Friday, October 7, 2016

Fleeing from what?

I've been thinking lately about the phrase in latin: Fuga mundi (flight from the world), and what it might mean.
Originally, it was used by the mothers and fathers of the desert in reference to the flight from a corrupt and persecuting world to live a more authentic Christian life. To be sure, the persecution was extreme, leading to the martyrdom of many early Christians. It was illegal to refuse to sacrifice to the gods of Rome because of one's belief in Jesus Christ. Some Christians fled to the desert for safety.
Once the persecution let up, the empire did an about-face and legalized Christianity. At that point many people flocked to join the Christians, and many did so in name only. The ranks of the Church were flush with new Christians, some of whom were unwilling or unable to embrace a true conversion of life. Some Christians wanted to sell all, give to the poor and devote their entire lives to prayer and gospel-living. They chose to leave the mass of unruly new converts to Christians - to flee the world - and try to live more authentically Christian lives.
This was the historical origin of fuga mundi or flight from the world. Not surprisingly religious life took up this phrase to describe the vocational journey of coming away from society, family, friends into a monastery or religious community. It was a separation from an outside world. Along with that separation came an implicit judgment that monastic life or religious life was superior: a purer and more radical form of Gospel living.
With the renewal of the Church and of religious life occasioned by the Second Vatican Council, the term fell into dis-use and sometimes it was positively rejected. We should not reject or denigrate "the world", but embrace it as Jesus did, reach out to the world in compassion and share the Gospel.
The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. (Vatican II: Gaudium et spes)
I believe this is an important move in the life of the Church: the turn to the world, with the eyes of Jesus. Yet, I think the early Christians were on to something important as well when they thought of flight from the world fuga mundi. It all depends on what you are fleeing from and what you are fleeing for.
There is much to embrace in a world created by God, loved and redeemed by Christ, our common home that we share with our sisters and brothers in the human community. All this I can embrace with love and compassion.
Yet there is also a darker side that I would flee, just like my early Christian sisters and brothers who fled persecution and corruption. I would flee from consumerism, from racism, from wanton environmental degradation, from violence, from sexism and from every form of dis-respect and abuse of the poor and vulnerable.
My flight is not so easy as going to a remote wilderness and absolving myself of responsibility for the ills of 'the world.' My flight requires that I make choices. I am part of this society that perpetuates violence and oppression. I cannot stand by and innocently call others to task. I partake in the ills myself. Every purchase I make, every bit of food I take, every cup of water I drink comes from this society that is both created and loved by God, and deeply compromised in its living. So my fuga mundi calls me to flee every form of violence and injustice, and to call others to the same. My fuga mundi calls me to solidarity with those who suffer from violence and injustice.
My particular call at this time is to free myself from chocolate and caffeine that is produced by slave labor. And some much of it is. Fair trade costs more - so I will have to consume less. But how can I justify buying cheaply, when my purchase is made on the backs of child laborers and underpaid farm-workers and even people working in slave-labor conditions. I love my chocolate! But not at that price. So this is the world I am choosing to flee now. There are so many other choices I can make: fresh, local and organic foods, reducing travel and energy consumption, reducing use of plastics and non-renewable resources, becoming aware of slave-labor practices in the supply-chains of stores and products and avoiding them.
I can flee the world without going to the wilderness. But sometimes it is by taking some time physically apart in prayer and reflection that I find the courage to live my flight in the midst of a broken world.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

GSR Interview

From Global Sisters Report...

Last year, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis decided to revamp the way it does vocation information, moving from a single vocations director to a team made up of the last four women to join the congregation. That team includes Sr. Amy Hereford, the woman who wrote the book on the future of religious life — or at least one of them.

Since December, the team has been changing the way the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Louis talk to and reach prospective candidates. Eight months in, Hereford spoke to Global Sisters Report about what the team has done so far and what they hope to accomplish. Read the interview...

Thanks Dawn - this was a great opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and how the Spirit has stirred among us in the past year.


