“Women’s Cry” exhibit
By Tammy Townsend Denny. TI Executive Director
A new exhibition recently opened at St. Peter’s Square in Rome called “Women’s Cry.” The online publication Aleteia reports:
“Organized by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), in collaboration with the Dicastery for Communication, the exhibition seeks to give visibility to women from the world’s peripheries, whose portraits are accompanied by quotes from Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti.”
I encourage you to watch this three-minute video about the “Women’s Cry” exhibit and to reflect on the images. As Theresians, we have dedicated ourselves to being women in support of women. How does “Women’s Cry” call to you about supporting women around the world?
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
On May 14, we will celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States, a day to honor and recognize all the mothers in our lives. But for some of us, motherhood and Mother’s Day are complicated! And messy!
I agree with author Anne Lamott who says Mother’s Day “feels incomplete and imprecise.” The day seems to forget those who are mourning miscarriages, infertility, or death. It loses sight of birth mothers who place a child for adoption and foster parents who open their hearts and homes to other people’s children. It fails to adequately honor those who are caring for a child with mental or physical illness. And it does nothing for those who are caring for a parent. It misses grandparents and stepparents and aunts and uncles and dads and cousins and friends and teachers who do so many mom duties – if mom duties can even be defined. It forgets those who never knew their moms, those who have been abandoned or abused by their moms, and those who have moms (or children) who are incarcerated.
Mother’s Day feels awkward for many of us.
A few months back, a good friend called me in tears. Her stepson didn’t want her to attend a parent event at his school. He wanted his mom there, not his stepmom.
I shared with her my stepparenting experiences, recalling moments when I cleaned up, picked up, supported, calmed, cheered, cringed, and cried for my husband’s daughters. Yet, I have never been invited to be at their schools’ parent-teacher conferences or acknowledged in any sort of parenting role with them. That is because my husband’s two daughters have a mom. And it isn’t me, even though I sometimes do mom-like things for them.
The stepparenting experience, as awkward as it is, has taught me a lot about humility. I try to do the right things and be of service when I can even if my efforts may be rejected. I reminded my friend to do the same.
If this Mother’s Day feels incomplete and imprecise for you, you’re not alone. It’s a wonky kind of day.
I encourage you to spend some time praying with Eve or Mary or Mother Earth, if that sort of prayer speaks to you. I invite you to join me in letting go of the expectations and envy of flowers, chocolates, and overpriced brunch at overcrowded restaurants. Instead, embrace the support of women throughout the ages who have mothered us into being in all the complexity and messiness of life.
P.S. If you would like to recognize or remember a mothering influence in your life, consider making a donation to the Theresian Foundation with a “Celebrate Life” gift. Click here to donate. We will send the person of your choice a card acknowledging the gift.
Did you know that there is a very easy way to share the gift of Theresians with the world? Simply wear your Theresian membership pin to church, to the grocery store, or on a trip. It’s a small way to show that you are part of a global ministry of women in support of women.
If you have misplaced your pin or if you never received one, you can order pins online here.
I challenge you this summer to wear your pin when you’re out and about in the world, especially when you travel! You might be surprised to find Theresians you’ve never met!
P.S. Send the TI office photos of yourself wearing your membership pin in the world! We would especially love photos when you discover other Theresians on your journeys! Photos can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tammy Townsend Deny, TI Executive Director
There is a bit of scripture that has always confused me. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, we hear Jesus calling out before his death, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
For years, I struggled to understand why the authors of Matthew and Mark would attribute this cry of seeming desperation to our Redeemer. Why would Jesus say God had abandoned him? It didn’t make sense to me.
Maybe you already know this, but I only recently learned that Jesus’ dying words in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are the first lines of Psalm 22. This psalm is a lament that begins in hopelessness but ends in faith that our Creator is always with us.
The message in Matthew and Mark is not one of hopelessness, but rather one of hope. God, our Creator, is always with us. Every one of us. Even in moments when we feel abandoned, and the world does not make sense.
