Mission

When I went to Nashville for retreat a week and change ago, I went because I wanted to get my purpose, my mission, my goal inline. As a lifelong Catholic, I’d thought my mission would be one of two things: marriage, or consecrated life ( as in; get thee to a nunnery), but I thought I’d get married and have kids and that was where my life would go.
I was wrong.
Almost got married. No consecrated life. I am a lay Dominican, but as I said d to Sr. John Thomas, to echo a mermaid, “I want more.” I didn’t feel like I was being stretched or challenged or filling what I was supposed to be doing.
Reding sore blog posts today on Patheos made me realize my mission: to tell stories, in particularly, mine.
For awhile I’ve wanted to write a memoir. I’ve got a 75% finished book proposal, ad some drft pages. But now I feel that it has to be one, written and sent out into the world.
I don’t think I’m a hero or a saint, though I’ve been called both. ( each time I want to go, really, people? Are unsure youre talking to the right person?) People somehow equate survival with heroics…I don’t know about that.

But I do know that more and more people like me aren’t being born. People with genetic diseases try to prevent their children from having the same disease, which makes me go, “why?” Don’t give me, oh, I don’t want her to suffer like I did.

I’ve always sort of thought suffering is a choice–pain isn’t. Things hurt. Suffering, as in, your mental state, is a choice. It’s a verb–it’s an action word. It’s not something that can be avoided. Everyone suffers differently. So if my kid didn’t have CF, they’d have something else. It could be less. It could be more. Are you saying that you wish your parents had aborted you? Or decided “not to implant” your particular embryo? I certainly hope not.

Benedict XVI once said, “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”  We are all necessary.

Why can I do this? Because a lot of other CF folks don’t–they get their transplant, and they die. Or they don’t get their transplant, and they die. Or they’re OK with their lives, and they don’t really think about the greater world and how it perceives us (and by “us”, I mean all those who aren’t quite genetically or physically or whatever-ly normal. [As Br. H would say: “Normal? What does anyone in this family know about normal? The only normal one here is Jack-Jack, and he’s not even toilet-trained!”])

I have to write my story. I have loved all of it. In less than a month, I’ll be 31–something I hadn’t imagined as a kid. It seemed so old. My life isn’t perfect, and I’m not a saint, or a hero. I have not gotten everything I’ve wanted in life, like all of us. (Name me one person whose life is completely fulfilled.) I’m a person who has tried her best to have “life, and have it more abundantly.” The fact that so many people see my birth as a mistake or a choice to be avoided, as something terribly wrong, is what I have to correct.

God made me this way. He wanted me this way. And in the book, and in this blog, I want to tell you why this life is just so darn worth living. Why you shouldn’t be afraid if your kid has a disease or a defect or a whatever. Yes, life can be hard. Pain happens to everyone. But that isn’t a reason to not live life.

I look normal. I don’t have an oxygen tank, I don’t have scars in visible places, unless you count the right arm burn/skin graft. I work and I pay rent and I grocery shop and I do all those other things people do. Maybe if people can see that–they’ll think again. Or they’ll at least know that it is possibleA lot of the stories out there have been told by parents. I think we need to hear from us.

So now, I have to finish that draft. I have to write it, finish the book proposal, get some kind soul to read both and comment (or at least the book proposal) and then send it off.

Nashville Retreat, Part III: Saturday Morning

The oratory, where retreat conferences were held

The oratory, where retreat conferences were held

Saturday Morning

5:50: Rising bell

6:20 Penitential psalms

6:30 Meditation

7:00 Lauds

7:15 Mass

8:15 Breakfast

9:00 House and Grounds Tour

9:45 Conference : ” He Reaches Out: The Creed and the Sacraments” 

10:30 Free time, until noon prayers

5:50 came really early. But I felt reasonably rested, after the very long day before, and Nashville was an hour behind Columbus, so I had really gotten an extra hour of sleep. I dressed, took my retreat folder, Bible, breviary, and The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena into the chapel with me.

