Learning Lessons from Political Saints?

With the Election just days away I find myself asking the question, “Why does it seem like everyone expects politicians to be saints?”  I mean, they are not running for Pope or Dalai Lama, so why do people act surprised when scandalous skeletons are exposed in the media (Especially the same old skeletons, just in a different suit, and so close to election day.)?  And do we really think the candidates that we support are perfect? More to the point, are we so saintly that we think we don’t have a few skeletons in our own closets?
At the Conspire 2016 conference I’m told that Christena Cleveland said that “even people we don’t like have something of value to teach us; even Donald Trump.”  I wasn’t there, but I wish I could have heard it in context.  Nonetheless, this idea has stuck in my mind ever since.  Even Donald Trump?  Even Hillary Clinton?  Even that bigot I work with?  Even that racist, hot-head that lives down the street?

Although….  I think there is something deeper to be learned from disagreeable people such as Donald Trump.  In a blog post from March of this year, Christena says:

Social psychologists who study this type of existential terror have found that prejudice serves as a buffer and a way to manage the terror. When humans are feeling vulnerable (particularly about our own invincibility and mortality), we respond with prejudice towards those who are different.  This makes us feel better.***

Enter Donald Trump. His screeching, taunting, immature words reveal the tantrums of a desperate man who is trying to manage the existential terror of white men. 

Trump’s xenophobic and racist political platform provides the “prejudice buffer” that many white men need in order to find relief from the pain of vulnerability. Given the changing racial dynamics in the U.S., it is no surprise that so many white men have gravitated toward Trump. His hateful rhetoric, with which he blames people of color for America’s problems, affirms white male identities and relieves their existential anxiety by assuring that he will restore order to white male supremacy.   

So, maybe the thing to be valued here is not some random redeeming quality like “they love their family,” or “they give to the poor.”  Perhaps the lesson to be learned is simply a lesson that teaches us about our own fears, failings, and prejudices.  Hopefully some of us will consider Christena’s words, and find a way through our pride to the humble shores where everything & everyone belongs, and no one is excluded.  I know I’m struggling to get there.

I’ve thought about Christena’s words and this election a lot and have concluded that for all the distasteful comments, actions, and skeletons, I do admire both candidates for having the courage and conviction to enter this race. It takes courage and a thick skin to throw your hat into the ring of this crazy USA system of elections.  Not only does the political machine grind each candidate and their family into sausage, but the news media, and social media are merciless in their tireless efforts to belittle the opposition while making a case for sainthood for their favorite candidate.

With All Saints Day just this past week, I know we are all called to be saints, but let’s get real.  Neither Hillary or Donald are saints, but then again, neither are we (YET!).  We’re all just trying to do our best with what we have.  That’s a big enough job.

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Discerning and Answering A Call

I’ve been a very silent blogger for these last few months, and I am sorry for that. Hopefully what I share here will explain my silence and provide a little something to look forward to. I have been busy at school (nothing new this time of year), and also busy with CIW and TCFF actions. Just last month I organized and helped lead a Prayer Vigil at a new Publix store opening in my area, and also created a little “Fair Food performance piece” for a Chautauqua at the Ground Floor Farm’s Spring Festival. All that writing & organizing was time consuming, but that’s not why I’ve been absent from blogging.  I’ve been away from blogging because I’ve been discerning a new path for my life.

Discernment is relatively new for me. In 2008 I was in discernment, but was unfamiliar with what discernment truly meant.  I had often heard God calling me to serve in one way or another, but usually found some way to ignore the call, always feeling unfulfilled in the end.  So, after a year of prayer and study with my mentor Sr. Helen Dompierre, OP, in 2009 I became an Associate of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.  For the last several years I’ve been feeling angry, overwhelmed, unsupported, and unfulfilled at my job.  Although I know I make a difference in the lives of so many children, the pace, the stress, and the politics has been killing me physically, emotionally, and (most importantly) spiritually.  In August of 2014 I again entered a period of discernment triggered by a series of disappointments, new road-blocks, and a few possibilities.  This time, however, I was having difficulty hearing God’s voice. I thought I had it figured out, but when I didn’t get the job that I thought God was leading me to, I felt depressed and defeated.  After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I regrouped and started to search for a bolder, more adventurous social justice path.  That’s when I discovered St. Francis School in New Mexico.  Quite literally, I searched for and found “a road less traveled” (Frost and Peck).