Jesus’ words on the cross have been on my heart lately as I try to make sense of a tragedy that our parish community recently experienced. A dear member of our church was killed by her mentally ill son. A leader in the parish, Beata organized retreats and led small faith communities. She radiated a Christ-like kindness and generosity, even as she faced the challenges of caring for an adult child with mental illness. Beata touched a lot of lives. And her death has stirred up emotional memories for me.
Nearly 30 years ago, my oldest brother was killed in a random act of violence by two men who were battling their own demons. Like Beata, my brother Ed was a kind and gentle soul who overflowed with generosity – one of the truly good people in this world. His death, Beata’s death, and the countless other violent deaths of truly good people make no sense to me. I am lamenting: God, have you abandoned us?
As I reflect on these tragedies and violence, I am also reminded of Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” We are called to forgive as we are forgiven. But forgiveness is a challenging process.
I’ve been told that one of the paths to forgiving someone is to pray for that person, asking for everything I would want for myself to be given to them.
With that in mind, I would like to ask a favor. This week, would you join me in praying for Beata’s son Michal? May he know God’s redemptive love and peace. And would you also pray with me for love and peace for David and Jason, the two men serving life in prison without parole for my brother’s death?
Let’s allow our lament to grow into faith in God’s loving presence. Through our collective prayers, may “the generation to come… proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought” (Psalm 22:32).
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, I encourage you to seek help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource: www.nami.org or 800-950-6264.
Letter from Australia
Dear Sister Theresians,
Greetings from Down Under! It is my turn to write to you from Sunraysia Theresians in Australia!
Our Sunraysia Theresians met up for our monthly meeting last week at the home of Theresian Frances. We are very blessed that Frances leads our group, and we love sharing her home with her and her very quirky cat. He’s not that keen that we take up his mum’s time and is often very vocal about it. He sometimes even plonks himself in the middle of the table to ensure he is noticed.
Val led us in prayer as we focused on “Community,” one of the Theresians Five Dimensions. We reflected on the qualities that we admire, respect, and cherish in our own community.
As our planned speaker was unavailable, it was fitting with our theme of Community to hear from Frances about her migration to Australia as a child from her homeland – Scotland, and of her faith journey along the way. Frances came to Australia by boat at a time when the Australia government was encouraging Europeans to migrate to our beautiful country and help increase our workforce. The travel cost of ten pounds under the assisted passage program saw many take up the offer and migrant hostels were set up to house our “new Australians” until they moved into the community.
In Scotland, Frances had attended the Church of Scotland and enjoyed the social side of attending services. In Australia, she attended several different denominational churches before she met her soon to be husband, Karl, who was a Catholic. Frances’ family was concerned that she might become a Catholic – which was quite normal during those times when even Christian churches were not inclusive. (Thankfully those days are a thing of the past here in Australia).
There was no expectation that Frances convert to Catholicism but it was something she chose to do just before her marriage. She has had a very interesting journey from a young girl in chilly Scotland, to living in the city in Melbourne, to marrying Karl Sabo (whose family had come from Yugoslavia) and living and working on a dried fruit property in the Mallee, one of the hottest parts of Northwest Victoria. Frances’ husband passed away in 2015 and she continues to be a great support for her son Paul who has significant injuries as the result of a severe car accident which happened over 30 years ago.
It was lovely to listen to the life journeys of our sister Theresian and we are very grateful to be a small part of it!
Sending all our love from your Aussie Theresian sisters!
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
At an ordinary Sunday Mass a few months ago, I was sitting with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, trying to refuel and reconnect for the week ahead. It was a typical Mass. Nothing unusual, until the pastor began his homily. As his words grew, my God bubble burst. The pastor’s message was not one of Jesus’ love, but rather one of judgment and condemnation. I wanted to raise my hand and say, “Excuse me, but what about love?”
I know not all homilies will be good. Some are boring. Some are hard to understand. Some may not be a message for me. When that happens, I know to focus on the crucifix and try to remember the real reason I am there.
