“Discernment is Hard,” Sister Katherine shares a discernment story.

Today we commence the Fall Following the Spirit Discernment Series. What are you discerning? How does joy play a part in your discernment story? Sister Katherine reflects on joy in her own story by taking time to pray, reflect, and observe where she has basked in joy recently in her vowed life. Joy put another way can be an acronym J.O.Y. (just observe yourself). After reading Sister Katherine’s story, we invite you to note when you are deeply happy and engaged in something or someone…and share it with us in the comments section. Sister Katherine’s story grew out of the Writing Our Stories workshop held at St. Jane’s House in July, we will be sharing more stories from other discerners who gathered for the workshop throughout the fall. May we each learn from one another and our stories!

Written by Sister Katherine Mullin, VHM

Discernment is hard…but oh! the benefits if we stick with it!  One of my latest bout with it has to do with my 50th  anniversary of vows as a Vis nun.

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Sister Katherine Living her JOY on the north side! Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

I did not want to celebrate it in any way- except with just my family and community which could have been as small as 20 people.  But something inside me told me to broaden my invitation list and have a fitting celebration  of fifty years worth of loving my vocation. But inside me, I had this feeling of not wanting to be the center. (Believe me, I like being the center of attention but just not in this way!). I then ‘took it to prayer’  praying with the idea of CELBRATING IT BIG.  As I did that, over time, the feeling of wanting to limit it changed for me and  I realized that inviting many more was the authentic way for me to go.  My earlier thought of hardly having anybody come  was coming out of my ‘small self’, one that often puts limits on things, one that comes more out of self consciousness and fear. As my plans continued to grow and having all of the sisters, my family and others jump in to help me (my younger cousins offered to clean up/ rake the park area  that I had selected to have the mass ), everything was becoming  possible. There were other hurdles too that brought back those old feelings, but as I went step by step, and moved from one new idea to another in prayer, what was happening was I actually “saw” God’s hand working and I began to trust that understanding and my intuition and the ideas of others as I made decisions about details. Step by step I had a deep knowing of trust, trusting that God was transforming me in this process.

“…but as I went step by step, and moved from one new idea to another in prayer, what was happening was I actually “saw” God’s hand working and I began to trust that understanding and my intuition and the ideas of others….Step by step I had a deep knowing of trust, trusting that God was transforming me in this process.”

Now it has been exactly a year since that event, my Golden Jubilee. It is so clear to me that the satisfaction that I knew that day with what seemed like the gathering of hundreds of “my closest friends,” was a deep joy  in God’s providence. Today, as I observe it, that joy has taken the form of energy , energy to love in the ordinary things of my monastic life. I am not being ‘Pollyanna, I feel I am focused (graced?), to just carry out the day -to-day mission of Living Jesus on the north side as the door bell rings, as I empty the dishwasher, as I talk with a neighbor who has just been beaten by her significant other, as I clean the living room , as I am present in the alley with the young boys who found an injured squirrel. It doesn’t matter. And …it does matter a lot.

“…gathering of hundreds of “my closest friends,” was a deep joy  in God’s providence. Today, as I observe it, that joy has taken the form of energy , energy to love in the ordinary things of my monastic life.”

Surprised by Joy

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

A young woman discerning her life said, “I remember adults asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up?” She recalled a moment when her mom suggested a vocation based on her interests. This exchange set a path for her from an early age that she worked religiously toward. She had the aptitude, the success to back the endeavor, and it was not until nearly a decade later she realized she was missing a key ingredient to her pursuit; joy.

We are so concerned as a society with what we do as a means for defining who we are that we forget to be. Perhaps this concern bordering on obsession stems from the Puritan roots of Plymouth Rock that implored good deeds would earn us our grace and redemption. A modern day translation of this thought, that our actions speak louder than words. That we need to earn not only God’s grace and benevolence, but others as well can lead to what Thomas Merton poetically refers to as a “violence of the self.”

Other cultures, other places, outside of the United States view the question, “What do you do?” with disdain, bordering on rudeness. “Be who you are and be that perfectly well,” implores St. Francis de Sales–that perfection and humanness go hand in hand is inviting, even daring us to let go of our Martha-ness and bask in our Mary vibe. Or at the very least to balance the two inclinations: doing with the grace of being.

Yet is discernment a luxury? Are all invited into the conversation on equal footing based on our Baptismal calls? Or even before baptism based on being human? Are those children that grow up in poverty asked enough to dream about what they might want to become? While this question posed at an early age can be restrictive for some, could it implore others? Dare I ask, does socio-economic class matter when the question is posed?

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Fr. Michael O’Connell gave another zinger of a homily this week in reference to Prophet Amos. He started his homily recounting yet another murder of a young person on the north side, this time outside of Ascension’s Church doors. He proclaimed from the pulpit that most of the violence that occurs in north Minnepolis stems from kids under 18 who have dropped out of school. He went on to say, “That as adults guiding our young it is up to us to make sure they get an education.” He invited the congregation present to think about Ascension School, which if needed can be fully subsidized. “A place where 60 more chairs sit empty. A place where 90 percent of the graduating class goes on to pursue college. 90% people!” He was emphatic that as parents it is up to us to guide our children, and to make sure they are being guided by other trustworthy adults.

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Rumblings in my soul rose up as I reflected on our move two years ago from Santa Fe back to St. Paul largely because of education. Were we shortsighted? Had we overreacted? We gave up more organic outdoor access for a more formal education…was it really this important? According to Fr. O’Connell it was. It is.

While some relish summer, others abhor it. Long windows of unstructured time for youth with a lack of outlets in north Minneapolis leads to an increase in violence. Children are therefore at risk for being hurt, killed or being the one to hurt or kill. Is too much being and not enough doing part of the culprit? Could tightening the tension between being and doing lead to safer summers for children in north Minneapolis? One friend commented, “Money is good for education and travel, after that it only creates distance between people.” The distance right now is too grave not to respond. Education done well, at its best leads a learner toward joy. Deep joy. Let us, adults, be modern day Amos’ and rise up so that quality education invites the children of north Minnepolis to begin to dream about what they want to be, and also relax in the hammock of grace that who they are is already “perfectly well.”

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

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Title “Surprised by Joy” borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life