Recently I journeyed with other Sisters of Mercy who were gathered in McAllen, TX. Some of us were seeing again or for the first time the devastation of already erected sections of a “border wall.” Amy had just entered the Mercy Community as a Candidate and agreed to be our tour guide for a few hours. As we approached the sections of the “wall” I was taken aback by the gasps of others in the van. The wall is tall, with open spaces in between the rungs that are in a “V” formation. The wall stands about 30 feet tall, has a rusty color, and a textured feel to it. The air temperature was about 112 degrees, the sun bearing down on your head and back, the rungs of the wall were hot to the touch. This brought many emotions to me as I reflected on “why do we need this wall?”
The “wall” is not just holding back persons in search of a better quality of life. The “wall” is holding back Mother Nature’s process of nature being able to migrate and replenish itself. All of nature is affected by not being able to come and go across what was once an imaginary line. This means the natural migration of birds, pollens, and other land, water, and air animals can no longer live in their natural habitat. This means that crops and fresh water could be in jeopardy of being negatively affected and possibly snuffed out by building a “wall.”
What are we doing to Mother Earth? I kept thinking about the species that can and will become extinct, contamination of the soil as well as contamination of the fresh water supply. Included are the men, women, and children that have risked their very being to take a chance to escape a life that is in danger. These families take a risk, a risk that I, as a citizen of the United States have not had to experience!
As I watched, a border agent drove an SUV dragging several large used tractor tires behind causing a cloud of dust to form. The tires smooth the dirt and make it easier to see where foot tracks crossed the border. The agents can tell which direction the persons were traveling as well as narrow the timeline to when the crossing was made. I thought about the agents who risk their lives each day to carry out the orders that have been handed down by their superiors. I tried to see a different view, to see through the eyes of one who is trying to provide for their family too. Not all agents are anti-immigrant, pro-wall, persons. Maybe both the agents and the immigrants seek the same thing: to provide a better life for their children. I want to believe that deep within each agent is a heart full of compassion, empathy, and Mercy. If given the chance to change careers, they too would try to find another occupation, possibly a profession that does not cause them to draw specific lines of who can come into this country and who must be removed from this country.
In the end, I come to a conclusion that I need to hold every Earthly creature gently and to not judge those who are following “orders” because I do not know what is in their heart. I do know this land does not belong to you or me, it belongs to God and in God all things are sacred.
Sister Patti Baca, RSM
For many people, myself included, these past days, weeks, and months have been challenging. Immigrant children remain separated from their parents, many of whom have since been deported to the countries from which they tried to escape. Lies, confusion, and cover-up at the highest levels are the norm instead of the exception. Trade wars, to a degree unprecedented since the 1930s (before some of us were born), are like a tit for tat ping-pong match between countries and nations with the “least of these” most impacted. Smartphones wake us up in the morning (or the middle of the night) with the latest tweet of aggressive initiation or angry response. And the leadership of institutions, mainline Protestant and evangelical churches, and the Roman Catholic Church are being challenged with the questions “what have you done,” “what are you doing,” and “will you not stop” violating those most vulnerable.
Where are you God in the midst of this cacophony and chaos? What can we hold onto and believe?
I believe that You are lovingly present in, with, and for all of creation. I believe that Your mercy, compassion, and healing are surrounding and enfolding all who have been harmed in any way under any circumstances. I believe that You will bring justice to those who use their power to oppress the child, the poor, the immigrant, the outcast.
I believe that You call each one of us to examine our own action and inaction, to repent, to change, to make amends and restitution. I believe that You call us to listen to the truth spoken by those who have been victimized and not discount or dismiss it but hold it tenderly and compassionately in a sacred trust. I believe that You call us to speak the truth and stand up for those who live in fear, to be the voice for the voiceless, to support efforts to end oppression and to hold accountable those who abuse their power and abuse others.
I didn’t wake up today with the intent of writing this post, and yet all that it says has been weighing on my heart. When it erupted unbidden, with an urgency to share it, I let it flow. May we open ourselves to the ways in which the Source of Life, Source of Love, and Ground of our Being wants to work through our hearts, hands, and voices.
August 24, 2018
“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door”
It fascinates me that one of the most influential rules of all of Christian monasticism has a chapter devoted to opening the door. In the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 66: The Porter of the Monastery states, “At the door of the monastery, place a sensible person who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose wisdom keeps them from roaming about. The porter will need a room near the entrance so that visitors will always find someone waiting there to answer them. As soon as anyone knocks or a poor person calls out, the porter will reply, ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Your blessing, please,’ then, with all the gentleness that comes from the reverence of God, provide a prompt answer with the warmth of love. Let the porter be given one of the younger members if help is needed.”
While it may seem very strange that such a rule would focus on the person who answers the door it is, in fact, of critical importance. You see, the way that we answer the door is the way in which we deal with the world. If we prefer to focus on ourselves and our own needs then, when the doorbell rings, we will most likely feel bothered and annoyed. But if our focus is turned toward the needs and cares of others then, when the doorbell rings, we will be excited by the possibility that we have an opportunity to be kind and of some assistance to a person in need.