The more I looked, the more I prayed, the more I contemplated, the more I realized that this school and these children where calling me to come to NM!  So, I inquired with the principal, sent in my resume, and had my first phone interview in over 20 years.  She loved me!  My future boss, Madeline (I love her, too!), asked me what was giving me pause, so we talked a while more.  She said that she was going to send me an acceptance letter immediately.  I said I had some more praying to do.  [I also had to talk to my mother!]  After 3 days I sent in my letter of acceptance.  So, at the end of July I will be leaving for Lumberton, New Mexico to teach art, and (probably) language arts, and social studies at St. Francis School.

The school is 3 miles off the Jicarilla Apache Nation lands, and the majority of the students are Apache.  There are many Hispanic children, too, so I am brushing up on my Spanish!  I don’t know if this is where I am meant to be for the next 20 years, or if this is just a stepping stone toward something else.  What I do know is that I am excited to truly follow the Gospel message, and serve among the poorest of the poor.  I look forward to sharing my gifts with the children, and I look forward to learning even more from them.

I got a new computer that will serve me well in the coming years.  I hope to be able to post pictures from the “Land of Enchantment,” and blog about my experiences once or twice a month.  I will be in the middle of nowhere, and I am told that internet, cell phone service, electricity, and H2O are “sketchy” at times (OMGosh!!!!!), so keep me in your thoughts & prayers even if I occasionally go “off the grid!”

I want to give a nod to Skywalker Storyteller.  Over three months ago she began a series called “100 Days of Gratitude.”  I decided to participate, downloaded the journal and began receiving daily gratitude questions.  I never commented on any of the questions, but always read them and thought about them.  As I was discerning my new path in life, Skywalker, your questions became a kind of life-line to what really matters in life.  Here’s my comment on this experience:  I am grateful to you for your commitment to fulfillment, happiness, and balance in life!  In the final days of “100 Days of Gratitude” I realized how grateful I am for the many gifts I have, and how grateful I am for my trust in God to take this leap of faith.  Questions #94 (thinking creatively/outside the box) and #96 (helping others/acts of service/helping others be happy) were especially timely as I made the decision to sell my belongings and go to serve the children at St. Francis School.  Thank you!

It’s time to pack now!

Holiday Activism for the Family Dinner Table

My classroom is tidy again, I’ve left school behind for Christmas break, and I have NOT taken home any school work!  I hope my fellow over-achievers out there are able to do the same in the coming days & weeks (especially you teachers!!!).

So much is going on at this time of year; I am always amazed at the busy-ness around me. Some of it is necessary, but much of it is not.  Support for, prayers for, and the work for peace and justice, however, never takes a holiday!

With so many issues in the news lately I wanted to focus on some things to consider taking part in and passing along that don’t involve demonstrating en masse in Ferguson, NYC, or DC (although I do encourage that!).  Many of us will be spending time with family, and this is the perfect time to drop little seeds of knowledge about the issues we care about.  Now, I am not advocating for starting family feuds over politics, religion, or other potentially volatile subjects!  Try a more subtle approach.  I have found some links of interest below that I think will help with re-educating the family.  If your family is anything like mine, you’ll have some explaining to do, and at some point you’ll just have to “agree to disagree” until Easter (or Passover)!  I can get away with a lot around our holiday table:  I bring desert & rule the homemade whipped cream bowl.  No whip for the unruly!

So here’s what I’ve found to share at this year’s Christmas dinner with the family:

INFORMATION & LINKS:
With gift buying and giving come concerns about child labor, workers rights and their dignity, as well as Fair Trade and sustainably made items. Even if you make your gifts, it’s worth going that extra mile to make sure your supplies are sourced with these things in mind. Some good sources for guides & information include Fair Trade USA, US Department of Labor, and Free2Work, among others.

