Young women discerning a call to religious life often ask if living a vow of celibacy means giving up their sexuality. I usually begin my response by saying that the vow of consecrated celibacy is a radical way of loving God, self, and others with our whole heart, mind, body, soul, and strength. God’s gift of self to me invites my mutual self-gift in return. In my personal response to God’s call, I commit myself totally to God to the exclusion of any other primary commitment to spouse, family, or projects. By living this vow I desire to embody with my life the profound truth that the multifaceted love of God satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart for a lifetime.
Celibacy clearly requires abstinence from genital sexual activity. In making this commitment to God, I freely and knowingly set limits on my human experience. I will never love and be loved as wife and mother. These important dimensions of my sexual identity I will never experience. Like any major life choice, my choice to live a life of consecrated celibacy involves legitimate suffering and letting go as well as joy and abundance. Anything of value comes at a high cost. My vow of celibacy, however, does not mean giving up my sexuality or my capacity to be creative.
The most fundamental aspect of human sexuality is our need for intimacy, our need to be lovingly related and connected to other human beings and to all of creation. As a celibate lover, my need for intimacy is as great as that of a married person. As Father Clark puts it, “Intimacy is as much a part of my sexuality as it is part of a married person’s. Human sexuality is about intimacy.”* Real intimacy requires a multiplicity of personal skills from self-esteem to compassion, caring presence, appropriate confiding, trust, loyalty, fidelity, as well as a number of skills for personal freedom. We learn to channel our sexuality into a broader way of loving. A celibate does not deny her sexuality; instead, she uses that God-given energy to love and serve generously.
*Keith Clark, Being Sexual…and Celibate, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1985), 30.
My childhood God was a caring, parent-like figure who lived up in heaven and ruled the world from afar. Early childhood specialists tell us that children begin to create images of God that represent their parents’ way of being. At the same time, they also internalize parental standards, values, and expectations as well as the rules of religion and society. They see God as a loving parent who intervenes in our world, rewarding good behavior and punishing wrongdoing. Their God is all-loving, but also rule-making, judgmental, guilt-evoking and at times terrifying. Healthy adult spiritual development requires the transformation of our childhood images of God into the living God imaged by Christ.
Here is an example from my own life of the gradual change in my God imaging. In my early twenties, I was reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I was impressed with her self-esteem and love of life despite the fact that she was hiding in an attic with her family to escape the Nazis. She valued her experience enough to keep a diary where she shared what was happening in her life: her new boyfriend, problems with her mother, etc.
I began to think, maybe if I keep a journal I will catch her spirit and experience the joy of living, no matter the circumstances. You may recall that Anne gave her journal a name, “Kitty.” She began every entry like a letter, “Dear Kitty.” “Kitty” became her friend and confidant. My question was, how do I want to name my journal? Who do I want to be my friend and confidant?
I wanted this kind of personal relationship with God. So I began my journal, “Dear God,” and I started to write down everything that was going on in my life. In the middle of this, however, I started to think, “This is really stupid! My ordinary, everyday life is not important to God Almighty. A friendship with God is simply not possible.” I finished the letter anyway and signed it, “Love, Sara.”
That weekend I went to Mass at our little parish church. The priest was a visiting priest and to my surprise, his whole sermon was in the form of a letter from God addressing all of us with love. I just sat there in awe! My letter to God had been answered! I was in tears! God is closer to us than we realize. My image of God changed. God is unthinkably humble and is seeking a friendship with us, even more than we are seeking a friendship with God! How has your image of God changed as you have matured into adulthood?
By Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
A Sister shared with me that she found it disturbing to watch and keep up with all the terrible things happening in the news. She decided to set a limit to the amount she took in, and she is feeling much better. She does not want to deny what is happening, and she wants to be informed, but she wants balance.
She didn’t say it this way, but perhaps what she was yearning for was some quiet time to hear another voice, the voice of God. Each of us needs to find our own balance. Our news consumption can become compulsive, the constant barrage of loud voices drowning out other voices we need to listen to, within and without. Even without news, we can be very distracted by the constant input of social media and our various devices.
We owe it to ourselves and to our world, both the world immediately around us and the larger global reality, to listen to the range of voices, and to seek moments of contemplation. Only then can we hear the quiet, gentle voice of God nudging us to true life, to faithfulness, to hope. God will guide us how to respond, how to receive, and how to hear good news if we take the time to listen.