The Seven Penitential Psalms are Psalms  6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129,  and 142. The sisters at St. Cecilia pray them from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week for the deceased of the order and departed sisters. (Praying for the dead is another Dominican tradition.) Since I’d also been praying these after Mass during Lent, I was glad to see these added to the morning’s prayers.

After the psalms, we had 30 minutes of meditation. I used this time to read some of the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, as well as the Book of Job. I’ve started reading this book several times but had never gotten farther than the first few chapters, so it was great to have this time to practice my lectio divina with this book.

On retreat, and in the convent itself, there are few clocks. The sisters wear watches either on their wrists or attached to their belts (silver watches only), because time is important in the horarium, even with the five minute bell that sounds before prayers and Mass. Wasting time is not monastic! 🙂 It was lovely to just have time pass, without knowing the actual time, and being absorbed in prayer and reading. (And we didn’t have anywhere else to be, but there, in Christ’s presence.)

At 7:00, those sisters and retreatants who hadn’t come to early prayers, for whatever reasons, came for lauds and then Mass, which was celebrated by Fr. Eckert.

At breakfast, silence was officially “broken”–the house keeps profound silence from 10 pm until after breakfast, for us; the sisters eat their meals in silence, listening to a sister read something devotional, unless it’s a Feast day. we, however, began chattering like magpipes over fruit, cereal, banana bread, and coffee. (oh blessed coffee–Sr. Peter Marie, who is the Vocations Director for the sisters and the “Boss” of the retreat, told us there was “Meditation Coffee” available before morning prayers. 🙂 )There wasn’t a sister at my table for breakfast, so Mary and I talked to about eight other retreatants as we ate. There were people from as far away as San Diego!

After breakfast, we were broken into groups and taken on a tour of the house and grounds. Sr. Jacinta, a nun still in formation (meaning she hadn’t taken her final, lifetime vows yet) led out group. She was very personable, funny, and perfect for leading us around the grounds. The house is large: the main floor had the oratory, the recreation hall, the Heritage Room (which celebrated the sisters’ 150th jubilee and held relics from the former St. Cecilia’s academy, which the sisters ran and was housed here,  as well as the larger Dominican Order). The oratory used to be the sisters’ chapel before the new one was built in 2006, and is still used for chapter meetings. There are two stories about the main windows, seen below, which I’ll tell you later. 🙂

St. Cecilia window in the oratory

St. Cecilia window in the oratory

St. Dominic window in the oratory

St. Dominic window in the oratory

The main floor also held a few offices and parlors, where guests could visit with the sisters. (The word “parlor” comes from the French parloir–” to talk”. Aptly named!) The parlors were beautifully decorated with artwork, plants and sculpture, and luxurious seating.

St. Cecilia mosaic, also in the Heritage Room

St. Cecilia mosaic, also in the Heritage Room

art in one of the parlors

art in one of the parlors

Art in the front left parlor, as you come in the convent's front door.

Art in the front left parlor, as you come in the convent’s front door.

Sr. Jacinta also took us to the sisters’ cemetery, which is near the visitor parking lot. The sisters have extensive grounds, with a majority of the land facing the “front” of the convent, looking out to the city and the state capitol building. There is a rosary walk, a gazebo which holds equipment for recreation (like croquet sets), and a statue of St. Dominic. We would get to explore the grounds during our first set of free time, after father’s first conference.

The second conference, at 9:45, focused on God’s love for us as seen through the creed and the sacraments. Father was very well-prepared, using his Bible and a copy of the Catechism to pepper his talks with citations. Here’s some of my notes:

  • The love of Jesus Christ overcomes all things
  • Church proposes faith for our belief (CCC)
  • B XVI–Faith is an ACT
  • We come out of ourselves in belief
  • “Today is about Joy”
  • Look to Mary for example–she lifts us up to her Son
  • Creed is the passing on of our faith and joy
  • We are baptized into the death of Christ
  • Fr. Eckert asked the older brother of a baby he was baptizing what the two gifts of baptism were. The boy said there was only one. Father asked what it was, and the boy said “love.” (That got a round of awwwwws)
  • In confession, we may grow tired of repeating the same sins, but we can’t give up–Jesus will help us conquer these
  • The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love
  • Ask God to help you fall more and more in love with him every day.