TAKE ACTION:
Many of us will eat out over the holidays. Many restaurant chains are being urged to take steps toward buying produce from sources that respect the workers dignity, and provide fair wages for their labor.  Those of you who know me know how much of an advocate I am for the CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) and the Fair Food Program.  They have made such amazing progress over the last 20 years!  Corporations like Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart have signed the Fair Food Agreement and are now part of the solution to improve the lives of farmworkers and their families.  But now, in the wake of the LA Times investigative report into the labor practices of Mexican farms, we find several Corporations  who are guilty of being complicate with the growers in Mexico who deny their workers the most basic of human rights.  As we gather ’round our plentiful tables, we must consider where our food comes from, and who harvests the apples in our pies, the celery in our stuffing, the grapes for our wine, and the mined minerals in the devices with which we capture our precious moments on social media.

There is a new petition addressing some of these concerns. Click here to add your name to this petition letting Subway, Darden, and Safeway know that we insist on oversight and victim compensation.  If it’s wrong for US children to labor in the fields for 12 hours a day, with few (if any) breaks, and for a mere pittance, then it’s absolutely wrong for children of other countries to do so.   If you click here you’ll find this petition and several others from Fair World Project.

PRAY:
And, finally, I ask you to pray for peace.  No matter what your beliefs are, no matter what formal, informal, traditional, or non-traditional faith foundation you may practice, prayer is powerful.  You may call it by another name, but if you are silent with your thoughts, you are in prayer, and your prayerful energy is joined with that of others.  That’s what makes prayer so powerful!  I ask that you join me & my community in prayer on January 6th as we pray for 3 special Sisters on a special mission.  I also invite you to pray for peace daily.  Peace in our world, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts.  Every day.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