Based on a reflection by Sister Joan Delaplane, OP
This past week, our Dominican community celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). Catherine: Dominican preacher, teacher, healer, reconciler, writer, mystic, and all in a mere 33 years; first woman named as Doctor of the Church! A woman whose times were like our own in many ways: upheavals, insecurity, fear, wars, natural calamities, lost faith, and scandals in the Church. And how did our sister Catherine face these challenges? As Suzanne Nofke summarized it: “The Truth and Love that is God possessed her, and she laid her whole being on the line with his for the life of the world” (Catherine of Siena: Vision Through a Distant Eye. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996).
Yes, Catherine’s “mad lover” God was Truth and Love. As I reflected on Catherine and our own time, however, two phrases grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go: Truth of Love and Love of Truth. Catherine’s grounding in the Truth of Love, who is God, impelled her to take the love of truth to others. Perhaps you’ve seen the cover of Time magazine earlier this month: “Is Truth Dead?” Alternative facts and fake news seem acceptable; some don’t even care, or even echo Pilate: “What is truth?” It’s as though there’s a cloud over us, making it difficult to perceive the light of truth.
And what does this Truth of God’s Love look like? Jesus embodies the truth of God’s love as a caring, tender washing feet of those who had betrayed him, denied him and abandoned him. The Truth of God’s Love is a forgiving of those who had abused him, hated him, and left him to suffer the throes of an agonizing death. Jesus shows us the truth of God’s love as a trusting in God to be with him when all he felt was abandonment, pain, and the seeming failure of his mission. The Risen Christ shows us the Truth of God’s Love that transformed locked up, fearful disciples into fearless preachers speaking the truth in love.
Like those first disciples, Catherine heard Christ calling her to embody the Truth of Love in her world: “I need you to walk with two feet; love of God and love of all that God loves.” We, too, are called to be the Truth of Love for our world. Like the small groups of people who traveled this past weekend to walk on two feet in Washington, D.C. with others for love of the Truth of Climate Change. They will witness to the call of all people to be part of healing and preserving God’s beloved creation.
What are some of the ways that you will embody the Truth of Love and the Love of Truth? Let us know in the comments section what occurred to you in your reflection.
A number of different people have told me that because of their personal experience of suffering and the misery in the world, they no longer believe in an all-loving God. Without doubt, human misery can shatter belief, not only in God, but in the goodness of humanity as well.
As we enter into Holy Week, the Church invites us to reflect on how Jesus viewed his suffering and death. Throughout his ministry, we know that Jesus freely accepted suffering as the cost of his revolutionary proclamation of the reign of God. As his death approached, he felt deep anxiety in the face of suffering, sweating blood as he prayed to be spared the inevitable. Nevertheless, he resolved, with God’s help, to stand in fidelity to his mission. Then, in the throes of his agony on the cross, it seemed that even God, whom Jesus had preached as compassionate and loving Abba, had forsaken him. He cried out the opening line of psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34), expressing his real experience of the absence of God. Yet, at the heart of his vulnerability, was an unwavering belief in his own goodness as well as a deep trust in the psalm’s promise of God’s help and vindication. The hidden closeness and strengthening love of God within him was made visible when Jesus offered forgiveness to those who crucified him, (Lk 23:34) promised paradise to the penitent thief, (Lk 23:42) and entrusted the care of his mother to the beloved disciple (Jn 19:26-27). Even as Jesus was lifted up in crucifixion, his loving communion with God was made available to all people in their most perilous experiences of suffering and death. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of his death, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32).
In his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, (I 59) Rainer Maria Rilke portrays our loving God, who walks with us through life, encouraging our trust especially in times of suffering. Rilke writes:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
This Holy Week, may you experience the hand of God take yours in everlasting love.
By Sister Judith Benkert, OP
Last week I was listening to an interview of one of our Sisters. Sister Ann has given 60 years of ministry in a variety of settings. When asked what three words she would like on her tombstone, Sister Ann paused a moment and said, “I always said yes.” If you have a chance click here to view the entire interview on YouTube—it’s amazing!
It’s true that, when the Congregation asks a Sister to consider a ministry, we take it very seriously because we believe God works through the Congregation in calling us to serve the people of God. Over the past forty years, the ministry of Sisters has changed. We slowly turned schools and other institutions over to very capable educators and administrators who carry the mission and ministry forward. We strive to “Preach with Our Lives” in a variety of ministries. New members will find a place in ministry in areas of social justice, law, ecology, health care, education, parish ministry, campus ministry, and more. The future belongs to new members who stand on the shoulders of Sisters who walked before them and said “yes” to God.
Will you come follow these Sisters and say yes?
