Tag Archives: Ministry

Callings Are Vocational and Locational


I have a job interview tomorrow.  I could certainly use all of your prayers and positive thoughts!  You can scroll to the bottom for a career update, or keep reading for some additional reflections.

One of my first networking dates last summer was with my friend Andy.  We ran into each other at a mutual friend’s ordination, and we agreed to meet sometime after graduation.  Of course, neither of us knew that the week after graduation would find me searching for a new job!

It was quite fortuitous though, as Andy had recently made a significant and successful career transition.  On top of that, Andy is a compassionate listener, we share interests in both business and ministry, and he was full of great advice.

Andy’s best advice that evening was this: “Callings are vocational and locational.”

I’ve thought about this many times as I discern what’s next, especially when well-meaning friends send me job postings that would require me to relocate half way across the country!  I’ve received job postings from New York to Detroit to Southern California.  I am so grateful to everyone for thinking of me!

The reality though is that I have no desire to leave Chicago.  I’ve lived here for almost 20 years.  All of my closest friends are here, my church community(ies) are here, and I have a strong professional network in this area.  If I’m going to work regionally or nationally, Chicago is a great place to be located.  God continues to do amazing work through my life and relationships in this place.  It would take a pretty incredible opportunity for me to leave.

So, Andy’s little truism has been a great source of reflection as I’ve considered each opportunity that has crossed my path.

Callings are Vocational
The word vocation comes from the Latin ‘vocare’ to call – God calls upon our gifts, our skills, our passions.  God knows our life experience and our personalities.  God taps into our deepest desires, those things which bring us great joy and are life-giving to others.

My year at Amate House – teaching math at an all-girls’ high school in Chicago – was a vocational call.  It answered my passion for service, my propensity for numbers, my knack for teaching, and my desire to make a difference in the lives of young women through education.

It also took place in a very specific location, and East Humboldt Park looks very different today than it did 20 summers ago!

Callings are Locational
Similarly, God invites us to use our gifts in a particular place, with a particular group of people, and within certain geographical boundaries.  In other words, God is not random.  God uses us where we are.

Each year when I travel with students to Nicaragua, we have dinner with Fabretto’s president Kevin Marinacci.  Kevin spent a year in Nicaragua immediately following college.  One year turned into two, then two into three, and the rest is history!  Kevin has given his life to the people of Nicaragua for over 25 years.  And yet Kevin is the first one to tell our students, “You can serve anywhere!”  Whether it is Nicaragua or South Africa or the south side of Chicago.  The location is not nearly as important as responding to the call.  There will always be people in need, God simply asks us to respond wherever we are.

As I consider whether my next move is a vocational or locational call, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the things that give me life and spark renewed energy in me.  What about my vocation and location have always been true?  What “more” can I do for God either by staying here or risking something new?  Freedom is essential – an openness to God’s invitation and the willingness to discern without placing limits on God.

Here are some of the many things that have caught my attention:

I have a pilgrim’s heart and missionary feet.  Chicago has always been “mission territory” ever since I came here 20 years ago.   And yet, I now own a home in the city, my friends are here, I’ve put down roots.  In the midst of the job search, a colleague commented, “Beth, people around the Archdiocese know you.”  Chicago is clearly a locational call.

Meanwhile, another professional acquaintance asked, “Have you thought about being a missionary?”  I presume he meant becoming a missionary and moving to another country.  I replied, “I should really pay attention to this.”  On the one hand, I hear myself saying, “I could never leave Chicago.”  And the next day, I find myself searching online for language immersion programs in Central America.  Perhaps there is another locational calling that awaits.

I remember a conversation I had with a favorite Scripture professor, Barbara Bowe, who encouraged me to heed Jesus’ words, “Put out into deep waters!” (Luke 5:4)  It was her way of saying, “Don’t be afraid to go far, let yourself be stretched, and keep learning!”  My wonderful mentor Fr. Ken Simpson often reflects on that great line from the sending of the disciples “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” (Luke 10:4)  Fr. Ken’s advice was always, “Travel light so you can travel far.”  This is true for geographical travel, as well as following our life’s call.

Last fall, I interviewed for a position at a local parish.  It was both vocational (using my gifts) and locational (in a specific place), but for many reasons, it was not the right opportunity at the right time.  It would have been a safe and easy assignment at a time when I knew God was calling me to something more.  It was one of those very early moments of saying “no” in order to say a deeper “yes”.

