Sow Your Goodness

Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,

Student at Saint Mary's receives ashesAs I sit down to write my monthly letter, I’m aware of our exact moment in this academic year: students are tired as they work steadily through midterms, and they are ready (we all are ready!) for Spring Break next week. Indeed, we’ve enjoyed a few spring-like days sprinkled into the wintry mix, though we know there will be more cold days before we really welcome that season. While we are just at the midpoint of the semester, the conversation in many offices has already turned toward planning for Commencements (yes, two of them!) and Reunions (yes, two of them!). Besides our regularly scheduled events, we look forward to a belated Commencement celebration with the Class of 2020, and we will welcome back alumnae who missed reunions because of COVID-19 this summer as well! Saint Mary’s thrives on these times of intense community and renewal, and I am eager to experience some of them for the first time!

I’m also aware of a different calendar and a different season: I am writing this message on Ash Wednesday, and, like many of you, I have paused to reflect on the meaning of the Lenten journey. 

This year, I am especially moved by Pope Francis’ published message about Lent. In it, he takes up metaphors of sowing and reaping as he reflects on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “Let us not grow tired of doing good. The soil is prepared by fasting, watered by prayer and enriched by charity. Let us believe firmly that ‘if we do not give up, we shall reap our harvest in due time.’” Our Pope is clear that prayer and fasting are only two parts of Lenten practice: we also need to “sow our goodness” by caring for others—especially “the poor and needy, those abandoned and rejected, those discriminated against and marginalized.” He encourages us to slow down and to take the time to meet these people face to face.

His words reminded me of another wise Franciscan, Father Richard Rohr, who wrote, with perfect simplicity: “So much is happening on earth that cannot be fixed or explained, but it can be felt and suffered.” Feeling and suffering: our challenge in this season—and throughout the year—is to be pervious to suffering in our world.

And while there is always suffering somewhere—and we should be attuned to it as close as our own homes and our own neighborhoods—we begin Lent in 2022 with an overwhelming awareness of the pervasive pain, distress, and grief caused by Russia’s unjust violence against the people of Ukraine. This act of unprovoked aggression has upended our world, with consequences rippling across every continent. People around the globe are standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, feeling and suffering with them. Pope Francis asked us to make peace in Ukraine a focus of our Ash Wednesday prayer and fasting.

On a personal note, my husband and I feel intimately connected to this anguish because our youngest daughter, Siobhán O’Grady, is currently a foreign correspondent in Kyiv. Twelve days ago, she left her home in Egypt (where she serves as the Washington Post Cairo Bureau Chief) to assist with coverage of the emerging conflict. She found a city of tremendous beauty and fiercely patriotic citizens determined to maintain their way of life. Her first few nights were peaceful: she reported that restaurants were open, the opera was in full swing, and streets were teeming with social life.  

In Kyiv and all across Ukraine, life changed in the early hours of February 24, when the threat of invasion became a reality. Today we know that close to one million people have already fled to the neighboring west, launching what is likely to be the largest refugee crisis in Europe in a century. Most Ukrainians stayed in their country, proclaiming their willingness to fight to the death for Ukraine. Siobhán has reported from a train station where people were desperate to find tickets; from a police station where citizens lined up to enlist in the military or to claim a weapon and join local defense forces; from a basement where Ukrainians young and old filled massive numbers of glass bottles with the ingredients for petrol bombs known as molotov cocktails; from blood donation centers where civilians waited patiently to give what they could; from kitchens where women prepared meals for soldiers. . .the list goes on. She has fallen in love with the country and the people, and she and her colleagues are definitely feeling and suffering with them, while also helping us to do the same through their reporting.

For now, we have contact with her via text messaging, but we learn most of what she is doing from the pages of the Washington Post and from her interviews on podcasts and posts on social media. We are amazed and humbled to be led by our own daughter, whose courage, action, and reflection we see as a model for asking: What can I do in my own sphere? How can I “sow my goodness”? 

As we travel together through this season and into Easter, I hope you’ll join me in slowing down and asking these questions. And I would be grateful for your prayers of support for both the valiant people of Ukraine and for our press corps, who help to bring us closer to the sufferings and the triumphs of people on the far side of the globe and yet so near in our hearts.

Warm regards,

Katie Conboy, Ph.D.


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