Saturday, August 20, 2016


Our new vocation team (of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Louis) had the opportunity to report out to the community the progress of our work after about six months of organizing and doing vocation work. We had four sections of our report.
First we talked about the context of vocation work - the fact that there is significant interest in religious life among young adult Catholics. The infographic here gives some of the data. I believe the message is that there are men and women interested in religious life and they are entering our communities. It is true that fewer are entering religious life and we have many older sisters and brothers. Fifty years ago, there was a sharp decline in those coming, but since that time, there has been a steady stream of people seeking to follow a vocation to religious life. The challenge is how to reach out to these inquirers and engage them in a meaningful formation process. Much has changed and will continue to change as our communities adjust to the demographic shifts. How do we shift our mentalities from thousands or hundreds to dozens? What are the challenges, what are the opportunities that this shift affords? And how do we accommodate the simultaneous cultural shift from boomers to millennials? These are challenges we will continue to face for at least a decade.
Next, we discussed how we have organized our vocation team. The team is comprised of the last four sisters to join the province, the 'last four in the door'. We bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, and a range of skills to the team. We have also invited those sisters in the community who would support vocation work into the process. So we have the four of us at the core of the work, carrying the responsibility for the ministry. Then sisters have volunteered to assist in various ways, or have made themselves available for whatever ways they could help out. That is the expanded team. We will reach out to them regularly with information and updates, as well as inviting them to help with various vocation events. We feel supported and encouraged by these sisters, many of whom have been involved in vocation and formation work in the past. Thank God for the blessings of community. 
This team came into play in our recent MORE weekend - when we invited young women to share our life for a weekend. Various sisters assisted with welcoming and meals, and they joined us for volunteer ministry, prayer and conversation. It really gave us the opportunity to showcase our community. One of the comments we got was that "you all seem to respect and enjoy one another's company." Yes we do! And it is a gift to be reminded of that by our visitors. 
site-logoFinally, we officially launched our vocations website: One of our early projects was to enhance our social media presence and to set up a web presence dedicated to vocations. We can use it as a platform to showcase the community, vocation events and discernment resources. We have a blog and the four of us are taking turns posting. We are also on twitter @csjlifeconnect, on Facebook, on instagram, etc. So there are multiple ways to connect and to extend our reach. We can also continue to build relationships with those who are seeking more information about life as a Sister of St. Joseph. 
And so let's add one more layer of vocation team: please pray and support us in this important ministry. Pass our information on to someone you think might be interested, or might make a good Sister of St. Joseph some day. Pray for all of those discerning a vocation and those of us who assist in their journey. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Interwoven Networks

I participated in the Sisters of St. Joseph federation event in early July. It was a great celebration and an opportunity to connect with other Sisters of St. Joseph from around the country and some from outside the US as well. I particularly appreciated the "meetings between the meetings" when some of the younger sisters, in various configurations, gathered to share common experience and to dream a common future.
Coming back to St. Louis, we had our province assembly, an opportunity to gather for prayer, conversation and celebration. Still buoyed up by the federation experience, this was another opportunity to share community, spirituality and justice. The new vocation team, of which I am a part, gave a presentation about our work. Mary talked about the current context of vocations in the US. Sarah explained the model we are using to organize the work. I talked about how that model worked in practice in one of the events that we offered for vocations. Then Clare explained our new vocations website. (More on all that next week.)
Next week, I travel to Atlanta for the national assembly of the LCWR, a gathering of sisters from various congregations from around the US. I am going for work, but it will be another opportunity to meet, share and celebrate.
All these gatherings have their specific focus, yet they are all related to the larger movement of religious life and Gospel living. Last night, I was on a web conference with other younger Sisters of St. Joseph, then some sisters gathered to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies together. Always creative and a glimpse into the local culture, these ceremonies were a call to the world community to unite in our efforts for a more sustainable world. I loved the climate change clip, and the follow-up that had each athlete planting a seed that would grow into a long-lasting memorial to the event, and to what we can do together as a world community. It is as simple and as radical, as planting a seed.
So many gifts, so many experiences, so many gatherings and networks. "All things work together for the good of those God loves," for the good of each of us.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Plants and Mercy

I joined our sisters at Nazareth Living Center to reflect with them on Plants and Mercy. For they year of mercy, they have been gathering monthly for a presentation on mercy. I talked to the sisters gathered there about my experience with plants and with the mercy of God.
God is Love, and Love is God.
In the beginning, when the earth was a formless waste, God created - created by loving. God created in the divine image - created in love. God loves by creating, creates by loving. And this loving, creating God invites us also to be the best of ourselves by loving and creating in God's image.
When this love of God meets pain, it takes on the face of mercy.
When this love of God meets weakness, it takes on the face of mercy.
When this love of God meets sorrow, it takes on the face of mercy.
When this love of God meets suffering, it takes on the face of mercy.
In today's world, I can hear the cry of the earth, crying in pain and suffering....
Crying in pain for fracking.
Crying in pain for pollution.
Crying in pain for habitat destruction.
Crying in pain for soil degradation.
Crying in pain for poisoning our waters.
And when the earth cries in pain, the weakest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters suffer the most from lack of clean water, lack of food and lack of fuel - the basics of human living.
Mercy hears the cry and responds. Our response can be a simple prayer, whispered in hope. Our response can be our wonder and gratitude for the little signs of hope in the world of suffering. Our response can be to do our part to make a difference in this world.
Mercy looks like turning off lights.
Mercy looks like reducing, reusing, recycling.
Mercy looks like native habitat restoration.
Mercy looks like eating fresh, local and organic.
Mercy looks like talking to others about the ecological challenges and solutions.
Mercy looks like advocating with government and businesses and neighborhoods.
Mercy looks like supporting one another in our choices.
In this year of mercy, I commit to living more lightly on the earth, to taking steps to lessen my use and dependence on plastics and fossil fuels. And I commit to solidarity with others in this movement and solidarity with my brothers and sisters who suffer most when the earth is degraded.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Fling Open the Doors

