A guest blog post by friend and writer Lisa Burke, New Jersey
In the journey of Discernment (yes, discernment with a capital D) to figure out the big life questions, “Who am I called to be? How I am called to live the Who that God has made me? Where and in what ways I am called to serve and consecrate myself?” we can become surrounded by many inspiring role models and attractive ways of life. As we encounter people who have expanded their baptismal consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels, namely poverty, chastity, and obedience, through religious life, we find ourselves often times wondering if we can live up to the example of Sister A, or Sister B, or Sister C. While seeking to replicate the good examples of people who inspire and motivate us is a beautiful thing, we need not seek to be or copy another person’s life. As St. Francis of Assisi said to his young followers as he lay on his death bed, “I have done what was mine to do. May Christ now teach you what you are to do.” Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said to a woman who lived life with multiple sclerosis, “What you can do, I cannot. What I can do, you cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.”
Both of these statements are profoundly powerful and liberating. The realization that each of us has our own unique call, our own identity in the heart of God, is a beautiful realization. It allows us to accept the opportunities for grace, transformation, service, and love that come to us each and every day, knowing that God has given us those encounters in order to live out what is ours to do.
Today the Church honors the life and call of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I first “encountered” Kateri when I was a child. My middle sister is named Kathy, and while she was named for a paternal aunt of ours, my mother held Kateri as a kind of patron for her. Kateri was a Mohawk-Algonguin woman who lived 24 short years from 1656-1680. A beautiful young woman, her life was scarred with crosses from a very early age. Despite the difficulties she lived, Kateri sought to live God’s love at every moment. After having converted to Catholicism, she was ostracized and outcast by the non-Christian members of her community. She eventually moved to a community of Native American Christians in Quebec. There she lived a life of prayer, sacrifice and ministry to the infirm and elderly. One year before her death, she made a vow of chastity, an expression of her consecrated virginity. On April 17, 1680, Kateri, in the words of Catherine of Siena, “closed her eyes to this world and opened them to the next.” Her final words were, “Jesus, I love you!”
“Jesus, I love you!” is what our journeys of discernment are about, figuring out how God dreams for us to express most fully our love for God and experience most fully God’s love for us as we let our lives be poured out as bread and wine for a world that is hungry and thirsty for God. As many of in our community look to religious life and seek to identify the congregation/community to which they are called, the group of women (or men) among whom they can best live out their baptismal call and religious consecration, bear in mind that even when all or many members are engaged in the same or similar ministry or way of life, each of us still our own work to do.
As all of us, regardless of where we are in life, seek to live out God’s dream for us on a daily basis, I leave you with these words of John Henry Newman (Meditations & Devotions), which have always been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me as I have endeavored to discern both the big and small questions of my life’s journey.
God has created me to do him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good, I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.
Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC July 15, 2011 at 7:02 am
Thanks Lisa for your insight. I totally agree with you. God has a path for each of us in mind. When we seek that path out .. to do His work … no matter where or in what part of His vineyard, there is deep grace. You can always tell that a person understands this essential mark of a true follower of Christ by the joy and peace in which that person expresses by their life. BTW … Lisa is one of those folks.
Lisa Burke July 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm
Sister G! What an awesome surprise to “see” you here on A Nun’s Life blog! I miss you lots and hope to see you soon. Are you aware of the nightly prayer podcasts via A Nun’s Life? There’s a chatroom component where some of us regulars usually “hang” and fellowship a bit. Hope all is well in your world.
Marg July 15, 2011 at 7:58 am
Beautiful, Lisa! Thank you!
Lisa Burke July 15, 2011 at 10:47 am
I am glad you enjoyed it, Marg. It was really inspired by the A Nun’s Life Summit. So thank all of you!
Sister Maxine July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am
Very powerful reflection, Lisa! I love the quote from Francis that you used: “I have done what was mine to do. May Christ now teach you what you are to do.” Truly speaks to the importance of discerning our life’s call, which is to say, discerning who we are. Thank you for the wonderful food for thought!
Lisa Burke July 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm
Thanks, S. Maxine! That quote of Francis has always kind of followed me (or lead me). I think it’s encouraging to know that we have work to do that is ours and each call is ours uniquely. It’s also a bit daunting sometimes, but mostly encouraging and uplifting.
Lisa Burke July 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm
This is a postscript to my own post. One of the things that I didn’t explore in my meditation for this piece is the “relationship” (or possible parallels) between Kateri and Therese Martin (Therese of Lisieux). The thought was put in my mind so now it’s on my “ideas to ponder” list. I will let you know if any good fruit results.