Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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those winter blues

From my window, I can see the snow-topped roofs of St. Michael’s College across the street. When the sky is grey, the wintry world appears flat, lifeless, and disturbingly dreary. Other days, the sky is bright blue and the sun streams through the window, offering hope that winter won’t last much longer. Lately, it seems like the grey days have outnumbered the sunny days.

Normally, I don’t mind the winter. I like to get out and walk in the snow, to feel the sharp chill of the wind and to hear the crunch of snow and ice beneath my boots. But this year winter has made me irritable. I’m discovering that winter in the downtown of a big city is a different sort of winter. The snow turns grey and dirty almost immediately upon falling. The piles of salt on the sidewalks turn the joy of crunching through snow into wading through mush. It’s not beautiful for long. And when the days are short and cold, the lack of beauty weighs heavily on my soul. The winter blues have struck and I’m having a hard time shaking them.

Of course, some of this melancholy is rooted in laziness. Obviously, this city has beautiful parks and outdoor spaces to explore in winter. When I lived at Loretto Abbey, I would go to Edwards Gardens on weekends in the winter. I just haven’t made an effort to find a similar environment downtown and I’ve managed to convince myself that if it isn’t within walking distance, I don’t have the time.

So instead of making an effort to go out, I’ve made it easier to stay in. I’ve let myself get caught up in the busyness of the winter term and allowed my studies and other ministries to take over. I’ve let the things that I know sustain me slide a bit. I’ve prioritized work over well-being and I can feel its effects: a decline in interest and focus in my prayer life and in my desire to socialize with friends and community members, and, as usual, a slip in my exercise habits. For some reason, it always surprises me when I let things get out of whack, even though I know myself well, and I know that I can get caught up in work, especially when something interests me. I tend to reach a point where I stop and ask myself, how did I end up here?

Now, happily, there is a remedy for what ails me, a remedy built in to the liturgical year of the Catholic Church, in fact. We begin Lent this week, starting with receiving ashes on Wednesday, a symbol and stark reminder of human mortality. (And when doesn’t a little reflection on mortality help to recalibrate a person’s priorities?) I’m looking forward to being deliberate during Lent: to slowing down, at least somewhat, and to reflecting on what it is than I am getting myself caught up in and how God is at work in it all.

I have a hunch that this Lent will see me spending more time with God outdoors, braving the cold together and going for walks in the snow (and the mush). We’ll also spend time reading poetry together, following along with Malcolm Guite’s The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter, letting the words take us where they will.


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Sacred Reading

“Reading seeks for sweetness of a blessed life, meditation perceives it, prayer asks for it, contemplation tastes it.  Reading, as it were, puts food whole into the mouth, meditation chews it and breaks it up, prayer extracts its flavour, contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes.”
      – Guigo II, Carthusian Monk

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We have begun the practice of weekly Lectio Divina in community. Each Thursday we gather to read the gospel for the coming Sunday. Our practice is simple. We read the text three times, listening carefully and savouring the words.

After the first reading, we pause for a moment and then share a single word or short phrase that captures our attention. After the second reading, we share a bit further, maybe a longer phrase or sentence that moves us. After the third reading, we may feel drawn to offer a brief reflection, maybe relating it to our day or a recent experience. We may end with an intercessory prayer as well or instead. This sacred reading of the gospel text opens me to the Holy Spirit, ready to go where the Spirit leads. Each time of prayer follows the same pattern but always produces newness and variety.

The practice of Lectio Divina is relatively new to me. I practiced it previously in a parish young adults group that I was part of but I have not practiced it consistently. Our current weekly practice took a bit of getting used to at first but I now find it deeply enriching. I appreciate the time for quiet contemplation of the Sunday gospel as well as the sharing that results from our group practice. I am finding that the practice of sacred reading of the gospel text has encouraged me to adopt a practice of “sacred reading” in daily life – looking at the world around me, open to the Spirit, noticing where I am drawn, and seeing all life around me as holy, belonging to God.

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I became more interested in the practice of Lectio Divina last year while I was in the Philippines. I’ve mentioned it previously on my blog but I really got hooked on listening to podcasts while I was there. It became a way for me to relax in the evenings and I’ve continued to listen to them since. One of the podcasts I began listening to last year is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. It’s fantastic! The hosts are graduates of Harvard Divinity School and they treat the much-loved Harry Potter series as a sacred text to be read in a similar way to the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc.