Finally, one of my favorite prayer poems is Mario Benedetti’s “Te Quiero” – a love letter of sorts to those who commit their lives to serving God and God’s people.  I am often moved to tears by this stanza:

and for your open face
and your wanderer’s footstep
and your weeping for the world
because you are of the people I love you

I have an interview tomorrow.

It is an incredible job opportunity and a great career move!  I would be working for a Catholic organization for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration.  It would allow me to stay based in Chicago while making an impact on a much wider scale, and it aligns perfectly with my desire to live in greater solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Furthermore, it feels like a calling – an invitation to become more authentically who I am.  It is both a vocational and a locational call.  I’m pretty sure this is where God is inviting me next.  Please pray for the clarity to hear the call and the courage to say yes.

I am so grateful for your prayers of support and presence on the journey!


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Saying No In Order to Say A Deeper Yes

girl-playing-snowBack in the Fall, a friend of mine ventured this guess, “I bet anything that come February, you’re going to have four job offers, and you’ll have to decide which ones to decline!”

While I was flattered by her words of encouragement, I was also feeling quite lost in the wide open ocean of unemployment.  I was reluctant to believe the truth of what she knew from her own experience.  I was swimming around all sorts of interesting opportunities, but I had no real sense of direction.  While she had the clarity and foresight to know that good things were indeed on the horizon!

Fast forward a few months.  It is a new year with new writing projects on my plate.  I’m taking Spanish classes, while still routinely searching for jobs and coordinating networking dates.  In the past month, I have withdrawn from two potential job opportunities, eliminated a third option, and I’m continuing to pursue an exciting fourth.  My discernment radar is running overtime these days trying to read the “signs” of what’s ahead!

I’m learning a lot from allowing certain doors to close, and I’m trusting that each “no” is paving the path to a deeper and more profound “yes”.  Here are 4 things I’ve learned:

1. The Heart of the Matter
I really enjoyed this segment from the “On Being” blog by Courtney Martin. She uses the image of pruning and describes of spiritual art of saying “no” as essential to our very survival.

“You say no so you can say yes. It’s sad in the way that all limitations are, but also liberating. You are human and finite and precious and fumbling. This is your one chance to spend your gifts, your attention, most importantly your love, on the things that matter most.”

Every “no” along the way has helped me clarify what my heart truly desires.  I see it most prominently in my writing – in each request for an informational interview, every cover letter, all the points on my resume, and even when I have to explain why I am not pursuing a particular lead.

For so long, all I could see were the pieces on the cutting room floor.  I had no clear sense of where I was headed, but I knew for certain what I did NOT want to do.  Finally, like a sculptor, I’m beginning to see a clearer picture of what my future is becoming.  And much of that clarity has come from clearing away what no longer fits, letting go of what no longer belongs, and chipping away to the core of who I am – who I have always been.

All four opportunities – each one a distinct role within different organizations – fuel my passion for service and social justice, feed my desire to do meaningful work, combine my background in business and ministry, and open great possibilities for making an impact in the Church and in our world.

As it says in that beautiful prayer often attributed to Oscar Romero, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. It enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

2. No to Fear = Yes to True Spiritual Freedom
One of my favorite discernment exercises is a simple pro/con list, usually scribbled on the back of a recycled envelope, and later elaborated in my journal.  Not long ago, a friend connected me to a job that initially looked so good on paper!  However, there were red flags during the informational interview; and as I made my pro/con list, things became very clear.

When it comes to listing pros and cons, it’s not about “tipping the scale” in one direction or another.  Rather, this exercise is really about paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit within.  My list revealed a lot about where I am free to respond to God’s call and where I am stuck in fear.

One of the items on my pro-list was, “I am certain I can do this job really well!”  I laughed!  One would hope that I would apply for a job that puts my skills to good use, right?!  So, what’s really behind that comment?

As I pondered my own pro-list entries about “being able to do the job”, I recognized my own fears.  I don’t like asking for help.  I hate not knowing the answer.  I seriously dislike the awkwardness of the learning curve and those first few months of “being a beginner” that comes with any new job.   While being good at one’s job is important, I quickly realized my own need to address that “fear of failure”.

Directly across, over on the con-list side, I wrote, “No clear opportunities for growth or advancement; pretty sure I would be bored after a year.”  I knew immediately that God was calling me to something “more”.

