do to earn it. It is a total gift. Let Him show you how you've found favor with Him.

Let yourself be found.

Everything else will follow after. As His grace and favor penetrate your life, you will be changed and a spontaneous response will well up in you. You will, in turn, be merciful, and all those 14 works will come naturally. But don't get anxious about doing them.

Start with the basicsjust you and Him. Rest in His mercy. Let Him reveal to you His very particular grace and favor for you.

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

In her book, One Thousand Gifts,Ann Voskamp sets out on a quest for “the fullest life,” a life of daily gratitude to God. She keeps a journal in which she records memorable and mundane miracles she stumbles upon each day – the way a plate of freshly shredded cheese looks in the sunshine or a brilliant harvest moon hanging over a field.

The natural reaction to beauty, to all the good things in our lives, is gratitude. But as her practice of thanksgiving becomes habitual, Ann begins to wonder – what are all the other moments? The moments that are painful, the times when we feel more keenly that life is loss.

How do we reconcile these two very different experiences of God? Who really is God anyway? How can He truly be good? It seems so often that He takes away what is good—in sickness and death, in separation, poverty and suffering.

How can we possibly continue to give thanks when life hurts?

I love words and their meanings and relationships. You might know this, but the Greek word for thanksgiving, as Ann discovers, is eucharisteo.Whoa. That just added a whole other dimension to this.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus stops to “give thanks” before breaking bread with his disciples and the crowds. He gives eucharisteo.What can the Eucharist teach us about giving thanks to God?

Before the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered in the Mass, the priest prays a simple prayer while lifting up first the bread and then the wine: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you … the wine we offer you.”

We have received … we offer. This is the continual movement of gift—receiving and offering. God’s gifts are given to be given back. What have we that we have not received?

Jesus shows us, in the gift of himself to the Father in his whole life, in his death on the cross, and in his daily self-gift in the Eucharist, that love cannot withhold anything. Love does not rest, love does not keep anything. Love opens its hands in trust.

With only our human eyes, the cross seems an utter failure, a horrific loss. But with the eyes of faith, we see that God works the greatest good out of the greatest evil.

After Jesus “gives thanks” for the loaves and fishes, they are multiplied and thousands of people are fed. I, too, want to live this Eucharistic life – offering and surrendering myself to a good God who I trust provides all I need and desire.

To Ann’s dare to keep a daily record of thanksgivings, I would add a dare to make a daily offering of God’s good gifts back to Him. When we are accustomed to making little Eucharistic offerings each day, little sacrifices for love of Him, we are ready with open hands when He asks for the bigger, harder things.

And, the thing is, He always multiplies what we give, and He can never be outdone in generosity. God is always good and I am always loved,as Ann says.

I want to give thanks,the eucharistof my life – the wheat, the grapes. I want to give every moment so God can fill it with his presence.

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
–Romans 11:36
I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with authority figures.

Strange though that may sound coming from someone
vowed to obedience, it’s the truth. I guess there’s part of me that has a really hard time trusting the good will or competence of those in authority. Though I’ve been aware of this for a while, it has become abundantly clear since I began the 19th annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius a few months ago, where one is “on retreat” for several months, going through Ignatius’30 day retreat while remaining in the world.

In the Exercises, you spend a fair bit of time praying about sin – the nature of sin, the sin of the angels, the sin of Adam, and your own sins. As I went through the various meditations, I was stunned to realize that all these sins are profoundly related to one another. This is due to the fact that they are all ultimately rebellions, uprisings against our first beginning and final end, God. I was grieved by the ways I have rebelled against God (and still do so!) in my own life, and felt sorry for my sins in a whole new way, on a deeper level than ever before.

Following this time, the retreatant makes a famous meditation, usually referred to as “The Call of the King”, where you place yourself imaginatively in two scenarios. The first is that of a subject to an earthly king – a good king – who hears the call of his king to join him in bringing all lands into subjection to Christian rule. This king tells his subjects that he will share with them both the hardships of the campaign and its victory and ensuing glory. It is clear as you pray that only a fool or coward (an “unworthy knight”) would refuse to serve under such a king with such a glorious enterprise.

Next, you replace this good king with Jesus Christ, the King of kings. He calls each person to join him in sufferings and trials as he goes about the work of subjecting all things and people to his authority. The upshot of this invitation is similar: who would turn away from such a request? Who could fail to serve such a good king?

I was surprised as I began to pray with this meditation, because it left me cold and fearful. I saw the beauty of Christ and his goodness. I longed to be part of his work, to share his life and sufferings and death. But I was afraid to offer myself to him because I felt I would disappoint him. After all, I had only days before come to a deeper awareness of my sinfulness and untrustworthiness. So I protested when I heard Christ’s call, “Are you sure you want me to be part of your army, Lord? I am not so good, you see. I will probably betray you, disappoint you, and let you down.”

After a week of prayer where I kept coming to this point of the meditation and hitting this wall, I met with my retreat director – who told me to pray with it for another week! I felt, in part, like I had received a jail sentence and was doomed to spend another hour each day for another week feeling awkward and inadequate and embarrassed before the King I loved but could not serve. But as she gave me this assignment, my director said something really important. “Remember to ask the Lord how he sees you in this. What we see and what he sees are often two very different pictures.”

So I returned to the meditation. And I realized that I was uncomfortable with the whole first part of the meditation, focusing on the call of the earthly king. My heart was protesting the whole time, “there is no such king!” Not knowing what to do about this, I continued to the second part, the call of Christ the King. And suddenly, like a clarion call, it was as if Christ stood before me, looked me in the eye, and spoke straight to my heart, “I am the real deal! I am what I appear to be! You can trust me!” So I returned his gaze and asked him, again, if he wanted me to serve him, knowing what I was. Could he use me, the proud? Could he use me, the self-righteous? Could he use me, the lazy? My vices and inadequacies seemed like such an impediment – why would Christ want me?

