Together Yet Alone, Alone Yet Together

Together Yet Alone, Alone Yet Together – Br. Michael Perras, ofm

Together yet alone, alone yet together. This phrase never caught my attention until midway through this past year of pandemic living. The challenge of being together in community all the time and trying to live as a fraternity can indeed have its challenges and graces. Each of us comes to the table with different perspectives and limited encounters with the world. We hear the same news over and over again and try to share it as if it’s breaking news. We bring our prayers, although they may be flat we raise up our words together. Yet we are alone in this togetherness, aren’t we? When our togetherness becomes an obstacle for honest conversations or continual conversion of the heart, we may feel alone even though we are surrounded by others. This was true before the pandemic and not just for religious communities but for so many people. Stuck in this togetherness and yet not truly seen or heard. So many in the world can feel like just a number or a statistic. I would like to think that we in religious communities don’t feel like a statistic however we can feel alone although we are together in community. What can we do about that? How can we mend this gentle tear in the fabric of our communities? I think this is where the advantage of alone yet together can come into play.

Alone yet together is the space we need to be able to see with new eyes, approach the common table with fresh stories and truly hear what is being said within us and outside of us. Alone yet together provides the sacred ground for our souls to breathe and delight. For it is here that the soul is given space to be and explore alone yet knows the support of togetherness. The together doesn’t become suffocating, rather it creates space, holds space and encourages the beauty that will arise in the struggles of this grace filled aloneness. Our society has caused us to fear being alone on any level but especially alone yet together. This fear escalates in us and causes us to doubt, to question our contributions and to constantly compare. This can impact us as religious too as it could blind us from our mission and being centered in God. 

This pandemic has not been easy for any of us. We have faced challenges and set-backs, we have stumbled along and have tried to rise up again and again. Hope has been our constant companion even if it has felt miniscule or unnoticed, it has never left us because our hope is in Jesus Christ. If you are feeling the need for some fresh air to breathe into your lungs but are uncertain how to make this happen may I suggest a retreat. A retreat is the grace-filled moments of alone yet together where your soul can soar, your vision can become clear and your hope can be restored again. Ideally in person retreats can foster body – mind – heart and soul, but even a virtual retreat can be this needed gift. I found this to be the grace I encountered last summer in the midst of the pandemic with the 55ish and Under Summer Retreat. I was awakened to deep truths; I was able to sit with story and was able to hear with opened ears the story of others. I was also able to laugh, pray and celebrate the gift of being alone yet together and together yet alone in a deeper way with other religious sisters, brothers and priests. 

This retreat opportunity is being made available to you again this summer. We all need to take “time away” so we can hear the voice of Jesus again or maybe hear his message of hope more clearly. A summer retreat is a perfect gift for anyone but maybe even more so for youngish religious in this ever changing and challenging world. Why don’t you join us this summer? Invite a religious sister, brother or priest to come along with you for this together yet alone, alone yet together time of grace.

An Invitation Towards Hope

Virtual Retreat for Religious 55ish and Under who minister or are associated through their community to the Church in Canada. 

August 8-14, 2021

Retreat Leader: Sr. Mary Rowell, csj

– bioethicist – spiritual companion – facilitator – ecological leader – educator –

Cost: $150

Registration Deadline: June 1, 2021

AroundTheWellRetreat@gmail.com

The Fullness of Being Brother: Religious Brothers Day 2021

The Fullness of Being Brother: Religious Brothers Day 2021                   – Br. Michael, ofm

A common question asked to a religious brother is: Why didn’t you go all the way?

To which a Brother will often respond with: Pardon me?

To which the questioner expands:

Why didn’t you become a priest? Why did you stop at Brother?

To which a Brother will respond with all kindness:

This is not a stepping stone to priesthood or a lesser than vocation.

I didn’t stop at Brother; this is the fullness to which I am called. 

To which the questioner will stare blankly or change the subject:

How about those rosary beads? 

These questions really do get directed to us Religious Brothers or so as I’m also learning to other members of the fraternity. It can easily leave a Brother feeling frustrated or misunderstood. I like to take it with a grain of salt and as an opportunity to celebrate the vocation of being a Religious Brother. 

Life as a Religious Brother is indeed a full life. I have never been made to feel lesser than or that my vocation is not as worthy as that of my Brothers who are priests. I may not have the same functions as a priest but that does not mean that I don’t contribute to the life of the church, fraternity or society. I have other opportunities that priests do not have and can contribute to the life of the church not simply in a sacramental way.