The pro-list gave me a lot of fruit for prayer and discernment.  As for a new job, the con-items were much more compelling.  It did not take me long to realize that this was going to be a great opportunity … for someone else.

3. The Temptation to Do … Anything!  
There is a part of me that is really itching to get back into full-time employment.  To be honest, as much as I love the flexibility of being at home, I’m ready to go back to work.  In between the job search and freelance writing, I have been very lucky to see my family and spend uninterrupted time with friends.

But over the past month, I’ve caught myself in the temptation to “do anything” even if it’s not related to my career goals.  Recently, I was very tempted to say “yes” to a company that would have given me a short-lived ego boost, just to see their logo next to my name on my Linked In account!

Pride is a subtle thing.  Pride gets the best of us when our self-worth is defined by our work, by a job title, how much money we make, by the status of people who surround us, and by measuring how much we can accomplish in any given day or week.  A healthy sense of pride is not a bad thing!  One of my friends is fond of saying, “It takes a certain amount of ego-strength just to get out of bed in the morning!”  We begin to slip into unhealthy, even sinful pride when we place our own needs and egos above everything else.

One of the most fundamental definitions of vocation comes from Fred Beuchner.  “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hungers meet.”  Our vocation in life rests at the intersection of our deepest desire and the world’s greatest needs.

I’ve spent plenty of time reflecting on my skills, passions, and strengths.  As the “heart of the matter” has become clear, I find myself paying more attention to the world’s deepest needs, hurts, and hungers. Where is the world in need of my gifts?  I’m ready to give my heart full-time to meaningful work again, but it also means waiting for the right place and position to open up!

4. Who Do I Want to Become?  
I have a very wise mentor who often asks provocative questions for which I do not have all the answers.  Recently, she asked me, “Who do you want to be at 55?  What do you want to be known for when you retire?”  This was not a frivolous exercise of dreaming big.  Rather, it was her lead in to say, “This next job needs to be the first step towards who you want to become.”

I thought about her advice when I said “no” to an entry level role that would have been perfect for me ten years ago.  Similarly, I’ve declined roles that might be ideal in the future when I want to slow down and think about retirement.

Sometimes we approach discernment as if all these potential opportunities and decisions exist someplace far off in the distance, beyond our reach.  There is great value in “death bed” discernment, which considers the question, “How do I want to be remembered when my life is complete?”

But discernment also invites us to recognize the things that are unfolding before our very eyes.  Lately, I’ve been pondering, “How am I responding to the ways God is already at work in my life?”  Or as Tim Muldoon says in his introduction to his on-line Lenten retreat, “I invite you to reflect on the work God is doing in you and for the world through you.”

My discernment has been a tenuous balance between what is unfolding here and now, and how that relates to who I might become 15, 20, 25 years from now.  We need to do both!

I don’t know that either my friend or I could have predicted that I’d have four great opportunities arise all during the month of February!  But as the month comes to a close tonight, I’m excited to report that there are some pretty exciting things unfolding for me!

As I wait for new information to be revealed, I trust that all of these moments of saying “no” were in fact a clear and faith-filled “yes” to something better that is yet to come!

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Swallowing My Own Medicine

Sage advice for singles who have ever uttered the phrase, “My parish only cares about married couples and families.”
I had to swallow a big dose of my own medicine today, and it didn’t taste very good.  It’s easy to dole out advice to other singles when life is more-or-less put together!  My life has basically been turned upside-down the past 6 months. The result of which has left me searching for a new spiritual home.  Needless to say, it’s been a bit of an adjustment.

Given the demographics of my northside Chicago neighborhood, it would be easy to find a church with a large percentage of single people – even if that meant a little longer commute to Mass on Sunday morning.  It would be even easier for me to continuously “shop around” – hopping from one church to the next, week after week, without ever making a commitment to one particular church community.  Consistency and accountability are important to me, so church-hopping was not an option.  I had a few basic criteria (good preaching, decent music), but more than anything I wanted to find a church community close to home.

So, for the time being, I’ve landed at a large family friendly neighborhood parish.  It’s a short drive (or a long walk) impeded only by multiple one-way streets.  There is a sense of community and diversity that I find incredibly attractive.  The pastor is outgoing and personable; he remembers names and goes out of his way to introduce people to one another.  It’s not perfect (no place is), but it is a place that I find myself drawn to week after week.

Lately, however, I have found myself repeating that often-voiced single person’s complaint:  My parish only cares about married couples and families.  I never imagined that I would use that phrase to describe my feelings about the church!