PEACE & JOY!

~~~maria~~~

A Great Hope in Common

Last weekend was Assembly for my Florida Chapter.  Each year around this time Adrian Dominican Sisters & Associates from each of the eight Chapters gather for a one or two day Assembly.  Topics and issues discussed vary each year.  This is my third Assembly & they just keep getting better & better!  A week later I am still trying to process all the wonderful things that were said, the amazing people whom I call family, and all the issues before us that hold both promise and peril.  Our theme this year is “A great hope in common.”

I’ve been busy at school & at home, so I haven’t been attentive to my blogging community for the last month.  While catching-up in my Reader, I was struck  by Carol Hand’s blog post that expresses so perfectly a truth that I’m sure is true for many of us who blog about peace, social justice, and our world.  Although we are bombarded with negativity each day, there really is more beauty and more good in the world than some would have us think.  And, borrowing from this year’s theme, we really do have a great hope in common!  When talking about peace & justice last weekend I tried to encourage the members of my community that “a struggle only feels desperate & hopeless if we feel alone in the struggle.”  We need to remind ourselves & each other that we are not alone.  There is great hope and great promise!

Three peace & justice issues that we in the Florida Chapter are focused on are Immigration Reform, the Environment & Climate Change, and Capital Punishment; Pax Christi posted on their blog a piece about this last one (actually several posts on this issue!).  I am so proud of one of our sisters, Sr. Pat, who holds vigil on the steps of her local courthouse every time this state executes someone in our names.  I respect all life and, like Sr. Pat, I do not want people killed in my name or anyone else’s!  It’s bad enough when lawmakers support legislation that I do not, but to take a life in my name is beyond reprehensible.  It gives me great hope knowing that so many others feel the same and continue to work for an end to this horrible punishment.  Our judiciary system is flawed & humans are not infallible.  Over and over again people are being exonerated of crimes they did not commit.  Thanks, Wobbly Warrior for your efforts on this issue!

world-wide-abolition-of-the-capital-punishment-34236

 Peace to all of you who work with so much passion to make our world a beautiful place!

Easter Reflection

Happy Easter!

To some this is just another consumer driven holiday that includes spending money on cute gifts & flowers, a big family dinner with a Ham, dying Easter eggs, and taking your children to a nearby Easter Egg Hunt “Egg-stravaganza.”  To many, however, it is truly a Holy Day, and for me & Catholics everywhere, this is the third day of the three holiest days of the liturgical calendar, the Triduum.

For the last several years (since quitting my weekend waitressing job) I’ve been attending the famous Easter Vigil Mass.  What a joyful celebration!  The two-hour Vigil is full of rich history, symbolism, and sacrament.  After many long months of preparation, prayer, classes, and discussions catechumens are fully welcomed and initiated into the Catholic Church through the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion.  I did indeed say two hours!  Every year all over the world Catholics who only attend mass at Easter get “trapped” by the Easter Vigil Mass.  They look up their local Catholic Church, see the mass times & opt for the Vigil so their plans for Sunday aren’t hurried.  I can remember once when I was an unsuspecting parishioner at a Vigil Mass.  The funny thing was that I attended mass regularly and had gone to Catholic schools my whole life, so I should’ve known.  I remember being caught off guard, first by the Deacon processing in with the Paschal Candle instead of the usual Opening Hymn, and then by the countless readings & Psalms.  And then a light bulb went off in my head.  I remembered something from a long forgotten religion class… Oh, yeah!  This is that “special” mass for Easter!  Then, instead of feeling irritated or impatient, I found myself fully engaged and enjoying the celebration.  I don’t think I had ever been to a Vigil Mass until that night.  I felt connected to a very long faith tradition, and connected to the story of salvation, what some people call Salvation History.

This morning as I opened my online source of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, I had to pause and reflect on what was written about today:

Today is Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection. Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, life-giving waters, like the four rivers that flowed from Paradise, flow toward all of us. Those who are thirsty are invited to drink and be reborn into a renewed life, one aligned with the eternal covenant. In this way, nourished by the sacraments, we become a wellspring of life for others and can go forth proclaiming joy and peace. [1][2][3]

As Pope Francis says, “Let each one of us think: “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?” Let us think about this, just this.” [4]

photo 1

Easter decor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church; 19 April 2014.

“Life-giving waters, like the four rivers that flowed from Paradise, flow toward all of us.”  I am responsible for decorating the sanctuary at our church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Easter is a time that I look forward to because of the symbolism I am able to incorporate into the decor.  We have this sheer blue fabric that I pin under the altar linen.  I place lava rocks around like a mini pond on the steps and then “spill” the fabric/water so it looks like life-giving waters flowing from the altar of sacrifice out toward the congregation.  I’m not sure how many of our parishioners understand this symbolism, or if they make the connection to the Vigil’s Fifth Reading from Isaiah (55:1-11) and the Vigil Epistle reading from Paul to the Romans (6:3-11), but I do it every year.  The reading from Paul is one of my favorites.  It sums up for me what Easter and the Resurrection are all about, but more importantly, it sums up what our lives should be about because of the Resurrection.  I believe that in “living for God in Christ Jesus” I can be for others a “wellspring of life, joy and peace.”  But this is a daily struggle throughout the year, not just a “feel-good,” “mountaintop” experience for today only.

Easter is not just one day.  Easter is the culmination of the Triduum.  On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus instituted the new priesthood and the Eucharist.  He washed the feet of his Apostles and demonstrated through his actions how, if we want to truly be servants of Christ, we must serve others.  Good Friday has always been a time of quiet reflection for me.  Participation in the Stations of the Cross at 3:00, and the evening celebration of the Passion of the Lord with Solemn Prayer and Adoration of the Holy Cross is a way for me to reflect on my Lenten journey.  It is also a time to contemplate what it means to be obedient to the will of God.  In his article “The Sacred Triduum,” Michael Sean Winters describes these holiest days as a connected, ongoing event; one continuous prayer rooted in history.  He says,

