By Sister Ann Letourneau
As we enter the Advent season, “welcome to the human race” is a statement that has been rolling around in my mind and heart. It was said to me by my formation director, Sister Helene, many times as I began learning what it means to be a Sister of St. Joseph. To be honest, my 23-year-old-self did not have a clue what she meant. Over time I realized she was gently inviting me to let go of my perfectionism. Making mistakes, forgetting a commitment now and then, struggling with self-acceptance, and feeling hurt and anger are not situations worth self-crucifixion – indeed they are part of the human condition. Being human means I am not perfect. I will have struggles, make mistakes, and feel a myriad of emotions. I have had this cognitive understanding for many years now and I am daily reminded of what it means to be a part of the human race. The critical voice in my head is much quieter and less condemning.
Helene also frequently included the sentiment “I love you” as she supported me in personal growth and understanding of what it means to be a Catholic Sister. Again, not something I heard often, especially outside of my family. She, however, was subtly showing that I did not earn love. I did not need to be perfect to be cared about and loved. Helene helped me to experience love in a new way, a way that God had loved me from the moment of my conception.
The concepts of my humanness and God’s acceptance continue to deepen as I pray to become aware of my own patterns of sin (which for me means becoming more aware of thoughts, words, and actions that keep me from moving toward God and from fully experiencing the love and mercy of God). Now, however, I do not hear my own critical voice condemning me. There is no self-crucifixion happening inside of me. I also do not hear the voice of God condemning me. Instead, I hear, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son” (John 3:16) and Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.” (Philippians 2: 7)
Jesus became human just as I am human. We are taught he did not sin, but that he did experience the emotions we have. We hear of his struggles in relationship to his disciples who either did not understand or told others of their experiences when Jesus asked them not to spread the word. We also hear about Jesus’ agony in the garden the night before he died. Jesus, in his humanity, did not live the perfection of God. How could I have ever held myself to such standards? It is no wonder I spent much of my young adulthood experiencing my own agony in the garden and Good Friday. I would like to say I spend most of my time now in Resurrection moments, but that would not be totally true. What I am coming to understand is that I am a person who continually re-lives Christmas, the day in which we celebrate Jesus becoming one with us in our humanity.
During this Advent season, I hope to continue grappling with what it means to be a human in need of God’s freely given abundant love and mercy. My intention is to welcome Jesus into the human race with all the love I have for him, much as Helene welcomed me into the human race with her kindness and love. After all, being perfectly human rather than a perfect human is better than my 23-year-old self would have ever believed.
About the Author
Sister Ann Letourneau, PsyD has been a Sister of St. Joseph for 29 years. She is a staff psychologist at Central Dupage Pastoral Counseling Center in Carol Stream, IL where she sees individual clients and offers educational presentations on various psychological and spiritual topics. Sr. Ann is fascinated by nighttime dreams and runs a monthly dream group at The Well Spirituality Center, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph in La Grange, IL.