A Powerful Lesson…A Call to Greater Love

P6220021These past few weeks have been a time of real grace for me.

I’ve been working one-on-one with one of our residents for sacramental preparation.

I didn’t want him to get ‘scared off’ by over-complicating things or requiring too much of him; nonetheless, I wanted to teach him what he needed to know in order to be open to receive all the graces waiting for him.

I also was conscious of trying to be kind to him and show him the authenticity of what I was teaching by the way I acted.

This second aspect has overflowed, in a powerful way, on my interactions with others.

For some time, I have been trying to be attentive to each person who come to the reception desk (where I work).  I want to show interest in them and give them my full attention.  I sometimes get engrossed what I am working on, however, and this is sometimes ‘easier said than done.’

The experience of trying to show kindness and give my utmost with the particular resident I have been helping has brought my efforts to a new level.

I realize, if I am making great efforts to show the love of Jesus to this individual, I need to be doing the same with everyone.  It has really helped me to stop what I am doing and give my utmost (even if it’s just a smile and a greeting) to each person.

An Important Question: ‘Would I like to Have That Said About Me?’

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(Here, I want to address an issue that I think is greatly neglected by our society: respect for the good name of others.)

One evening, one of my co-workers came to me with a question.  She was having trouble with someone she works with at another job.  Her work ethic and promptness left something to be desired.

In a nutshell, my co-worker was wondering and asking: “Should I report it; should I not…I hate to tattle on somebody but don’t know what else to do.”

I brought up the option of first trying to approach the individual rather than going directly to the supervisor.  I asked her if she could gently, sensitively approach her co-worker with her concerns.  I mentioned she could also inform the woman that if things did not change, she would have to report her.

We also discussed the possibility of doing this in writing since it is often easier to get all ones thoughts out clearly, and without interruption, on paper.  Maybe this is a cowardly approach on my part, but some situations seem like some situations are easier to handle in writing.

Nonetheless, whether doing this in writing or verbally, approaching the person directly first, IF POSSIBLE, before ‘tattling’ on them seems a good, charitable option for all of us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church actually has a section of relevance here in its section on the eighth commandment.

At times, this gets a little ‘sticky’ here: as workers in a care facility, we sometimes have to share information about residents with other staff.  I find it to be an ongoing task to try to be charitable and respectful of our residents in discussions with my co-workers.  I don’t want to indiscreetly say whatever I feel like; I need to be sensitive.  Some things need to be said, but not necessarily everything.  Also, I need to make sure to say things in a way that is respectful of the person’s name and their human dignity.

It seems that society at large could use a little more concern for the reputation and good name of others.  How often do people, thoughtlessly, make derogatory comments about their neighbor?

If we want to love our neighbor as ourselves as Christ commanded, maybe each of us should be more careful in what we say.  Before we flippantly gossip about someone, it would be good to stop and think: “Would I like to have that said about me?”

“Lord, On the Day I Called for Help, You Answered Me.”

IMG_0552Late this morning, I went into chapel to make preparations for tomorrow’s Mass.  Yes!  We are having Mass!  Earlier today, I wasn’t so sure.

As the main sacristan here, I also am responsible for scheduling priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice in our St. Anne’s Chapel.  We are so grateful to all those who make this a daily opportunity for our residents, as well for as the visitors who often come.

During the several years that I have had this role, the times we have been without a priest have been scarce, and we have never been without Sunday Mass. I feared this record was coming to an end this weekend, however.  Try as I might, I had not been able to find a priest available to help.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t too faithful in fulfilling the instructions found in Matthew 6:25: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…”  It’s ironic that just last night I mentioned this passage to on of my Sisters, half teasingly, when she was concerned about storms.

I, myself, had been “praying up a storm” during the last 24 hours, concerned about what we were going to do to enable our residents to participate in the Sunday liturgy.  I was definitely “calling for help” as tomorrow’s psalm refrain says.

The truth of this psalm struck me as I glanced over the words in preparation for my role in the morrow’s liturgy.

My “cal[l]s for help” had truly been answered.  I needn’t have worried.  That’s easier said than done, though.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

Not Too Hot for Ice Cream Cake!

I woke up this morning, and must confess…my time in chapel was a little bit distracted by thoughts of cake pan dimensions and quantities of ingredients.  However, late this afternoon, having finishing stage one of my project, I had a joyful sense of gratitude for all that had been accomplished.  I was thankful that things had gone so well for this amateur baker.

It was interesting that today at Bible study, we discussed the gospel of Martha and Mary.  I shared the fact that I have the practice of asking St. Martha for her intercession for my culinary endeavors.

So, why, you might ask, was this ‘amateur baker’ distracted in chapel, rather than listening attentively like Mary?  Some explanation will follow.

We are getting ready to celebrate “St. Anne’s Week!”  This includes a special party on our patronal feast, July 26th.  For the occasion this year, I decided to make ice cream cakes -We do have ice cream on hand from some recent event and no better way to use it.

