Friday, March 13, 2015

in honor of #NCSW, part dos!

A few years ago I wrote an essay titled "Mi Hermana Tess" about my admiration for and friendship with Sister Tess Browne.

The essay was published in a book that I mentioned last time -- "Thank you Sisters: Stories About Women Religious And How They Enrich Our Lives" -- a very appropriate text for this week, National Catholic Sisters Week! 

Edited by my friend and colleague in the Catholic press John Feister, the book is a collection of 12 essays written by several famous people
Cokie Roberts; Maureen Orth, award-winning journalist and special correspondent for Vanity Fair; Sr. Helen Prejean; James Martin, S.J.; best-selling author Adriana Trigiani... and more.
And as I've joked and pointed out since the beginning, clearly, I am one of the "filler writers" in the "and more"-- yet honored and grateful to have been included. 

Earlier this week I posted an excerpt from the essay describing when I first met Tess at the University of Texas Catholic Student Center. You can read that blog here

Today I'd like to post a different part of the essay, from a conversation I had with Sr Tess when our group of college students (including the guy I was dating and later married) from the Catholic Student Center went to witness the work of her community with the United Farm Workers in South Texas. 

Don't laugh too much -- here's what we looked like:

¡Si se puede!
University of Texas Catholic Center students visiting farm workers in South Texas, 
with Sr Tess Browne of the United Farm Workers, 1980

Listening to Tess’ stories, I was a bit star-struck. Like a female Tom Hanks in the movie “Forrest Gump,” Tess’ life casually crossed paths with significant moments in history.  Picketing alongside Cesar Chavez. Civil rights marches. A sit-in with Dorothy Day...  
Tess frequently shocked me, provoked me, and in a very real way, inspired me. As a Hispanic privileged enough to be attending college, I felt a special responsibility to learn more, to do more for these people, my people. 
So when she invited students interested in visiting the Rio Grande Valley to come learn more about the work of the United Farm Workers and the life of farm workers in south Texas, I jumped at the opportunity. 
Our group’s visit to the border towns of San Juan and McAllen is a blur in my memory. I remember going to UFW rallies, and being the one to introduce our students in Spanish to the farm workers gathered that night. I remember celebrating daily Mass and prayers with our hosts, Tess’s co-ed religious community.  But what stands out the most in my memory is the intense feelings I had throughout that weekend. 
It was my first time to encounter a situation so tragic, so horrible, so challenging, that I felt completely powerless and ultimately, deeply angry. I was livid about living conditions of children and their families in the colonias—dirt streets, no running water, houses that were truthfully shacks. It was like being in a third world country. I was broken hearted and infuriated conversing in Spanish with young women my age who had already lived profoundly painful lives. And in all honesty, I was irritated with my own ignorance, for not knowing this existed just five hours from my home. 
Sitting by myself in the community’s chapel one night, I cried weakly in my seething anger.  Sr. Tess walked in and just sat next to me, waiting until I could speak. When she sensed that I was ready, she grabbed my hand and looked at me.  
“How do you do it?” The words stumbled clumsily. “How can you do this work and see all this, every day, and not be consumed by the anger?” 
Without hesitation, Tess began, “*I* don’t do it. I offer up my day every morning to the One who can make a difference, and I leave the details up to God,” she paused but continued to look intensely at me. “I come to the Eucharist daily and let it heal me. And every night, I leave my anger, frustration, hopelessness, despair, right here, at the foot of the altar. I am not the maker, María, I am the instrument.”

With Tess, a mini-reunion of our University Catholic Center UFW group
at my daughter Michelle's wedding, July 2012

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

in honor of #NCSW, part one

National Catholic Sisters Week
Unlike many people my age, I did not experience the trauma and upheaval of the 1960s culture and the changing Catholic Church in the United States that many of my friends describe. 

My experience of the Church as a child was deeply Latin American, where the energy of the Second Vatican Council reforms and movements like Cursillo brought increased vitality and renewal to the parishes in Puerto Rico--and certainly to my own multi-generational, refugee home. 

I grew up surrounded by generous and devoted women and men, both lay and vowed religious. You can click here to read more about it -- and see more fun(ny) old photos of me!

My point is that I didn't know this was weird. How could I have known that other families didn’t have nuns and priests regularly in their homes and taking part of family activities?

On this Year of Consecrated Life, I've been pondering about just how graced I am to have a plethora of stories about sisters and nuns from my growing up--with many more from my youth and adult life. 

And now, as our children grow older and have children of their own, I see how our extended family continues to be deeply blessed by dedicated priests and faithful sisters and nuns.

So -- In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week I will focus on one special woman, my beautiful and inspiring heart sister, Sr. Tess Browne, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky.

Sr. Tess and I, 1992, at the
7th National Black Catholic Congress, New Orleans. I was covering it, she was attending!