But this homily from this pastor, and a few of his subsequent messages, have left me deeply saddened and frustrated. I feel anger – soul-level anger. I even questioned if I converted to the wrong faith. Why did you call me here, God?
On Palm Sunday this past week, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend Mass at a different church during a quick weekend getaway. In the heart of downtown Chicago, a city of over 2.5 million people, at a parish that serves thousands of families, we were welcomed with a warmth I was craving. We could feel Jesus’ redeeming love in the air. The message from the pastor and from everyone we encountered was one of love. I left Mass feeling enriched, engaged, and connected, even though we were complete strangers among strangers.
The experience reminded me of a chapter I recently read by Catholic theologian William Cavanaugh called “Pilgrim People.”* In this piece, he says, “Salvation history is a comic love story...” He goes on to write, “Attraction to the Christian life occurs when one can see a concrete community of people living out salvation, living reconciled and hopeful lives in the midst of a violent world… The church is meant to be that community of people who make salvation visible for the rest of the world.”
Why am I telling you all of this during the Easter Triduum? I’m not completely sure. Maybe it is to be honest that sometimes I find church and community challenging. But, yet I am always totally and completely amazed when I encounter a community of people who are living this cosmic love story in visible ways with arms opened wide.
My hope is that this Easter you find opportunities to experience the cosmic love story of redemption, that you are welcomed into your community (family, church, and Theresians) with loving warmth, and that you become a witness of Christian hope and love in our violent world.
P.S. *If you are interested in reading Cavanaugh’s “Pilgrim People,” it is in the book Gathered for the Journey: Moral Theology in Catholic Perspective” (2007), David Matzo McCarthy & M. Therese Lysaught, eds.
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
This week I would like to share with you the first of three videos featuring Theresians sharing about how they find hope for the future.
Please feel free to share this video with your Theresian community and with friends who might be interested in Theresians.
I also invite you to pray about how your Theresian community helps you find hope for the future.
by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
As I mentioned in an earlier reflection, I have committed to reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation this Lent. Each day over my morning cup of coffee, I read one chapter from the book, sometimes splitting longer chapters into two readings. Merton in small sips is much easier to digest!
In the chapter “A Body of Broken Bones,” Merton offers a definition of natural law that really spoke to me recently. He writes:
“…natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves.”
He goes on to explain that “the plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other [humans] as if they were [humans]. Not to act as if I alone were a [human], and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.”
He says that we “must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires” and that we must do this even when someone is not of “the same class, the same profession, the same race, the same nation.” Most importantly, Merton says we must share this love “even to groups that are regarded as hostile.”
Merton’s words remind me a lot of Theresians International’s commitment to being a Partnership of Equals. Written by Theresian Anne Murphy, who passed away in February, this statement says:
“We are a Partnership of Equals: no one stands in front, no one stands behind, no one stands above, no one stands below. We are a Partnership of Equals.”
It is easy to be in partnership with those who look like us, act like us, and believe like us. But what about those we regard as hostile? Do we treat those who are not like us as animals or a piece of furniture, ignoring their needs and wants? Or are we truly committed to being a Partnership of Equals?
As you contemplate these questions, I invite you to watch this short (2:21 minute) video “Eating Twinkies With God.” (For those not familiar with Twinkies: Twinkies are a small sponge cake with a creamy filling that are produced and sold by a major food manufacturer in the United States.)
I challenge you this Lent to see God in the smiles – and even the frowns -- of every person you encounter, especially those who are not like you! And maybe put a few Twinkies in your purse for sharing.
Review of The Theresian Story: Women in Support of Women
Review of The Theresian Story: Women in Support of Women by Elwood C. Voss, Patricia Mullen and others, eds. by Gail Murphy Schneider, Women at the Well Community, Dubuque, Iowa
As a Theresian, you probably know quite a bit about our patron, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. But do you know the history behind this beautiful organization of which you are a part?
In 1961, Msgr. Elwood C. Voss, then a priest in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, had an idea. He realized that although women in the church were quite involved in doing things for others, there was something lacking – an organization that existed FOR those same women.
