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Gratitude in a Time of COVID-19

By Sister Donna Geernaert

Several years ago, one of our Sisters told me that she began each day with a commitment “to live in gratitude.” While I no longer remember the context or the rest of the conversation, her words have stuck with me. What makes gratitude so important? Gratitude is an approach to life which recognizes everything as gift. It is a deeply Christian virtue, a recognition that life in all its aspects is not a right to be claimed but a gift to be received.

In the biblical context, and perhaps contemporary experience as well, naming is often a way of seeking to control what is named. So, when God gives his name to Moses in the enigmatic phrase, “I AM”, some exegetes interpret this as a refusal to give a name. At the same time, this name given by God offers an assurance of identity which empowers Moses to lead the people to freedom. Thus, some biblical scholars suggest the name may better be translated as “I am there” or “I am for you”, an expression of endurance and presence. In this naming, God becomes personal, not an abstract entity but a God who is ever faithful and always present. Here it is evident that God’s fidelity and presence are freely given. They can be counted on because of who God is but not claimed as a right. The appropriate human response, then, is always one of gratitude.

While gratitude flows from a recognition that all is gift, not every gift in God’s good creation is immediately recognized as such. Efforts to reconcile the reality of suffering, whether from natural disaster, accident or human intervention, with the existence of a God unlimited in love, goodness and power have challenged Christian thinkers for centuries. Those who experienced the unmitigated evil of the Holocaust, however, found themselves required to rethink the static categories which had previously dominated their concepts of God. Developing the insight of Deitrich Bonhoeffer that “only a suffering God can help” and Abraham Heschel’s writings on a God of pathos, post-Holocaust theologians rediscovered a God deeply involved with the pain of the world, a God of deep compassion who stands in solidarity with those who suffer. More recently, this reflection has been given an ecological focus as contemporary theologians identify the humanity of Christ as a “deep” incarnation, reaching beyond the human community into the very tissue of biological existence and system of nature. This God not only feels with suffering creation, but is already at work transforming suffering into life.

Gratitude in a time of COVID-19 relates not to the virus which has wreaked havoc in the lives of so many but to God who suffers with us as we live through the pandemic. God’s enduring and compassionate presence can enable us to appreciate the giftedness of the moment. Some have seen COVID-19 as an invitation to hold on to valuable learnings about time, human contact, social inequities, and ecological regeneration. What gifts has this time of COVID brought to your attention?

Gratefulness
by Sister Glenna Connors

As I began to reflect on my reasons to be grateful this Fall of 2020, my mind was flooded with warm and colorful images of so many experiences in my life. Not surprisingly, some of the most powerful images centered around my childhood home in Lawrence, MA. Seeds were sown there which blossomed and developed over the years – gifting me in countless ways.

My heart is full of gratitude when I remember how my parents started me off on paths that have brought me joy throughout my life. One of my greatest enjoyments today comes through reading. I flash back to hearing my mother read the Bobbsey Twins to me every night before bed. Love of the outdoors was fostered when my father taught me to ride a two-wheel bike and I spent hours after school with my friend, riding all around our neighborhoods. Music is also a great love of mine. How lucky I was that my mother played the piano and we gathered around to sing our favorite songs after supper.

I have always felt a drawing to the spiritual. As a little girl, I loved to sit with my father and listen to “The Greatest Story Ever Told” on the radio. Nature touched my soul in special ways and lifted my heart to God through my grandmother’s American Beauty roses, my father’s flower garden, the fragrance of grass recently mowed, the peace of walking in the woods as we picked blueberries, the panorama of colourful leaves along the mile-long walk home from St Pat’s High.

Being educated in a Catholic school is a special blessing for which I’m very grateful. In the early grades, religion (and music) classes with the Sisters of Notre Dame were my favorites. I have vivid memories of waiting for my First Communion day. Receiving the Eucharist was a deep, joyful gift for me.

Junior high and high school with the Sisters of Charity – Halifax at St. Pat’s,  Lawrence, MA, helped me get in touch with a gift that continues to bless my life – the call to follow Christ as a Sister of Charity – Halifax.

This gift opened the way for countless others: the gift of wonderful Sister companions; opportunities to know and love people of various cultures, races, and faith traditions; blessings of education and spiritual direction to open my mind and heart.

And now, in this year like none other that I’ve experienced, I am grateful for the journey of faith on which we’ve embarked together. Inspired by Laudato si’ and challenged by all that COVID-19 has brought to our attention, we seek together through prayer and contemplative dialogue to know how we can best impact our future.

