Freedom and Liberty Meditation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

It is 1962 and I am on Robben’s Island in a 10’x7′ cell. It’s the thirteenth century A.D. and I’m on a battle field south of Scotland wielding a sharp weapon. It’s 1605, and I am seated at a desk in Savoy overlooking a body of water, pen in hand. It’s 1776, and I’m convened with other delegates for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

It’s been a busy morning in my imagination and prayer this Fourth of July as I contemplate notions of freedom and liberty. I’ve been reading all about the life of former South African president  Nelson Mandela; gone to images of Scotland’s legendary freedom-fighter William Wallace, aka “Braveheart”; mulled over  Salesian Scholars’ writing on the letters of Visitation co-founder, St. Francis de Sales; and imagined the scene of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Busy morning I tell you.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ― Nelson Mandela

In each case, my research and reading* informs my prayer and inspires my questions: What does it mean to be truly “free”? With freedom, what are my responsibilities? How do faith and liberty inform one another and move me to act or live in a certain way as a citizen and simultaneous religious person?

These clearly are not new questions for any person to contemplate. (Thank you Founding Fathers.)

What is new, however, is the time in which we mull over notions of liberty and spirit.  As former President Mandela lies in a hospital bed in Pretoria, South Africa, recovering — or nearing his end — his life’s journey speaks volumes to me.

Imprisoned for his political activity to fight to end apartheid, Mandela’s witness as a leader and revolutionary are simultaneously prophetic. His radical actions, after a thirty year imprisonment, to bring about the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, were rooted in a faith tradition that acknowledged both hurting sides of the apartheid rule. Mandela knew that for a nation to move forward together, freely, they would need to grieve together and forgive the wrong doing enacted by an oppressive regime, that kept either side imprisoned.

Reflecting on his life,  in juxtaposition with this day’s United States national holiday, I am moved considering the healing and forgiveness any nation requires as it strives to grow and be a place of freedom and equality for all.

Where do you seek sage counsel?

Where do you seek sage counsel?

This past week the United States’ Supreme Court made a decision that impacts women and men across this nation who have felt called to marry another person of the same gender. In Congress this past seven days, elected officials have been considering the way immigrants are treated when they have crossed the border and desired to stay.

So much is at hand in our current circumstances that begs attention, reflection and prayer. This is why I turn to our history, to freedom fighters from here and abroad, and seek sage counsel in the spiritual leaders at the helm of the Visitation Order.

Where do you go for guidance? What do your contemplative questions give rise to in your own prayer and actions? How are you celebrating your faith and freedoms this day?

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Reading Resources:
FREEDOM TO LOVE: A Close Reading of St. Francis de Sales Letter 14 October 1604 to Jane de Chantal by Alexander  T. Pocetto, OSFS, Ph.D.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Our New Pope: Washing the Feet of Young Inmates on Holy Thursday

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

We have a new pope. His name is Francisco, or Francis. The Argentinian Jesuit took his name after St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Francis Xavier, one of his founding Jesuit predecessors.  (And might I stretch his Francis’ inspirations to include – *ahem* – our co-founder, St. Francis de Sales?) I think of these saints as a “trifecta of Francises,” if you will, who all exemplify and inspire a kind of humility and gentleness in the world.

I’ve been moved almost daily since the announcement of Pope Francis’ papacy by information characterizing his way of being as a priestly leader. “He rides the bus; he cooks for himself; he wears old shoes; he elected to forgo his cardinal apartment for a more modest dwelling;” and “the day of his introduction to the world, he elected not to stand on a box above his peers, as he wanted to convey that he is one of us.” These tidbits have all rolled around in my heart and mind, providing a delightful electrical charge to my prayer — my hopes for our church and its new leadership.

Today, I learned that one week from today, on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis will be washing the feet of young inmates in a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Rome. And this information gives me one more jolt of inspiration. In lieu of a mass at the Basilica of St. Peter, where he would wash the feet of his peers, our new pope has taken a page out of the St. Francis of Assisi playbook — or perhaps the Jesuit or Salesian life texts — and is tending to the feet of those behind bars. Not unlike Christ’s invitation, he is taking his bread to the poor, his service to those on the margins — as he literally goes to feed those in prison.

It moves me, this break in tradition. Holy Week. The re-enactment of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The last supper. The pope. These young men of Casal del Marmo prison for minors.  Amen.

Where are you spending your Holy Thursday? What rituals are you participating in? Whose feet will you wash? Who will touch your soles? What bread will you consume? What will you offer to those around you? How might any one of our dear saint Francises inspire your living of the gospel in this day and age?

Blessings as we mark this holy season of the liturgical year!

Seeking Solace in the Incarnation

The Christ Child, from Sandro Botticellis Madonna of the Pomegranate.

The Christ Child, from Sandro Botticelli's "Madonna of the Pomegranate."

