Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


2 Comments

What happened at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?

As we wrapped up this week at the UN at the Forum on Financing for Development, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything about the forum I attended when I arrived in New York in April: the Permanent Forum in Indigenous Issues.

The Forum was a powerful experience. It was a great privilege to listen to the voices of indigenous people from around the world, gathered together to share their common struggles, hopes, and dreams. One of the things that struck me again and again throughout the Forum was the resiliency embodied by these groups of people. For many of the indigenous groups, including those from Canada, it was not their first visit to the UN. Many have been coming, year after year, to share the same grievances and to demand change in the same areas, perhaps making tiny steps forward each year, perhaps not. It was truly an inspiring and humbling experience to participate in dialogues and conversations with these diverse groups and to reflect on my own attitudes and actions towards indigenous peoples.

I would like to share some of the reflections of our IBVM NGO. Please take a look at the recent UN UPDATE 26.

You can read about Indigenous-Peoples-and-Climate-Change or listen to the reflection.

You can also read Libby’s reflection on the The-Great-Silence or watch her video. Enjoy!


Leave a comment

Saturdays with the Garden People

The first weekend after I arrived in New York, I went for a walk in Riverside Park. I came upon the 91st Street Garden and was enchanted. At the time, the tulips were in bloom and I was blown away by their abundance and colour.

Especially the orange tulips. They were like fireworks exploding within the green.

I noticed a woman working in one of the plots so I asked her about the community garden and whether they needed any volunteers. Delighted, she gave me the website and email address of the gardener in charge and told me how I could volunteer and eventually even have a plot of my own one day. Equally delighted, I signed up for Saturday mornings with The Garden People.

This past Saturday I completed my second morning of volunteering. It felt so good to kneel in the soil, dig around a little, and pull up weeds. It’s extremely satisfying to clear patches of weeds. (Similar to the thrill of checking off a ‘to do’ list.)

It surprises me that I enjoy gardening outdoors so much when I’m terrible with houseplants. I’m neglectful with houseplants and they usually die of dehydration within the few couple of weeks. But outdoors is different somehow. Part of it is the public aspect of it. I think beauty belongs to the public, not hidden behind walls (though it’s nice to have beauty inside of walls too), and so I love that anyone can walk by, stop, and enjoy the garden.

 

I loved this plant. Would that I knew its name. The orange is incredible (I’m obsessed with orange flowers) though it doesn’t show up that well in this photo. I think we should plant it in the rock garden at Loretto College (hint, hint to anyone who may see this blog post!).

 

Spending a couple of hours in the garden on the weekend has been a great way to find, not quite solitude, but a sense of peace amid an otherwise hectic city. It feels like a form of prayer – quiet reverence and care for creation – as I work in the soil and marvel at the variety of leaf and petal.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
– St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun

 


1 Comment

Lost and found

It was shortly after 6 o’clock on Sunday evening. I was walking home along 34th Street and suddenly I realized that tears were streaming down my cheeks. My mind was on repeat: thank you…thank you…thank you. Gratitude in every breath and every tear.

I had just emerged from St. Francis of Assisi parish in midtown Manhattan where I had attended the evening Mass. Something inside me that had been dormant for a long time was coming back to life. Infused with the vibrancy of the celebration, I was also weak with gratefulness. For the second time in two weeks, I felt connected to God through the Mass again.

Feeling a sense of dryness at Mass isn’t usually something Catholics admit to. Boredom, yes, but not dryness. And especially not those who are discerning a vocation to religious life. But I will admit here and now that I have been experiencing dryness, and at times even despair, at Mass for the past few years. It has been more painful that I can describe. When I moved to Toronto to become a candidate with the IBVM, I left behind an active life in parish ministry where I had felt such a strong sense of connection and satisfaction. I had been involved in nearly everything at the parish at one time or another and I had loved the liturgies, the community, and going to Mass.

Adapting to celebrating Mass in a much smaller community, and in much more quiet way, has been hard. My love for the community has always lured me to Mass with them but I haven’t often felt that same sense of joy from our celebrations. And when I went to the Philippines, the dryness often turned to despair. The church culture was different, I frequently couldn’t understand the homilies because they were in Taglish (a confusing mixture of English and Tagalog), and I struggled to concentrate in the heat (a recurring theme of my experience there) and in the early morning hour that we went to Mass.

Not only did I grieve for the long-departed feeling of loving going to Mass, I actually began to dread going. The dread turned into disconnection. In the end, I went out of obedience, not out of love for the Mass. I just went through the motions.

When I returned to Toronto and moved to Loretto College, I prayed that things would change. I began going to Mass at the neighbouring parish and forced myself to pay attention during the homilies. It sort of worked. I began to feel a fondness, at least, for the parish, but I still didn’t feel much of a desire to go to Mass.

Now I am in New York, I am a stranger in this city, and for no reason at all, I have been to Mass in two different parishes and felt so loved, connected, and energized. I first went to Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola parish, wanting to check out what the Jesuits were up to. The moment I walked into the parish I felt something. I could feel the spirit of the community. I was there for the Family Mass and I watched as families entered the church, the kids clutching bike helmets (a few even carrying lacrosse sticks), people greeting each other and laughing. Then the Mass began. The music was lively and reverent and so beautiful. The presider knew his congregation and engaged with them (and was also hilarious). I felt part of the parish and I didn’t even know anyone. After the Mass ended, I texted friends to tell them all about the experience.

