Women in Lay Ministry: An Invitation to Lead

The following article appeared in the University of Notre Dame’s Institute of Church Life Journal a year ago on May 23, 2016.

Since it was written, God has continued to move me towards new roles and responsibilities within the life of the church. Lay ministry is indeed a graced vocation, one that not everyone is called to but one that can go unheeded in the fast pace of our society, and amidst prior commitments. What gifts might lay untapped in your life today? How might God be inviting you to use your gifts to lead others to Christ?

There is an extra spring in my step this morning knowing that today has been reserved, indeed set apart, to spend with both some of the youngest and oldest members of this parish community. After opening prayers they bound forward, from the left and right, towards the bright red book of the Gospels that I am holding and head to the lower church for children’s liturgy. This is indeed their community, one that the over 50 gathered have come to joyously participate in. With hands held together, in lieu of uncomfortable boredom, there are instead small voices raised and petitions uttered as the prayers of the faithful are spoken.

Pausing momentarily, in the back of the sacristy after Mass, I am instantly reminded to thank the altar servers whom I personally helped train and scheduled to serve that day. A hoped-for beginning to a life of service and love, their gift can easily go unnoticed. Many of these altar servers (a large percentage of which are girls), I have seen “graduate” on to Eucharistic ministry, lectoring and service-based volunteer work within the Church, families, and the greater community upon entering college.

Lay ministry leadership then takes on visible and invisible aspects and roles, enabling the community to not only run smoothly but also to be an inviting encounter with Christ in one another. So too is the work of those who respond to serve the larger community beyond the doors of the Church. Walking the halls of one of the nursing homes that I serve, I am familiar with each name on the door and many of the family members of the residents I see. There is such grace here, in bringing Christ and community to our older, at times forgotten, members of the Body of Christ. Moreover, this joy is meant to be shared, whereby all feel enjoined and invited to partake in this beautiful ministry.

Over the years, I have seen the need, heard the invitation, and taken on these and a number of other lay ministry roles—as catechist, coordinator, presenter, and Catholic radio show host. Perhaps you too have recognized the great need within our parish communities, unearthing a desire to serve through leadership within the Catholic faith. Yet, what does this look like realistically? First, it needs to be said that women have been serving in leadership positions within the Church for quite some time—not only filling roles left vacant due to a shortage of priests but also actively involved in the faith formation and pastoral care of the community.

Still there has been a definitive shift recently in encouraging the participation of women in lay ministerial leadership roles. Pope Francis and others like Cardinal Sean O’Malley are even expressing their openness and anticipation for “more women in positions of responsibility at the Vatican.”[1] Likewise, in recent years a number of women are seeking to receive additional theological training and advanced degrees to gain the tools to better utilize their gifts and help build the Kingdom. In 2016, women held 80% of the over 39,000 lay ecclesiastical ministry positions, and 9 out of 10 “considered their ministry ‘a vocation, not a job.’”[2] This is the path that I, too, followed, and which has led to my recent acceptance of a paid staff position as Director of Parish Ministries for two parishes entering soon into collaboration. While there still remains much discussion and polarization about shape of leadership within the Catholic Church, I am witness to the innumerable ways to serve and immeasurable blessings in doing so.

Peace,

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[1] John L. Allen Jr. and Lisa Wangsness, “Pope Softening Tone, not Stance Cardinal Sean O’Malley Says” in The Boston Globe (February 9, 2014).

[2] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Research Review: Lay Ecclesial Ministers in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 2015).

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Worth Revisiting: A Purposeful Path

How Far Can You Go With $30, A Bus Ticket, and a Dream?

Ever wonder where God is leading you and yearn to discover or explore your own vocation in life more fully? In Fr. Casey’s A Purposeful Path (Loyola Press), we are invited to do exactly that. By opening ourselves up to being vulnerable and embracing uncertainty we are then able to give way to trust. As a Jesuit novice, Fr. Casey takes us with him on a journey of a lifetime, on his pilgrimage of discerning his identity, vocation and purpose in life.

—-→Who and whose are we?

