One Step Behind

September 20th, 2020 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

In her essay Evolution Toward Personhood, Ilia Delio writes: “If we relate only to the past deeds of others, we will always be at least one step behind where they themselves presently are and thus we will never really be in relationships with them, only with their ‘remains.’” I’ve never thought of living persons as “remains,” but I can see what Delio means: we tend to deal with persons not as they are now, but as we think they are according to past experiences with them.

When it comes to other persons’ faults, I don’t suffer from memory loss. If I meet a person ten years after they hurt me, I remember the hurt and assume “they haven’t changed a bit.” But haven’t I changed in the past ten years? I trust I’ve become wiser with age. Didn’t they? I’ve learned from experiences. Haven’t they? I hope people take me as I am today, not as my “remains.” May I do unto others as I want them to do unto me.

Same New, Same New

September 17th, 2020 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

When asked “What’s new?” during this time of COVID, we might answer with a sigh “same old, same old.” Days blur, little is newsworthy, and we mark time by trash pickup days. With little stimulation and in-person interaction, it’s easy to feel lifeless. To add spark in my life, I read biographies, where I find in the famous figures of past centuries the precursors of leading figures today. Apparently human nature doesn’t change, and I sometimes find myself in the historical figure’s foibles. More life-giving, though, than biographies, is enhancing someone’s life through a phone call or good deed. Ilia Delio in her essay Evolution Toward Personhood writes “The more one affirms life in one’s fellows and gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is truly alive and thus truly oneself.” With more time on our hands, we can more easily think of easing another’s burdens. Even when we expend our energy, we feel more life and humbly get in touch with our own goodness, our ways to find in routine the “same new, same new.”

As an international congregation, we Sisters have occasional opportunities to travel to other countries for congregational conferences and ministry. You may know our mission in Papua New Guinea and our presence in a dozen countries around the world. Our Generalate—our “headquarters”—is in Rome, established there in 1944 from its original site in Germany to be close to the heart of the Catholic Church. With Sisters from around the world, Sisters from northwest Ohio have been a perennial presence in the Generalate—as community leaders, cooks, assistants. Sister Pat McClain will be traveling to Rome soon to take the place of Sister Linda White (another Toledoan), who will be returning to Ohio after seven years. Although Sisters have some choice in their place of residence and work, we are mindful of our worldwide congregation and know that our following the Lord in Notre Dame may take us from our homeland. Sister Pat will be in Rome three years. At her farewell she told us she made a journal with photos of all of us. When we need a prayer, Sister Pat will include the intention in her journal with our photo. This is one way to keep us united in our congregation as all of us around the world incarnate the love of our good and provident God.

For what do you long during this unusual year when day after day we shelter in place or refrain from non-essential travel? Words like novel or extraordinary or exciting have dropped from our vocabulary. I’m ready for anything out of the ordinary. So how do we find novelty from the vantage point of our armchair? I suggest we look to the universe, which Ilia Delio characterizes as “irreducible novelty.” She writes in The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, “The mark of emergence is irreducible novelty.” The on-going story of evolution is fantastically novel, creative, and futuristic. Just this week I read a newspaper article about the discovery of dozens more planets. (In grade school there were so few planets we memorized them!)  Our tiny Milky Way has a mere 200 billion stars and a diameter of 100,000 light years.  Delio suggests we consider the universe as one great thought whose physical structure is love. Teilhard de Chardin’s writings have shown that love is the core energy of evolution and its goal. Now if that isn’t a novel thought, what is? Put one of Chardin’s or Delio’s books on your armchair, and find a universe bulging with novelty. While sheltering in place, you can be light years away.

In her book Radical Spirit Joan Chittister writes: “Silence is the great equalizer, the forerunner of a genuine democracy.” In the great din of national conventions to elect our next president, there is little room for silence. Maybe we should make room. Take a breath, place your own thoughts on pause, and listen to another side of an issue. Perhaps we will find common ground. Chittister adds, “Ironically enough, it is silence—self-reflection and listening—that makes a person an honest citizen of the world.” It has been almost twenty years since the Twin Towers fell. Would our world be a better place, our democracy firmer, if we spent time in silent reflection on our citizenship in our country and in our world?