The same thing happened this past Sunday. I walked into St. Francis of Assisi parish and immediately felt at home. The church was packed. People were chatting and greeting one another. The person I sat next to welcomed me. I was drawn in to the Mass through the music, the readings, the homily, and the people. In the Eucharist, I found my best friend waiting to greet me, the Good Shepherd who has been out looking for his sheep.

I came to New York for one reason: an internship at our UN NGO. It has truly been a gift and yet I am discovering that God is giving me so many other gifts while I am here.


Leave a comment

Friday Afternoon in the Park

The sun shone bright and hot on Friday. After a busy week caught up at the UN, I took advantage of the weather to explore Central Park. I’ve been really craving green spaces lately. Last week’s trip to the Botanical Gardens seemed to spark a desire for green, natural and fresh spaces. Big, open spaces. So I went to the Park.

I found just what I desired. Especially when I reached the Sheep’s Meadow. Turns out I wasn’t the only one seeking a big open space and green to stretch out on.

After getting lost for awhile in The Ramble, I wound up at Turtle Pond. I didn’t spot any turtles but the cherry blossoms made up for it.

And then I spotted this creature.

Bethesda Terrace was a hub of dog walkers, young families, buskers, and even…

models. I was thrilled to witness a photo shoot for some magazine taking place on the steps and under the archways of the terrace. Gorgeous gowns.

Since I am now cosmopolitan New Yorker, I decided to do as the locals do.

My second-to-last stop was to check out the boat races but only a few were out on the water.

Next to the boats is this statue of Hans-Christian Anderson, beautifully dedicated to the children who lost their parents because of 9/11.

A touching way to end my first visit to Central Park.

 


1 Comment

Earth Day in NYC

What do you do for Earth Day in New York City? Why, go to the New York Botanical Garden, of course! Despite the cool and drizzle, Libby (a wonderful Australian IBVM also working at the UN NGO) and I made the 1.5 hour commute to the Bronx to celebrate Earth Day among the trees and flowers. It also happened to be the opening day of a new Chihuly exhibit so not only were we delighted by spring blossoms and budding trees but also by gorgeous glass sculptures.

The Gardens






There was even a small Earth Day Parade!

The Chihuly Exhibit

My photos do not do justice to these works of art.











1 Comment

Immersed in the UN

United Nations Headquarters in New York City

After a busy two weeks of finishing up papers and wrapping up my first semester at Regis College, and celebrating Holy Week and Easter with the IBVM community, I’ve now embarked on the next stage of my formation of my second year of novitiate. This time from New York City.

I am here for the next three months on an immersion experience to learn about the work of our IBVM non-governmental organization at the United Nations (IBVM UN NGO). I’m working with our UN representative to find out how the IBVM engages the world at the UN and contributes to its aims.

The past few days have been eye-opening and so enjoyable. I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the activities of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN, and how NGOs work with this body. I’ve attended a couple of NGO committee meetings – one on social development/social protection and the other on global citizenship. It has been incredible to meet people of different backgrounds who are coming together to work on a shared cause.

Quite a bit of the UN system is familiar to me, having worked for several years on the children’s rights file (including National Child Day) for the Canadian federal government. I know a lot of the lingo and the mechanisms for achieving the work. But a big difference I’ve noticed already is the challenge of working together as a collective of different organizations as a coalition rather than departments of one federal government (though there were times it was challenging to work together as diverse departments!). To me, it seems much harder as a group of NGOs to come together to determine a mandate, a direction, and steps for taking action. In the government, generally the mandate and direction is set for you in some way – usually determined by the Minister or the Cabinet, informed by the directives set by international organizations (in the case of children’s rights). But in this instance, the international organization (the UN) provides directives for engaging in its processes but the specific mandate of each group is determined by that group, which is informed by a number of factors, including the work of other groups/coalitions (there are over 5000 NGOs at the UN!). Although it can be overwhelmingly bureaucratic, I find the process fascinating.

The results are important too, of course. But oftentimes, in an institutional setting, focusing on the results isn’t always the best way to go. Institutions work slowly. They take two steps forward then one step back. There is a lot of waiting and frustration involved. I got a taste of that on Wednesday at a meeting I attended: we were talking about how to get a particular concept on the social development agenda and it seemed that the best strategy was an incremental approach of inserting basic wording into a resolution, and then feeding that resolution into various meetings and assemblies over the next year or so. And then the real work could be built up from there. There are very few issues that advance quickly in large institutions and I was reminded of the patience and dedication required when trying to make changes at the systems level. It’s definitely not as fulfilling or as gratifying as changes that take place on local levels.

After only a few days, I can feel my policy instincts revving up again after laying dormant for the past year and half. The adrenaline is starting to surge through my bloodstream. I’m excited to be here and to contribute to the aims of our NGO in any way that I can. I’m also approaching this time here with all of the treasures I accumulated from my time in Manila and all of the experiences and encounters I had there.

I come now with a firsthand perspective of the poverty, environmental degradation, political corruption, and social stagnation that hinders developing countries. And I come with personal stories that fuel my desire to move this work forward. I come with the stories of my boys at the center for street children, and the stories of the caregivers and the children of the Virlanie Foundation, and the stories of the men and women I met in the neighbourhood where I lived. In the work I did prior to entering the IBVM, I didn’t have that personal experience to drive my work. I loved it and I did it with a love for the theoretical people in need. Now I will do it with a deep and profound love for the real people I have met who are in need and who will benefit so much from systemic change.

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You


Leave a comment

Go to the limits of your longing

In response to my last blog post, a very thoughtful Loretto Sister sent me a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a beautiful poem and so I would like to share it here.

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

You can hear it read by Joanna Macy here.