Reflections by Sr. M. Barbra Ostheimer, S.N.D.
Reflections From a Grateful Heart
November, a month marked by Thanksgiving Day, calls me to focus on blessings for which I am grateful. An outstanding gift of the past almost ten years has been God's call to ministry at a spirituality institute, namely, Loyola Institute for Spirituality. A spirituality institute is rare. It exudes spiritual values that counter popular cultural trends that can quietly resist values of the spirit.
Spiritual growth is about relationships, first of which is our relationship with God, with Christ Jesus. An individual is drawn to Loyola Institute in the hope of fulfilling the dream of becoming who God calls him or her to be. Yes, a spirituality institute is about a thirst to BE the person who I can be. It is a search for becoming through growth in a personal spiritual relationship and a desire to make a difference in our world. The interior motivation that draws an individual is not motivation to DO something for gain's sake, but simply to BE for God's sake.
This grace-felt attraction draws one into a relationship with like-minded individuals who share a unique and similar desire to "become", to reach a potential that is popularly unrecognized. Such men and women engage in courses, retreats, and ministry to others and they dedicate themselves to out-reach, to share "the fire of God's love" in an effort to set the whole world on fire as envisioned by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500's.
As an individual moves through the LIS spiritual formation program, he or she grows, matures into a new "you". The "new you" is someone who is lovingly accepting of others who are both like and very different from oneself. This transformation takes place by God's quiet transformative action. The outcome is a community of persons who are accepting of one another without distinction of social, cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds. The LIS community is formed by a common love for Christ Jesus and by living the values of Christ Jesus. Such a community is motivated by the burning desire to make a difference in our world.
These men and women who make this journey contribute to the transformation of the world by being active in ministry with the staff members of Loyola Institute for Spirituality. Thus, they are called "LIS Associates". They evoke my admiration by their acceptance of one another and their generosity and sacrifice in spiritual ministry. It is a joy for me to give thanks to God for these men and women at the outset of this Thanksgiving month.
As a staff member, I want to express my thanks in a public way for each LIS Associate with whom I have ministered during my years at this most unique Institute, which focuses on Christ Jesus with a passion characteristic of Ignatian Spirituality. I am fortunate to breathe daily an atmosphere that is alive with reverence and respect for each person. Thus each person can come to a deeper awareness of God's great love for him or her and know better who God created him or her to be. I can truly say that the LIS Associates, collectively and individually, bring to my mind a precious line from the Scriptures: "See how they love one another." (John 13:35) These men and women really make a difference! I thank God for the LIS Associates, a cohort of transformed persons marked by generosity, sacrifice and joyful loving service. For each of them, I give thanks to God!
And for what are YOU grateful?
The Mercy of God: The Challenge of Living It
Pope Francis has moved the world to reflectionand newness of life by focusing on the Mercy of God. As a consequence, many people have written about God's mercy recently. So I really should not have been surprised that one day as I was in the LIS office, a woman who had just entered the reception area startled me by asking, "How would you define 'mercy'?"
In a peacefulness that touched my inner core, and spontaneously graced by God, I replied as if I had memorized the definition that I gave the woman. The woman was deeply touched, as I myself had been by what I had spontaneously responded. I instantly hoped to remember the definition I had given.
Before the woman left the Institute, she stopped at my office to ask me to repeat the "mercy" definition. She wished to write it down. I paused... and paused... and realized that I could not reclaim my words of the definition!
Now I've taken on the task of reflection to make a re-definition of mercy, that quality of God made so visible through Jesus Christ: "Mercy is a sensitive, generous, and forgiving compassion that reinstates a person to the nobility that he or she possessed in the light of God's creation of that individual." As I reflect on that definition of mercy, other words descriptive of Jesus rush to my mind: love, forgiveness, another chance without any reference to past blunders, mistakes, or sins. Despite his denial of Jesus, Peter became the first leader of the Christian Church!