A few weeks ago we welcomed a woman interested in Religious Life for a weekend of prayer, community, ministry and conversation. We focused the weekend on three aspects: Community, Spirituality and Justice. This gives us the acronym: CSJ. Four of us on the team: Sarah, Clare, Mary and I organized the weekend, with lots of help from other sisters along the way.
We opened the weekend by sharing the Friday evening meal with the vocation team and several sisters at the motherhouse, followed by a tour of the motherhouse which is really a great introduction to who we are. The tour ended in the chapel where we prayed and shared around the notion of call. Our fundamental call to loving relationship, our vocational call to a particular life-calling, and our daily calls to kindness, compassion and justice.
On Saturday, we began with a short prayer then moved out to our volunteer sites. The first was in Dogtown Ecovillage where I live and where we work for community and sustainability in an urban neighborhood. We harvested and braided Garlic and we did some maintenance at a native plant garden. Some of us had never harvested garlic before, so it was a new experience of receiving the earth's abundance that will continue to bless the community for the coming year. After the harvest, we moved on to one of the native plant installations in the ecovillage.
Marian Middle School logoAt lunch time, we went to Marian Middle School where Sarah is principal. Kate, one of our sisters, brought in a wonderful lunch and shared it with us. Well nourished, we headed into the afternoon's project. Sarah had us cleaning out and organizing one of the supply closets at the school. I had my doubts whether we could make order out of the chaos before the end of the day, but we managed to finish early. We enjoyed the camaraderie of working together and sharing stories of the mission at Marian, and the life of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and life in general.
The group headed back to the motherhouse for a reflection and prayer lead by Ida, another of our sisters. Then we all reconvened for pizza and community at another of our houses. Linda and her housemates made us feel very welcome and we also had an opportunity to respond to questions about religious life. Each of us shared from our own perspective and experience, which made for a very rich evening indeed.
Sunday morning we headed out to a parish for mass, followed by a wrap-up session with more conversation, questions, and sharing.
I enjoyed sharing the weekend with the sisters on the vocation team and with other sisters who came in to help out with various parts of the weekend. Over the course of the weekend, four of us on the team wove in and out of the program, depending on our other commitments. We had published the schedule to sisters on the expanded vocation teams to ask their prayers, support and participation. They came forward generously to make the weekend a success for us all.
At the end, the woman who joined us for the weekend said:
I really feel like you opened your home and your lives to me. This is really what I needed for my discernment process.
Let's pray for all those who are discerning a call to religious life and for all of us who accompany them on the journey.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Continuing Journey

It has been exactly two weeks since I moved to New York City. My community has invited me to engage in formation work and so with excitement I leave, though, I am aware too of the sadness I feel for leaving several circles of community in St. Louis. While we were just two in the house we shared, the uniqueness of our community encompassed a union of heart and mind of two distinctive individuals from two religious communities. With that, we lived in the broader community of our neighborhood, that of the Ecovillage, and we also gave space to bring together Sisters 2.0 of St. Louis. I am so grateful for the experience and will miss the deep “organic” sharing with my housemate and companions along the journey, from planting seeds, cultivating and nurturing new growth, to composting figuratively and metaphorically of new possibilities in the different circles of community beyond the borders of our religious communities. Over these last couple of years, I learned that community life offers us with many organic possibilities and enriches us with the gifts of others in different circles. It is humbling to recognize the many treasures of new life and how enriched I have become because of this experience. I will miss St. Louis, my community of two, Sisters 2.0, and the Ecovillage. I hope that my journey to a new place will bring along the fruit of my many learnings and that I will be able to form community with others wherever I go.
--Maco Cassetta