Our fundamental identity as God’s beloved children, made in the image of our Creator, is our simplest most profound identity in life. From this place we recognize that all other gifts and identities we are to later be given, while important, are lesser than our calling and love experienced as a child of God.  In what is described as a “convergence of heaven and earth”, Fr. Casey finds the words and experience of Maya Angelou resonate deep within his soul reminding him of this infinitely divine love. This is to set the stage in his own journey of transformation and acceptance of God’s plan for him.

—-→The notion of a pilgrimage..

While often we think of a pilgrimage as a journey to a place, it implicitly involves in our humanity a relational connection, compelling a response from us and deeper meaning. The idea of making a pilgrimage acquiesces itself to our identity as a people of God on the move towards both accompaniment and relationship. Though Fr. Casey feels that his pilgrimage is to lead him to a chance meeting with Maya Angelou, he is unsure of how that is to happen or how well he is to be received. Meanwhile, all that he is given to begin the journey is $30 and a bus ticket.

—-→Discerning our path

Fr. Casey’s own pilgrimage leads him first to the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, where he bonds with fellow pilgrims on the trail, and then to the Wake Forrest Campus where he encounters it seems everyone else but Maya Angelou. Dejected and feeling as if he had failed, he then heads to Washington DC. Where again, he meets others with whom he shares commonalities in service and who seem to be directing him back again to an encounter with the poet. Yet, he recognizes that he has a choice does he stay where he is to be of service or let go and let God lead him the rest of the way. To do this requires an unconditional trust in God’s provision and a vulnerability to ask others for help.

—-→How do we meet and traverse the crossroads in life?

Fr. Casey suggests and indeed illustrates that an indelible part of the journey is to continually move forward. Our timing and God’s timing are seldom the same, and while we might not understand the diversions from our perceived destination, this too is important. Learning that none of us are perfect but are perfectly loved, and faithfully provided for, is the start of finding our purpose with hope and joy.

“All my conscious life and energies have been dedicated to the most noble cause: the liberation of the human mind and spirit, beginning with my own”    Maya Angelou

*Find your Inner Iggy and celebrate #31DayswithIgnatius this month at Loyola Press!

Peace,

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You Lead I’ll Follow

Spiritual direction, it seems to me, is a beautiful dance.

An intimate sharing of self, a gracious reception of the Other. Each step towards self knowledge is but a lyrical movement towards acceptance of the pre-existing dispositions and disequilibrium within our lives. Oh the freedom of  movement that comes with self acceptance! No longer are we resolutely restrained by the confines of our former self, but in desiring to model the steps of our divine Partner we can finally abandon our will for His.

This is what St. Ignatius would refer to as resignation or indifference, a course of abandonment from self seeking fulfillment to a desire to know and follow the will of God for our lives. This conversion of self and discernment of our next steps is, of course, the fruit of spiritual direction. Yet, as mankind is by nature relational, this dance reaches its fullest potential in dialogue with and under the guidance of a trained spiritual director.

Helpful Rules of the Road of Spiritual Direction:


1.    “Spiritual direction cannot be confined to the religious realm, as though this existed in isolation, but must deal with the whole man and his actual problems” Friedrich Wolf, Encyclopedia of Theology, ed. Karl Rahner.  Because of this, the more authentic and truthful you with are with the challenges you face in spiritual direction- the more helpful the time spent will be.

2.     You must be open to hearing and giving consideration to what your spiritual director notices about you and your situation without automatically defending a position. In entering spiritual direction, you are eliciting a consulting perspective, not asking simply for an echo of your own. You may have not noticed something simply because you are too close, or to familiar with its occurrence.

3.    If there is something in particular that you are aware of holding you back before a session, and your spiritual director is a priest, ask to begin with the sacrament of reconciliation. If this is the case but you are seeing a lay spiritual director, consider reconciliation at a nearby parish before your session. Otherwise, you may feel very self conscious of the sin, guilt or shame you are harboring and unable to be as open and ready to be moved through direction.

4.    Spiritual direction does compel a response or corresponding action by you.

“nothing less than a real conversion is needed if the searcher is to accept the profound self-knowledge which he gains with the help of another…in a word to carry his own cross after Christ.” Friedrich Wolf  

Simply speaking, once we see ourselves truthfully, in the light of faith, we begin to desire change. When we seek to follow Christ, we also wish to model our lives after him.