Out of nowhere, I had a sense of Christ’s joy, and I, too, was joyful. What was the cause of my joy? Immediately, Mary came to my mind, and I thought about her and the Annunciation – her own “Call of the King” experience. She did not offer God any special giftedness. She offered him only what he had given her: her human nature, all empty and waiting to be filled. She gave him her virginity, her childlessness. And he made her the Mother of Christ. Had she filled her emptiness with a human spouse and natural children, she would have given something beautiful to God, but she would not have been able to give him Jesus, his own son. It seemed to me that God was asking something similar of me. Rather than “fixing” myself or finding something nice or good to offer God, he was inviting me to give him my mess, my incompleteness, my emptiness and trust him to fill it with himself.

Jesus is the rightful King of our hearts. In a world full of confusion, with many harmful examples of authority, where it often seems that nobody can be trusted, Jesus calls all men and women of good will to serve under his banner and he promises that he is worthy of trust. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe, let us make an offering of ourselves, sinful and sorrowful though we are, and let us trust that he will send the Holy Spirit to overshadow us so that he himself may live in our lives.

All-night Adoration

My alarm went off, and I awoke suddenly from my dream. I sleepily turned to look at the alarm on my desk, and the red numbers 12:45 stared back at me.

Yep, it was 12:45…A.M.

My first thought was: “I bet Alex is getting up about now, too.” I stumbled out of my bed, and striving not to wake up the sisters in the rooms next to mine, tiptoed out of my room and through the hallway. Everything was so still.

I quietly opened the door to the dark stairwell and made my way down to the chapel, and as I walked I thought about how my sister Alex and I were both awakened in the middle of the night to respond to a call.

My sister Alex works part-time as an E.M.T, and on Saturdays she pulls a 24-hour shift. She was working on Halloween this year, and she was on call to respond to any emergency that may arise. Working a 24-hour shift means that she can sleep during the night until her team gets a call. As soon as they get a call, they are out the door and into the ambulance in minutes, rushing to the scene. Never sure exactly what to expect, they respond to those who are the most vulnerable, those who are hurting, scared, and possibly dying. Their job, once they stabilize the person, is to rush them to the doctor as quickly as possible. The ambulance speeds through the still night, and the siren pierces through the silence as they rush the person to the hospital. I greatly admire my sister and all of those who work as first responders. I thank God that He has given them the graces necessary to rescue those in emergency situations.
Sr. Agnes Maria with her sister, Alex
On Halloween this year I had a night shift too, although mine was a bit different.

Our community held a prayer service and an all-night vigil on Halloween, praying throughout the night to spiritually combat any evil that may have taken place. We began with praise and worship, interceding through our praises for all of the Lord’s little ones who were hurting. Our praises pierced through the silence of the night as we sang to Jesus. We sang His praises to repair for any curses that may have been uttered against Him. We brought to Him souls who were lost and searching for Him in the wrong places.

Many of us also signed up for an hour to pray in the chapel with Jesus in the Eucharist; we kept watch with Him through the night and prayed until the first ray of sunshine broke through the windows of our chapel. My hour was 1 am. At the sound of my alarm, I awoke to respond to the cries of souls, souls who were spiritually and physically hurting, alone, scared, and possibly dying. I knew that I couldn’t heal them, but I rushed them to the One who could. In prayer, I brought them to Jesus, the Divine Physician, and I placed their broken hearts into His pierced Heart. Just like my sister Alex, I knew that it was not my job to fix these souls. It was my job to rush them as quickly as possible to the One who could.

It was a beautiful experience of spiritual motherhood.

A mother is the first responder to her child. She awakes in the middle of the night to the cry of her child who is hungering, thirsting, and feeling scared and alone. I was waking up in the middle of the night just like a mother to care for souls who were hungering for love, thirsting for mercy, feeling scared and alone. In prayer, I immersed them in the fountain of blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side.

I know that the Lord worked miracles that night through our prayer service and all-night vigil that night. He poured out his love and mercy into many hearts, and many received healings that night.

As Christians, we are all called to be first responders (although we may not all have a night shift).Whether priests, religious or lay people, every baptized Christian is called to be a first responder. When we hear a story of a person who is physically or spiritually hurting, whether that person lives in our neighborhood or halfway across the world, we are all called to rush them to the Divine Physician who binds up every wound.

Just like the men in the Gospel who lowered the crippled man through the roof to Jesus, we are all called to bring those most in need of healing to the One who not only has the power to heal us of our physical wounds, but even more miraculously has the power to heal us of our sins.
-Sr. Agnes Maria Kilonsky, novice
Dear Friends and Benefactors,

It’s been almost 3 months since Sr. Agnes Thérèse, Franciscan University of Steubenville student Morgan Gilchrest and I completed our wonderful and grueling trek through Raccoon Creek State Park.  Before I get down to the business of formally thanking you for raising more than $15,000 for the sisters, I’d like to relay a couple stories from the day of the hike.

I must admit that Sr. Agnes Thérèse laid the hurt on me.  At about mile 20 we were praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and I was jogging every 50 meters or so just to keep up with Sr. Fitness.  Thinking that my running was actually an encouragement for her to go faster, she kept picking up the pace.  Finally, mid-prayer I had to ask her if she was trying to make this hike an object lesson for me and force me to beg both God and her for mercy.  Thankfully, Sister took the hint and mercifully slowed down to a more leisurely pace.

One of the other great memories of the hike was the lunch that Sr. Miriam O’Callaghan prepared for our group, including Sr. Maria Clare Smith and FUS student Marissa Bella, who hiked with us to the halfway point.  We were already feeling fatigued and it seemed that 13 miles was plenty long when we stopped to enjoy the delicacies filling the back of the TOR mini-van.  The hearty sandwiches, homemade chocolate chip cookies and plenteous Gatorade helped put some bounce back in our step, and that excellent meal couldn’t have come at a better time.