How wonderful to be able to keep on learning the truth of Pope Francis’ words:

“We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason, each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

Retreats, Thankfulness and COVID-19
by Sister Phyllis Giroux

I don’t know about you, but one of the things I’ve become very thankful for over the years is the opportunity, encouragement and mandate to make an extended retreat. It was a time to go to a serene setting, populated with the sounds of wind, water, birds, and the wise voice of an experienced guide who could enable one to see a little better, hear a little keener, walk a little firmer, gripping the compass a little tighter. Food was provided; no need to worry about cooking. You could just sink into the silence for five days, seven days or whatever. COVID-19 caused a major upheaval in all that, for both Sisters and Associates, among others.

Some of us managed to find retreat houses which were managing to maintain some sort of normalcy, even as they operated under government and medical mandates to prevent the spread of the virus. But some of us, some with health issues, couldn’t risk the travel and the possible exposure to a devastating illness -we’re all old enough to know we are not immortal. So we were left in a kind of retreat limbo.

But creativity seems to be a kind of lifeforce that can’t stay dormant – and it wasn’t long before a lot of facilities and programs were offering retreats or retreat-type experiences online. Ah, but how to find out what’s available, and where, and how to access those opportunities, and plan how to experience God through a new mode.

So this Charity Alive article is an invitation – to you who are in the know – for your wisdom and knowledge about two things:

First, what are the urls (addresses) of those sites that offer online retreats? Those of you who’ve surfed the net looking for options, what did you find? Have you experienced one or more of the retreat offerings that you found online? If so what would your review be? We’d like to gather the options you’ve found for online retreats. Send them to communications@schalifax.ca. Those of us who are still looking for options would be very grateful.

Second, if you have made an online retreat, you have experienced how different it is from our usual mode. Our mindset and methods of approaching “retreat” have to be “made new.” What advice would you give to those doing an online retreat for the first time? How does one keep “apart” from daily life during retreat – maintain silence? What does it mean if you are the only one on retreat amid a number of others who are not? What about keeping to the schedule/rhythm of “tuning in” that a certain site requires? Does the site provide a guide to assist you in your retreat? How do you connect with that guide? Again, we would be grateful to learn what you’ve learned from making an online retreat. Just send your learnings to communications@schalifax.ca so those of us who are “newbies” can plan well.

Needless to say, Chapter will keep us occupied for a good bit of October, but after our deliberations, when we return to whatever ‘normal’ is at that point, the Communications Committee would encourage an interactive discussion about virtual retreats on the Sisters of Charity Facebook page, and summarize and share with Sisters and Associates what has come to light through you.  Thanks for sharing.

Thanksgiving during a Pandemic
by Pam MacMillan

For me, Thanksgiving doesn’t just come around once a year, I find that everyday I find things to be grateful for – even the little things.

This year has been particularly painful for me with the passing of my father in March.  We were always close and I miss him everyday.

Once he went into palliative care the rules started changing as to who and how many people could come in to be with him.  We decided it would be my sister and mom to go in.  They both had nursing backgrounds.  I was heartbroken and felt helpless for so many reasons.  Then miraculously I was allowed in, I don’t question why or how, but I could, for this I am eternally grateful.  I will never forget the smile on my father’s face when I walked in after not being allowed.  I will again be forever grateful for that memory.

After he died, we could not have the funeral that he would have wanted, but grateful to all the people who helped us navigate through the time.  From my family, my dear friends, all of the support I received from the Sisters of Charity, associates, the great people I work with, from our parish priest, for all of them I am grateful.

School had also been abruptly ended at this point in time.  There was confusion as to how to proceed with the rest of the school year.  The teachers were wonderful and my daughter finished her school year with flying colors!  For all the teachers, I am grateful!

I also was able to work from home, so grateful for this.  My family was fortunate not to have the stress of trying to figure out how we were going to make ends meet.

And finally (I could go on and on), I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with my daughter.  We had a wonderful time and she helped me through this time, even though she doesn’t realize how much , for that I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Email from Fr. Edilberto Martinez Moquegua, Peru

Hello (Sisters Catalina, Katherine and) Sisters of Charity, we are very grateful for your generous support in reaching more very poor families in our Moquegua-Ilo area. After having delivered the oxygen cylinders, we are now bringing food and medicine to the poorest families in our villages. At this moment we are preparing food baskets for Ilo, families in need are already being located to bring them help as soon as possible.

St. John’s Bread and Life
by Sister Marie Sorenson

Early in the pandemic I listened to the song Tubthumping by Chumbawamba, a 90’s rock song. The refrain goes, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”. The song takes other twists and turns but it is the refrain, sung repeatedly, that inspired a call to resilience and resourcefulness. I am humbled by the resilience of the people who line up for food each day in front of St. John’s Bread and Life. I am awed by the resourcefulness of our staff who have come to work each day braving subways and buses in order to meet the needs of those most in need.