5.   Letting go of that which prevents us from growing spiritually closer to God.

Very few choices in our life are without consequences, be they good or bad. So it goes without saying that which doesn’t bring us closer to who God has intended us to be, is at best keeping us spiritually delayed.

6.  Recognizing who we are now, allows us to envision who God wants us to be and to            invite God into the decision making process. This is the ideal environment for spiritual      growth! Our relationship with God grows as we partner together in all of the                        decisions-big and small- that come before us. We may just find that we are less                    stressed about the outcome, because we trust that we ask God to guide us in the first          place!

Reflect:

Have you thought about seeking greater direction in your life? If so, research local spiritual directors in your area to find one that might be accepting new directees.

If you already have a spiritual director, does he/she challenge you to see things from a new perspective? Are you resisting or accepting of the task ahead?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Coming of the Spirit

This past weekend, my son attended Steubenville East for the second year and joined thousands of teens from all over the New England area. Though I wasn’t chaperoning this time, I was still praying for all who were there attending.. for the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit!

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues,as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” Acts 2:1-4

I had always wondered what it would have been like to have been in the upper room. To have been present as the Spirit rushed through filled and imbued with a holy fire to witness the love of Jesus Christ to the world. Courage to proclaim drawn from strength beyond our own united in divine communion with the Trinity and with one another. Here in this place to be overtaken wholly- the recipient and bearer of healing, peace, joy and courage. This weekend, I would wonder no more.

As part of a group of over 100 students and chaperones joining almost 4000 more at Steubenville East, an intense faith immersion youth conference, I anticipated the Spirit’s arrival. Hurried meals, record setting temperatures, lack of sleep and other logistical challenges had affected many that Friday and early Saturday. Yet, as all of this was gathering steam, so was the Holy Spirit in preparation for adoration. And like a tremendous rain cloud that suddenly opens, grace rained down.

I was surprised to see her there- making her way up the stairs of the arena and though I had met her only once before we had instantly connected. Southern by birth, we shared both a love for our childhood home as well as a recognition of a given purpose to bloom where we had been planted. So when in a voice quite clear  I heard the inner prompting  to ask her to sit beside me, I joyfully responded.

Ushered in with upbeat music and guided on by prayer we prepared for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that was to come.Up and down each aisle of the coliseum Christ was processed, stopping momentarily to turn and reveal Him to all surrounding. Seeking healing, desiring intimacy,  hands reached towards, as if to touch the hem of His robe once again. As he drew near, stopping beside us,the light that shone was all encompassing and darkness could not help but surrender. The warmth that flowed permeated every part of my very being, and I felt loved, held and adored.

Suddenly beside me, what began as soft tears moved to a deep profound sobbing. Healing. My beautiful new sister in Christ was being slain in the Spirit. Putting my arms around her I prayed.

“Lord, help console and heal the pain that life has brought her. Help her to feel the magnitude of your love”.

Then, in a grace-filled release of body and soul, she fell backwards into my arms as if floating atop the ocean’s deep waters. Suspended from the past and buoyed by love the hurt that she had felt gave way to peace and a smile that truly radiated from within. Warmth. Though she could hear my prayers, she was in a space almost between worlds awaiting the joy that would come. The gift of laughter. Holy joy, caught her and she laughed- uninhibited by anything around her conversing with the Spirit in words known to God yet unrecognizable to me. The gift of tongues. In utter amazement and gratitude I continued to pray,

“Oh my Lord, you have allowed me to witness this graced moment with her, to see and proclaim your greatness, mercy and love.”

Two and a half hours had passed during this time, all of which were spent on my knees and none of which I felt any pain from. As she came to, she expressed her slight embarrassment for the scene that she imagined others to have glimpsed. “There was nothing you could have done to control any part of it, nor would you have wanted to..it was beautiful!”

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.” 1 Cor. 12:7-11

Peace,

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On Being Astonished

What is it that astonishes us these days? Is it the headlines that flash across the written page, or in gossip carried to our all to willing listening ears? Olympic feats, milestones reached or previous limitations met and surpassed? Perhaps, however, it is something closer to home. Sparked by an awareness of God at work around us, even in the seemliest detail often overlooked and missed- astonishment abounds.