Each podcast episode covers a chapter of a Harry Potter book (they just finished season 2 and the second book in the series – The Chamber of Secrets) through the lens of a particular theme. For example, in the second book, they looked at chapter 16 through the lens of grace and chapter 18 through the lens of love. The podcast is fast-paced and witty and incorporates spiritual practices throughout, including Lectio Divina, imaginative contemplation (yay, Ignatius!), the Jewish practice of Havruta, and each episode ends with a blessing. The podcast is so creative and it encourages the listener to apply these spiritual practices and to see the sacred in the everyday. I can’t wait for season 3!

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Go to http://www.harrypottersacredtext.com!!

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As a final note, The Liturgists podcast, which I’ve mentioned previously as well, just happens to be promoting Lectio Divina right now. For their patreon members, they are offering daily recorded Lectio Divina meditations during Lent. Check it out!

Happy and blessed reading!


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Palm Sunday

Living in the Philippines for a year brings the gift of experiencing faith through a new culture. I have been looking forward to experiencing Lent, Holy Week, and Easter with new eyes. Holy Week is now upon us but rather than give any commentary on the celebrations this week, I would like to simply share images. Below are photos from Palm Sunday.

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Making and selling palm branches along Broadway Avenue

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Many different styles

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Palms in progress

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With colourful paper flowers

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Selling by the roadside

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The sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Palm Sunday


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Mary Ward’s charism

It has been a very peaceful and quiet week at the Abbey. Last Sunday, my friend, Fr. David Bellusci, OP came to Toronto to give the sisters their Lenten retreat. From Sunday evening until yesterday at lunch, there was a hush over the Abbey. I really enjoy silence and solitude so even though I wasn’t actively participating in the retreat (had to go to work), I still benefited from the quiet atmosphere. There was a definite sense of prayer and tranquility, which was a lovely way to begin the season of Lent.

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As mentioned in my last post, I wanted to write a bit about Mary Ward’s charism. For the last month or so, my candidacy director has been teaching me about the charism. I discovered that I had been totally wrong about what the charism is! Whenever anyone asked me about the community’s charism, I would always respond “Well, I think they are mostly a teaching order.” That, my friends, is not what the charism is! I guess that might be considered their apostolate (but don’t quote me on that either), or apostolic work. But it’s not the charism – whoops.

The charism, is, in fact, something much larger. Charism is a gift, a call to service and it is intended for the church (the people) rather than just for the individual or individuals in a community. Leading up to the full elaboration of the charism for her Institute, Mary Ward experienced three insights. The first was that she was not meant to join one of the established communities (Poor Clares, Benedictines, Carmelites) but something ‘other’ and this ‘other’ would give glory to God. Her second insight guided her in the structure of the Institute, and she was inspired to “take the same of the Society”, meaning that she was called to adopt the structure of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), something that had not been done by a female community before. Her final insight provided the fullness of the charism: that the spirituality of the Institute would nurture in its members an interior attitude of freedom (meaning the freedom to refer all to God, or find God in all things), justice (being redeemed or saved by God, made pleasing to him, surrendered to God), and truth (also referred to as integrity – a wholeness or unity between the interior and exterior of a person).

[From the IBVM Canada websiteWe look to Mary Ward’s vision of faith to inspire us and to enable us to understand our common vocation. We desire to foster that interior freedom of spirit, deep sense of justice, love for truth and cheerful attitude which she regarded as essential to fullness of life in her Institute.]

These insights occurred over the space of several years, which really seems to confirm Mary Ward’s trust in God and her patience and faithfulness in waiting for God’s direction. I think it also indicates that we are called to continual growth, and as our relationship with God matures and deepens, more is revealed to us. Mary Ward’s charism is beautiful and represents an ideal. I suspect it will take me a long time to grow into it. Real surrender, vulnerability, humility, and trust are involved, and I struggle with all of those things.

Happily, Lent provides an opportunity to be purposeful in prayer, to be present to God, and to examine those parts of myself that need to grow. I hope that all of my friends and family who observe/participate in Lent will feel renewed by God’s presence in their lives.

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