Here at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center, we feel privileged to be the porters of this house! We are a group of crazy Christians who love to be interrupted and barged in upon. We strive to maintain a culture of welcome and hospitality. Here you will not find any “no trespassing” signs but rather, you will find a group of people ready to welcome you day and night in the spirit of Catherine McAuley – foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that mercy is “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.” I believe that we have all experienced God’s mercy in our lives and, because of that, we are compelled to be people of mercy. This is why I love being a part of the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center where we as a staff get to be a blessing to the community that we serve here in the Saint Louis Metropolitan area and beyond!
Feast of St. Benedict
How Do You Measure Up?
Success is measured in many ways. Each of us has our way of measuring our personal and professional successes. How do we learn what success is? How do we learn to measure it? Who determines who is successful? Everyone at some point has either asked themselves or will ask themselves, how have I been successful and how was that measured?
I believe that everyone possesses the deep desire to be successful and that our success will be measured in monumental wealth. After all, we live in America and are “entitled” to the “American Dream.” What exactly is the “American Dream?” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the “American Dream” is defined as this: “A happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful with good jobs, a nice house, two children, and plenty of money, they believed they were living the American dream.”
Over the past many years I have begun to dismantle the “American Dream” for myself. Honestly, I cannot say that I never believed in the same dream that by which others mark their success. As I was growing up, I understood success would be measured by getting married, having children, living in a house with a white picket fence, and by the size of my bank account and investments. Is this sounding familiar to anyone? Little did I know someone else’s expectations would measure my success in life. Someone else’s values have been placed on my life. How could I ever measure up? How could I ever be accepted by those who were middle to upper class?
Growing up in Southeast Texas there were not a lot of options for my future. I knew that I would have to work harder than my friends and family to get anywhere. The question was, how was I going to do that? At fifteen I moved from living with my mom in Southeast Texas to living with my dad in the Ft. Worth area. The move came as a great shock to me. I went from a small school district where you know everyone in the school to a large high school where there were approximately 2500 students. I went from living in the country to city life literally overnight. One moment I am living in poverty to the next moment not worrying about whether or not I would have a meal. I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for the transition, but I knew I had to take that chance.
After my high school graduation, I attended the junior college not far from my dad’s house. After two semesters of not knowing what direction I was headed, I again made a choice to quit college and join the Coast Guard. This decision was made out of hope and desperation with a little adventure poured in. Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” This is in fact what I was doing. I left behind everything that was familiar for the unfamiliar. This hope-filled leap was being taken for the second time in my life.
During my tenure with the Coast Guard, I measured hundreds of successes and failures. Sometimes the achievements were measured in lives saved and sometimes they were not. The mariner nor I was able to outsmart Mother Nature and poor human decisions. I couldn’t save everyone, but I did my best with the resources I had. After twenty years of majoring in search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, as well as maritime pollution response, I decided to set my sails in a different direction.
Michael John Bobak said, “All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.” For Religious Life is outside anyone’s comfort zone and I was about to find out how true that statement was. Once again taking a hope-filled leap into the unknown. Some would say that Religious Life is counter-cultural, I would agree, and so is joining a military sea-going service. Before I entered Religious Life, I felt I had to divest myself of “things.” I can honestly say that divesting my life of “things” was much easier than I thought it would be. You have to understand that by this time in my life I would be measured as “successful.” I had the car, the house, minus the children and the picket fence. I also had excellent investments and a sum of money in my bank account. So, by the Merriam-Webster’s definition, I had achieved the status of “successful.” Then why in the deepest part of my innermost being did I feel incomplete? That’s right, success for me has never been measured in things and the size of my investment portfolio. I fell into the trap that our culture puts on the next generation.
Once I started to divest myself of property, I was able to think more clearly, to make better decisions, to stop chasing the almighty dollar, and I was able to make decisions based out of “freedom” from. Freedom from running, freedom from working overtime, freedom from having to produce to be deemed worthy by our society, and by my family. Please do not misunderstand me, there is no ill will by my family, but there is an expectation of working until you can’t work anymore and you have to fall back on your investment portfolio to support you in your declining years.
Tony Hsieh said, “Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.” I was beginning to figure out that I am full of passion. I needed to follow that passion, and in doing so, I answered a pull to my heart to enter another “counter-cultural” lifestyle. Passion triggers in me different things but mostly to be of service to others. Once I stopped chasing the over-inflated “American Dream,” I began to understand that success is measured in more ways than having a house, car, and financial stability. My success was taking shape right before my eyes, and I was for the first time in my life at peace with the path I was on.
Each step I have taken in my life has been a message of hope and realization that success will not be measured by the size of my house, car, or my retirement fund. Success will be measured differently. “In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away,” Shing Xiong. Take time to stop and smell the roses, to see the beauty in nature and to embrace the many ways success can be measured. Take back your own identity and live life as it is to be lived. So, in the end, how do you measure “success”?
Patti Baca, RSM