In the poem entitled Messenger, by Mary Oliver she speaks of the beauty of discovery in our natural world. Creation giving and responding to its Creator, and each of us partaking in the holy within our everyday.

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Yet, can astonishment also be found in the imperfect, broken or worn parts of our lives too? Absolutely. For, we cannot deny the many ways we fall short of the often self-imposed standard of perfection we hold.  But are we really willing and ready for change?

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,

Here, with all due reverence to Mary Oliver, I find astonishment and beauty also in the reworking and remaking of my very being into who I was meant to be. Even the letting go and surrender of that within ourselves which is “still not perfect” can very well be a daily source of astonishment. To the point that I believe she strives to make, however, we mustn’t get wedded to the imperfections themselves. Rather, to attend to the work of responding- to the graced invitations around and within us.

which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.               Messenger, by Mary Oliver

So what do we do with these astonishing gifts- these simple moments of revelation and acknowledgement? Do we live a life inspired, willing to experience surprise, wonder and transformation?

Reflect:

Spend a few moments outside today. Be still, and invite the Holy Spirit to accompany you in revealing these “hidden” gifts of the moment. What is to be learned for you in being astonished?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Scent of Her Presence

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“An awareness of smells can illuminate our present. It can help us live more mindfully and gracefully. It can help us recognize that God’s goodness saturates the world, in scents that are both obvious and subtle.”

Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Taste and See ( Loyola Press)

Early morning dew, the scent of grateful peonies and roses greet me.
The aroma of homemade strawberry rhubarb and blackberry pies cooling midday meet me.
Nighttime breezes carrying a day well spent at play, leave me ..the promise of yet another summer day in the South.

My Grandmother’s house was my favorite place to be as a child, particularly in the summertime.  What might appear as lacking in structure or activity, each day was abundant in hidden treasures that could only be discovered by a slower pace and ready spirit. All this I too might have missed had I not been seeking- albeit anticipating- God’s respondent grace and presence. Grandma’s hard work in the garden wafted through her small home as she baked and canned the fruits of each day’s gifts. Receiving the present she also prepared for the future, when these would not be as easily gathered. Mindful also that nothing given should ever be wasted.

Indeed, there are so many indelible memories forever tied to the smells of my childhood spent with my Grandma. Sunday mornings brought an even more unique scent- as my Grandma readied herself for church service. Not accustomed to wearing makeup or perfume during the week, grandma was on this day a delightful combination of Ivory soap, Jergens lotion, Covergirl makeup and Emeraude perfume. How I loved this smell, so much so that I would take it all in as I cuddled close before church. Infused with the understanding that Sunday’s were intended to be special, she put forth her best for God.

Many years later I would smell that smell once again, over 1, 400 miles apart. Then 33 and in my third trimester I could not travel as she feel seriously ill this time. My heart was nonetheless with her, and almost without pause I found myself praying for her throughout the day.

“Lord let her know how very much I love her, let her know that though I cannot be there in person that I am truly beside her. If I could carry her as she carried me all these years, I would.”

God heard my prayer, and knew the close bond he had established between us would not end in death. Only moments before the phone rang, God gave me an otherwise inexplicable gift-my Grandmother visited me. In the shower, I suddenly and overwhelming experienced the all enveloping scent and presence of my Grandmother. It was all around me, permeating every space with love and memories. As tears of joy and grief streamed down my face, I said my goodbyes- for now, fully embracing the gift of being with her again. Profoundly aware that God was allowing me to experience this sacred moment of my Grandmother’s passing from this world to the next.

Then just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Though I tried to recover the scent for an instant, I knew that she was no longer there. As the phone rang, with my cousin who had been sitting with her in these last few moments on the line, I knew her words before they were spoken.

“Liz, Grandma just left us..”
“I know..she was here..and just left too.”

I then shared with her how I knew and the unbelievable love that I had felt in these last moments.Together we cried tears of joy for the gifts given to be with our grandmother all these years. Though eleven years have now passed- the fond memories of growing up through every season infused with the scent of her presence will forever remain, evidence of the world unseen .