I believe that Our Lord Jesus, through the ministry of the sisters at Samaritan House Thrift Store and LAMP Ministries, likewise nourishes many people along the arduous journey called “life.”  I know from first-hand experience that their presence in downtown Steubenville is invaluable for many.  The light of Christ shining through the sisters and many wonderful volunteers gives hope to many and brings joy to folks whose pilgrimage through life can feel like a marathon hike on a regular basis.  Thank you for donating and helping to make their presence in Steubenville sustainable.  I trust that the sisters will continue to be good stewards of the money you have donated.  May God reward you for your generosity!  Thank you for supporting the Helping Hike for the Poor.

In Jesus Christ the icon of God’s Mercy,

Fr. Matt Russick, T.O.R.
“To make known His merciful love”

This phrase is all over our website, Facebook page, newsletters, brochures, etc.  Why?  Because it is our mission. Our desire is that all peoples will come to know God’s personal and merciful love for them.  Needless to say, we were elated when we learned of Pope Francis’ proclamation of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning December 8, 2015 on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  Many of us experienced it as the Church confirming our community in our mission.

In the months since we heard about the Jubilee Year of Mercy we have been doing many things to prepare.  Some sisters have been reading Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.  It speaks about Saint Pope John Paul II as the great Mercy Pope, tells a little bit of the history of speaking about Divine Mercy and the relationship between Divine Mercy and Marian Consecration.  Others sisters have been reading and praying with the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultis, watching a movie on the life of St. Faustina (Apostle of Mercy) and many other things besides.

But what better way to prepare than to count down with Our Lady?  What do I mean?

Preparation for Marian Consecration.

Fr. Michael Gaitley speaks about how Mary is the Mother of Mercy and that she opens hearts to receive Mercy.  With this in mind, many of our sisters have felt called to renew their Marian Consecration on December 8th with a particular intention.  In these final days before the opening of the Holy Door we will be specifically asking Mary to go before her Son and open the hearts of all people to be able to receive his mercy during this great Jubilee Year of Mercy.

We would like to INVITE YOU TO JOIN US in the preparation and Marian Consecration and countdown the days to the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy! 

On November 5th we will begin our countdown and preparation for Marian Consecration!  We will be reading and praying with Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory and invite you to do the same.  However, if you don’t have the book, that’s OK too!  You can also pray variations of St. Louis de Montfort’s version or even St. Maximilian Kolbe’s shorter preparation. See myconsecration.org for options.

The important thing is to prepare, ask for Our Lady’s intercession for her children, consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary, and then get ready to see miracles of Mercy!

We will be making posts throughout the 33 days to check in and see how things are going, give encouragement, and countdown the days to the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

We hope that you join us during these 33 days and help “to make known God’s merciful love”!

Here is a brief 3-minute explanation of Marian Consecration and what it’s all about by Fr. Michael Gaitley: 

I am not a “natural” Franciscan.

Even the tamest and most domesticated of animals tend to run the other way when they see me coming!

I have always liked “nice things” and during my discernment process, I grappled with the idea of giving up my expensive Italian furniture, smoked salmon and decadent hot chocolate (the kind with the cream, chocolate stick and powdering on top).

So, what was it that attracted me to a specifically Franciscan community, a fact that amused no small number of my family members and friends?

In a nutshell, it was the fact that St. Francis loved the good things in this life on a natural level too! But….and this is a big but, he was willing to sacrifice these on many occasions for the greater good of drawing himself and others closer to Christ. He lived his life preparing his soul and the souls of others for the pinnacle moment of life – the moment of meeting Christ face to face in death.

So what did the taste buds of St. Francis gravitate toward? The “Assisi Compilation 8” states that on his deathbed Francis said in reference to a close friend Lady Jacopa “have her also send some of those sweets which she often (note: often!) made for me when I was in the city, the confection made of almonds, sugar and honey that the Romans call mostacciolo”. Sounds good, no?

Pre-conversion, St. Francis was picky with his food, turning away with a wry face from distasteful morsels. He also dressed handsomely and avoided the malnourished and contagious lepers, sensing that he was even more revolted than others by their odorous sores.

But post conversion, St. Francis was very different. Everything was assessed through a finer Christocentric lens according to the following Scripture passage:

“Those things I used to consider gain I have now reappraised as loss in the light of Christ. I have come to rate all as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For his sake I have forfeited everything; I have accounted all else rubbish so that Christ may be my wealth. I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death”. Philippians 3:7-8,10

It was not that he gave up all good things. No. There were still times and seasons for celebrations and enjoyment of legitimate goods and pleasures. But the lens was different. He chose to “die” to whatever would hold him back from the greater good of running spiritually barefoot toward Him whom he loved with every sinew and blood vessel of his being.

His love was passionate and all-consuming and involved sacrifice for a greater good.

My Dad who passed away on  May 30, 2015 was at heart very Franciscan. He too chose to die to himself in so many ways throughout his life, as a means of growing closer to Christ and bringing us (and others) with him.

By way of a small example, I remember having many parties in our family home that resulted in some really good leftovers, the kind that are even better the following day. My Dad, who incidentally had a very “sweet tooth,” would regularly box up all the leftovers and bring them into St. Kevin’s Capuchin Day Center for the Poor in the center of Dublin, Ireland.

To my Franciscan shame, my protests to keep some (just some) of the leftovers for ourselves were ignored. Good as those leftovers were, and legitimate as it would have been to keep some of them, my Dad wanted to give all, not just what we didn’t really want.

My Dad and St. Francis have both taught me that those “mini-deaths” along the way of life are a key preparation for the ultimate death that we will all face some day. After all, we will take none of these good things with us. As it says in First Timothy chapter 6,
St. Francis on his death bed

“For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it”.