I have to admit though, there are a LOT of families at my new parish, and they are blessed with a very active religious education program and a large Catholic school.  As I look around the church on Sunday, I know that I am not the only single person.  Yet despite all that is good about this place, I regularly resist the urge to grab a red magic marker and cross off every announcement in the bulletin that is specifically designed for families and circle the one or two options that are available for singles.

It happened again today, and this time I cried.  I noticed an announcement about an upcoming church fundraiser at a local pub (with the pastor and school principal as guest bartenders, no less!).  Finally, a chance to meet people in a fun social setting!  I couldn’t wait to get home and put the date on my calendar.  Once at home, I opened the bulletin again and noticed a detail I hadn’t previously seen.  RSVPs are to be turned in to the school office, and the response form also requested “your child’s homeroom number”.

Immediately, it became clear to me that this was a social event for parents, and my heart sank.

Sure, I could email the contact person and ask if non-parents are welcome.  It would not be difficult for me walk an RSVP form over to the school office, and I could simply mark “N/A” in that spot inquiring about whether or not I have a child in the school.  Perhaps I’m being foolish for overthinking this, and maybe it’s clear to everyone else that this event is open to all parishoners.  But as a new-comer, it’s really not clear WHO is invited.

(And seriously, if it is open to everyone in the parish, then why do you need a homeroom number?!  Retired people don’t have a homeroom number … neither do single people, or young couples with babies, or couples without children, or families who choose to send their kids to public school, or older adults whose children have graduated! Argh!!! Sorry, end of rant.)

PA280024What I’m realizing, for the first time, is that community is not automatic.  Showing up for Mass is not enough.  Meeting people takes a lot of work, and truly getting to know a person takes consistent effort.  Furthermore, the fruits of those labors are not immediate.  I’ve exchanged friendly good-morning greetings with dozens of people over the past 4 months.  But knowing names does not constitute community, and seeing the same person three weeks in a row does not make you friends.

The perfectionist in me, the part of me that hates being a beginner, quickly grows frustrated.  I keep telling myself that those with a vocation to the single life have a unique role to play in the church.  In theory, I believe this.  In reality, I’m struggling to know how to do this.  At one point, I even thought, “someone should really write a book about … oh, yea… this.”

So, it’s time to swallow some of my own medicine on the subject.


Years ago, my wise older sister and her family moved to a new city, and she developed 3 simple criteria in their search for a new parish – prayer, participation, and presence.  I think the same criteria applies to singles looking to find their place in a family-friendly parish.

1. PRAYER: Is this a place where I can pray well and feel connected to God?  Do I experience God’s presence in the physical space, as well as during the liturgical celebration?

I have to remind myself that church is not about what I get out of it – this isn’t a concert! It’s not about “feeling good” when I leave.  The purpose of our communal prayer is to give glory and praise to God!  We praise God by our singing, by our active participation, by our attentive listening, by greeting one another with a sign of hospitality upon entering, by sharing with one another a sign of Christ’s peace, by receiving Christ reverently in the Eucharist.  We praise God in all these ways.

So, as a single person, how do I praise God when I am constantly distracted by the chatter of small children?

Well, I certainly have a much greater appreciation for family dynamics after spending time with my siblings and their kids!  I’ve been the doting aunt standing at the back of church with a two-year-old who cannot sit still.  And it’s given me a tremendous amount of compassion for parents who are raising their children in the church.

Perhaps my greatest gift as a single person is to welcome, acknowledge, and empower the presence of families – especially those for whom Sunday morning can be a struggle.

Last week, I was well aware of the family of four sitting behind me.  Yet, despite their fair share of squirming and parental hushing, these two grade-school aged youngsters belted out every single word of the Lord’s Prayer with tremendous gusto!  (I found it delightfully humorous, because they reminded me so much of my nephews!)  At the sign of peace, one parent politely apologized for their kids’ antics.  I don’t remember my response, but I’m sure it was something like, “You have a beautiful family, and I’m really glad you’re here!”

Finally, I have to admit that I much prefer extended periods of silent prayer – which is not always possible at a busy parish on Sunday morning.  So, I experiment with different mass times.  I take advantage of time spent at home reading the Sunday scriptures.  Being in a large city, I know the secret hiding places where I can find a quiet prayer space during the week.  Sunday morning liturgy isn’t about me (see comments above); it’s about “us” being the body of Christ together.  The more I attend to my need for quiet time and personal prayer, the better I am able to be joyfully present and appreciative of our entire church family on Sunday.