After the talk, it was time for free time, one of my favorite parts of being on retreat. I went up to my room and returned my breviary and my bible, and retrieved a few of my books for reading, then I headed out to grounds.

Statue of the Sacred Heart

Statue of the Sacred Heart

The front of the house, as seen from the grounds

The front of the house, as seen from the grounds

St. Dominic

St. Dominic

me, Mary and Katie with St. Dominic.

me, Mary and Katie with St. Dominic.

It was windy outside, so it was hard to read, but it was lovely to see the statues and to be among the other women and sisters who walked about the grounds during their daily tasks. I saw some of the sisters praying their rosaries on the rosary walk.

I went back inside to the recreation hall, took a seat on one of the window seats (I looove window seats) and began to read and write in my journals about my retreat goals, and the people I had promised to pray for (which, by the way, I did every time we had prayer!). I wanted to more clearly discern my vocation and what God wanted me to do for Him. To that end, I’d also signed up to talk with a sister about these things, so I was waiting for that, as well.

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View from my window seat

View from my window seat

I headed down to the chapel to pray, and to spend some time in the presence of the Sacrament. Sisters were always in the chapel, in their stalls; I never saw it empty. Some retreatants were going to confession with one of the three priests available. I had just gone last week so I decided not to go again, to allow those who wanted/needed to go the opportunity to do so. There were about 60 of us, I think, so it was hard to get individual time with priests or sisters, and I didn’t want to deny anyone the sacrament so I could go, when I have ample opportunity at my home parish. (Every day!)

It’s hard to describe prayer to people, so I won’t try, except to say I was doing a lot of it. As the free time drew to a close, the sisters filed in upon hearing the five minute bell for Noon prayers.

We were keeping mostly silence. The sisters aren’t strictly contemplative–they teach, which is their charism–but the house did keep a general silent air. We talked mostly at meals, before conferences, at recreation, and that was basically it. When we went to the dorms at night, it was silent. You can’t really hear God if you’re yapping all the time!

Nashville Retreat, Part II: Friday Evening

5:00: Vespers, rosary, dinner

6:45: Stations of the Cross, Compline

7:30: Retreat Opening, Conference #1

10:00 Lights out

After being welcomed by the sisters, we headed to the chapel for vespers and rosary. Outside the chapel a beautiful statue of St. Cecilia presided over the hallway.

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The chapel is surrounded by stained glass windows, in two rows: The top rows featuring the beatitudes, and the second, on the main floor, showing scenes from the life of St. Cecilia. These are interspersed with beautiful carvings of the stations of the cross, in marble. (I think)

We sat in pews near the back of the chapel; some Benedictines call these the “nobodies”–places for people who do not have stalls in the chapel, like the postulants, novices and professed sisters did. There was so many stalls, since there are over 150 nuns at St. Cecilia–five rows across on each side, with an aisle in between, as well as some stalls along the windows.

Vespers, in the Dominican tradition, involves a variety of postures–standing, sitting, bowing–but we were encouraged to simply sit and not worry about the postures. The sisters chant beautifully, as befits sisters who are under the patronage of St. Cecilia, the patroness of music. After Vespers, the rosary, which is elemental to Dominicans, since the rosary was given by Our Lady to St. Dominic.

After this prayer time, we sat in the chapel–I was a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of it–until the sisters came for us and told us it was dinner time. Before all the meals, Fr. Eckert, our retreat master, led us in prayer.

The food was simple and good, as befits a convent. Since it was Friday, we had spinach quiche, vegetables, and dessert, with water. We could sit wherever we wanted and the sisters would come and join us, for discussion and fellowship. I loved eating with the sisters! Sr. Immaculata joined us for the first meal.

After the meal, it was time for Stations of the Cross (led by Fr. Eckert) and Compline. Compline in the Dominican tradition ends with one of my favorite things: The Salve procession. We have our own chant for the “Salve Regina” (Hail, Holy Queen), and it is truly beautiful. I knew it, so I chanted along quietly as I watched the sisters process around the chapel. It was almost like a dance, the way the rows of stalls let out, the way the sisters bowed to each other, and kneeled at “O gracious advocate”. In the dimness of the chapel it was glorious. Hearing the Salve chanted well is one of the great things of Dominican life.