I came across a very interesting website just recently - http://www.e5men.org Thousands of men in this organization fast on bread and water for one day a month for their wives or other important women in their lives. Isn’t that powerful?! Check it out if you can. On their website they also quote St. John Vianney (no doubt St. Francis would heartily agree with him) who said:

“My friend, the devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink, and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God. Oh! How often have I experienced it! ... - it happened at times that I refrained from food for entire days . On those occasions I obtained, both for myself and others, whatsoever I asked of Almighty God."

Isn’t it amazing to think that our sacrifices offered with great love to God do help to prepare us for death, and draw down so many graces for our own souls and those of others?

St. Francis, pray for us!

-Sr. Miriam O’Callaghan, T.O.R.

About eleven weeks ago, I got a call to say that my Dad was on the brink of death. While not unexpected, this was still shocking news and I rushed to Vienna airport in Austria where I was based at the time, wondering if I would see him alive again.

As I made my way to the airport gate, fighting tears and hoping quite honestly that nobody would approach me, I heard a man’s voice behind me say, “Where is God?”

(On a side note, I am always intrigued by the fact that wherever in the world I travel, regardless of the language of the country I’m in, people will unfailingly address me in English! Maybe it’s got something to do with my red hair and pale skin!)

I turned around thinking that maybe I had misheard and that he was actually looking for directions to the bathroom. But no, he was serious, and he repeated his question, “Where is God?”

I was taken aback by his question and responded somewhat haltingly at first, “Well, he’s present around us and within us, within our hearts”.

The man said: “So he’s not in heaven?”

I responded and said, “Yes, yes, he is in heaven, but he’s also right here, right among us, alive within our hearts”.

The man, who later told me that he was from Iraq, was stunned. He turned to his friend and said, “Can you believe this? She is saying that God is alive! That he’s within us!”

I turned to him again and said, “Yes, and not only is he alive, but we can talk to him. In fact, he loves when we talk with him and share what’s on our heart with him”.

The man again exclaimed with great surprise and excitement that he had never heard this before. He seemed to be really moved.

He then asked me where I was going.

I told him about my situation and he was so kind. He didn’t say a lot but what he did say communicated a genuine warmth and compassion.

I left our encounter feeling consoled and grateful for that short time capsule of human interaction. It also challenged me to stay open to even the “bite-sized” opportunities for sharing the Gospel that come our way, though we may be at our weakest and most “out of it”.

When I got to my Dad’s bedside, I was overjoyed that he was still with us. I smiled as I thought about how he had influenced me so much in the area of evangelization. Post-retirement he led more than thirty-five separate mission trips outside of our home country of Ireland, trips that were based on the New Evangelization. Even in the last months of his life, as he travelled over and back to a London hospital for treatment for his leukemia, he would regularly engage the London taxi drivers in discussions about faith, experiencing great joy in these encounters and discussions as he shared and listened.

We had two more weeks with my Dad before he passed away. Thanks, Dad, for all that you taught me!


            I approached the “Helping Hike for the Poor” with some mixed feelings. I was excited for a challenge, nervous about how it would go, grateful for the opportunity and my sisters’ support, and a bit concerned about the logistical aspects (I was the self-appointed “Sherpa” for the day).  It wound up being a beautiful day all around: the weather was clear and not too hot, we finished (!), and it was also, for me, an object lesson about the meaning of community in the Christian life.
            After the sisters who joined us for the first stretch of the trail left, the remnant group decided to pick up the pace, to make sure we finished the hike at a reasonable hour. This movement intensified at the halfway point after lunch, when only Fr. Matt, Morgan (a Franciscan University student), and I were left. We would take turns setting the pace, because after a certain point, it’s just hard to go fast if there’s nobody in front of you encouraging (or shaming!) you to keep pushing. As we trudged, climbed, jogged, and trod through the woods, I suddenly thought, “This is the Christian race! This is what St. Paul was talking about!”
            You see, I am competitive by nature, and I’ve often reflected on St. Paul’s running metaphor for the spiritual life. He encourages us, saying that we must run so as to win – after all, only one man wins the victor’s crown! This is certainly an inspiration for us to strive earnestly in the spiritual life, but how does this somewhat individualist notion cohere with the communal aspect of the Christian life? Where is my neighbor? Am I trying to pass him?
            The answer, of course, is “no.” Each time I would take the lead in the hike, I would push myself just as hard as I could to set a good, quick pace. But it wasn’t to win first prize or to be the best. It was in order to serve my brothers, traveling alongside me. When Fr. Matt took the lead, I was grateful to follow, and focused just on encouraging (and sometimes entertaining!) him. His speed was a challenge to me, but it was also a gift to me. To use another Pauline metaphor, we were members of one body, Christ’s, and together we were striving to finish the race.
            This is a microcosm of the Christian life. We all must strive to push on, to do our best, to be saints. And as we do so, we are not in competition with one another. Rather, we are on the same team, working together in Christ to become Christ, or, as St. Paul says, to “attain to the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

- Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, T.O.R.

When someone learns that our daughter is a Sister, he or she typically responds in one of two ways.  Most people, especially other moms, relate to the difficulty of being separated from their daughter.  They say something like, “Wow!  That must be so hard.  I don’t know if I could do that!”  The second response, which I hear less often, goes something like this, “Wow!  That must be such a blessing for your family!”

To be honest, it is both of those:  incredibly painful and difficult at times, but always, even in that loss, an indescribable blessing.   And as such, I have often pondered how my life as the mother of a Sister might draw me closer to the heart of Mother Mary, and how my life might even reflect hers in some ways, if by the grace of God, I can do this well. 