The fullness of my life as a religious Brother comes with ever changing roles and responsibilities. Some days I may be in full service to my fraternity, other days I may be serving the greater community and still on other days I may be journeying with an individual. Whether I’m cleaning the toilets (which is not a favorite task) or preparing the chapel I try to serve with a joy-filled heart. Whether I’m preparing a retreat or presenting one I approach it with an awareness of who I am in relationship with those on the retreat. Whether I’m companioning someone in spiritual direction or praying with an individual the dignity of that person is my focus.

The fullness of my life includes the privilege of praying for so many people and also creating space to listen for God’s voice not only in my life but what God is calling us to do here and now. My prayer life is woven into the relationships I have with so many people whether that is family and friends, or those I journey with on retreats or through spiritual direction or those who simply stop me and ask for prayers for themselves or loved ones. 

As you can see the fullness of life as Religious Brother comes with variety. This would be true for any Religious Brother you meet. Our charisms and ministries impact the way we serve the church and the world, but at the heart of any Religious Brother is a heart of fraternity, service and hospitality. Every religious male or female, ordained or not claim these characteristics which is worthy and good and they should. I would like to think you can see them specifically exhibited and lived out with a fullness in the life of a Religious Brother. I believe it is what makes us approachable and relatable to so many people from all walks of life.

When I began my studies in Spiritual Direction, once the fascination of me wearing a habit wore off, it was the fact that I understood the stories and welcomed my colleagues from all walks of life. This is the reality of my vocation as Brother something real as fraternity, service and hospitality was not exclusive rather it was inclusive. Brother is not just a title; it is an embodiment of who I am and how I live my life. It is an embodiment of what a Brother is as one who strengthens connections between people and of being a companion, of being present and serving others. As a Brother, the value of relationships is so important for they foster a fraternity beyond the walls of our friaries bringing fraternity to the community, to creation and the whole world. Hopefully a compassionate, strengthening and healing bond of God among us.

I am I called to be a priest? The answer is no. Do I have some skills that I could use as a priest? You bet. Many people do (both men and women), but we do not all become ordained priests. In discernment I listen and pay attention to what is stirring in me. This was true when I began my journey to the Friars and continued through my formation years to my Solemn Vows and continues today. In the listening, in the quiet, in the sitting with God the word Brother continues to surface. I believe I continue to learn new ways of being a Brother for our fraternity, ministry and for our world. A world in desperate need of Brothers and Sisters who will listen and will encourage others to also build a more fraternal world.

To go back to that question:

Why didn’t you go all the way?

I respond with:

I did go all the way and every time I put on my habit, it’s not about being acknowledged or standing out, it is about humbly living out my vocation as Brother. Each time I put on my habit I am reminded that I put on Christ. I am also reminded that Christ is a brother to all and calls me to do the same in the specific vocation of Religious Brother.

And it’s not how about those Rosary beads? It’s do you know where I hide my rosary beads? haha!

May 1 is St. Joseph the Worker Feast Day and Religious Brothers Day. St. Joseph serves as a witness of working for the kingdom of God in hidden and even unknown ways. In this year dedicated to St. Joseph, I humbly ask for your continued prayers for Religious Brothers from all walks of life.

Much peace and all good!

Top photo credit: Emily Morter

Vocation: Confidence and Endurance

“Do not, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” Hebrews 10.35-36

These two verses from scripture caught my attention. I see them as speaking to each of us in our call to live out our vocation. Regardless if we are married, single, a religious sister or brother or a priest we need a confidence to endure the journey of a life and stay in tune with God’s will. All of us are consecrated at our baptism. This gift is embedded with confidence and endurance to “run and not grow weary” (Isaiah 40.31), to “shine our light”(Matthew 5.16) and “bear much fruit” (John 15.5). Each of us are called forth in baptism to be heralds of the good news and the way we live our lives is the greatest witness of this. I am mindful of my baptism as I reflect on my life as a religious brother. It is in this being incorporated into Christ at baptism that then calls me to live my vows and vocation in this specific way.

February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and also celebrates World Day for Consecrated Life. This year being the 25th Anniversary of this designation. A day marked in the Catholic Church to pray for and be mindful of women and men religious – sisters, brothers, priests and hermits along with those who belong to secular institutes and those who make private vows. It is in professing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience that we live out the promise of our baptismal call in these specific ways.