Ice cream cakes, however, do not make themselves.  A little investment of time and thought is required.

I have been juggling ideas around for tasty recipes that will accommodate dietary restrictions of some of our residents.  In the end, I should have two lemon raspberry cakes and three brownie peanut butter ones.

I know it is not until next week, but may I explain myself?  Rather than leave everything to the last minute, I would rather pace myself and get some work done well in advance.  This is especially true this week since I am not certain of what my schedule will be at the reception desk this weekend.

P1010006.JPGThus it was that, despite a heat index of around 100, I decided to bake the crusts for my tasty treats this afternoon.  This went against what I had always been taught: one should not bake on hot days; it is not energy efficient or comfort-enhancing. The trouble was that the heat is only supposed to increase, and I had to get this done sometime.

Fortunately, I have learned a little trick which nullifies the precept against baking on hot days.  That is: do it in the kitchen at home and KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED.

No one is over at the house much during the day and the heat is well-contained within the kitchen when the door is shut.  Also, without central air, I’m not wasting energy making a device work extra hard.

So while the jury is still out on how these will turn out in the end, I have my hopes.  I would conclude by saying that on a sticky summer day, it’s not too hot for ice cream cake!

“The Loftier Aspects of the Convent” at “Mother-Daughter Days”

IMG_0895.JPGI just returned from two days at our provincial house in Hankinson, North Dakota, where I helped Sr. Jean Louise with our Mother-Daughter Days.  It was truly a mother-daughter experience for me as well since my own mother was also there helping.

Mothers and their daughters (from quite young to late teens) joined us for this lovely time which included prayer, games, talks, Mass, and more.  We honored St. Kateri, St. Therese, St. Bonaventure, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in a special way these days.

One nice aspect of the inter-generational gathering, which seems to be included every year, is “story-time;” here some of our Sisters share how they came to answer the call to religious life.

We ended the days with a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Fargo where we went through the Holy Door for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Just plain fun was also part of the experience.  One part of this was the craft activities which the girls enjoyed.  Also, yesterday afternoon, we played “Sharks & Minos,” Frogger, and other outdoor games.  Some of the adventure, however, involved “the loftier aspects of the convent,” as I dubbed an expedition some of us enjoyed.

With maternal permission (and accompaniment), I invited some of the attendees to experience this, and thus “see the town.”

There is a small stairway that leads from the top floor out onto the large, flat roof.  From there, one has a beautiful view of the surrounding area, including trees, buildings, and (one evening) emissions from the nearby ethanol plant.

This lofty experience also brings one back in time.  On the way up, and even after entering the roof area, one sees historical objects, including a large, old bell.  A motor (probably from the former elevator) can be seen on the way to the roof.

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Please do not be concerned: there is a significant ledge barrier around the flat area where we walked.  Also, we did not allow anyone to even come too close to the edge.  We made every effort to ensure everyone’s safety.  I had this foremost in mind but saw no harm in allowing the visitors to experience the loftier aspects of the convent, something I enjoy seeing myself!

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

PS: We have invited participants to share their own thoughts from the experience of Mother-Daughter Days.  I hope to share some of these here in the near future.

“I Have Decided…”

followjesus1According to my Monday afternoon tradition, I finished up planning our Bible study for our residents just a little bit ago.

One of my preparatory activities included getting song lyrics ready; I like to incorporate spiritual songs into the weekly lessons.

I know it’s outdated, but we received an overhead projector several months back.  Some of our residents have really found it helpful as I can display the citations and page numbers for the scripture readings they are to look up.

I’ve also discovered that song lyrics can be neatly projected there also, which works very well.  Our residents are even learning new songs. Our copy machine/printer has the capacity to print on transparencies, so I made a new one this afternoon with some songs I want to be able to use again and again.

One of these is: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”  We have actually used it a couple of times in recent weeks, as the gospel readings have gone well with it.  I thought it would make it easier and encourage participation if I printing the lyrics for everyone to see plainly.

In preparing this article, I did a little research about this folk-song, making discoveries I never imagined.  I learned that the words were from an Indian (Asian) Christian as he was dying for his faith in the mid-1800s.  This knowledge certainly adds to the potency of the song which I learned back in high school when helping with religious ed.

I think the message and proclamations contained here are powerful today:

I have decided to follow Jesus (3x)…
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, I still will follow…
no turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus…
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me…
no turning back, no turning back. (Taken from hymnary.org)

These simple words inspire and convict me.

How faithful am I to my commitment to Jesus?  Have I done what He asks, regardless of anything else, including my own desires?

We have have moments in our life in which we “decided to follow Jesus:” at our baptism (via our godparents), confirmation, and maybe at other special moments in our lives.  As religious, the moment of our profession of vows also comes to mind.  What continues to be important, along with these crucial moments, is that we decide to follow Jesus at every moment.