Peace,

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With Gratitude

Gratitude today, much like the word love, can so often be taken lightly and without the depth of sincerity it truly deserves. Rather than a heartfelt recognition of the daily gifts and love bestowed on us by a loving Father, we can be tempted to reduce the sentiment to an occasionalthank you. Why is this? Does God only love us sometimes? Or do we instead fail to recognize where all good gifts come from? Perhaps in truth it is a bit of the both.

St. Ignatius stresses that gratitude is to be a constant response to the continual love and care that God shows for each one of us in each and every day.

“It seems to me, in light of the divine Goodness, though others may think differently, that ingratitude is one of the things most worthy of detestation… For it is a failure
to recognize the good things,the graces, and the gifts received. As such, it is the cause,
beginning, and origin of all evils and sins. On the contrary, recognition and gratitude for the good things and gifts received is greatly loved and esteemed both in heaven and earth.”

From Ingratitude to Gratitude

So, just how do we get from a place of ingratitude to embracing an “attitude of gratitude”? First, it is important to know that gratitude isn’t just to be expressed, but lived. If we can change our understanding of gratitude from a thing given to an entire way of being then we are practicing gratitude in the right way. The Examen prayer is a beautiful way of becoming aware of God’s presence and blessings in our day and moving to a response of gratitude.

Get away for gratitude

Though it would be nice to say that I live the attitude of gratitude 24-7, I would be remiss in noting the numerous hours of an ordinary day that I neglect to offer God my loving praise. Recently,  I went away for a 5 day silent Ignatian retreat at Campion Retreat House in Weston, MA to recharge, renew and reconnect . This Father-daughter (/son) time is an essential part of  our spiritual formation for the roots of gratitude and love are always to be found in this foundational relationship. Once this has been nourished, the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) become more visible in our lives.

What does gratitude look like?

In a spirit of openness, the following is a glimpse of day 3 of my time away with my Father. Transitioning back and forth between an outer awareness of God’s movement in my day and the presence of grace, to an inner reflection and response of praise and love I could not contain my joy.

“Today, I lovingly receive this time to rest body, spirit and mind. I noticed your presence in the stillness of the morning and the smiles of those I encountered in my walks with you by my side. I see you in the beauty that surrounds me, both natural and man-made. I welcome the time and ability to pray for others, as it allows me a chance to respond even in a small way, to the great mercy and love that you have shown me. For, in my concerns and need for discernment you have always been there for me. For those times when I have failed to act less than I should, you have never rejected me.

Oh, the immense gratitude I have for your love for me in my quiet times- when I find myself busy with other things.  For you are patient and willing to wait a lifetime. Yet, how wonderful that it need not be a lifetime and that I have awoken from my slumber sooner than that. I praise you Father for the gift of my family and friends, for those solid and lasting ones as well as those which have come only for a season. Each has taught me something about myself and about your love for each one of us.

For the roof over my head, clothes, and the nourishing food in my belly, clean water, and soft pillow under my head I give you praise. I pray for those who lack any of these and are without proper medical care, and reliable transportation or employment. Thank you for a means of work that uses the talents that you have given me and which also enables me to serve others including my own family.

And of course, I offer you my profound gratitude to the Jesuit family who have adopted me, whose faith and values I hope to carry for the remainder of my days on this earth. I long to see so many who I have come to know in this life, one day in the next. Let my life always give witness and praise to You!”

Ad majorem Dei gloriam (For the greater glory of God),

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Worth Revisiting: 31 Days of St. Ignatius

This month Loyola Press is inviting each of us to “explore ways of encountering God through using the five senses, inspired by the new book, Taste and See by Ginny Kubitz Moyer”. This celebration culminates on July 31st on the feast day of St. Ignatius. So please  join me along with other Catholic bloggers and authors these 31 days of St. Ignatius,for a month long Ignatian feast of the senses!

Today’s challenge:

Read the excerpt below and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and inner movements of gratitude for the gifts God has given. Afterwards ask yourself, Were there people or things that I had previously overlooked or even taken for granted in my day?

The First Principle and Foundation
(St. Ignatius of Loyola, as paraphrased by David L. Fleming, S.J.)

“All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.”

Peace,

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