If God is all-loving and all-powerful, how can God cause or allow such devastation and suffering as was perpetrated by Hurricane Irma this past week? Human tragedy can trigger serious doubts in the provident love of God or shatter belief in God altogether. How do we understand the mystery of God and suffering?
Theologians who are also scientists can help us wrestle with this question. They suggest that because the vast expanse of creation is loved by God, not only do human beings have a freedom appropriate to their nature, but all living creatures and processes also have a type of freedom as well. As human beings, we cherish our independence and freedom to make choices in life that will help us realize the fullness of our human potential. In giving us the gift of free will, God freely chooses to limit divine power and control in our lives. Never forcing us to act against our will, God makes us partners, not puppets, in the ongoing care of our world. This gift of human freedom, however, has a “shadow side,” making us vulnerable to the moral evils of violence, war, poverty, hateful prejudice, and oppression of every kind.
Like human free will, all living creatures and processes exercise a type of freedom according to their nature that generates the flourishing of life for the continuous development of the evolving cosmos. In the ongoing creation of the universe, God acts, but does not control; God guides, but respects creation’s autonomy. These free processes, however, also produce situations of “natural evil,” namely, the suffering caused by experiences and events of nature such as Hurricane Irma. While hurricanes produce rainfall that can end droughts, promote the dispersal and growth of plant species, and produce biodiversity, they also cause the destruction of human lives, vegetation, wildlife, and infrastructures. Our abuse of the planet is also increasing the intensity of these natural disasters. Unfortunately, suffering and death make up a necessary and purposeful part of the evolutionary process.
The crucified, self-giving love of Jesus Christ reveals a God who freely chooses to be vulnerable to suffering. The resurrection of Jesus shows that while God allows suffering and death, God will bring newness of life out of suffering and death for the transformation of the whole world.
Take time this week to ponder the mystery of God and suffering. Do moral evil or natural disasters trigger doubts in you about God’s unconditional love for all creation? If someone told you that all the pain and suffering in the world caused them to doubt the existence of God, how would you respond to them?
Would you agree with the following statement: the only person in the world who has the power to insult you is you and no one else? When another person levels harsh criticism at you, certain negative thoughts begin to flood your consciousness. Perhaps you exaggerate the importance of what is being said or jump to the conclusion that the criticism is valid and accurate. You may see this single negative event as part of a recurring pattern of defeat. “I always mess up! I’m a complete failure! I can never correct this mistake! Everybody hates me! This criticism shows that I am worthless!” Your emotional reaction will be produced by this bombardment of negative thoughts and not by what the other person says.
In his book Feeling Good, cognitive therapist David Burns gives some helpful advice. He suggests that one important way to conquer the fear of criticism involves your own thought processes: Learn to identify and analyze the negative and irrational thoughts you have in reaction to being criticized.* These distorted thoughts can create negative and hurtful emotions. Upon reflection determine whether the criticism is right or wrong. If it is wrong, then there is no reason to feel upset. It was the other person’s mistake to criticize you unfairly. With a spirit of compassion, let it go. No one is perfect. On the other hand, if the criticism is right, still there is no reason for alarm. Humbly acknowledge the mistake and do what you need to do to make amends. With a spirit of self-compassion, gently forgive yourself recognizing that you do not need to be perfect. If you have healthy self-esteem, it is easier to hear and to respond to criticism. You do not require the approval of others to be full of love and at peace.
Take time to reflect on how you handle criticism from others. Do you fear criticism? Do you recognize how your own distorted thinking can create negative and hurtful feelings? Can you grow and learn from criticism in becoming your authentic self?
*See David D. Burn, M.D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, (New York: HarperCollins), 131-148.