2. PARTICIPATION: Does the church welcome participation in the liturgy, especially from women, children, lay people, families, single people, young adults, new comers, etc.? Are there opportunities for fellowship, catechesis, faith-sharing, social justice programs, etc.?  Is this a place where I could see myself participating in some way? 

I gave a presentation for singles at a parish several years ago.  During the Q&A, a woman raised her hand and insisted “there is nothing here for singles.”  I was grateful that the Director of Faith Formation was in the room.  She quickly pointed out that most events were open to the entire parish and very few things were exclusively for couples.  Sometimes, it is really a matter of perception.

I find that I need to be brutally honest about what I notice.  As I glance through the Sunday bulletin, the options for families are quickly apparent – religious education for children, a monthly family mass, marriage retreats, a spotlight on one of the teachers.  Sometimes my bitterness makes me blind, and I miss what’s right there in front of me – a book club, bible study, women’s group, food pantry volunteers, garden club, music ministry, a pilgrimage, retreat programs, etc..  If you find yourself saying there is “nothing” here for singles, look again.  Or better yet, look for opportunities to create something for singles.

3. PRESENCE: Am I called from here to be the presence of Christ for others? Are there opportunities for outreach to the community, the poor, and the wider church? 

It’s tempting for me to look at my current situation and say, “I’m not getting anything out of this” and go someplace else.  But then, I know I would be missing out on everything this great multi-generational church has to teach me.  And to be honest, they would be missing out on what a generous single woman like me has to give!  Being new, I sometimes have to remind myself of the most basic things:

Show up!  Do something that requires no commitment other than to be present.  Donuts and coffee after mass is a great example.  It doesn’t get any easier than this!  Grab a cup of coffee, say hello to people, and trust that God is at work in bringing you together.  Building community takes time, but you have to take the first step.

Volunteer!  The possibilities are endless: the food pantry, the choir, bible study, visiting the homebound.  Meet people, ask their names, ask if they live in the area, and ask how long they’ve been members here.  In turn, share something about yourself and give people a chance to get to know YOU.

Remember, you belong here!  The body of Christ includes all of us!  That’s true for men, women, children, teens, families, single parents, widows, divorced, vowed religious, gay, straight, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, the uber-pious, the biker gang members (yes, there was a tattooed motorcycle gang at church a few weeks ago!), believers, beginners, the hopeful, the doubtful, the lost and the found, all of us!

Each person brings a unique set of gifts, life experiences, ways of prayer … and single people in particular, at whatever age and stage in life, bring a unique vantage point.

I guess the primary reason I’m committed to staying here is because I can answer YES to those three questions.  Yes, I pray well there – it is a beautiful space, where I continue to feel drawn in.  Yes, I participate there – and I’m especially looking forward to the garden club convening again this spring!  Yes, I’m called forth to be Christ’s presence from there.

If you ask me where I experience the presence of Christ most profoundly these days, it’s at the dining room table (an altar of sorts?) of my best friends – where we have shared copious amounts of bread and wine, simple home-cooked meals, endless cups of coffee, and a lot of gelato!  My friends are endlessly exhausted with raising 3 kids under the age of three.  Their constant refrain is, “It really does take a village, and we’re so grateful that you’re part of ours….”

The “church” I experience in their home is messy, imperfect, filled with laughter, and sometimes interrupted by a toddler announcing she needs to use the potty.  My best friend’s willingness to listen, ask tough questions, and her ability to accept me for who I am is unsurpassed!  We don’t expect each other to be perfect, and we manage to bring out the best in each other even on our worst days.

The time I spend with my friends reminds me that the presence of Christ which I experience on Sunday in this beautiful, imperfect, holy place called “church” truly does prepare me for being and experiencing the presence of Christ in the world.


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Reflections on the Installation Mass

What an honor to serve at the Installation Mass of Chicago’s Ninth Archbishop, Blase Cupich and to wish the best to Francis Cardinal George as he begins a much deserved retirement after 17 years.   There are so many stories to share!

Let me start by saying, I’ve taken the Red Line train to Holy Name Cathedral dozens of times!  Tuesday morning, I was so excited/nervous that I got off the train one stop too soon.  And I was so exhausted on the way home that I went two extra stops before I realized that it was time to get off!  (I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there someplace.)  Needless to say, it was a really incredible day!