In living as a religious brother, I am constantly called back to not abandoning the confidence which is mine. This is not about being prideful and boasting, it is rather an anchoring in Christ. My confidence is found in Him whom I pattern my life after by living the gospel. It is this same confidence in which St. Francis trusted when he heard his call to go and rebuild the church. He didn’t set out to become a founder of a religious order rather he was expressing this confidence and living with an endurance the will of God the best he could. St. Francis is quoted as saying near the end of his life, “I have done what is mine to do, may you now do what is yours.” This conviction is established in a confidence that Christ was at work in him, that he was a vessel of the Holy Spirit for his time and place and that the promise of life eternal was at the heart of how he strived to live his consecrated life.

As I continue on in this consecrated religious life, I like St. Francis, continue to adjust my focus to see and profess more clearly “My God and My All” in my daily living. If I make my vows and not live them out well, they become empty promises. If I squander the confidence I have in self-sustaining ways, then I am forgetting that my vows call me into relationship with others. If I trust in my will forgetting that God is at work in me, I am out of step with my heart. These are the challenges I face as a religious in making my living authentic, honest and true. The reward is not earthly treasures – although tempting. The reward is not even in trying to live like St. Francis. The reward is in listening and being present to God who dwells in me. It is in doing this that I can live my vows well, walk forward in confidence with endurance knowing that God’s will is at work in me and the promises God makes to me are always kept.

How do you see yourself as consecrated?

Who calls forth this gift in your life?

“The life of the body is the soul; the life of the soul is God.” – St. Anthony of Padua

Reflection by: Br. Michael Perras, ohm

Tiny Home Takeout Anyone?

By: Toby Collins, CR

We’ve all read the story about our true home in heaven being like a mustard seed or the yeast we add to dough. In both cases things grow exponentially and everyone is provided for.

Recently at St. Mary’s Church in downtown Kitchener a Tiny Home Takeout window was opened for everyone in the community to “Grab a bite, and give if they can.” The idea was planted 2 years ago when leadership and lay people at the parish saw a need for quality food in parts of the community that were struggling to pay rent and eat well – if shelter was even possible. Fundraising lead to hiring an outreach coordinator, renovating a kitchen, and adding a chef. All of which have given the leaven to the the dough that provides an average of 140 personal pizzas per night. And if pizza isn’t your thing there is always a meatless soup, chili or pasta on the menu.

It is with gratitude to God for the scriptures from which this seed was planted that we at St. Mary’s give thanks. And, of course, we also give thanks for the opportunity our charism of hope has given to the 3 Resurrectionists who live here to remind everyone that with God’s love things grow exponentially and everyone is provided for. For more information please visit tinyhometakeout.com. Photo by: Michael Messner

Seeking Emmanuel in the Traffic

When I was a child, there were a couple of times that I found the waiting time of Advent to be too much to bear.  I had to know the identities of the colourful packages and so I found time, late in the evening, to secretly and carefully pull at the scotch tape holding the wrapping paper together on each of my gifts.  Knowing the trouble I’d get into if the presents actually disappeared, I returned them carefully re-wrapped to the Christmas tree, and so there were a couple Christmas mornings that held no surprises for me.

I’d like to think that I’ve improved in my ability to wait as an adult, but I’m regularly reminded that I’ve a long way still to go.  There are occasions when I’m sitting at yet another red light on my way home from a long day at work that I find myself bemoaning why it’s so difficult for city workers to synchronize the lights on a street when humanity has managed to put a person on the moon!  In other words, waiting is not always my strength.  As I see the struggles that we as a province and country are living through these days of Covid 19, I know that I am not alone in this.

Perhaps the toughest struggle in the waiting is the inner dialogue that happens, dialogue that illustrates to me how the truths of my Catholic faith sometimes sit up in my head as “interesting” knowledge, without somehow making the trip down to my heart to transform and permeate the way I live.  The interior moaning might go something like this:  “Why me?  What have I done to deserve red light after red light?  I mean, yes, I could have been more generous to this colleague and I was a bit sharp with that student today, but really, does that really mean the world has to be against me now?”

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were having a similar dialogue with themselves and God.  They had a fair amount more to concern themselves with than city traffic:  a Roman occupation that many Jews struggled to abide at the time.  “Why us?” they asked themselves.  “Why should our region be run by the Romans?  Yes, we could have obeyed the laws of our God more faithfully, we have been untrue and thoughtless at times.  But is Roman rule really justified?”

The birth of a child was God’s response to years of agonized waiting.  The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, is also God’s response to me today. It is a truth that is simple to know, and yet utterly profound to understand and live.  Emmanuel, God is with us.  