We do not so much profess an understanding of this paschal mystery, as if it were a bit of knowledge we can manipulate as we do other discrete bits of knowledge. No, the Church sets forth on a way of life from this event. We embrace a new attitude towards death and therefore towards life. The teachings of Jesus, which got Him killed, are confirmed for us as true. And, because of the eucharist and the abiding Spirit at work in the community of faith, we know that on this way of life, we do not walk alone, we accompany each other and are accompanied by the Spirit of Christ.

The Paschal Mystery, if we are willing to be changed by it, demands that we change our attitudes towards death and life.  Pope Francis’ words pose the ultimate question for us all, “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?”  I will be thinking about this in the coming days and months.  How will my life be transformed this year by the Paschal Mystery?  What new ways will God lead me to serve my brothers & sisters?

PS:  Last night I had the special privilege of being a sponsor for a former student and cancer survivor who was Confirmed at the Easter Vigil. I got to not only enjoy again the richness of this liturgy, but share it with a beautiful young woman of great faith and love. Truly a blessed evening with her and her family; another memorable Vigil!

Archbishop Romero’s Call to Serve

This week marks the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom/assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I find that the more I read and learn about horrific wars, massacres, and violence in places like El Salvador, Colombia, Syria, Venezuela, the Middle East, and the many other places both in the news and those suffering silently beyond the media spotlight, the more I doubt myself. I doubt that I can have any affect on any of it. I feel hopeless some days, and frustrated at the complacency of the people around me. I also feel a great sense of sadness and shame for being a citizen of a nation in the grip of a culture of violence and whose government is obsessed with war: The United States of America.

In a post by Pax Christi, this quote by Romero hits home for me:

“There is no doubt whatsoever that here there is no room for neutrality. We are either at the service of the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. And it is here that we are faced with the most fundamental reality of the historical mediation of faith: either we believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

There is no room for “neutrality.”  I like Paul’s description of the church as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-31), and I believe we are all indeed parts of the one body, but with different gifts and functions, yet I struggle within myself on what God has planned for me.  I have been blessed with many gifts, but I still struggle with how best to use them.  As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 13 (the famous “love is patient, love is kind” discourse), I do not want to be just another “resounding gong,” and yet, so often, I feel like a voice in the wilderness that no one hears.  So how can I help end violence & injustice in the world?  How can I help & be of service to my brothers & sisters in need?

Perhaps it all boils down to that pesky thing we call “free-will.”  What do I choose for myself?  If, as Romero put it, I believe in a “God of life” (and I do!), then I choose life.  I choose life, love, and compassion!  I know that I can only change myself, and I think that’s how nonviolent leaders like Romero help bring about systemic changes.  By changing my response to the “idols of death,” I pray that my life may be an affirmation of nonviolence and love, too.  As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sums it up, “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

World Day of Peace: A Call to Fraternity

In Pope Francis’ message for January 1st, World Day of Peace, his Holiness calls “Fraternity the foundation & pathway to peace.”  His message begins with our original call to be brothers & sisters in the story of Cain & Abel (Gn. 4:1-16), and then the Pope touches on the many examples in society where we have opportunities to form relationships, yet often fail to do so.  He asks the questions we all ask from time to time, “Can the men and women of this world ever fully respond to the longing for fraternity placed within them by God the Father? Will they ever manage by their power alone to overcome indifference, egoism and hatred, and to accept the legitimate differences typical of brothers and sisters?”

If fraternity is the foundation & pathway to peace, then Pope Francis also rightly names fraternity as “a prerequisite to fighting poverty,” and further states that “fraternity extinguishes war.”  If we, as individuals or as nations, see others as anything less than a brother or sister, then we will find no difficulty in treated them as a commodity to be exploited; and isn’t that exactly what has happened the world over?  We exploit people, animals, and nature because we fail to enter into relationship.

As I read the Pope’s message, not only did I begin to see connections that I hadn’t considered before, but I also felt a little embarrassed.  As a Catholic I am aware of the teachings on Social Justice and I do my best to work for justice, but I often feel like I should be doing more, and that I should be doing a better job at promoting peace & justice.  Here’s the line under point #7 of the Pope’s message that gets me:   “The Church also speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights.”  Well, does “the Church” also speak out?  Do I?  God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?”  God is still asking that same question of us.  It’s a tough question.  How am I speaking out for my brothers & sisters in need, and am I doing all I can to lead others to fraternity?

Under #8 Pope Francis addresses corruption, governments, and organized crime (funny he lumped them all together!).  “Fraternity generates social peace because it creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good. And so a political community must act in a transparent and responsible way to favour all this. Citizens must feel themselves represented by the public authorities in respect for their freedom. Yet frequently a wedge is driven between citizens and institutions by partisan interests which disfigure that relationship, fostering the creation of an enduring climate of conflict.”

He closes with this:  “Service is the soul of that fraternity that builds up peace.”

Enough said.  Pope Francis says it best in his message of peace, so I encourage you to read it.   I, like Pope Francis, offer my “best wishes for a life filled with joy and hope.”  Happy New Year, my brothers & sisters!  Peace.