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Her job is to stock shelves. Fill in the cans of Starkist and Campbell’s and Ivory dish soap when they get low. Or maybe his gig is to check people out, scan bar-coded grocery items, weigh cabbage and tomatoes, and bag purchased supplies so they travel home gently in their sacks to a wanting family. But on Monday morning in St. Paul, this clerk (was it a woman or a man? or a whole team of cashiers?) was held up at gun point in the grocery store a few blocks from my home. An attempted robbery during this Advent season.

I keep thinking of this person, unsure of their gender, but keenly connected to their humanity. I wonder: was she afraid? Did he tremble? What ran through her mind when the barrel of the gun came up to her face? Where is he now? How is this person fairing?

***

On Friday people all across this nation were tuned into the horror of one gun-related atrocity. As a plugged-in-people, we couldn’t escape the events of December 14, 2012, when a 20 year-old man opened fire and killed 26 children and adults at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We became a more consciously aware vulnerable nation.

This robbery at the local grocery store, just blocks from my home, had nothing in common with the event in Newtown, CT, save that a gun was involved and that the bearers of those guns are now both dead.

Both incidents leave me feeling very vulnerable — wide open, raw, and a bit afraid. I don’t like being afraid.

***

It’s Advent. It’s a season when God is born among us; he takes human form and enters this world as the Christ Child. He becomes one of us: vulnerable, human, small — perhaps, sometimes, too – afraid. A week from today we celebrate Jesus’ birth, recounting his humble entrance as his earthly parents lay him to rest in a manger.

Can you see this baby? His writhing olive-skinned limbs? His swaddled form being snuggled by first-time mother Mary? Can you smell his new sweet scent and imagine all that perfumes the air on this night? How fragrant is the hay, are the sheep and cattle? What stirs in the heart of Joseph as he first sees Jesus? What instincts kick in as this babe is born in the open air, outside the confines of home or assigned health care?

It’s this vulnerability of our God that makes me weep. It’s this incarnation that gives me comfort. I must admit, as a grown woman, as a seeker of love and tranquility, a significant part of me wants to crawl in alongside Christ and snuggle in. I want to lie right next to the babe, Jesus.

As we count down our days to Christmas and hold open our hearts to the miracles and mysteries of this season, it is my prayer that in our vulnerability we recognize the Christ child. It is my hope that in the midst of headlines that might be wreaking havoc on our sense of security as a people, that we seek solace in the God that is right next to us; that we know we are not alone.

Peace be with us.

Discernment and Leadership: Tuning into the Wisdom of Gamaliel

Before the Sanhedrin

Before the Sanhedrin

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin,
it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” –Gamaliel, respected teacher of the law,  before the Sanhedrin Acts 5: 38-39

How do we discern whether our endeavors are of God’s will, or purely of our own human making and inclination? How are we to tease apart the roots of our intentions in engaging in any activity, or trust those intentions of others’? It’s messy stuff, I believe!

These words from Friday’s scripture give me pause this week, as I consider their context, and weigh their present possible applications in our church and world.

“How do we tune into what is of God’s good pleasure, and like the apostles in this reading, hold fast in our faith and living out Christ’s mission?”

Here are the apostles standing before the Sanhedrin, being judged for their efforts in proclaiming and living the Good News. A wise Pharisee and teacher among them named Gamaliel has the wherewithal to pause, and counsel his peers who seemingly have the power to destroy and/ or disband the apostles altogether. He invites the Sanhedrin to be careful and consider what they are judging and how they may choose to act. Gamaliel offers examples of previous prophetic agents whose efforts died with the Sanhedrin’s sanctions, and utters these true words cited above about the origin of each agent’s mission. Re-stated: “If the activity and mission is of God –divinely ordained — it shall flourish. If not, the endeavor shall die.”

In my vocations ministry with discerning individuals who are trying to lean into God’s call, and live His love, this scripture holds much power and weight. I think of the four young women from NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries who came this week to pray and be among the sisters for a short window of time, and tune into the vocational narratives of a number of the community who have and are discerning God’s will for their lives. How do they, and we alike, tune into what is of God’s good pleasure, and like the apostles in this reading, hold fast in our faith and living out Christ’s mission?

I think of all women religious in the United States, whose leadership has been put on notice as the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) appoints a team of bishops to oversee the reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). (USCCB, April 18, 2012.) I long for Gamaliel’s voice in reviewing the claims about women religious and their work. And simultaneously, my heart is filled with gratitude for the possibilities of this review process over the next five years.

I pose questions and I pray….

  • How are the apostles from 2000 years ago alive and at work in this day and age?
  • What Good News are we proclaiming with full voice?
  • How is God’s will present in all facets of our lives and in all charged or messy circumstances?
  • As faithful, faith-filled beings, how are each of us before a present day assembly of the Sanhedrin?
  • What roles are we each called to fill or claim?
  • Where is Gamaliel? Can we recognize Judas the Galilean, whose efforts amounted to naught?
  • Who among us will be flogged, but persist in our appointed goals and missions?
  • How will God himself be fought with?
  • How can we give God thanks for all of this activity and the guidance to move through it in a transformational, inspiring, life-giving manner?

I pray.