That famous question, “Who do you say that I am?” occurs in this Sunday’s Gospel. It can be a very important discernment question because how we answer it affects everything. If you say Jesus was a good man who set a good example, that may be nice, but it doesn’t necessarily call a person to any radical change. If you say Jesus is the one who will judge us in the end, then it might just make you anxious and act out of guilt. If you say Jesus is the creator of the universe manifesting in human form to teach us how to live and love, you might feel more drawn to respond with your life.
At a very personal level, we probably answer this question differently from others, and even for ourselves at different points in our lives. Because Jesus is also a ‘person,’ we are in a relationship, and relationships change over time. Jesus may not change, but our understanding of him and way of relating to him will. Some of the different answers I have had to this question: Jesus you are… my partner… my hope… a caress… a challenger… the one I take time with each night and morning… the core relationship in my life.
Discernment involves other people. But the strongest voice in becoming who I am, and discerning what I am called to do, is the voice of Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is?
He could have sent the person to jail. I was in awe as Ricardo (a pseudonym) shared his story with a group at a Hispanic young adult retreat weekend. Ricardo is a kind and gentle young man. He is also an undocumented immigrant, so he’s in a vulnerable situation. He was beaten and robbed by several young men. The men were caught, and he was brought in to confront them. He had previously experienced jail when he was picked up for not being documented, and he was thinking about what an awful experience it was. He didn’t want anyone else to suffer that way. He said he looked at his attackers with the eyes of Christ, and he told them that he forgave them, but asked they don’t rob anyone else.
Ricardo said, “To forgive is a decision.” Ricardo discerned his response, bringing to it his personal experience, the eyes of Christ, and deep compassion. Discerning is coming to a decision, and sometimes it’s not an easy or clear one. But it does lead us to freedom.
Ironically, in letting those who attacked him go free, Ricardo demonstrated that he was the one with the greatest freedom.
Is there a pardon you need to offer in order to be free?
If four strong people were each holding the corner of a blanket, would you let yourself fall back into it with confidence? Probably. If one person dropped their side, what would happen? You would tumble out on to the floor. Or, if another person decided to suddenly raise their side, what would happen? You would slide right out.
I just saw this demonstrated literally at the Dominican College Preaching Conference. The point was: to live well and discern well, we need to have a balanced life. As Dominicans we talk about the four key pillars that keep our lives in balance: prayer, study, community and preaching (ministry or service). While sometimes we might focus on one area more than another, if we completely drop one or over-stress one, we lose our stability. Being in balance helps us to live well and to choose well.
Is your life in balance?
“Well, my love story began….” I was so struck by each of the young women speaking with me. I had asked each of them to share with me their story of how they came to religious life, and every single one referred to her “love story.” I thought it was so beautiful!
I was visiting our Sisters in the Philippines and I heard the stories of the five temporary professed sisters, two novices and two candidates – each one of whom knew she was on that path because of Jesus’ love for her. And it wasn’t an insular love – it wasn’t a just “me and Jesus” kind of love. Each story included giving and experiencing love with the other Sisters and with the people they serve. It is a love story that leads each woman out to love and serve others.
Their love stories weren’t all smooth. There were often many challenges. But being grounded in that base of love enables them to go forward in confidence – with the one that loves them by their side.
It is true for all of us, whatever our path. The love of Jesus can sustain us, lead us out of ourselves, and give us the courage to continue forth.
Can you sense Jesus walking with you?
Sister Jamie Phelps has a fascinating life story. Born in Alabama and raised in Chicago, she entered the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 1959. As an African American, she is in the minority in North American religious life. She has brought her unique sensibility to a range of ministries including: educator, social worker, community organizer, pastoral minister, liturgist, spiritual director, preacher, retreat director, theologian, and author. In 1968 she helped to found the National Black Sisters’ Conference. Her most recent position was Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies of Xavier University of Louisiana.
Sister Jamie shares: “My life objective is to assist in the inner transformation of the human community by participating in the education of Christians and other religious women and men committed to use their knowledge and expertise for the construction of more inclusive world by sharing their knowledge and experience of God and in the case of Christians by continuing Jesus' proclamation of the good news of God's universal love and His call for social justice and communion.”
Her vision is “a future in which all human beings and creation are reverenced as beings who reflect the image and likeness of God by their very being and patterns of inclusive relationships, words and actions. I envision a future wherein the Kingdom of God is ushered into reality by the power God acting in us and through us. In that Kingdom all human divisions will cease and the unity of all creation will be realized.”
To read more about Sister Jamie’s fascinating journey, including her early years in Chicago, how she discerned religious life, and her experience of hurricane Katrina, read the full article from Vision Vocation Network here.
Many blessings as you discern your own unique path,
“Work, then, my daughter in the field you see God calling you to work in, and don’t trouble or weary your spirit over what is said to you but carry on courageously. Fear and serve God selflessly, and then don’t be bothered by what people say except to have compassion for them.”
These are the words of St. Catherine of Siena to a young woman who was struggling with discerning her call. Tomorrow is Catherine’s Feast Day. She was born in the tumultuous time of 1347 when the plague was raging through Europe. She cared for the sick, poor, and prisoners. She became a well known preacher and reconciler whom many followed. She even advised Popes. She responded to her times.
Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP, in her book, Speaking with Authority: Catherine of Siena and the Voices of Women Today, explains how much Catherine has to say to those in discernment:
“…as Catherine’s letters to others make clear, our unique gifts, circumstances, and relationships, as well as the specific needs of others and the concrete situations in which we find ourselves, disclose more specifically the unique vocation to which each of us is called. Further, the dimensions of one’s vocation unfold and shift during the course of a lifetime….The plague victims, the poor of the city of Siena, and political prisoners [Catherine] came to know made a claim on her and helped shape her concrete response to the gospel.” (Pg. 28-29)
How do the elements of your life disclose your unique vocation?
This week we feature guest blogger, Sister Marilyn Barnett, OP.
Recently I was interviewed by a student attending Siena Heights University about my life as a Dominican Sister. As I responded to his questions, I was struck again by the joy that continues to fill my life for having responded “yes” to God’s call sixty years ago.
Whatever vocation one chooses is never risk free or without challenges.
My life as a woman religious has been grounded in the belief that, with God walking with me on the journey of my life, I would never have to be afraid. That realization has brought a deep peace and joy to me throughout my many years as a religious Sister.
I learned many years ago something that changed my whole understanding about life. It was that life is all about relationships – with God, with those with whom you have committed, and with the wider world – especially with those who have been relegated to the margins of society and church.
In religious life, the tools to develop these kinds of relationships are fundamental, and the ground out of which we commit our lives. The loving support of the community through their warm hospitality, gracious concern and depth of conversations about things that really matter, provided the milieu for me to develop. This, coupled with the many spiritual and educational opportunities that were provided, allowed me to grow in ways I never imagined.
Whenever one enters into a relationship, it requires taking a leap of faith. My entering into religious life was a leap of faith that landed me into the arms of a loving God, and from that place there is really nothing that cannot be done in God’s name.
If I had to do it again I would most certainly take that leap of faith.
It has proved that for me, religious life has been the best life ever.
With great joy we celebrated the Rite of First Profession of Marilín Llanes this past Sunday! During our vow ceremonies, the Sister always makes a “statement of intent,” putting her commitment in her own words. This statement reflects what Marilín has discerned in order to walk forward on this path of vowed life:
Intent Statement for Temporary Vows – April 10, 2016
It is my intent with all my heart and soul to enter into a deeper commitment with my loving God, and my dear Adrian Dominican Sisters.
I pray that I may be open to God’s grace and invite the Spirit to create in me a clear, open, strong, full and joy-filled heart.
I want to preach the living Word of God Creator with a persistent, insistent, and consistent voice that challenges systems that oppress, repress, and depress all of our natural life, and to be present in solidarity with the poor and suffering of people on the margins.
Blessed am I to be called and to have found the way back home to my beloved Adrian Dominican Sisters.
“My yes to God is always, now, and forever.” These are the words of our Sister Alma who just made final vows on April 3. I just returned from the Philippines where I was able to be present with our 38 sisters there and celebrate the final vows of both Sisters Alma and Salvacion.
These are two women who have recently been through a very intense discernment and came to be sure they wanted to give their whole lives. They said the formation years haven’t always been easy, and there are certainly ups and downs, but they both knew this was the right step. I could see their excitement as the ceremony approached and was witness to their deep joy that day.
As we chatted the night before the ceremony, they could both articulate clearly what the vows mean to them. Alma speaks of her commitment as a covenant with God and as a commitment to serve God and the people of God with joy.” Salvacion sees her vows as “a manifestation of God’s mercy and compassion.” They are her way "to love and serve selflessly now and forever." Both sisters live lives of direct service, deep prayer, and community.
How would you describe your “yes” to God?
Blessings of the Easter Season,
This week we feature guest blogger, Sister Ann Romayne Fallon, OP, Holy Rosary Chapter Assistant.
It will soon be 70 years since I said “Yes” to God and responded to his call to life as an Adrian Dominican Sister. Actually, I was blessed with an early awareness of where this journey might take me and why I gave it much consideration, especially during my secondary school years. Looking back, I know this call was initiated by these remarkable women who nurtured my desire to learn and an even greater desire to become a teacher. My love for school was strong and kept the dream alive.
Ultimately, it was the wonderful spirit of these sisters that opened the door for me and encouraged the process of discernment toward this exciting and life-changing possibility. I found myself mentally exploring what it would be like to be sent to unknown places whenever and wherever needed and, of course, not fully realizing the great challenges that would be required in order to serve God’s people in the footsteps of Dominic. But nothing daunts those who are ready to take on the world!
With the support of faith-filled parents who swallowed their fears and allowed their oldest/recent high school graduate the freedom to follow her heart. As a result I have made a commitment to this incredible mystery that calls the heart to discipleship and the discovery of the difference between the “wisdom of the world” and the “wisdom of God.” And I have never looked back!
Religious life has granted me countless blessings and provided many opportunities to deepen my spiritual life, to live and enjoy the gift of community, and to be granted ministerial assignments that touched the lives of thousands of young people and helped them to recognize their mission to make our world a better place for others. A challenge that continues to be mine as well.
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
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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 video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!