It can be easy to do what I want to do, even if it is not what I may be called to at a given moment.  However, I don’t want to follow myself.   I want to follow Jesus, day by day, regardless of the cost.

For me, following Jesus is sometimes as simple as looking up from my work to smile at a passing resident.  It might be denying myself the gratification of giving in to some needless curiosity.

I pray for forgiveness for those times I have failed.

I also pray for the grace to be more faithful to this commitment implicit in the name of ‘Christian’ and in my own given name: for the grace to truly be a faithful follower of Christ.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

So, What Happened to the Teacher Nuns?

(Please note: I have received a couple of questions recently and am taking a break from the normal reflections inspired by daily life to address them.)

IMG_0552I was raised Catholic, 12 years of Catholic school, but wandered off in the 60s. Just to be clear, I never lost my faith and never thought of myself as anything other than Catholic. I loved the nuns…okay I was definitely afraid of some of them, but received a good education and reinforcement of the type of life taught to me at home.

I came back to the faith full time about 20 years ago.  I’m 68, so I missed the 2nd Vatican Council changes or its impact until my return.  So, what happened to the teacher nuns; where did they go? It seems to me we are diminished by their loss. I know our sisters are still doing great work in the world but I don’t see them in our schools.  

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Not having been around in the era immediately following the Council, I have a limited perspective on this, but I will attempt to answer your questions.  I don’t mean to over-simplify a complicated issue, but I hope the following thoughts are helpful to you.

Earlier in the 20th century, there was a vocation boom, with many young people entering seminaries and convents.  However, in  the cultural turmoil and changes that occurred, religious life was hit hard.

I hesitate to blame everything on ‘Vatican II,’ as some people tend to do.  I didn’t live through it, but I’ve studied American history…A lot went on during that time (civil rights movement, war protests, sexual revolution, etc.)  That all being said, the number of young women entering convents went down drastically.  Also, many sisters left religious life.  The decreased number of Sisters has contributed significantly to the lack of viability of Sisters in ‘our Catholic schools.’

Another issue I would mention is the fact that many religious no longer where their religious garb.  If Sisters are not dressed in a recognizable manner, you will not notice them even if they are in the school setting.

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Please join us in asking the Master of the Harvest to send laborers into His vineyard!

Something’s Brewing!

0220threatening20cloudsresizedHolidays can be a different sort of time here, around St. Anne’s.  There is often a certain quietness, with less phone calls, less staff on duty, less activities, no mail and no financial transactions from residents’ accounts.  (We try to still make things special for our residents; for example, I led a patriotic sing-along this afternoon and served homemade cookies.)

The quietness and serenity all seemed to end, however, late this Fourth of July afternoon.  It wasn’t without reason that our aide and I remarked to one another that there must be a full moon or ‘something in the atmosphere.’

For starters, one of our ladies, a bit confused, thought she needed to get home to take care of her kids.  We had to bring her back in TWO times within the hour.

Next, one of our gentlemen was getting impatient.  The dining room staff were not calling them in for supper as promptly as he had hoped.  He even suggested tapping on the dining room window to hurry them along.

To top it all off, there were issues with our Adoration Chapel.  Working at our front desk, I was informed by a gentleman that no one had come for the next hour.  (We often have trouble with this happening on holidays.  Earlier today, in fact, I had needed to recruit one of our residents to fill an hour.)

To make a long story short, with the possible trouble with absences on holidays and an impending storm, we simply decided to discontinue exposition/adoration for the remainder of the evening and night.

After getting off the phone with a few people, having done my part in contacting adorers about cancellations, I breathed a prayer of supplication that we would not have too severe of weather here.

It had been wild enough without having to get residents down to the dining area for safety. Visions of running around with a list of names, ensuring everyone was down stairs and accounted for did NOT appeal to me.  Hail was predicted so I also feared for the lives of the little plants in our residents’ vegetable garden.

I just got back in from sprinkling some Holy Water!

 

Question: What’s the Next Step?

rcnrankoiAfter hearing the call to religious life, what is the next step for a woman to take if they want to live a life similar to yours?  

Thanks for your question! For starters, I would say:

  • Pray (continual a daily commitment to prayer, especially with the intention of finding your vocation)

  • Seek spiritual/vocational guidance (I met with our parish pastor and found it very helpful)

  • Find out more (about yourself and various communities)

(Maybe think about what you desire in a religious community (e.g., apostolate, prayer life, habit, community life, etc.)

The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) has a very helpful website where they list their member congregations and have information about them.

  • Once you’ve done a little self-examination, you might want to look through their web directory and prayerfully contact some communities that seem to fit.

  • I don’t know how far along you are in the discernment process, and you don’t want to rush headlong into things, but you might even set up to visit some communities.

    Where you live in proximity to various communities is definitely a consideration.