Amanda Thompson, Christina Bax, Beth Knobbe, Sarah Balough

Altar Servers: Amanda Thompson, Christina Bax, Beth Knobbe, and Sarah Balough

How Did This Happen? 
Almost a month ago, I received a phone call from the Office for Divine Worship.  They had recently met with Bishop Cupich to discuss the installation ceremonies.  Bishop Cupich specifically requested both men and women altar servers at the Installation Mass on November 18.  There would be four women and four seminarians represented.  Would I be willing and available to serve?

I said YES immediately for two reasons. First, I grew up in Nebraska, as did Bishop Cupich.  (Although, I don’t think ODW knew about this!)  I did not know the Bishop, but there is a comradery that exists among Nebraskans in Chicago, and I wanted to show my support. Second, I’m kind of a church-nerd, and I really wanted to be there! Seriously, how else does one get a front row seat for a Mass like this?!  (Unless of course, you’re the Mayor, and even he was seated in Row 7.)

Honestly, in the excitement of meeting our new Archbishop, the significance of women altar servers had been lost on me.  As one of my seminary classmates, now at a church on the East coast, quipped to me afterwards, “this would never happen in my Diocese!”

What Was It Like?
The mass was wonderful – beautiful, prayerful, lively, humorous, spirit-filled!  You can watch the procession and listen to the homily online.  As a matter of fact, I should go back and watch it myself!  There was a pillar blocking my view of the Cathedra, so while I could hear everything just fine, I could not see any of the ceremony!

It was liturgy with style and grace at its very best!  I found myself repeating the refrain of my favorite liturgy professor, “Hold holy objects with reverence and care.”  In other words, don’t drop the candle and don’t trip on the stairs!

In some ways, the Mass itself was not all that different.  And yet, this Mass was incredibly significant!  It was one of those grand occasions where I’m tempted to impart meaning on every minor detail.  With all the pomp and circumstance, everything seemed so much larger than life.  I will try not to embellish too much!

A Spirit of Welcome! 
On the day the Church installed a new Archbishop, “welcome” was an overriding theme!  There was an atmosphere of welcome and inclusion that I hope to hold onto for a long time.  To be honest, being welcoming and inclusive is not something that the Church has always done well, and I think we still have a long way to go.  There are moments from this day that I will truly treasure.

When the altar servers gathered in the sanctuary for rehearsal, instinctively and without prompting, there began a round of introductions.  Everyone made sure that names had been shared – Andy, Adam, Beth, Christina, Fr. Matt, Fr. Brad, Juan, Michael, Amanda, and Sarah.

Beth, Christina, Fr. Ken

Beth, Christina, Fr. Ken

As we waited for Mass to begin, the atmosphere in the sacristy was like a gathering of old friends – priests, deacons, lay men and women, seminarians.  There were hugs and handshakes, conversations about parish meetings, and genuine concerns expressed about the recent school closings.

Women serving on the altar is not something you see every day – and certainly not at the installation of a bishop!  If anyone objected to our presence, no one said it.  Not with their words or their body language.  As a matter of fact, I heard “thank you” a lot – thank you for being here, thank you for serving, thank you for all that you do.  I heard this from priests and laypeople alike.

After mass, I ran into a priest who I’ve met many times.  He is a very faithful and capable priest, but his demeanor is rather … stiff.  It is easy to mis-read his cues as unfriendly.  When we passed each other in the sacristy, he exuded the warmest smile and most friendly greeting that we have ever exchanged!  On this day, in particular, that one encounter meant a lot!

Other Things You Didn’t See on TV
This is a fabulous picture! I find it funny, because the high-def photography makes it appear as if Cardinal O’Malley is standing immediately behind us.  He was easily 8-10 feet away!


Christina, Beth, Bishop Sean O’Malley (background), and Bishop Blase Cupich

During the hand washing, I kept thinking about my Sacraments class and various lectures on liturgical symbols – symbols make real what they signify, so make sure they’re done well.  I used a lot of water!!

I also took a good, long look at Bishop Cupich’s hands.  Hands carry a history, hands tell a story.  My grandma had hands that were strong enough to carry a crate of calf bottles and knuckles big enough to knead bread dough.  Bishop Cupich has hands that are soft yet well-worn with age and wisdom.  Hands that have surely baptized babies and anointed the elderly. Hands that will touch a lot of lives here in Chicago.  Christina and I also both noted how he looked us in the eye during the rite.  He has these piercing blue eyes, set deep into his face – inviting people in and reading everything around him.