I was involved in jail ministry a number of years ago. I loved meeting one-on-one with the women as they shared their struggles and their faith. So many wanted to pray together at the end of our time; it was very moving. One thing that struck me was that those who were arrested for forging checks would say, “Well, at least I didn’t sell my body.” And those who were in for prostitution would say, “Well at least I didn’t steal by forging checks.” Sometimes people feel a need to see themselves as “better than.” This tendency to want to see ourselves as superior affects all of us at some time.
Religious life is varied and holds many different and good responses as to how to live one’s vowed life well. Still, sometimes this tendency toward a sense of superiority can sneak in. A congregation may imply that theirs is the only valid way to love and serve God. If you are discerning and a group tells you why they are better than everyone else, that might be a sign to go a little deeper and see if they have true Christian humility and compassion.
Sadly, I recently had this experience at an out-of-town parish I attended with my Mother. Though the readings were based on God’s welcoming of all, the priest spent the whole time condemning. My Mother said, “Everything he talked about was either bad, sinful or evil. Not one positive word in his entire homily.” This pastor conveyed that he felt superior to all the various groups he condemned, including those who care for creation. This superiority will close him off from both finding and sharing Christ in these situations.
The self-righteous of Jesus’ day criticized him for spending time with sinners. Shouldn’t he be with the “better” people? Jesus preferred the company of people who recognized their own weakness and need, and who were open to receiving his love and mercy.
Do I catch myself feeling superior to others sometimes? What calls me to a healthy humility?
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
The perfectionism trap is the belief that we need to be perfect, look perfect, and act perfect in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. Anything less than perfection — illness, disability, family divorce, accident, addiction, unemployment — threatens to eclipse our unique beauty and ability to live in the light of love. Whenever suffering overshadows our life, we can feel trapped in a nighttime of painfully low self-esteem, isolation, and blame. Where does God stand in the midst of our human struggle? Do we image God as a harsh judge who reinforces our guilt and shame? Or is our God a loving liberator who frees us from the snares of perfectionism?
I believe that the solar eclipse we experienced this week is God’s way of expressing the truth that the darkness we suffer is temporary and will never defeat the radiance of our authentic identity. As we bask in the invincible light of God’s love, we hear the gentle truth speaking from within: No one is perfect. Join the human race! Let your love grow strong enough to accept yourself unconditionally and come to know the joy of being imperfect. As Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen puts it, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning to work on becoming yourself.” As witnessed by the solar eclipse, our light is not meant to be hidden, but to shine forth for all to see.
Our liberator God calls us to let go of perfectionism in our determination to love ourselves unconditionally. Can we begin to see our imperfections as neutral realities with both good and bad aspects? Perhaps our limiting disability has taught us empathy and compassion for others or our destructive addiction has taught us to trust in the saving help of God. Struggling to amend our moral imperfections builds our character and makes us better, more loving people. In our journey to become our authentic selves, God will be our compassionate guide and gratitude for our life will dawn like the sun.
Take time to reflect: Are you in the perfectionism trap? Can you give thanks for your imperfections? How has struggling with your imperfections made you a better person?
How do we respond to the horrific event of white supremacist terrorism that took place at a hate rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a suspected white nationalist allegedly slammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others?
The call of ongoing Christian conversion beckons us to embrace the often intimidating truth that we have personal responsibility for the wider world of social sin. In this case, we must take a strong stand against racism, hateful bigotry, religious extremism, and domestic terrorism. We need to make it clear that neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites, and anti-Muslim speech and action do not represent America and do not represent Jesus Christ.
As Jesuit priest James Martin of America Magazine says, “Christian white supremacist is an oxymoron.” Directing his message to white supremacists, he goes on to say, “Every time you shout ‘white power’ you might as well be shouting ‘crucify him.’ And anytime you lift your hand in a Nazi salute, you might as well be lifting your hand to nail Jesus to the cross. And lest you missed the point, your savior is Jewish!” For his full speech, connect to the following link: youtu.be/99oVfKqclGM
Do not act as passive spectators in the face of these heresies of racism, white supremacy and white nationalism. Consider how you will show your support for the beautiful diversity of people.
