THE VOWED LIFE — A Commitment to Live; to Share and to Act!

Sr. Suzanne

S. Suzanne signing the Book of Vows November, 2014

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

“Thank you, for your commitment!” was one of the final comments I heard on my profession day. They were spoken by one of my BOF (Best Oblate Friends) as he was leaving our monastery for the wintry drive back to Michigan after the festivities. Those words meant a lot to me that night and they still do — in fact, they mean more to me each day as I live this Visitation life and each time I renew my vows on the first day of the month — or each time I sign the community vow book on November 21st, when all other Visitandines and Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have their yearly renewal of vows.

“Signing the vow book is more than putting ink to paper…perhaps it is like writing ‘Live Jesus!’ on my heart.” – S. Suzanne Homeyer

This year our Renewal of Vows retreat gave me the time to reflect on how my commitment so many years ago was really a response to God’s promise that we find in the book of Proverbs:

“Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts; for whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor with the Lord.”

My understanding of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience has changed over the years.

S. Suzanne signing the Vow Book of the Monastery of Annecy, France in June, 2009 during the 400th Anniversary Pilgrimage.

S. Suzanne signing the Vow Book of the Monastery of Annecy, France in June, 2009 during the 400th Anniversary Pilgrimage.

On Poverty …

The first time I signed the Book of the Vows I knew I was promising to live as our neighbors here on the north side of Minneapolis. I knew, too, that I would probably not be spending my nights sleeping under bridges or in homeless shelters during the coldest Minnesota nights.  And our monastery was not cold and drafty — a concern my mother often voiced. During my years here I have struggled with whether to purchase something new, find the item at a thrift store or just do without. There is a difference between wants and needs. I may want a calf-length down coat but a warm wool jacket may be enough for doing errands or getting to church on a cold day. Could I attend a conference or workshop out of town and still be living my vow of poverty. A wise friend settled that in my mind by suggesting that if I attend the conference I might learn something to help me better meet the needs of those who come to our door! Isn’t that good stewardship?

On Chastity…

Being loyal and true to those I am in relationship is part of how I live my life chastely. I have to be authentically my self in how I interact with others. I often ask myself if I am being sincere, loving and as open with all others as I would like them to be with me. This type of transparency allows relationships to be nurturing for me and generative for others.

Sr. Suzanne reciting first vows in 1999 at Church of St. Philip parish in north Minneapolis

Sr. Suzanne reciting first vows in 1999 at Church of St. Philip parish in north Minneapolis

On Obedience…

From my first study of the vows as a novice I learned that obedience comes from the same root word as listening. I listen to God in His word, in the words of others and in my own heart. I pay attention to what I am hearing. I let it motivate me. If I do this prayerfully I find myself called to action.   I am not merely reacting to situations but acting as I am called to act by this God to whom I am committed. No matter what, I am committed. And God moves me forward in this commitment each day, each month and each year. Signing the vow book is more than putting ink to paper…perhaps it is like writing ‘’Live Jesus!” on my heart.

 

 

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Q & A with a Sister: On Vow Renewal

S Mary Frances first profession

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1957

On Friday, November 21, the Visitation Sisters will renew their vows publicly at a mass and celebration. In preparation for this event, blogger and Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde had an opportunity to ask Sister Mary Frances Reis about this process of  of vow renewal. What follow is their Q and A.

Q: Sister Mary Frances, what year did you enter the Visitation Monastery?

SMF: I entered in 1957.

Q: In a sentence or two, how would you characterize that period in the Catholic church?

SMF: This time of 1957-62 was a time of sensing that the Holy Spirit was in the air. The churches were pretty into the ‘way we’ve always done it’ and then ‘whoosh’!!!  the Holy Spirit took over and John XXIII opened the windows of the Church and let in lots of fresh air!  So I would say that I and my confreres were precursors of the Renewal…kind of on the threshold of big changes in the Church.  Things changed radically in the next few years.

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1962

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1962

Q: When did you profess final vows?

SMF: I professed my final vows in 1962.  This was preceded by a year of postulancy, and year of novitiate, and 3 years of temporary vows.  These years were a sort of “engagement time” with lots of formation in the life and discernment along the way.

Q:  Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience are the vows that Visitation Sisters profess when they commit their lives to the Order.  Can you give us simple definitions, in your own words?

SMF: Poverty-Having all things in common as in the early Church.  Simplicity of life.  Sharing what we have.  

Chastity-this is the vow to LOVE.  I have always observed this vow as a call to relationship….I have had thousands of children as an educator, and in this neighborhood.   Sexuality is a precious gift, and through the many celibate relationships that I have had with both sexes, I have learned to love well.

Obedience-Root word is listening.  Listening to the Spirit in my deepest center, in that of the community and my superiors assists me in becoming who I am and becoming that well.

Q: When Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal first established the Visitandines, they wanted only one vow, the vow of love. How do you embrace this vow and the ultimate shift to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience?

 SMF: As I ‘mature’ in my vowed life it becomes quite simple.  LOVE covers all the vows.  The three vows simply particularize ways to LOVE.

Q: I have heard stories about the ritual of having a burial cloth placed over you when a woman professed final vows as a religious — indicating a sort of death to your old individual self and identity. Can you tell me about this?

SMF: I loved the ritual of going under the pall. This is the way it worked:  on the day of vows, various Sisters gave me their prayer intentions on little slips of paper.  I put them in my big habit pocket.  It was a profound experience of community at its deepest level with all those intentions in my pockets-a reminder that WE are in this together.  Yes, it was a ritual of ‘death’ to self, but also a commitment to community.  I’m kind of a romantic at heart, but I did love the drama of this!

Q: Can you describe any private or public ritual you participate in now?

SMF: Ritual for Vows…We renew our vows once a month in community and once a year publicly.