I begin by thinking about the Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38). Our Lady’s life was completely changed with her fiat when her life as the Mother of her Savior and ours began.  She was already holy, full of grace.  That was not quite true of me, but I was hungering for God in my own way. Newly married and fairly new to the Church, my life truly began with the conception and birth of our first child, Sarah.  I began to fall in love with God as I beheld our tiny child.  As she loved me unconditionally, I felt God’s love as never before.  As I loved and nurtured her, God healed me of many wounds, and I grew in awe of Him.  With her birth came the true birth of my faith.  Wanting to be the best mom I could be, I wanted her to know, love and serve the Lord.  Thus, I grew in the knowledge of my faith as I began to teach her.  God continued to bless us with six more beautiful children, and the journey continued. 

Now to focus on the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2: 41-52):  I relate to this story as well.  When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents had lost him on the way back from Jerusalem.  They found him after three days.  He was in the temple teaching, and everyone was amazed by his words.  But he went back to Nazareth, and was obedient to his parents.    Perhaps Jesus was already very capable of beginning his work.  But it wasn’t time.    How difficult it must have been for him to wait to begin his public ministry. And from this time, Mary held all this in her heart. 

Like Jesus, my daughter had to be in her Father’s house.  She loved the Lord from a very young age and began serving him in many ways.  By the time she was eleven, I knew in my heart that our Lord was calling her to a religious vocation.  As soon as she visited the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R. for a young girls’ day, she knew.  She said she felt like she was “home.”  I, like Mother Mary, had to hold all this in my heart.  She didn’t talk about it often, and didn’t tell people outside the family, but she knew.  And as her mother, I knew as well.  Occasionally I thought about what this might mean to me personally, the losses I would have to suffer.  But mostly I was filled with awe that God was calling one of our daughters to this very special and important vocation. I know it was hard for Sarah to wait.  She prayed about when she should apply, and if she should attend Franciscan University for all four years.  After much prayer, she was obedient to what she believed the Father wanted. And as difficult as it was at times, she waited until after her college graduation. 

At the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2: 1 -11), we see our Blessed Mother’s influence on the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. From my own perspective as a mother, I see this as a mother’s little nudge. To me, it is as if she was saying to him, “It’s time.  I believe in you. You can do this.”  Jesus knows all and didn’t really need that nudge, but perhaps Mother Mary needed to give it.  Perhaps it was a gift from God to Mary to help prepare her heart for what was to come. She had to begin to let go of that life they had been living together, the quiet life of the Holy Family.  It was the beginning of a different way of life for both of them. So it was for us.  Mary told them to do whatever Jesus asks of them.  She tells us the same thing.  Do whatever Jesus asks.  The application process, the appointments, the packing, everything that had to be done in preparation for entering candidacy:  we were preparing our hearts for everything to change.  We were preparing for our daughter to do whatever God was asking of her. 

Like Jesus, our daughter had lived at home.  She had commuted to Franciscan.  This was not always easy for her, but she did it for us because we could not afford for her to live away.  And although she had studied abroad in Austria, and had been away for mission trips and summer work, she had been part of our home, our family life, and was truly leaving for the first time when she entered the Monastery. 

I will always remember the day Sarah entered the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R.  It was one of the happiest and yet most sorrowful days of my life.  If I may compare it to Good Friday, it was truly something like that for me.  I had to let go of my daughter so that she could go fulfill the Father’s will for her life, so that she could go serve him in complete and total abandonment of the world.  Of course, none of us dare compare our sacrifices to what our Lord has done for us, and we never could come close.  But since he called us to take up our cross and follow him daily, I do dare make some analogy here.  I felt like I lost my daughter that day. I felt like I stood with Mother Mary at the foot of the cross.   I truly mourned like never before.  No actual death that I had ever experienced came close to the grief I felt when we returned home that day without our daughter.  I sat at the kitchen table completely lost.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I cried easily for days, weeks, even months. I was lost. There is no other word to describe it besides grief. 

And then the joy of the Resurrection:  Christ lives!  My daughter lives.  Yes, she has a new life.  Our little family will never be the same as it was before.  But now I can honestly say, it is not only different but better.  One and a half years after our daughter entered as Sarah Kilonsky, we were waiting for the phone call to hear that she had been accepted as a novice and had been given her new name.  I waited as an expectant mother.  I waited like I had waited the first time: to meet my daughter.  Who would this new person be?  What would God name her?  And we got the call: Sr. Agnes Maria.

I praise and thank the Almighty God for he has done good things to me. 
-Shirley Kilonsky (mother of Sr. Agnes Maria)

We don’t use hashtags in our daily experience of religious life (unlike many of you, dear readers), but if we did, a lot of our posts these days would probably say #TRANSITION.

It’s just that time of year. In early August, our sisters move to their respective mission houses, our novices make first vows, our postulants become novices, and new postulants come our way. Some sisters have the same assignments they had last year, and others have new, sometimes dramatically new, assignments. We call it #transition.

Another hashtag would be #thegraceforthat. I joked with a sister a few days ago – there’s a grace for that! Wherever the Lord puts us, He gives us the grace to be there – to do that specific thing, to be his light in that specific way. But sometimes it’s hard to see for all the newness. Where is it to be found? Where is the grace?

I am in the midst of #transition too. Sure, I’m still here at the motherhouse, and still working in the heart of the home (a.k.a. the kitchen), but now I have the responsibility of coordinating all of it.

It can be easy to compare. “Last year, I didn’t have to …” “Her assignment is so much more exciting …” It can be easy to be discontent.

But I realized something recently – I don’t have the grace to do anything else right now. I don’t have the grace to serve the poor or to minister to college students, as our mission house sisters do. I don’t have the grace to teach the novices. I definitely don’t have the grace to be the Reverend Mother! =) I am exactly where He wants me – where the grace is. And if I look more closely, I can see it. I can see how He has gifted me and put me right where I can use my gifts for the greater good.