After a winter of snow, ice, and freezing weather the new blossoms of spring seem so far away. We hear of a new wave of cold arctic air to hit the Northeast. And yet the first blossoms are bravely opening with the urging of the warm sun.
Discernment was for me a chilling winter. Where was the answer to my seeking? Where was the God I so believed in? Give me an answer, and soon! Then one morning I was out the back door and peeking through the winter soil was the small point of a peony plant. I lived in the Midwest. I was able to see the warmth of the sun bring the decision to light. I haven’t looked back. Spring blossoms are always reminders for me to believe in the warmth of God’s grace.
Do you have the water? Or the jug? Or are you thirsty? A regular Lenten reading is the Samaritan woman at the well. In a way, the Samaritan woman could be any of us. She is coming to get water, to get what is needed for her and her family to survive, but she is tired of having to come day after day. The thought of receiving water that would quench her thirst forever sounds like a wonderful idea to her!
Our Lenten practices can help us become aware of what we truly need. By giving something up, we can no longer use that food or habit or thought to distract us, and we can encounter our own deep thirst. If we don’t realize we are thirsty, we will fail to drink the water we need. When we become aware of our spiritual and emotional thirsts, we can bring them to God and ask for that life-giving water only God can provide.
The wonderful gift of encountering our own thirst, and allowing God to ease it, enables us to then offer water to others. We know what it is like to thirst. We can share in that struggle with someone. We can help them lower the bucket to their depths in order to receive true water. Where are you this Lent? Are you avoiding your thirst? Are you allowing God to quench it? Are you called to help someone else lower the bucket into the well?
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
I do not know about you, but my love for self, others, and God is far from unconditional. For example, there are a number of conditions I lay down before I will love myself. I need to be successful in my work, have friends who treat me according to my will and have things go my way, just to name a few. Here is an everyday example of what I am talking about. When I am driving on the back roads of Michigan, I am peaceful, content, driving along as fast as I want, enjoying the scenery. This loving feeling changes quickly, however, if I happen to get behind a car that wants to take their time going 45 miles per hour. Suddenly, I am no longer peaceful, content and enjoying myself. I have become more and more frustrated and resentful that I’m stuck behind this driver, and there is little opportunity to pass. I have put a condition on my love for myself, that is, things must go my way. The good news is that when we catch ourselves in the act of loving conditionally, we can make a change. I have learned to take a deep breath, and enjoy the scenery even more because I am now going at a slower pace. I will give myself the feelings of peace and contentment no matter the conditions. The love I give myself is enough. As the author of The Presence Process Michael Brown says, “There’s no reason, excuse, or justification for treating ourselves with anything less than unconditional love” (208). God loves us with an unconditional love and calls us to do likewise. When we learn to love ourselves unconditionally, we can more easily love others and God this way as well. How unconditional is your love? What conditions do you place on yourself, others and God before you will love them?
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
Lent is an opportunity to respond to God’s call. “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2: 12). The forty days of Lent echo Jesus’ own forty days in the desert -praying and fasting, listening to God and wrestling with temptations. He grew stronger and came out ready to unite his heart with the heart of God in his mission for others. Like Jesus, we renew our dedication to the love of God and to the love of neighbor as self through prayer, fasting, and generous service to others, especially to people who are poor and vulnerable.
Jesuit priest Father Mark Thibodeaux gives one example of how he renews his life in God through what he calls “the most amazing prayer you’ve never heard of.” This amazing prayer is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercise, called the Examen. Father Mark explains why he loves this way of praying:
What I long for is to have Christ join me in all the adventures and tedium of my active day. I love Christ so much that I want to share every minute of it with him….I want to feel his presence always! …. I want to share with him even the smallest details of my life: the irritating email…the pleasant smile of the women at the post office; the dread in my heart for the difficult meeting…Sure, I want to share with Christ the really big things…but the closer I grow to Christ, the more I want to share with him the seemingly insignificant things as well. I know he’s there, in the midst of it all.
Mark Thibodeaux, Reimagining the Ignatian Examen (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015), vii-viii).
The Examen is a short prayer where for fifteen minutes every day you review your day. In five easy steps you: (1) Give thanks for all the things that went well in your day and the many gifts in your life; (2) Ask the Holy Spirit to review with you your whole day; (3) Recognize where you failed to love God, yourself or others today in big ways and small; (4) With self-compassion, feel the negative feelings that may surface and, if you have sinned, ask for forgiveness; (5) Look ahead with God to tomorrow and resolve to live it well.
This is only one way to rededicate your life to God. How much do you want to share your life with Jesus? As you reflect on your plans for Lent, how will you give God more of a role in your life?
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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!