After compline, we had our first retreat talk. Fr Eckert is a young priest from the Diocese of Charlotte, NC, and whoever is a member of his parish is extremely lucky! He is a very holy priest who speaks with a lot of passion about Catholicism, the New Evangelization, and the love Christ has for all of us–love that is beyond our comprehension.

After the talk, which ran about 45 minutes, we could either have some prayer time in the chapel or return to the dorms. I trudged back up to the Flats where I took a shower and went back to my cell to read before light outs at 10:00. The rising bell would wake us at 5:50, with the recitation of the Penitential Psalms beginning at 6:20.

My retreat books

My retreat books

 

 

 

 

 

Nashville Retreat, Part I: Getting there

My alarm clock went off at 6 AM on Friday. The last time I voluntarily got up at 6 AM was probably in high school (I never had a class earlier than 9 AM in college), or the last time I went to Nashville, a few years ago, which was by plane on Thanksgiving Day. Me and early hours are generally not friends. However, I was really excited about this trip. I loaded up my freshly-serviced and cleaned car, and headed for my parish.

The three of us attended 7 AM Mass, which included a homily by my favorite priest which also made a reference to Dante’s Inferno, so massive bonus points to the padre. Mary had enoguh bags with her that it looked like she was moving in to the convent, instead of visiting,  but we managed to get both her bags and Katie’s in the car easily (which I was worried about, because my car is small). After a blessing from Fr. G, we headed to the OSU Panera for breakfast.

buckeye bench

 

Around 8:30, we hit the road south! It was a great day for driving, clear and sunny, and it got warmer with each stop, which is always desirable. Music was of course, very important to our drive, and for the way down I mostly played DJ. (I’ll post the CDs we listened to in a later post, in case you want some good road trip suggestions. :-P)

Our first stop was La Grange, KY, where we had lunch at Cracker Barrel and refueled the car.

Kentucky rocker

 

Definitely not in Ohio anymore…. 🙂

LaGrange, KY Cracker Barrel porch

Cracker Barrel was a good choice, since it was Lenten Friday, and they have an abundance of breakfast and seafood dishes that don’t involve meat.

The men in the South are so nice. Even the teenage boys hold the door open for you and call you ma’am. I got used to it, fast. Men of the north, get with it!

Driving through KY was my least favorite part of the trip, because: 1) I didn’t expect KY to be so “tall”; 2) There was construction; 3) the signs are AWFUL–they’ll list a sign on the left, so I would go over there, only to find I had to move over four lanes to exit. Sigh. But we did pass the “Whiskey Trail”, Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, a Dinosaur Museum, and various other fun stops.

Finally we got to Tennessee where we gained an hour (I had forgotten that Nashville was on Central Time), and made our second stop of the trip: St. Mary’s Bookstore. I had visited her the last time I was in Nashville, and I love it. It’s got three floors! And the basement has one of the best Fontanini Nativity Displays I’d ever seen.

Fontanini St Marys 2 Fontanin St. Marys 3 Fontanini St. Marys

 

Every conceivable piece was here, in every size the line offers. I didn’t buy anything for mine, but I did get a lot of books, as I knew I would, because this is an epic bookstore: Wish You Were Here (this is one of my favorite, favorite books; so glad to have a copy!) A Man of the Beatitutdes, Summa of the Summa, Tuning In To God’s Call and a few holy cards of St. Catherine of Alexandria. If you’re ever in Nashville, you have to stop here! It’s on West End Avenue.

We still had a bit of time to kill before we had to be at St. Cecilia’s, so we stopped at a Panera for a beverage re-fuel and to tidy up a bit in the bathroom. Mary was very excited about this particular location’s drive-through option! We also saw Nashville’s Frassati House and cathedral.