At the sign of peace, we turned to greet those around us.  One of the bishops, sitting in the area near us, walked over and said, “I’ve never seen altar servers SMILE for the entire liturgy!”

Also during communion, one of our fellow altar servers, Juan Ramirez, sang every verse and refrain of the hymn Pescadores de Hombres without ever opening the worship aid.  As I turned to look at him, I could see all the bishops seated behind us – not exactly the epitome of ethnic diversity.

The liturgical ministers (readers, greeters, ushers, musicians) represented the breadth of the church of Chicago.  Prayers of the Faithful were recited in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Ojibway, Croation, Italian, and Tagalog.  I enjoyed the shouts of “Vive!” in response to Bishop Cupich’s greetings in Spanish.  It made me long for a day when our bishop’s conference is a wider representation of the people of God.

Finally, what does all this mean?

Christina, Blase, Beth

Christina and I meeting Bishop Cupich at the reception.

I am sure there are people for whom this change in administration is more than a little nerve wracking.  Change is always hard, and I’m sure those changes will be coming soon.  It was great to be a part of the excitement and anticipation of something new.


I’ve been through more transitions than I care to remember in recent years!  I’ve seen how leaders set the tone for an organization.  We pick up cues about what is acceptable, what is preferred.  I see how young people mimic the work of their mentors, until they begin to find their own way.  If this Installation Mass is any indication of what is to come, then what a great example for others to follow!

Is Bishop Cupich sending a message?  To paraphrase his first press conference, I think Pope Francis has sent us a pastor.  Bishop Cupich recently had this to say about women in the church:

The church must engage the larger issue of women and begin by listening to women them­selves…. This is a very big knot that needs attention and it will not be untied lec­turing women, and it will not be solved unless men in authority in the church clearly and deeply understand that there is a very great difference between the way women approach things and the way men approach things.  (Talking About Faith to a Skeptical World in a Secular Age)

If Bishop Cupich is serious about listening to the needs and concerns of women, then inviting women to serve at the table of the Lord is certainly a good place to start!  What a joy to witness and participate in this new beginning.


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The Gifts We Thought We Didn’t Need

Last night, we celebrated my final farewell at the Sheil Catholic Center.  There have been many opportunities to say good-bye to people one-on-one, but it was important to see students in this “official” capacity one last time. Thanks to everyone who joined us, for your kind words, and making the night special!  These were my remarks.

Gift Box

I have a favorite quote from Will Willimon, a professor and former dean of the Divinity School at Duke University. Willimon says:

This is often the way God loves us:  with gifts we thought we didn’t need
which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.

I’m really grateful to be back at Sheil tonight for this official farewell. As many of you know, I left Sheil very unexpectedly at the end of June. Since then I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling, seeing family, and catching up with friends and professional colleagues. Two quick stories:

I have a friend who just turned 40. She and her husband recently learned that she is pregnant-again. Needless to say, having another baby was not part of their “plan”.  She said to me, “We weren’t ready for this!  But by the grace of God and a lot of prayer, we realize what a GIFT this new life is for our family.”  This is often how God loves us, with gifts we thought we didn’t need ….

I have another friend, a professional acquaintance, who runs a ministry for homeless people who struggle with addictions. I asked him, “How exactly did you get to be director of such a great organization?” He laughed to himself and said, “I spent the first three years out of college binge drinking and couch surfing. I finally grew up, got sober, and someone gave me a second chance. I’m not proud of the mistakes I made, but by the grace of God I’m still sober. And 25 years later I have a tremendous amount of compassion for those who are homeless and struggling to overcome their addictions.”  God often gives us gifts we think we don’t need that transform us into people we never expected to be…

As I look back at 10 years of ministry at Sheil, I am incredibly grateful for all of it. There were plenty of moments along the way, where I thought to myself, “I’m not ready for this! And this wasn’t part of the plan! And I’m not always proud of the mistakes I made.” But this is often the way God loves us… 

As a campus minister I was invited into some really holy and privileged conversations with students. Students changing majors or discerning vocations, thinking about getting engaged or deciding to break up, the student who got accepted into graduate school and the one who didn’t, when a grandparent died or a mom was diagnosed with cancer, or sitting with a student in the hospital and the RA who had to call 911 over the weekend. All of this in the midst of classes, athletics, music recitals, and theatre productions. And retreats, small groups, service trips, and everything else that happens at Sheil.