St. Peter writes, "As generous distributors of God's manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received" (1 Peter 4:10). The stay-at-home mom who offered to bake and decorate the cakes for our celebrations this summer – she has the grace, the gift, for that. The retired painter who volunteered his time for a couple of weeks to help repaint our dining room and hallways – he has #thegraceforthat. The married couple with children who farm and garden here at our motherhouse property and share the bounty with us – they have #thegraceforthat. And they all put their graces, ultimately God’s gifts, at the service of others. And I can do the same! Why would I want to do anything without His help?

Just because God supplies it doesn’t mean it is easy to share the grace. But it is comforting to know He is ultimately the source. I’m just distributing what He gives.

Where is the grace? It’s right here. I’m already knee-deep in it. I just have to move my feet forward to feel the rush, the wetness, around me. I have to move. When I’m standing still, looking back at where I was, I can’t see the grace I have for today, for tomorrow.

So, in the midst of all the #transition, I know God is the same, and his hands are always open, full of gifts. I want to stay right here – where the grace is.
Sr. Katherine at her First Profession of Vows
 in 1990
 25 years ago on this day, the feast of St. Clare, our own "St. Clare" and one of our foundresses, Sr. Katherine Caldwell, gave over her life by pronouncing her first vows to the Lord and this community. We want to give the Lord due honor and thanks on this silver jubilee of her first "yes" for her and the gift of her faithfulness these past 25 years!

I knew her well over 25 years ago when as fellow Californians we had a common interest in following the example of St. Francis in our lives. I was studying at Franciscan University of Steubenville, from which she had just graduated, and I still remember how warm and welcoming she was as she invited me to learn more about the Secular Franciscan Student Fraternity that existed on campus, of which she was a member. Her passion and zeal to follow Christ by the radical witness of St. Francis inspired me to want to join the Secular Franciscan Fraternity and to make a deeper commitment to embrace the spirituality of St. Francis in my own life.

Like St. Francis, who stripped himself of his fine clothing before the Bishop, proclaimed God as his Father and embraced the lifestyle of a poor beggar, Katherine (Katy) Caldwell also chose to be poor in the world’s eyes, to forsake worldly prestige and the honor of titles and graduate degrees, in order to let Christ be her wealth, her value and reward. She was led by the Spirit of God, though it seemed foolish to some, to help found a new religious community that would live a hidden life of prayer, sacrifice, and humble service.

Sr. Katherine with her parents and sister
after her profession ceremony in 1990
Though she owned nothing, and felt small and ill-equipped for the task, she trusted God and stepped out of her comfort zone and with great faith and humility, helped to found the Franciscan Sisters, Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. During that founding year of 1988, I witnessed the great courage of Sr. Katherine and our community’s founding members who impelled me to want to learn more about the community and their charisms of crucified love, mercy, poverty and contemplation. Sr. Katherine generously paved the way for the rest of us who joined later, laying down her life for the sake of the Gospel by embracing the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Empty handed, she offered her ‘all’ to God, to do with as He wished, just like the boy in the Gospel who offered the disciples of Jesus two fish, together with five loaves, to be miraculously multiplied.

From the earliest years until today, Sr. Katherine has always been deeply serious about the pursuit of holiness, while also fun-loving and joyful, willing to do the humblest of tasks, as well as join in the fun and recreation with all the Sisters who have needed relief and balance amidst the intensity of founding a new religious order. She has been a tender sister and a wise reverend Mother for 10 years. I have often experienced her deep wisdom and gained from watching her bear labor pains no less than a mother bears for her child. These pains are, I believe, a true badge of courage.

Sr. Katherine renewing her vows
this past August 1st at a Mass at our
Ever loyal in saying ‘yes’ to God’s will for the past 25 years, Sr. Katherine continues to be an example of passionate zeal for the Kingdom of God. In the name of all of your Sisters, I thank you, dear Sr. Katherine, for your friendship, spiritual motherhood, and constant example of undying courage and zeal.

We love you!
Sr. Mary Rose Bratlien, TOR and all your TOR Sisters

Sr. Katherine is currently on sabbatical after serving in leadership in our community for 21 years (11 of these years were as Reverend Mother). She was part of the founding of our community in 1988. She developed our formation program and served in formation for 12 years. She was the main author of our Constitutions and Statutes and also spearheaded the designing of our chapel, Father of Mercy. She has two graduate degrees and is currently working on a third in counseling that will assist her in serving the poor in downtown Steubenville. This is only a few of many accomplishments.

As I think about the week I spent advising 40 Franciscan University students who chose to spend their Spring Break serving others right here in Steubenville, the phrase that keeps ringing in my heart is “Christ meeting Christ.” In their scraping, painting, bleaching, listening, counseling, challenging, feeding, visiting, and being present to others, the students certainly showed this city the face of Christ. But the people of Steubenville also showed us His face: He came hungry to the soup kitchen, was bewildered in a teen mom, was lonely in the elderly, zealous in those who work regularly for the betterment of the city, and weary in the job-hunting. The face of Christ that stands out most vividly to me, however, is Christ as I met him in “John.”

John is a man who I met some months ago through a mutual friend at a farmers’ market. He soon started coming to the weekly Bible Study we have at Samaritan House, and I got to know him well. He was sick the whole time I knew him: he had recently been informed that his cancer had come back and he probably did not have very long to live. But his immense zeal for life made it hard to believe that, and I didn’t often think about how sick he was. In the fall, we began to prepare together for consecration to Jesus through Mary, using Fr. Gaitley’s book “33 Days to Morning Glory” and consecrated together at Mass on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

After Christmas, John’s health started to decline more quickly, and he called me from the hospital in February. I visited him a few times there, and he rallied well after surgery and went home. Spring Break week was, for me, the perfect opportunity to have some students over to give John some love as well as practical help in cleaning his house up a bit. It was beautiful to see how he flourished in the light of the students’ love as they talked with him, made him lunch, and cleaned his kitchen. I had, in truth, been somewhat worried about John after my visits to him in the hospital, because he seemed so afraid of God, so afraid of death. But the man I left after our second visit during mission was less angry, more peaceful, and a lot happier than the one I had seen just weeks earlier.