One day when several persons were speaking with me about the mercy of God, I told them that the expression "mercy of God" spontaneously brought to mind a cousin of mine, Donna. When I was in the third grade, she saw me make a mistake, so she could have phoned my parents and made my life miserable; she could have published my bad choice "abroad".However, she simply spoke to me privately - and never to my knowledge spoke to my parents or anyone else about my third-grade blunder. Donna comes gratefully to mind when I think this year of the "Mercy of God"!
My purpose in sharing this is to inspire you, the reader, to remember when you experienced the "Mercy of God" through a person who incarnated "God's mercy". What a blessing it is to remember that each of us can do as God does, that is, "reinstate a person to the nobility that he or she possessed in the light of God's original creation of that individual". What a gift it is to experience the "Mercy of God" and the mediated mercy of God through others!
Our challenge: to live the "Mercy of God" so that others may truly experience God's mercy!
Remembering with Gratitude
It seems to me that the Fall season touches us with the awareness of time passing. Recently it struck me that spans of ten years are amazingly dramatic if we would focus them. Reflect for a moment on what happened when sperm met egg and God gifted each of us with life as a unique individual. That dynamic beginning marked ten years when we were in grade five! What a busy ten years we had. I moved from infancy to going to first grade, making my First Communion and then moving forward with a love for school because of teachers who were special. Fifth grade made me think of the world and I met real missionaries who were relatives of our fifth grade "sister" teacher. She taught us calligraphy in Art class and told us to choose an invocation from the Marian Litany. I chose "Queen of Apostles" and thought of missionary life. A seed was sown!
Then imagine what happened between ten and twenty years of age. Just a ten-year span! But what growthful transformation! That missionary seed sprouted into a sense of being called to mission as a religious sister. I completed elementary school and moved on to the adventure of high school -- and more reflection about my life's call. After graduation I began serious exploration of my vocation and moved forward to candidacy discernment: to what was the Lord calling me? Candidacy melted into my novitiate with the Sisters of Notre Dame and then my heart was set on journeying with the Lord as a Sister of Notre Dame. That's where I was at 20 years -- looking forward to the next set of ten years.
Moving forward in the 20 to 30 years decade, I made my first vows and graduated from college. At last I was prepared for mission -- wherever it would lead. Teaching little children for two years, then intermediate children for two years, then upper-level students for two years, and then moving on into high school for four years -- what a whirlwind of experiencing the growth cycle for children into young adulthood. I felt blessed, as if a parent, to have experienced the growth range of children and adolescents. I loved each stage of the way that led to 30 years. God created wonderful people regardless of height and age.
God concealed from me the surprises of the next decades, each planned by God and marked by God's love. There were years spent in religious formation ministry with new members at various stages. Then came the birth of "Spiritual Life Ministries: Retreat/Renewal Center" and ministry there and on the road, followed by an international and inter-congregational decade in Rome, Italy. What an unexpected call: to provide updating for those responsible for new members in religious congregations.
Now I conclude my ten (and a half) years, 2006-2016, at Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, California. What a graced time of personal growth and very blessed years of ministry for me with wonderful team members in the Institute and with countless men and women who came seeking God and finding God -- through the Ignatian Spirituality Formation Program, the Spiritual Exercises, and individual spiritual direction. My heart is filled with gratitude for God's call to ministry that spans from the original Jesuit trio at LIS: Allan Deck, SJ, Tacho Rivera, SJ, and Chi Ngo, SJ; to the present staff: Felix Just, SJ, Charles Jackson, SJ, David Robinson, SJ, Jeanne Fallon, CSJ, Eddie Samaniego, SJ, Carlos Obando, Bryce Deline, SJ, Raymond Uribe, Lupe Vizcarra, Ryan Pratt, and volunteers Magdalena Santiago and Chelo Jarme. Another gift of this decade has been the inspiring and co-ministering LIS Associates -- each one of them and each student in any course that I have taught! Never could I have imagined what God would pack into the past ten years!
I conclude this personal reflection about God's work, viewed in segments of ten years, with the suggestion that you take time to prayerfully reflect on your life -- in ten-year "segments." Only a loving God of infinity could so gracefully design our lives in packets of ten years! My heart is filled with gratitude!