On August 8th Dominicans from around the world celebrated the Feast of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. In this week’s blog I would like to share with you the reflection, one of our novices, Sister Katherine Frazier, gave at our morning prayer celebration.
View Sister Katherine's reflection on YouTube.
I had the opportunity to go on an eight-day silent retreat this past week. Turning off all devices and unplugging really helps me to be with God and my inner self in a deeper way. There were over 40 other people on retreat, all of us held by the shared silence.
One evening, I came out of the chapel and sat in the lounge to watch the sunset, and the following words came to me:
I felt compelled to bow to the sunset
just as I bow to the tabernacle
watching the sun’s slow descent
the changes in the sky
yellows, pinks, blues
is mesmerizing and awe inspiring
a sign of your presence and fidelity
you who gave us a planet
on which we can know
that the sun will rise each day
what glory, what reassurance
You gift it to us anew each day
and each night
we can rejoice in the beauty of hiddenness
because we know new light will come
I bow to your sunset.
What calls out to you to bow in awe?
Sister Lorraine Réaume
At the heart of our celibate sexuality is our love relationship with God, and with all the things that God loves. God is our central commitment. I think of what Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “God is of no importance unless God is of supreme importance.” The skills for intimacy with God are primary for healthy lives of consecrated celibacy.
Kathleen Norris spent some time with Benedictine monks and nuns and wrote about her experience in her book The Cloister Walk. She recalls a comment one of the sister’s made about her celibate sexuality. The sister said, “…My primary relationship is with God. My vows were made to another person, the person of Christ. And all of my decisions about love had to be made in light of that person.” Norris recalls being stunned by that statement. She wrote, “I could not conceive of Christ being so alive for me, or myself being that intimate with Christ” (251).
I cannot say it enough, that at the core of skills for healthy celibate sexuality are skills for intimacy with God. Our spirituality and our sexuality are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. They are intimately interrelated. Our love of God, our love of self, and our love of others are all one love, one energy for relationship.
How do you understand the vow of consecrated celibacy? What would you say are some skills for intimacy with God?
By Sister Judith Benkert, OP
I’m inspired to write about my gift of faith and the grace accepted. Grace is offered many times a day and it’s up to me to accept the grace, to engage and act as a Christian according to my baptismal gift. I would like to identify two specific graces that are an integral part of my life. I received the grace of Baptism very early in my family life and it’s that grace that urged me to accept a second grace, later in my life, that of a call to be a member of religious life, a Dominican Sister. Of course, I ask “Why me? Why not another person, who am I that I have been graced twice with regard to my vocation?” At the time I wanted a family and I wanted to become a sports star (the sports star was a real overreach). Well in one way or another I have accomplished that and much more. As a mother I would have been a guide to my family. As a Sister, I became a guide to many families over my years as an RN and a Certified Nurse-midwife. God’s gifts are only limited by our imagination. I continue to minister even now as an RN in a parish with a commitment to the homeless and service to frail seniors. I’m still preaching with my hands both being ‘in-touch’ and ‘touched’ by the people of God.
What is the direction in your life and are you open to God’s Grace?
Every good life choice is grounded in self-esteem. With self-esteem, we reverence and respect our own person as a gift of God. We are not trying to look or be like someone else. This brings to mind the familiar story from the Talmud about Akiba.
When Akiba was on his deathbed, he complained bitterly to his rabbi that he felt like a complete failure. The rabbi moved closer and asked why, and Akiba confessed: “I have not lived a life like Moses.” He then broke down in tears, admitting that he feared God’s judgment.
At this, the rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently, “God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.”
With self-esteem, we embrace our true self with unconditional love. In turn, we make decisions that bring about our own flourishing and the betterment of our world.
As you reflect on important choices in your life, will the decisions you make reflect a careful attention to what nurtures your authentic self and brings the fullness of life God so wants to give you?
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Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!