A few days after our mission ended, the hospice nurse called me to let me know that John did not have long to live. Another sister went with me to visit him one last time – and he was a man transformed. The night before, his son and granddaughter came to see him and be reconciled with him after years of estrangement. John, who, burdened with suffering, could be negative and bitter at times, positively glowed as he shared about their time together. When his son came in the door, he embraced him and said, “Son, I have always loved you.” And his son replied, “I have always known that.” The joy in John’s face as he told me about this encounter was stunning. So I asked John, “Are you ready now to meet your Father?” John looked at me sidelong and said, quietly, “Well, you might mean my earthly father, or my spiritual father – or you might mean my Father in Heaven. Anyway, you’re talking about going to the other side.” He stopped to consider, then went on, “You know, I believe that there is a place for me in Heaven.” My heart leaped, and we prayed together one last time, thanking our Father for his love for John, his son.

John died two days later, on the Feast of St. Joseph. And as sad as I was to lose a friend, all sorrow was washed in joy: joy that John had come to peace with his son and with his Father, joy that John had died being loved both by students who were strangers to him and the son who had been estranged. He died knowing that he was the beloved son of the best of fathers – our Father in Heaven. And in his agony and in his peace, he showed me the face of Christ.

Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, T.O.R.

** Note the names used in this story have been changed for confidentiality purposes **

Consider supporting our sisters in who live and minister in downtown Steubenville, Ohio through the Helping Hike for the Poor taking place tomorrow, August 4th. We have almost reached our goal of $13,000, $500 for each of our 26 years of prayer and service in community. Find more information and make a contribution by CLICKING HERE.

 “It is Christ’s fidelity that is most beautiful.” - Fr. Boniface Hicks, O.S.B.

Almost every woman, either as a girl or a young lady, has dreamed about her wedding day and honeymoon.  In the midst of the details of the perfect dress, color schemes and romantic destinations, is a fundamental desire to be romanced and know that she is loved.

I would be remiss if I said I have not had some of these same musings.  My ideal honeymoon included a cabin in the woods in the mountains of Colorado.  Forget about the tourist attractions and being on the “go, go, go”; I wanted a place where I could just “be” with my spouse.

About a week before my pre-vow retreat (a time set aside to prepare for professing final vows) I followed a last-minute inspiration of the Holy Spirit and signed out a hermitage on our property.  Early on in the retreat, I was sitting on the porch of this small cabin that is nestled down in the woods.  As I sat there sipping hot water (Franciscan tea), listening to the birds, and watching the sun rise, Jesus reminded me of my dreams.  The rest of the week he fulfilled my deepest desires. 

As Jesus and I spent time “being” together on strolls
through the woods, watching the fireflies and listening to thunder roll through the hills, he spoke deeply to my heart that he will always be with me and that he is never going to leave.  His words telling me that I would not be alone were a healing balm poured on a wound in my heart.  In the midst of my quirks, mistakes, limitations, brokenness, and sinfulness, Jesus desires to be with me and wishes to espouse himself to me forever. 

“He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1).  Throughout the week of retreat, Jesus revealed to me his deeply personal, romantic, passionate love for me.  But what he really showed me was that his love is so much more than just the sweetness of romantic love—he LIVES his passion.  By embracing and carrying the cross, being beaten, mocked and spit upon, nailed to a tree, and finally handing over his spirit in death, he fully expresses his  passionate love for me. He chose to love me beyond consoling feelings that come and go.  By living out his words, “This is my body given up for you,” and dying a death that I deserve, I KNOW, in the deepest part of my heart, that I am loved.

And what is the response that I can give to the totality of his self-gift?  For me, there is only one—my entire life.  Through professing the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, I freely choose him.

And that is all he desires.  He knows my weaknesses and how easily I turn away from him and yet he longs only for me and my “yes”.  As our retreat director, Fr. Boniface, told us, “It is Christ’s fidelity that is most beautiful.”  I don’t have to have it all together. That’s not what he is asking.  He only wants me to remain with him, as I am able.  And together we will bring about the Kingdom of God.

In our profession ceremony for solemn vows, we receive a ring.  As I wear it, I will recall Jesus’ words to me, “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity” and his vows to me to love me to the end, into eternity.  And I will also recall our Reverend Mother’s words as she places it on my finger, “…keep faith with your Bridegroom so that you may come to the wedding feast of eternal joy.”
I remember receiving the complete works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for Christmas when I was in my early teen years. I devoured his poetry, and one of my favorite poems at that time was “The Builders”, which includes these stanzas:
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

I loved the challenge of these words, the way that they called me out to do whatever it was I was doing to the very best of my ability and how they encouraged me to remember that “nothing useless is or low”.

This poem still goes through my head at times, and recently I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. Not long ago, my Mom said something on the phone that startled me. She was sharing with me about a weekend retreat she and my Dad had made, and said that one of the things that she realized on retreat was that my “yes” to the Lord in my life made her more ready, more available to say “yes” to him in her own life.

Surprised as I was by this revelation, I took it to prayer. And as I dialogued with the Lord about it, I saw something very beautiful. It was, perhaps, true that my “yes” to my vocation as a religious sister enabled my Mom to say a deeper “yes” to the Lord’s work in her life. But it was also true that I was able to receive a vocation to this life because my Mom had first said “yes” to entering the Catholic Church (a courageous choice for her, given her family’s response to it). Her “yes” to the Lord’s invitation to enter the Church made possible my “yes” a few years later, when, on July 6, 2002, I was received into the Catholic Church and initiated into the sacramental life of the Church.

