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This week we have a guest post from Sister Mary Keefe, OP. Mary currently serves in the Siena House of Discernment where she lives with two other sisters, our candidate, and three young women from Siena Heights University. She recently received the Good Samaritan award from the National Catholic Development Conference for her work in establishing Nun’s Build in New Orleans, where she facilitated many sisters and their friends in helping to rebuild that city. Originally from Oakland, California, Mary has served in Michigan, Nevada, and California. She is an avid crocheter and belongs to the Crochet Ole group, which makes items for sale at the Motherhouse Christmas bazaar. The proceeds from the sales are given to local charities.
I have had the blessing of knowing when it was time to move from one ministry to another, although I have rarely had a good idea of where I was going as I turned in my resignation. At those times I have wondered if I would ever find a new ministry that excited me, a place where I knew I could make a difference.
In early 2007 I decided that it was time to move on. I knew that in response to the devastation of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, our sisters in leadership invited sisters who were retired or between jobs to go to New Orleans and help in any way they could. During this time the sisters from New Orleans invited our sisters to move there on a more permanent basis and establish a house.
One of our leadership councilors called and said she had heard I was leaving my current ministry and asked if I would be interested in checking out New Orleans. I have learned that when one is looking for a position one checks out all possibilities.
Soon after receiving the phone call I was at a retreat center and met my spiritual director. Because I was looking at the possibility of making a radical change in my life I asked her, “How do you know when you are doing the will of God?” She said, “Oh Mary, that’s the easiest question to answer. What do you want to do?”
I understood what she meant. Finding the answer to that question may take time or it may come in a flash. The answer may be, “Go for it,” or it may be, “This is not for you.” I have had both experiences. What this means for me is that, after praying, talking with people, expressing my thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires; listening carefully to others and trusting them, an answer will come. If not right away then eventually. I think that most importantly we need to trust ourselves and be completely honest with ourselves, then, I believe, the answer will come. My answer was, “Go to New Orleans,” and it was the right choice.
I love that I am part of a religious family that dates back over 800 years. One of the things that delights me about being Dominican is that we have so many forms of committed life spread out over so many places in our world. I am heading out tomorrow to spend the weekend with over 400 other sisters and associates at the Dominican Sisters Conference. Dominicans are “People of the Holy Preaching” so we are always mindful of how we are preaching the word of God with our words and with our lives. We are coming together these days to discern how God is calling us to be the Holy Preaching in our world at this time. You can’t preach until you first immerse yourself in God’s word, spend time in silent contemplation, and receive wisdom from those around you. We intend to open ourselves to do so these special days.
When you are discerning where you are called, a sense of excitement is a good sign and shows you what speaks to your soul. Some are more drawn to a smaller and stable group of religious, some are drawn because a group is newer, some because of a particular ministry focus, and some because of long term personal connections. Pay attention to what gives you energy and also to what others notice in you. Sometimes I am amazed when someone says to me, “I can see this job/activity/gathering is something that really energizes you.” I don’t even realize it myself but others see it in my and that, too, helps me to know where God is calling.
What do you love? What delights you?
There is a famous question, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In other words, does the way you live your life really reflect what you claim you believe and value? Most of us fall short, but in general, we can recognize if we are muddling along in the direction toward what we hold sacred and true or away from it.
For Dominicans, we might come at it in a slightly different way. How does your life preach? What does the way you live proclaim to the world? We are members of the Order of Preachers, after all. Dominican houses were and are called “Houses of the Holy Preaching.” That doesn’t mean we sit around listening to homilies and reflections. It means we strive to recognize that what we do – how we treat each other, how we live together, how we reach out to others – is a way of preaching Christ’s Gospel.
How do I preach with my life? What do I preach with my life? Does my life say what I want it to be saying? Does my life align with God’s desires for me? Asking these questions can help us figure out if we are on the right path and can help us discern the forks in the road.
Ultimately God’s desire for our lives and our deepest desires are united. But it takes a while to understand and accept those deepest desires within us.
Take some time this week to ask God to show you how you do already preach with your life and, perhaps, to show you new ways you may be called!
A line from Scripture jumped out at me today: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Once in a while, people come to explore a vocation with an unhealthy spirit of sacrifice. They may think, “I’ve sinned so much; I have to make it up by giving my life to God” or “I made a promise to God that if he got me out of a situation I would become a nun.” The thing is, there is no joy or freedom in this approach. God always invites, and does not demand. Of course any life commitment involves sacrifice, but it’s not supposed to be a resentful, begrudging sacrifice. It’s a willing sacrifice that is also graced by mercy, by compassion, and by love.
That’s an important piece for discernment. Are you free? Could the decision go either way and you could still trust that God is walking with you and guiding your life? If you say, “I just have to be accepted by this congregation” or “I’ll just die if he doesn’t marry me” you aren’t free. God wants our love, not our sense of obligation. In whatever you are discerning in your life, where do you find yourself most drawn to make a healthy sacrifice in a spirit of love?
If you are exploring religious life, you have probably come across the term discernment. Discernment is really deciding between two or more goods. If you are making a choice between one thing that is clearly good and one thing that is clearly wrong, choose the good. No discernment required.