It is really incredible to be with people in moments of joy and celebration and in times of heartache and confusion.  Every conversation, every service trip, every retreat, every event on campus, every moment of silence in the chapel is a gift that- welcome or not- God is using to transform us.  And I am certain that God is using all of this to transform me and prepare me for what is next!

In leaving Sheil, there is one thing that I have been reminded of over and over again – and that is how incredibly faithful God is. God has gifted this community with his presence, and God has given you (given us) the gift of one another.  I am confident that good things will continue to happen in my life, and in yours, and in the life of Sheil Catholic Center.

Thank you for letting me be a part of it for the past 10 years.  What a gift!

(Photo from Flickr Creative Commons)

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Single Christian Ministers

An excellent post by Dan Horan, OFM on his blog “Dating God”. Check it out!  Vocation or Deficiency? Single Christian Ministers

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In memory of Barbara Bowe, RSCJ

One week ago, the Catholic community lost an important teacher, mentor, and biblical scholar.  Sr. Barbara Bowe, RSCJ returned home to God last Sunday, March 14, 2010.  I knew Barbara as professor, advisor, and travel companion.  A kind spirit with a sharp intellect and a deep love for sacred scripture, Barbara was a genuine teacher who truly cared about her students. 

I think Barbara would have whole-heartedly supported this project on the single life, and it is for this reason I miss her most today.

Upon graduating from Catholic Theological Union in 2007, I had the great privilege of traveling with a group of students to the Holy Land.  Barbara served as tour guide and retreat master for this two-week pilgrimage.  One of the highlights of the trip was our stop at the Jordan River where we took time to remember our baptismal promises.  Barbara invited each of us to voice in our own words, the promises made at our baptism and to reaffirm our commitment to ministry.  This opportunity to share my “call story” was a defining moment for me as I truly accepted God’s invitation to preach, teach, and lead others in a gospel way of life.

Several weeks after the trip, I received an email from Barbara thanking me for my participation and inquiring about the statement I voiced during our prayer service at the Jordan River.

My reason for connecting is to tell you how much I enjoyed being with you in Israel I was particularly moved, Beth, by your sharing at our baptismal renewal at the Jordan at Yardenit … and something you said that day makes me want to say to this — if religious life is a viable option to consider in your future — I would be happy to talk with you and have you consider the Religious of the Sacred Heart.  If that option is not even remotely on your computer screen … then it is our loss.

I was flattered and grateful for her invitation.  It was not the first time, and surely will not be the last time, that someone suggested I consider religious life.  Barbara extended this invitation with absolute sincerity and without any expectation of what my response should or ought to be.  In return, I felt completely free to be honest with her.  I explained that with much prayer and discernment, I have found a tremendous and ever deepening call to life as a single person.  While I continue to hold open the possibility of religious life, and even marriage, I don’t see either one of those happening anytime soon.  Several weeks later, I received an equally generous and affirming reply. 

Your clarity of mind and heart speaks volumes of a spirit-filled call to be who you are.  Who could wish anything other for our friends?  Of course, I am happy to be a sounding board for you at any point as you continue to respond to God’s action in your life. 

Barbara’s invitation for further conversation crossed my mind many times over these past two and half years.  Life gets busy.  School, travel, and work took up both our time, and our conversation never took place.  Our last email exchange occurred in late September 2009. 

Barbara agreed to write a short blurb for the back cover of my first book Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective.  When I wrote to express my thanks, she confessed to only skimming the manuscript and looked forward to reading the entire work.  She was dealing with a variety of health challenges and decided to take a medical leave for the Fall semester.  A few weeks later she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. 

I wish Barbara were here to see this next project into fruition.  My desire to write a book on the single life is the result of much discernment and flows from that same call about which Barbara and I briefly spoke.  There is so much more to be said, and I wish she were here to listen. 

In Barbara’s own words, I wish to express my hope for anyone who stumbles upon this blog and the book that will follow.  To all those who wonder about what it means to be single and how this fits into God’s call for your life:  May God grace you with the clarity of mind and heart that speaks volumes of a spirit-filled call to be who you are.  Who could wish anything other for our friends?

Thank you Barbara for believing in God’s unique call to each one of us, for creating the space to bless and affirm that call, and for inviting countless students to discover the holy places where God dwells.  May you rest in peace.

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