Every frustrated encounter with a traffic light can serve as a call to me from the depths of my heart, a reminder that I need God’s grace to help permeate my very being with this truth:  God is with us! God is with me!  It is God saying: “Red lights can’t take away from your worth.  Unkind words and acts, pandemics, corrupt politicians, these can neither add nor take anything away from your preciousness to me.  I give you your worth.  God is with you!”

As we hear the Christmas story again at Mass this year, let us pray that its wisdom moves a little more from our heads, working its way ever deeper into our hearts.  We are extraordinarily precious.  We are profoundly loved.  God is with us!  Let us know it, live it, and breathe it!

Written by: Michelle Langlois, fcJ

Teacher: “Why me? Why now?”

9 months into this pandemic and we have given birth to fear, isolation, sorrow, and frustration. Rewind! 9 months ago in the world of education we left school on March 13 (A Friday!) thinking we were getting an extended March Break and we would come back to our students a little more refreshed and ready having had extra days to catch up on sleep. Fast forward to 9 months later and our lives, as teachers and students have been turned upside down.

As a primary teacher I returned to the classroom after doing Special Education for seven years and I was a little excited to have my own class, do my own thing with them, giving them a home away from home experience. The kids were excited to come back to school and get back into a routine they so desperately needed. Whoop! Check! When we returned we entered a whole new realm- masks, visors, desks a metre apart, tape on the walls to show where you stand in line, walking with zombie arms is the new “lips and hips”- What in the heck is this? I can’t teach like this. I can’t have fun with my students because I can’t even take off my mask to read them a story and show my goofy faces while I read it to them. Insert Charlie Brown voice, “Why me! Why now!”

Ok! I said to myself, enough whining! While I often steer clear of “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” (I don’t believe that! She has given plenty of over the top situations that required way more of me than I was willing to give). I did try to reframe my thinking. The pandemic is here to stay. I made a choice to pray for patience and peace.

This thinking/ praying developed into COVID- Care Of Very Important Disciples. We are these disciples and all those we live with, serve with, and encounter are the VIDs in our CO. Now, in an effort to get through this together, my staff, sisters, friends and family continue to feed the poor, my classroom is a safe zone and we play, “Noodle Tag”, so we can “touch” each other, our zombie arms have become “spacers”, and the class is our home.

With the birth of Jesus just weeks away, our preparations centre on making Christmas special for struggling families. Approximately 50 families in my small school will receive a Christmas package this year. The advent wreath made from traced hands will grace the bulletin board. The Elf on the Shelf will show up hanging from the ceiling of the classroom. And together we will wait in joy for the coming of Christ and the end to a pandemic that together calls us to be better.

Take a page from this student who found her own pace in the craziness of a lunchtime chaos.

Article and picture by: Connie Harrington, SNJM

Finding God in the Little Things

This past year, the pandemic and its’ restrictions have been challenging for most, not always for the same reasons.  My heart goes out to all parents and families, and maybe especially business owners, for whom these times have been especially difficult financially.  I can only pray that they will receive all the help they need to survive and live in dignity in spite of all the hardships they have endured.

Our local parishes have been challenged: will they come through this pandemic in one piece?  Will church buildings need to close?  How long can they survive if the pandemic and restrictions stretch out for another long period of time?

Many countries’ and provinces’ health care systems have been tested.  How long can our front line workers withstand all this pressure, working short staffed, trying to care for the sick and protect their own selves and family members at the same time?

On a more personal level, many of us have elderly parents; some we can visit, others have been inaccessible since the beginning of the pandemic, living in nursing homes where restrictions are strict in order to keep them safe, or they live in another province and travel restrictions make it difficult or impossible to go see them.

And all of us have elderly sisters or brothers in our communities.  Some have been kept safe but have suffered from isolation, some may have died.

And now, we are in the second wave of the pandemic…

In my lifetime, I have never experienced such a general deep need for hope.  We all need to look after each other.  Seven months into this pandemic, how are we?  Have we kept enough ties to the important people in our lives and a strong link to God that we are able to say, “I am OK.”?

Having been a social worker in the Mental Health field, I learned early on that in order to survive as a Crisis intervention worker and then a Psychiatric Unit worker, I couldn’t take on all of my clients’ troubles and sufferings on my shoulders.  It was a hard lesson and it took me a few years until I was better at it.  It was never perfect.  We are all human and some things hit closer to home than others.