We have had very hard moments at St. John’s Bread and Life when fear, worry, chaos and uncertainty seemed to prevail or mourning when seven staff members lost family to COVID-19. When the work became too hard and our energy level too low, we reminded one another that we were here for all those standing on the long line in front of our building; we had to pull one another up to be New York Tough, Smart, United, Disciplined, Loving.

It is in this spirit that I am thankful in the season of COVID-19 …

I am grateful for the people who counted on St. John’s Bread and Life for food.

I am grateful for the trucks who arrived daily to bring us pallets of food to distribute.

I am grateful for the farmers who sent their fresh produce.

I am grateful for staff who worked together no matter what their job title was so we could respond to the needs of our community.

Thanksgiving During A Pandemic
by Sister Martha Westwater

“All of you should be like-minded, sympathetic, loving toward one another kindly disposed and humble” (1 Peter 3:8-12).

Peter might not have realized it, but about 2000 years ago he was giving us advice about being grateful for one another during a time of pandemic. Indeed, my community, the Sisters I live with here at Marillac, in Wellesley, MA, show a genuine, carefree, love for one another and this is what I am most grateful for this Thanksgiving. While the invisible snake of COVID-19 continues to slink slowly throughout the world wreaking havoc in government, industry, and in the home, we Sisters of Charity – Halifax, in isolation, are, for the most part, free from the anxiety and anguish that come with loss of jobs, financial uncertainty, and family unrest. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, the one thing we can certainly thank God for is the blessing of family and of community. How do we recognize true community among ourselves? Peter gives us three characteristics of communal living: like mindedness, kindness and humility. It is for the blessings of these virtues, so necessary for community living, that I am most grateful on this Thanksgiving of 2020 — so different from any Thanksgiving we have ever celebrated.

Consider the last inestimable quality that Peter mentions — Humility.  During the past six months I have not heard one word of complaint. Of course, there is little opportunity to complain; we see very little of one other. We cannot congregate in chapel; we might not even have fully appreciated what a blessing it was to see one and all — together.  We are deprived of socializing in the dining room. We are still being served meals in our rooms. The two great commandments of wearing a mask and of social distancing are widely respected. I’ve seen a Sister leave her room, notice another wearing a mask and then rush back to retrieve her own face covering.  Even with these isolating restraints, there is a genuine submission to authority and a well-earned respect for our Administrator who has inspired her dedicated colleagues and kept that invisible snake of COVID-19 from our doors. Is not this respect for authority, submission to God’s Will, to things as they are — is not this true humility?

Like-mindedness. We are in this together. We share the same discomforts. We could look beyond the long hair, growing progressively longer, as the weeks and months followed in their never-changing but quickly dissolving sequence. We share the frustration of mumbled speech, of trying to keep six feet when greeting someone you haven’t seen in months, even though you live in the same house.

Finally, kindness. Despite social distancing there is a genuine interest in another’s happiness and well-being. This kindness is manifested in the gentle expression of sympathy, the affectionate note given and received at a time of loss or ill health, the blown kiss given instead of a hug. Who can even attempt to evaluate the nameless acts of loving kindness given and received during these long months of the COVID-19 pandemic?

As circumstances are at present, we will not be having the convivial family gatherings; we will not be visiting or receiving visitors at a bountiful, beautifully adorned table.  No doubt we’ll have a plentiful meal and perhaps, by the end of November, we might even be back in the dining room (with necessary restrictions in place), but no matter either what the past has given or the future brings, we are united in spirit. For this wholesome, joyful spirit of community, I am most grateful this Thanksgiving.

More Charity Alive – October 2020

Gratitude in a Time of COVID-19

What makes gratitude so important?  Gratitude is an approach to life which recognizes everything as gift. It is a deeply Christian virtue, a recognition that life in all its aspects is not a right to be claimed but a gift to be received.

Season of Creation

Every year we familiarly celebrate the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter with their rich and reflective liturgies. Now, thanks to our ecumenical sisters and brothers we have been given an opportunity to celebrate a new liturgical season, the Season of Creation.

Associates Coming to Chapter

We have already been introduced to the first six in our August and September issue of Charity Alive. This month we would love to introduce the others.

Charity Alive – September 2020

Encountering Others

Have you noticed that often life happens when we’re planning other things? A collaborative article about our encounters with others.

Letters of Gratitude

Letters of gratitude to all who have sent donations for the ministry with the Venezuelan migrants in Chiclayo and La Victoria, Peru

Celebrating our 95 year olds

This year, 2020, there are three sisters who are celebrating their 95th birthday. We thought it might be good for you to meet them.

Elizabeth Seton’s Birthday

There is so much that we can hear if we really listen to Elizabeth because she walked many of the same paths as we do now, dependent on her God and loving friend.

Book Review

Choosing Earth, Humanity’s Great Transition to Mature Planetary Civilization, Duane Elgin

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