Msgr. Voss’ idea began with a group of 32 women in Pueblo in 1961 and has since grown into an international organization. In 1986, Msgr Voss, along with Patricia Mullen, wrote a history of Theresians: The Theresian Story. The book was updated in 1996.
I encourage you to read The Theresian Story to learn more about Msgr. Voss and the women who played a role in the history of Theresians. The book is available to download as a PDF or you can contact the Theresian office about purchasing a copy.
A personal note: I was never privileged to meet Msgr. Voss. After my first regional conference, I sent Msgr. Voss a card and note, expressing my gratitude to him for having the wisdom and foresight to start this wonderful organization for women. In return, he sent me a brief note thanking me and telling me that he was in a retirement home with a rare illness that had no cure, but that he was at peace and anxious to go to God. He signed it “Love, Woody”. Msgr. Voss died just a few months later.
Review of Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Review of Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux by Bridget Hilbe, Spiritual Springs Community, Richmond, Texas
When I became a Theresian 12 years ago, I actually knew very little about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As I read about St. Thérèse, I had difficulty relating to her life. Quite frankly, Thérèse never had to worry about earning a living, maintaining a loving relationship with a husband, caring for children and elderly family members, and navigating the pitfalls of our material, high tech, complicated world. Thérèse’s circle was so small, with very few distractions. Her young life was one of privilege, of course she would have time for quiet meditations, devotion and focus on loving our Lord. You know how it is, the more you read and learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know or understand. It wasn’t until I went to the Theresian National Conference in New Orleans, LA in 2018, that I found a way to relate to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and more fully understand and attempt to apply her little way directly into my daily life.
While at the 2018 National Conference I had the opportunity to meet and hear author Heather King speak. At that conference, I was introduced to Heather’s book Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Heather was the keynote speaker at that conference. Heather’s book pairs her conversion from a former life as an attorney, alcoholic, a self-described “bar-fly” (from her book Stumble), non-religious person into a celibate, contemplative author, obedient and devoted practicing Catholic. Spending a year with St. Thérèse, Heather adeptly elaborates on the human crosses and everyday annoyances that distract all of us from giving ourselves fully and completely over to the service and love of the Divine. By using examples from Thérèse’s life journey of devotion and love, Heather shares examples from her own journey of faith. Heather speaks honestly and frankly to the questions, distractions, and barriers we all put up when trying for a deeper life of faith, love and devotion.
Sometimes it is the little annoyances in life that we focus on, distracting us from loving fully. In Shirt of Flame, Heather King relates how, by practicing St, Thérèse’s Little Way, we can move past those annoyances that bring about their own barriers to love and kindness. Heather uses the story of the nun that sat behind Thérèse at choir clicking her rosary against her teeth making a distracting, annoying sound. Instead of saying something to the nun, “Thérèse realized that the more charitable act would be to pretend that the sound was music to Christ’s ears and endured the annoyance in silence.” Heather provides additional examples from her life, thus helping me to relate and understand how to more effectively put the Little Way into practice in my daily life. For example, I would let it bother me when my husband would occasionally leave his dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. If left alone, Dave would eventually pick up his laundry. But would I wait for that? Succumbing to my OCD, often I would let him know that it needs to be picked up on my time schedule, which is right now. Not charitable or loving. Instead, I can quietly pick up the dirty clothes and take them to the laundry myself. It’s a little thing – a little way of showing love, whether it is acknowledged or not.
My life’s journey is far from that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Heather King, through her book, has helped me to relate to St. Thérèse, to push past the distractions of everyday life and give myself permission to embrace the simple, to act out of kindness, to carve out quiet time to reflect, and to simply love our Lord. This book would make a wonderful book study for any Theresian community. At the close of each chapter, Heather offers up a wonderful prayer to reflect upon as you digest what was presented. I love honest heartfelt writing. Heather King is unapologetically honest. At times, I think she is speaking directly to me, lovingly making sure that I have fully grasped the message behind St. Thérèse’s life and how I should and can incorporate the Little Way into my own daily life.