Q: Tell me about the significance of  November 21st  as your annual date of public vow renewal.

SMF: The 21st of November is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple;  it is a Memorial and not a Feast in the universal Church, but Jane and Francis chose this in its littleness…We make it a Feast!

Vis Sisters Cropped Capri

The Visitation Sisters, 2014. (Sr. Mary Frances is second from left.)

Q: How have the circumstances of living your vows changed as you made your way to this year of re-commitment?

As I renew my vows this year, I am more and more aware that I am one of the BAPTIZED — as is every baptized person.  We are all living out our Baptismal promises to be “Priest, Prophet and Queen.”  I love that I share this will all women, men and children…..

Q: What do you do to prepare for vow renewal?

Preparation takes place 3 days prior…We call it a ‘little retreat.’  It is a time to reflect more deeply on our lived experience and listen to the Spirit’s promptings in this life She has chosen for us.  To me the vows in any walk of life are expressions of God’s fidelity to US!

Q: What advice or thoughts do you have for other women and men who have professed promises or vows, for renewing them? Why do this?

Anniversaries are important……Taking time to reflect on our promises and how we have chosen to make life’s journey is essential.  We have ONLY ONE LIFE!!!  Live it well!

Q: As you invite people to “come as they are to live community in north Minneapolis” and found a Resident Lay Community alongside the Visitation Sisters, what would you say about vows, or commitments,  to inspire someone in their listening and discernment?

SMF: Francis and Jane would applaud our endeavors to found a resident lay Visitation Community!!!  They are excited and so are we!

The Vowed Life

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Where do our vows begin?

Practicing our commitments start long before they are actualized. Long before we may even know what we want to become or more importantly who we are to become.

First I do Proclamation in Crazy Coupe Car

First I do Proclamation in Cozy Coupe Car

In the green carpet of closely shaved grass I watched my one year old purposely and excitedly walk around his cozy coupe car and climb inside proudly proclaiming “I do,” as much to himself as to others in his proximity. I watch his feet feel the uneven ground. His sway teeters side to side, his gaze is focused on the task at hand. His first verbal “I do,” to match all the I-doing he has done for the past three months. This is the beginning of a refrain I know I will hear for the upcoming year. We are entering the phase where I back up and watch him do.

In that swift brushstroke of cut-grass-clinging-to-bare-feet-of-a-moment, I realize we start practicing our vows, our commitments long before we choose them or they claim us. We begin vocational practice with our one-year-old phase of “I Dos!” and grow them.

“I do,” an assertion of our autonomous self on any and all chosen tasks. An attitude, which often overrides frustrations, which compels us to practice the mundane until mastery, and which builds a pride and self-confidence that imprints upon our cellular memory.

However, autonomy only exists in relationship with community, and our verbal proclamations exist only in relationship with silence. I spent a morning at Clouds in Water Zen to steep myself in silence amongst others. I craved silence, and wanted it in community. I resisted the urge to fall asleep, head bob after head bob as I sat on my meditation cushion trying to “Be still!” in a Maurice Sendak sort of way. Trying to sink into silence; not sleep. Watching my idealized silence slip away to my reality of surprised exhaustion.

After the silence, Byakuren Judith Ragir gave a Dharma Talk on the Five Ranks of Buddhism, asking us to think about it more as a landscape you move through over and over again.”To meet what is before you with intimacy whatever that is, is a marker of a development of mature faith.” Ragir took both hands scooping the air before her toward her heart and repeated, “To meet what is your present with intimacy.” Then she let the silence fall before her and amongst us.

Five year old Nizzel George

Five year old Nizzel George

Ahhh I sighed, but how do you meet with intimacy tragedy from violence? How does a mother or grandmother do as the gospel implores us, “To harden not our hearts,(Ps 95:8)” when only last week a five year old boy from north Minnepolis, Nizzel, was shot by a spray of bullets as he slept on his grandmother’s couch. Nizzel was buried today, and according to the Star Tribune “Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr. ended the ceremony with a call for the north side to stop the violence, ‘Let’s call it the Nizzel Pledge,’ he said.” It is an image that sears me as I sit on my couch, my back to my picture window, my boys alive before me, tears stream down my face, as I sit in silence listening. Listening to Sister Katherine share, “Only five years old. His life, as is everyone’s was so worth living. Nizzel, we will be with your mom, dad and grandma and everyone else at Shiloh Temple, lovingly supporting your family. Your grandma came to our house last night. We prayed and cried together. You were a wonderful child.”

Silence will give way to celebration tomorrow. On a day when firecrackers ring, hearts break open again as we remember the loss of Anthony, a young African American teen from north Minneapolis, who died far too young two years ago on the fourth of July. Well before his “I dos” were realized.

As I listen to firecrackers sound tonight I cannot help but think for some the sounds ricochet like haunted bullets and I find I jump at their sound as I write this. Or for war veterans and refugees the sight of them exploding in the night sky brings flash backs of bombs, terror one cannot fully heal from.

Yet our gospel call is to live our “I do’s, to harden not our hearts, and to meet what is before us with intimacy,” whew no easy task! Lately, when I do my morning runs, I practice running with my chest open to the world so that my heart leads my runs, with my gaze strong and steady at a distant point so as not to lose sight of what is before me, pleading my awareness, begging me to meet it with intimacy. I practice an open sure-footed posture as I hit the uneven ground beneath me.

We need silence. We need good posture toward others and ourselves. We need the courage and practice to say I do out loud long before we say it to a lifelong commitment. It starts when we are one, fresh feet kissing the green earth, walking with a proud posture exploring our infinite world, proclaiming I do as we climb into our cozy coupe cars ready to steer our paths toward deeper joy and open to that which may break our hearts.