Sister Emily Brabham, OSF, is a Sister of St. Francis of Clinton, Iowa and is the campus minister for social justice formation at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.
I often hear the phrase “but you don’t look like a sister," and within that, I sense the expectation that all sisters look alike, which is not true. It can be easy to have our own ideas and stereotypes about what a person is supposed to do, or about how a person is supposed to feel. Take Easter for example. It is a time of pastel colors, bunnies, lots of chocolate, and times at church for the usual Easter activities. In that sense, it’s very predictable. But if that’s how we look at it every year, how do we keep Easter, the Paschal Mystery, the source and summit of our faith, fresh?
It’s not easy to free ourselves from our judgments or expectations. The beautiful traditions that might accompany the Easter season at a parish can sometimes give rise to “well this is how it’s supposed to be.” But the reality is that traditions are continually adjusting, forming, and even falling apart. It’s easy to get into the trap of “but we’ve always done it this way!”
Our search for God, celebrating the foundation of the Good News -- the Resurrection -- can sometimes fall into the same trap. If the rosary is being prayed, is it just a habit or is it a true mediation on the mysteries of the rosary? Sometimes our prayer life, and even our faith life, can become stagnant. I have to challenge myself in each day and in each liturgical season to see it with fresh eyes, a new celebration.
Easter is our celebration of new life, of the glorious promise of eternal life. How do we understand this revelation and renew it each year? We’re not the same as we were before or as we will be in the future. We are constantly changing. This is one of the reasons that we can hear the same scripture passage over and over again and receive something different each time. But that only happens when we’re open to things being other than what we expect.
This challenge of expectations isn’t just for today. It’s centuries old. Jesus didn’t look like the Messiah that the Jewish people were hoping for. He defied expectations. He lived a counter-cultural life. He challenged the status quo.
John 6:62 inspires this fresh look by imagining, “Does this shock you? What would you do if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”
This statement by Jesus challenges the status quo of his time and our time, and the understanding of what we know to be the Good News.
To some people, my appearance (I do not wear a habit) challenges their expectations about how all sisters look. Easter can challenge our expectations about Jesus and what his example means for us as contemporary Christians.
I once asked another sister in my community, while I was in the initial stages of discernment, about her expectations of religious life and commitment. Her response stays and continues to resonate with me. She said that she doesn’t think of “forever,” rather she gets up each day and recommits herself to this way of life. And so it should be with each of us, each day, as we seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Chris and live the Paschal Mystery anew.