I guess the purpose of this little article of mine is simply to remind people to enjoy the small things in life.  Take a break once in a while from the suffering in the world in order to reconnect more fully with God, with creation, with yourself.

For me, the pandemic has allowed me to reconnect with nature: longer walks, more bicycle rides, sharing some hiking time with friends.  I even had the joy to participate in a Cycling With Sisters event on PEI on October 3rd (shout out to Sue Kidd, Libby Osgood,CNDs and Laura Kelly, CSM!).  It was a nice opportunity to be out in God’s creation, praying with others in our pilgrimage stops.

I wish all those who will be reading this blog a deep peace, the kind that flows from God, sometimes directly to us, sometimes through nature, sometimes through friends, but always bringing us back to His heart and His love.

Blessings,

Céline Belliveau, ndsc  – author and photographer for this post.

 

 

Cette dernière année, la pandémie et ses restrictions ont été difficiles pour la plupart, pas toujours pour les mêmes raisons.  Je suis de tout cœur avec tous les parents et les familles, et peut-être surtout avec les chefs d’entreprise, pour qui ces temps ont été particulièrement difficiles sur le plan financier.  Je ne peux que prier pour qu’ils reçoivent toute l’aide dont ils ont besoin pour survivre et vivre dans la dignité malgré toutes les épreuves qu’ils ont endurées.

Nos paroisses locales ont été mises au défi : vont-elles traverser cette pandémie en un seul morceau?  Les églises devront-elles fermer?  Combien de temps pourront-elles survivre si la pandémie et les restrictions s’étendent encore sur une longue période de temps?

Les systèmes de santé de nombreux pays et provinces ont été testés.  Combien de temps nos travailleurs de première ligne peuvent-ils résister à toute cette pression, travaillant en sous-effectif, essayant de soigner les malades et de se protéger eux-mêmes et les membres de leur famille en même temps ?

Sur un plan plus personnel, beaucoup d’entre nous ont des parents âgés ; certains peuvent leur rendre visite, d’autres sont inaccessibles depuis le début de la pandémie, vivent dans des maisons de retraite où les restrictions sont strictes afin de les garder en sécurité, ou bien ils vivent dans une autre province et les restrictions de voyage rendent difficile, voire impossible, d’aller les voir.

Et nous avons tous des sœurs ou des frères âgés dans nos communautés.  Certains ont été mis en sécurité mais ont souffert de l’isolement, d’autres sont peut-être morts.

Et maintenant, nous sommes dans la deuxième vague de la pandémie…

De toute ma vie, je n’ai jamais ressenti un besoin aussi profond d’espoir.  Nous avons tous besoin de nous occuper les uns des autres.  Sept mois après le début de cette pandémie, comment allons-nous ?  Avons-nous gardé suffisamment de liens avec les personnes importantes dans nos vies et un lien fort avec Dieu pour pouvoir dire “Je vais bien” ?

Ayant été travailleuse sociale dans le domaine de la santé mentale, j’ai appris très tôt que pour survivre en tant qu’intervenante de crise, puis en tant que travailleuse dans une unité psychiatrique, je ne pouvais pas prendre sur mes épaules tous les problèmes et toutes les souffrances de mes clients.  C’était une dure leçon et il m’a fallu quelques années pour la maîtriser quelque peu.  Ce n’était jamais parfait.  Nous sommes tous humains et certaines choses nous touchent plus que d’autres.

Je suppose que le but de ce petit article est simplement de rappeler aux gens de profiter des petites choses de la vie.  Faites une pause de temps en temps pour vous éloigner de la souffrance dans le monde afin de vous reconnecter plus complètement à Dieu, à la création, à vous-même.

Pour moi, la pandémie m’a permis de me reconnecter avec la nature : plus de promenades à pied, plus de balades à vélo, le partage de temps de randonnée avec des amis.  J’ai même eu la joie de participer à un événement “Cycling With Sisters” à l’Î.-P.-É. le 3 octobre (mention spéciale à Sue Kidd, Libby Osgood,CNDs et Laura Kelly, CSM !)  C’était une belle occasion de me retrouver dans la création de Dieu, de prier avec d’autres personnes lors de nos arrêts en pèlerinage.

Je souhaite à tous ceux qui liront ce blog une paix profonde, celle qui vient de Dieu, parfois directement à nous, parfois par la nature, parfois par des amis, mais qui nous ramène toujours à son cœur et à son amour.

Que Dieu vous bénisse,

Céline Belliveau, ndsc  – author and photographer of this post.