But the picture is so much more complex
even than this! My Dad’s “yes” to support my Mom in a decision he did not fully understand certainly figures in to the equation, as does my Grandmother’s deep “yes” to following Jesus in her own life and teaching my Mom to love and serve him. What is really mindboggling about this is that my Grandmother’s fidelity to the Lord supported in a very real way a decision that she would later resist! God used her “yes” to ballast a “yes” she would not have chosen!

No choice for the Lord is ever wasted in the Divine economy. Our tiny, apparently unseen efforts to be faithful to Christ are bricks and mortar, building materials with which the Lord is building the New Jerusalem. This sounds grandiose, but it’s true. The “yes” you say today to be steadfast to the people and the daily tasks entrusted to you by the Lord are being used in manifold (though often hidden!) ways to build up the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which is built of the interlocking “yeses” of his sons and daughters.

Rejoice with me as I celebrate 13 years in the Catholic Church – and thank God, too, for the many “yeses” that have brought you to him in the course of your life. 
I’ve always wondered about why things are the way they are and why people do the things they do. I think that’s what made me study philosophy in college. Unsurprisingly, this penchant for pondering has followed me into the convent. Most recently, I have been asking myself a few “whys”, the heart of which is this set of questions: why do I work in downtown Steubenville? Why do I serve others, “the poor”? Why do I spend my days sorting through used (and often dirty) clothes and shoes, knick-knacks and cookware? Why do I listen to story after heartbreaking story of loss, disappointment, crime, tragedy, abuse, and vice? Why do I risk exposure to bedbugs, lice, and heaven-only-knows what else? Why do I do it? Why am I so happy doing it?

When I bracket out the obvious motive (religious obedience!), I find some motives that are surprising or embarrassing, and others that are certainly the work of grace. Part of my work is tied up in a compulsive need to help people and try to fix their problems (Messiah complex? You bet!). There’s a strain of needing-to-be-needed still active in my heart. This is old news for me – these motives have stained most of the apparently generous actions in my life. I also want to do good, to be good, and I know that doing the works of mercy is a straightforward way of “being good”. Jesus also indicated that we would be judged on our actions to those in need (see Matthew 25), so it seems prudent to help others as I can.

But I am becoming aware of another, more lasting motive for my work and service: the love of Christ compels me! Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 5, where he explains the reason for his ministry:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view […]if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:16-20).

I used to think about this passage only in terms of myself: I am a new creation in Christ. But there’s more to it than that! As Christ makes me new, I come awake to the potential for newness present in everything and everyone else. Everything is colored by Christ, and “the love of Christ controls me” – which doesn’t mean that my love for the Eucharistic Christ or Christ enthroned in heaven enables me to tolerate or put up with my brothers and sisters. No! In the new world I enter by my membership in Christ, each person is a member of Christ’s body, and is loveable.

We walk around in the society of hundreds and thousands of “little Christs” – shouldn’t we be in love with each of them? As Christ’s ambassadors, we really must be! How else will we communicate to others his spousal love for the human race? How can we be a part of his ministry of reconciliation if we do not desperately desire that reconciliation ourselves? The things we do for “service projects”, “volunteering”, and whatnot really must be “the things we do for love.”

Otherwise, we risk doing them, ultimately, for ourselves. Let us allow ourselves to be captivated by the Christs we serve in the daily grind, and extend his love and the offer of reconciliation to all.

-Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR

Contribute to the ministry of the sisters in downtown Steubenville

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine. You've probably heard of or maybe even prayed this sweet prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but have you ever followed its consequences to realize what it's actually saying?

"One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water" (John 19:34). This is what happened to Jesus' heart. His heart was wounded and from it spilled out his whole life. Beautiful, yes, but it also left Him profoundly vulnerable and weak. Is this really that for which I want to pray?

Actually, in one sense, it's already happened to me. I was born with a heart valve that couldn't quite pump enough blood through it to keep me alive, so I had open heart surgery to correct it at the tender age of three days. The surgery left me with a functioning aorta, but also scar tissue and blood leakage from my aorta backwards into my left ventricle. As I grew up, I experienced no symptoms or major limitations, but two years ago, I had to come face to face with my weakness. A new cardiologist became alarmed at the amount of leakage I was experiencing and put me through an MRI scanner and onto a treadmill to prove my heart's ability to handle it. I came through it alright, but not before I learned my utter dependency on my Father.

Every time I walk out of my annual cardiology check-up, I carry a paper that reads: "Diagnosis - congenital insufficiency of aortic valve." Insufficiency. Not enough. Inadequate. Poor.

"Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29), Jesus says. He, too, has a lowly heart, a poor heart. Throughout his life and especially on the cross, He also, as a human person, lived this poverty and dependence on his Father in heaven. Only when He received everything from the Father could then his own heart leak it out onto all of us poor ones from the cross.

I happen to have this physical condition that shows me how to have a heart like Jesus', but isn't it true that each of our hearts--"our hidden center" as the Catechism calls it--is also insufficient, pierced, and leaky? Without God, we are incapable of holiness. Without his grace, we are incapable of love. He did it with the dead body of Jesus, so why can't the Father use each of us to pour out His living water on the thirsty, to all those needing to believe in a merciful God? Jesus said, "He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

God always chooses what is weak in this world. He chooses a little piece of bread to become His true presence in the Eucharist. He chooses a poor, little, ordinary girl to bear Christ. He chooses me with the leaky heart, you with your particular weakness, to be his heart for the world. God's ways are unfathomable. Someday we'll find out why; for now, let us be content to let Him use us in our insufficiency.

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

"Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows? Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path. For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. We will be able to love because we have his own heart."
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