Last week I joined my sisters and our affiliates at our General Assembly. It was a phenomenal experience. Since I am a newbie (novice), it was my first assembly. I was excited to observe, listen and learn how communal discernment can work in such a diverse (yet united) group. These meetings are a pretty big deal and only happen every four years. Sometimes major community changing things happen. I think I witnessed something different.
Gathered around the theme “hearts aflame for mission,” we prayed and listened and debated and discussed and responded. We were graced with comfortableness with the uncomfortable mystery and tension that surrounds us. Evidently we experienced a paradigm shift because we left only with an awakened realization that we are all struggling with the language to articulate what we commonly sense. This differs from the normal strategic plan or goals and objectives. We wrote a story that responded only to the question we began with “what’s next?” not “how do we fix this problem?” We left with art, our story, to inspire us as we live into the questions.
Goodness, I learned so much.
All of this was a result of the great voices we heard; voices who for us served as faces for the signs of the times. Here I shall tell you just some of the pieces that inspired and energized me.
Sister Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ spoke to us about Love. She is a Franciscan scholar based in California. She started with the basics: 1) God loves you. 2) God gave you dignity 3) God calls you to respond to Love with love…. Excellent! Oh, and since we’re all so unique, by God’s design, the call and response can take many forms. She reminded us that it’s been 40 years since Vatican II and since then our Church has been doing a lot of aimless wandering around, as if we’re in the desert. No problem, we’re desert people, we’re movers. Now we’re moving into some sort of New Time where we get to live Love. Let’s remember the nature of Love: be involved, be present, transformation into what is Loved, and inviting others to Love.
Brother Paul Donnely, OFM spoke to us about Economics. He is a Franciscan Brother of Peace based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. Among his ministries are street outreach, housing torture surviors, and operating a food shelf. I haven’t confirmed the facts I learned from him, but I am still presenting them to you as a very special compassion stimulus package. 1) During a recession like this, the pattern is that donations decrease only from major donors who begin with a greater wealth base, possibly because they behave mainly out of fear. 2) Right now McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are the two corporations doing better. Hello, where do the poor eat and shop? 3) There are 40,000 torture survivors in the MN/WI area alone. 4) Last winter, when there was an increase of homelessness in the Twin Cities, the cathedral in St. Paul opened its doors and let people in to sleep.
Wendy Mitch spoke to us about Church. She is a Campus Minister at the Newman Center at UW-Stevens Point, WI. With great passion she reminded us that Church evokes all emotions from everyone. She inspired my own tears as she told how she’s nearly left our Church several times but continues to stay. She suggested that the question to consider is “What keeps me here?” instead of “Why do I want to leave?” For her (and for me too!) the answer is diversity. Because, after all, we need the Church to be better lovers, forgivers and movers. The diversity within Church can be a challenge, certainly, but we can allow it to be a bridge.
Paul Riel spoke to us about Immigration. He is a pastoral minister at St. Bridget’s Church in Postville, IA. With great fire he told the tale of how the immigration raid of May 2007 has ruined the small town of Postville and divided families into worse poverty. For the first time I learned about “coyotes” who are the millionaires that assist the poor in their illegal border crossings. Immigration reform is overdue. We can imprison the “coyotes.” And we can unite families and help people rise from poverty! Si, se puede!
Shirley Stoltz spoke to us about Ecology. She is an organic farmer in Richland Center, WI. I learned so much from her about the science of pesticides and the damage that they cause to all sorts of species. She told us how important it is to eat organic for our own health and to preserve Earth. She said that a doctor at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN told her that 90% of their patients wouldn’t be there if they ate right. She told how their cows’ vet bills went down by thousands of dollars once their farm was certified organic. She fed us a vision of teaching the youth of today about creation and connecting them to Earth. If we promote participation in sustainable agriculture through study and contemplation our children will learn how to take care of themselves and Earth.
These are the signs for all of us, this is our time. The challenges can be overwhelming. Let’s Love the Economic, Church and Immigration and Ecological systems into great Christian conversion. We need not be overwhelmed by trying to fix the problems. We can allow things to be different. Let’s reframe and allow paradigm shifts. Together we can walk forward with hearts aflame with Love asking God one simple question: “What’s next?”
Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a novice with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker. She works at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.