But life often presents us with many options that are good. There are the big life decisions: Do I choose marriage, religious life, or a committed single life? There are the ministry discernments – what job should I do that best uses the talents God gave me and best serves the world?
But even when we have these aspects of our life figured out, discernment comes up daily. Of the many things I have to do, which is a priority? Should I bring up a difficult issue with someone or let it go? Should I get out of bed and exercise or sleep thirty more minutes? Of course, the more serious and major the discernment the more time we put into it. But becoming a discerning person will help you every day of your life. You will learn to assess with God what is the most life-giving path for you, in the big and small pieces of your life.
If you are making a big decision, a great book is The Way of Discernment by Elizabeth Liebert. It gives you a whole variety of prayer exercises to use to help you come to clarity.
Remember God promise to Jeremiah is God’s promise to you: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”
It’s been a while since I have been on here, but things have been very full here in Adrian. We celebrated our Feast Day on Aug. 8 with two new women joining us in very intentional ways – Katherine as an official candidate and Marilín as a woman beginning the process of re-entering the congregation. You can read about their ceremony in this news article.
You can imagine that these women don’t make the commitment lightly! They’ve put a lot of time and discernment into coming to this moment. Shortly before their ceremony, I sat with them and reflected on the scriptures for the Feast of St. Dominic. They said:
• Stay focused on your call to mission, your call to mission together
• Discipleship means being the good news.
• Sometimes people won’t want to hear the good news of God’s reign of justice and peace, but you need to keep preaching it
Marilín and Katherine deepened their discipleship by choosing to walk in this particular path of Dominic. Religious life is not necessarily “in season” today – it is certainly not a common choice. But it is a good choice and a good path to live the call to discipleship.
In a few days I will be heading for my annual retreat. I usually choose to do silent, directed retreats. The chance to be completely quiet, except for the forty minutes each day with a spiritual director, helps me to go much deeper. It enables me to get more connected in that place deep within where God dwells.
Even though it’s not always an easy time, I always look forward to these “vacations with God” with excitement, knowing that God and I will have some extra focused time to nourish our relationship. By now I know that, even though I may be in the same retreat house, I will be surprised by God. God accepts me where I am, and at the same time offers me what is needed. Sometimes it’s comfort, sometimes it’s a chance to slow down, sometimes it’s a nudge, and sometimes it’s a push.
Even though it can sound like a retreat is just about “me and God” it’s always bigger than that. First, I always spend much more time in nature and so become more attuned to God’s grace in all creation and more aware of myself as one of God’s creatures in a much larger reality. Also, what happens in the retreat can remain with me throughout the year and can help to transform my relationships with others.
If you are discerning something in particular, a retreat can be a wonderful way to clear away all the extras for a time and focus on listing to the voice of God’s wisdom. Retreats have played an important role in my own journey to religious life. These special times also help me nurture that relationship with the One I fully gave my life to. I know God is looking forward to this quality time with me as well!
I pray you are able to have a “vacation with God” this summer!
As I sit in the Formation office, beginning my new ministry as Director of Formation and Vocations, many memories come flooding back of my early years in religious life. I came to the Dominican Sisters of Adrian 18 years ago. I remember my own questions, searching and struggles very vividly; I hope those memories help me walk with you as you discern where God may be calling you.
Let me share a little bit about myself and my own discernment journey, a very condensed version. I am originally from Canada and had actually never considered becoming a Sister until I was 31! I did, however, want to serve God once I returned to my faith. I became a teacher in the Catholic School system, and found that one of my favorite teaching areas was religion. I was very moved by the kids’ genuine faith. I felt a pull to overseas mission and became a lay missionary, serving in Bolivia for two years, and then serving in Canada coordinating the program for the other lay missionaries.
During that time, for about two years, I sensed that God was trying to tell me something but I just couldn’t hear it. My spiritual director suggested a prayer exercise and, much to my amazement, it led me to realize I needed to consider religious life. I had a lot of resistance and joke that I came kicking and screaming, but little by little God showed me that this was a path that fit me, a path where I could be the woman God made me to be, and a path which enabled me to love best.
These years in religious life have been an adventure in life and spirit! I served as a campus minister in Adrian, Michigan; did graduate studies in theology in Chicago; and served in parish Hispanic ministry in Anchorage, Alaska and Detroit, Michigan. I have lived with many different Sisters over these years. And here I am back in Adrian, looking forward to walking with women who are searching!
Please know you are welcome to get in touch with me or come for a visit to get to know us.
Before closing, I would like to share a book recommendation. I just finished Prayer: Our Deepest Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. It’s only 65 pages, but reading it is like a prayer. It might be a good book for you to use, taking a little bit each day as your spiritual reading. He says, “The ideal disciple is the one who is attuned to Christ’s heartbeat and sees the world with that sound in his or her ear.”
May you hear the heartbeat of Christ these summer months.
Sister Lorraine Reaume, OP
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
Sister Katherine Frazier, OP
Sister Maribeth Howell, OP
Sister Mary Jones, OP
Adrian Dominican Sisters
1257 East Siena Heights Drive
Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
View our video series called VOCO (Vocation Conversations) to learn how Sisters heard and responded to God's call.