Frassati house and cathedral (back)

Frassati house and cathedral (back)

 

Now it was time to finally head for the convent! After fighting Nashville traffic for a bit, we arrived and parked in the visitor’s lot. It was a beautiful afternoon, in the 60s, and no snow. I was very excited to see grass that was greening up, and flowers!

St. Cecilia's

St. Cecilia’s

 

St. Cecilia's Chapel

St. Cecilia’s Chapel

We headed up to the door, and were promptly greeted by very enthusiastic sisters (“Dominican joy” is not just something we talk about!). We got our room assignments, paid the retreat fee, and then were taken up to our rooms to unpack and prepare for the evening.

I thought the convent would have an elevator. I was wrong. My room was up 61 steep steps to the “Flats”, near the dormitory. I had a cell (fro the Latin, cella, “small room”) of my own with a gorgeous view of downton Nashville–but man, it was a hike. I think I lost about three pounds on those stairs. I unpacked my bag, got my room in order, and then headed down to the oratory for our introductory session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to Music City!

I’m road-tripping this weekend to Nashville, TN, one of my favorite places! Me and two other girls are heading to the Convent of St. Cecilia for a retreat with the lovely Nashville Dominicans. We’ll be leaving tomorrow after 7 AM Mass, and heading back on Sunday.

I will surely have photos and stories to tell once I’m back!

If you have any prayer requests, add ’em to the combox. Of course I’ll pray for all of you anyway, even if you don’t have something special. 🙂

 

Seven Quick Takes Friday Vol. 10

7_quick_takes_sm1

I.

Well since the last SQT installment here, the “law is inside out/the world is upside down!” For Catholics, anyway. I’ve written quite a bit about the papal abdication this week (scroll down to see it), and I’m sure I will continue doing so, as we roll into his last weeks and the conclave, which is slated to begin at the start of March. There will be a Pope by Easter; conclaves don’t take that long, at least not in the Modern Era.

II.

I, along with some church friends, are going to Nashville for a retreat with the Dominicans of St. Cecilia, at their lovely motherhouse. I love retreats in general, but one that takes place in such a breathtaking environment, with wonderful Dominican sisters, sounds heavenly. We will pray for the success of the conclave, for sure, since it will probably start the week following the retreat.

III.

Reading this week: The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler, is all I’ve finished. But it’s a long weekend so I plan on finishing Life of Christ, for sure, and starting St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue. We’ll see how far I get in my grandiose reading plans!

IV.

Lent is upon us: so far, my horarium is working well. I’ve tweaked it a few ways, mostly in the evening schedule. The plan for waking up early is being divided by weeks: 10 minutes earlier each week. So hopefully I’ll be at a good starting point by the time we hit Holy Week.

V.

Since it is a long weekend, I’m planning on doing some baking–Irish Soda Bread and Caramel Brownies, both from Ina Garten, as well as playing around with Nigella Lawson’s newest cookbook.   No, I didn’t give up chocolate for Lent. A long time ago I realized that chocolate, like the Borg, is futile to resist.

VI.

I’m deep into decluttering my house (that will THRILL my mother) and preparing for spring cleaning. We never really “spring cleaned” in my house, growing up–mom kept the place very tidy at all times, no small feat when you’ve got young kids. Our rooms and the basement were another story.

So far, this has consisted of: a paring of the bookshelves, with some sacks to go to the secondhand book store and being sold; the use of bookends atop my shelves to hold Big Tomes I Want To Keep (like my college Norton Anthology of British Literature–I cannot get rid of it, ever); moving around some furniture; buying new boxes for photo and CD storage (my Christmas CDs had been sitting at the bottom of a bag, unloved–now they have a nice space; and I’m nutty about photo storage), and utilizing the second closet in the Book Room that does not hold clothes, but rather, ephemera (suitcases, wrapping paper roles, files…).

VII.

A book I definitely have to recommend hereThe Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin. It’s an exquisite novel about Anne and Charles Lindberg, told (obviously) from Anne’s point of view. I knew very little about either of them before I read this, other than the obvious, and I read Anne’s lovely A Gift from the Sea during Christmas break. But this book is exquisitely done. Please read it.