Sr. Tess visiting our home, when our kids were in high school and middle school

A couple of years ago I wrote about Tess in an essay titled “Mi Hermana Tess,” published in a book that you may be interested in: "Thank you Sisters: Stories About Women Religious And How They Enrich Our Lives,"  (Franciscan Media).

Here's a snippet of my published essay, remembering when I first met Tess at the University of Texas Catholic Student Center, 35 (holy cow!) years ago. I was 19!
One day in the spring, my good friend and staff member Sister Anne, a Dominican from Houston, received a call from a Franciscan sister working in McAllen, Texas. She explained that a group from the United Farm Workers movement had come to Austin to speak to the convening Texas Legislature and to lobby on behalf of farm workers. 
They were looking for a place to stay for a few days and wanted to connect with college students at the Catholic Student Center who were interested in learning about their ministry. 
Sr. Marie-Therese Browne, or Tess, as she introduced herself, was a 37-year-old dynamo with a heart the size of Texas. She was a member of the Wisconsin chapter of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. A native of Trinidad, Tess and I immediately bonded as we joked and shared about our experience living in the states as Hispanic women from the Caribbean islands. 
But as Tess pointed out in her characteristic direct style in an accent laced by the Creole and French spoken in her island, as a Black woman Hispanic, “I have one up on you!”
More on Tess in my next post...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

what do You want of me?

If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor,
I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert for fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will:
What do You want of me?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
David pained
Or exalted high,
Jonas drowned,
Or Jonas freed:
What do You want of me?

Silent or speaking,
Fruitbearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting,
You alone live in me:
What do You want of me?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me?

~Teresa of Ávila,       
                                            from the poem “In the Hands of God”

Over the next few months I will publish here some of my favorite poems and writings in celebration of the 5th centenary of the birth of Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-2015)—a woman whose life, faith and candor has profoundly formed and influenced my faith journey!

[photo of floor mosaic:  St. John Neumann Catholic Church, Austin @SJNAustin]

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I want more

Misión la Purísima, southern California

It blows me away that we’re heading into the third weekend of Lent already.

And I am ashamed to confess that I haven’t been – or felt – very penitential so far this Lenten season.

If I’m honest with myself, there are certainly things that I could be doing different, or better, to “get into” Lent. I know, at least at some level, that there are abundant graces waiting for me in the work that discipline and sacrifice requires.

I’ve had a lot going on inside me since Lent began, but the reality is that what I’ve been feeling doesn’t feel very Lenten.  

I have felt, for example, unusually calm, peaceful. I find myself smiling at the simplest things or moments. And I’ve had more joy… about life, as it is, than I remember experiencing in a long time.

It doesn’t sound like Lent, does it? 

What I'm talking about doesn't have anything to do with a genuine Theology of Lent. I'm talking about that irrational part of me that thinks a good Lent has to be dark, difficult, and worklots of work.

Yet thankfully, in those moments of grace where I’ve been able to set aside my intense and perpetual Cuban-Catholic guilt –and that unrelenting voice that continually reminds me how much I messed up, or that I don’t do enough, or that I got it wrong, again, or that I am not enough, etc. etc. etc.—then I can humbly see that there is, indeed, one thing that I’m “working” on this Lent.

It’s not something you can see, or measure, or tally in any form.

It’s simple, really… I’m “working” on letting go... so that God can work in me. What does that look like?

I told Jesus in my Ash Wednesday prayers that I wanted more.  I want my relationship with Him to be more real, more genuine. I want my desire for Him to be more urgent. I want my prayer to be deeper. And I don’t want to be merely content with what has become my normal, no matter how good it looks or sounds from the outside. I want more.

I also acknowledged then—and many times since that Ash Wednesday prayer, that I realize that this is not something that I can do, or something that I can work for, or something that I can even shoot to acquire.

But I told Jesus that I want it anyway. This is my heart’s desire. And I told him that I’m willing to wait for Him.

My real work right now is to show up to prayer…

+     +     +     +

This past weekend I accompanied Michael on a work-trip to Malibu, a place I’ve grown to love more and more with each visit. 

At the risk of boring you with beach photos, I do want to share with you a few of my favorite pictures of that incredible southern California coastline... I hope you enjoy them!

[All photos © Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, 2015, 
taken with my iPhone 5s... I am a fan!]

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

wednesday wonder: God is today, a poem

God is Today 

God is today. 
He is not yesterday. 
He is not tomorrow.

God is the dawn, wakening earth to life; 
the first morning ever, 
shining with infinite innocence; a revelation 
older than all beginning, younger than youth. 
God is the noon, blinding the eye of the mind 
with the blaze of truth. 
God is the sunset, casting over creation 
a color of glory 
as He withdraws into mysteries of light.

God is today. 
He is not yesterday. 
He is not tomorrow. 
He never is night.

~Jessica Powers, Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit,

To learn more about Jessica Powers and her poetry, go here

beach scenes: Malibu, CA, 2014