Silence may be the best way to observe Patriot Day (September 11).

When my parents got impatient with us kids for our loudness or rowdiness, after some futile attempts to curb our outbursts, they would say, “Enough is enough.” That was more than just a hint to be quiet. We were being taught to be content with less rambunctiousness. We heard,” Enough is enough” again when we wanted more cookies.

Recently in her book Radical Spirit, a book discussing humility, Joan Chittister wrote ‘Develop a sense of enoughness’ in the chapter titled “Be Content with Less Than the Best.” Having only enough can be humbling. Perhaps we have enough clothes, but not the latest styles. Sufficient food is on the table, but the fare is quite simple. Unemployment, failure, aging may bring embarrassment, even hardship.  We may want to cry in frustration, “God, this is enough! Enough is enough.” Then we may hear a whispering of divine words in our heart, “I have given you enough, and enough is enough.”

Most of us probably lead very ordinary lives. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever get the proverbial “15 minutes of fame.” But let’s look at our day.  Our 16+ hours of waking time contain at least 64 15-minute slots. Slots for work, slots for family, slots for conversation, slots for prayer, slots for meals, slots for leisure. Now pick a slot—any slot. Did you fill that slot for something or someone? Did you invest yourself for the good of others? Did that task make the world–or some little corner of it–a better place? Did your prayer nudge a mountain? Did your compassion bring a tear to someone’s eye? When we do anything for someone or something outside ourselves, we are not leading just an ordinary life. We are giving ourselves. And when we read in Scripture about giving a cup of cold water, that’s all the fame we need. Our deeds are written in heaven.

Not having a job with compensation puts me in a similar quandary with those across the country who were suddenly unemployed early in the pandemic. My prospects for ministry are many, but remuneration is not promising. Now I am trying to set up grief support groups in a parish. Although there’s ache in not being employed, I know that ministering to others, trying to be Jesus Christ to them, is more important. I am privileged to live the life of Jesus. Mother Teresa said, “Jesus is the Life to be Lived.” So, I am determined to live my life to the best of my ability each day. In doing so, I will be Jesus Christ, who is the Life to be lived. May your days be filled with the same grace! LIVE JESUS!

I enjoy work—at least most of the time. The enjoyment—actually, the joy—stems from performing the task my way. By “my way” I mean creatively. I love thinking of different ways to perform a task. In how many ways can I dust a room? Does polishing a shoe have to start at the toe? Does a towel folded in thirds look better than one folded in half? In which direction shall I mow the lawn today? Can I find another use for zucchini?

I have little time or talent for the tasks most often called “creative” like art, music, writing, decorating, and the like. Thus, work fills my need for creative outlet. I enjoy creating different ways to achieve the same end. I look upon a kitchen I just cleaned or a lawn I just mowed and see my stamp upon it. Work leaves me with a satisfying feeling. In a tiny way I feel the joy of the artist who writes his/her name on the canvas or composition. Although I don’t leave my initials, I’ve left my mark—and that’s joy for me.

Recently I obtained the book The Moment of Tenderness, a collection of Madeleine L’Engle’s stories. Somewhat chronologically arranged, they show L’Engle’s development as a writer who ultimately wrote 60 books including her classic A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine’s soul rises out of these stories that could be used as studies in psychology. In “The Birthday” we see little Madeleine’s confidence arising from knowing she is someone’s child. We glimpse her introversion in “The Mountains Shall Stand Forever.” Perhaps her moral development is seen in “Summer Camp.” 

I have always felt a kinship with Madeleine L’Engle. In her book Walking on Water she writes “The writer does want to be published. . . . Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been still born. . . So there is no evading the fact that the artist yearns for ‘success,’ because that means that there has been a communication of the vision that all the struggle has not been invalid.” My writing will never make the best seller list, and I am not putting myself in the same category as the phenomenal Madeleine L’Engle. But I still have a sense that on some mystical level we are soul friends. We just haven’t met.