Summertime at our provincial house affords plenty of opportunities to change up our "normal routine" of doing things. It's fun. It's stressful. And as August disappears and September approaches, the old familiar feelings of both excitement and dread that have filled me at this time of year, for as long as I can remember, nestle into my consciousness again.
My ministry no longer ties me to the proverbial "school schedule"; however, I find that this season always feels like something wonderful is finishing, and something new is beginning all over again — yet to be revealed as wonderful, joyous, painful or scary — but certain to demand much in terms of my energy and time.
In retrospect, that's kind of what the whole summer was like for me this year: frequent experiences of joy in the present moment, insistent reminders not to cling to what is but to gracefully let it go its own way, deep hope for the blessings that have yet to come, and a kind of hunkering down for what the "next thing" will require. And if I'm going to be honest, all of it involved a fair portion of fatigue and consternation.
I believe one particular experience of the summer serves as an icon for all that has transpired — the experience of what I am going to call "local globalism." I have had the joy and privilege of welcoming several sisters from my congregation to the United States this summer for extended visits. They have come from Brazil, Italy, Benin and Albania, and they have brought with them the entirety of their history, their current reality, and their hopes for the future.
Language attempted to separate us, but happily failed at doing so, yielding instead to the unrelenting mutual desire to know and be known. Cultural differentiation invited us to learn a new dance together rather than step on each other's toes and decide who was to blame for the blunders.
The discrepancies of economics, politics, religious practice and social norms posed the question of whether we will judge, embrace or simply tolerate each other. There have been raucously enjoyable moments at table, quietly sober moments as we ponder the world news, cautiously courageous moments where vulnerable pieces of our personal histories were revealed, and beautifully tender moments of shared prayer. In all things, I have been witness to the power and necessity of loving one another despite all that threatens to make that choice difficult, uncomfortable or even unpalatable.
What exactly do I mean by that? Love is messy. Love — true love — will always cost something, and it will occasionally cost everything. It is pricey because it is valuable. And the more it costs, the greater its worth.
Loving Sister Maria is difficult, not because she is difficult to love but because loving her means seeing her — and then looking in the mirror. It means hearing of the school she leads in Albania where electricity, heat and food are not only rationed out, but completely undependable in their sporadic availability. It means acknowledging how comfortable I have become in my own day-to-day living, thinking nothing of my insistence on particular grocery brands or of bringing my sweater to chapel because the air-conditioning is a bit strong.
Loving Sister Marguerite is uncomfortable, not because she disrupts or disturbs me but because her joy, which is deeper than the ocean itself, triumphs over every difficulty in ways both beautiful and breathtaking. Her joy sings to my soul and casts light on my own pessimism and pouting, revealing them as warped, twisted falsehoods that simply don't make much sense in the life of a Christian.
Loving these sisters of mine is not easy — but only because I have much to learn about love. When my love is small, my capacity for both suffering and joy is diminished. When my love is petty, my capacity for both compassion and mercy is compromised. When my love is weak, my capacity for Christ is lacking.
Thank you, my sisters, for reminding me that I want to love. Thank you for calling me to love more authentically. Thank you for being, in every sense of the word, Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Something new is beginning all over again, and it promises to be hopeful, painful and true. It's called redemption, and the invitation is as new each morning as is the sunrise. Will it require something difficult? It had better. That's what makes it worth it.
[Virginia Herbers is an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She has master's degree in pastoral studies and has ministered in education at both the elementary and high school levels in Connecticut, New York, Missouri and Taiwan. She currently serves as the vice-provincial and vocation director for the United States Province of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart.]