Spiritual Reflections

The Center Still Holds: Vulnerability, Courage, Compassion

Courage is the ability to come through something that has frighted us, and out of that pain and grief, to discover a strength we never realized we have.

“I am stretched at every turn. There are times I cannot see how I will ever fill up again, and then I do. 
We rise up. We are renewed. 
We get a second wind, even in these catastrophic times.” 

from Dusk, Dark, Dawn by Anne Lamott

Vulnerability: Here in the Southwest, we are experiencing the chaos of climate change firsthand. Spring 2022 took us into a wildfire season more destructive than any before. The Cerro Pelado fire of April – June 2022, was the result of many years of deepening drought. The federal fire service was conducting a controlled burn that quickly grew out of control in high spring wind. Two fires blazed and eventually combined. The megafire led to the loss of thousands of acres of land, deaths, evacuations, loss of homes. Later in the summer rains, run off from the burn scar polluted the water reservoirs. Fire moved to within 20 miles of Santa Fe for a nerve-wracking couple of weeks. I, too, prepared to evacuate everything. 

As persons of faith, we ask where God is in the midst of all these things that are happening. In prayer the Lord responds: “I am right there on the front line with the firefighters battling the blaze. I am in the car with families escaping through the flames to safety.” Deep faith assures us God is in our midst, with us in all things. Yet how do we take such upending, catastrophic experiences and find the grace and wisdom they have to offer us? This fall several of us in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe gathered to take a look at past, present and future, examining this paradox of vulnerability, and the courage and compassion that can emerge from it. We considered three ways the Center still holds during vulnerable times: 

So let us consider how the Center holds for IHM: 

Reaching to the Past 

We are blessed, blessed, blessed to have a community that treasures our founding story, that archives the challenges and achievements of so many brave women before us. IHM raises its members on a diet of inspirational stories. We remind one another of the courage of the ones who wrote our story. The golden thread tying our generation with theirs is that rock solid belief in the Paschal Mystery – that out of dying comes new life. We lean into their stories. We ask the ones who have gone before what made them courageous, and how we can find some of that courage too. We love saying to one another, “We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.” We pray to be infused with some of their stamina, vision and steady faith. 

Courage is the ability to come through something that has frightened us, and out of that pain and grief, to discover a strength we never realized we had. It is bravery, mettle, determination, fortitude. Courage turns the challenge into fire, transforming us into new humility, insight and understanding. Courage gives us grace to see every experience through the eyes of faith, to move away from worry and plunge into life. Courage calls us to sink our roots ever deeper into simple, clear direction. 

The greatest joy we can give our ancestors in faith is to follow in their footsteps. We touch the courage of the past to strengthen us for the many vulnerabilities we face today.

Standing in the Present 

We pray the Lord grace us with clarity for our lives and ministry. Paradoxically, vulnerability opens the very path. From inside vulnerable times, we learn there is no way we can do life alone. We need our God more than ever. 

We face many wildfires: there is plenty of vulnerability to go around and reasons for it— physical challenges: proximity to the source of disaster; economic challenges: lack of control or access to what we need to live; social challenges: isolation and weak community; lack of opportunity to participate in decisions; attitudinal challenges: a sense of hopelessness about it all. We hear that no one is safe today anywhere, anymore. 

What difference can faith make to that? Can we learn to replace fear with curiosity? Courage is the ability to meet and do something that frightens us. Instead of looking for answers, sometimes it is more effective to surface the questions these times are asking us. 

With age comes the vulnerability of increasing bodily challenges: We become familiar with St. Paul’s image of a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 2:7- 10.) We learn the paradox of God’s power is at its best in our weakness. It is when we are weak that we are strong. In our own bodies we learn the Paschal pattern of life, death and rising. 

Many of us have died and risen more than once, through challenges of loss, health, and disappointments. We have gone through personal and communal times of transition; we are familiar with periods of organization, disorientation, reorganization. We have learned to ask that central theological reflection question: where is God in this which is happening? Christian life knows the mystery of God contains all of it, and the Center still holds. 

Vulnerability means things fall apart. Over and over we are called to embrace life’s messes. It is what we do with them that matters. If we focus only on our own sorrow, it will be all suffering. If we can embrace all parts of our life story, broken parts too, we will experience the fullness of human experience. As we grow older, we come to respect the paradox: life is not either/or, it is both/and. It is darkness and light; it is suffering and peace. We die and rise many times before our final death, to convince ourselves that rising is always possible. 

We need to press on in our own time and communities. To do that, we need a powerful courage. We follow a Lord who found the courage to die to teach us that what looks dead, over and done is grounds for further possibility. Endings can turn into new beginnings. So many brave men and women show us this grace: the very broken parts of our story become the gift we have to share with others.

Hoping for the Future 

Transformation happens when something old falls apart. The pain of the disruption and chaos we have known invites our soul further on. We are forced to move to a new place, because the old place is not working. We need a share in God’s imagination for what lies beyond this time in history. 

Our world view has been hugely expanded. All over this earth, persons still suffer for faith. Churches and congregations flourish and then diminish. We see the huge challenges and persist with a desire to meet the real needs before us. We study the issues; we stay with the problems; we discern what is needed for our times. We challenge one another to move, not backward in fear, but forward in courage. 

The Lord is present at all points of history and beyond. Every generation has had their pain, sorrow, challenges and disappointment. They were given grace to meet those challenges and come up with solutions to the problem. Getting through these times feels like it requires a miracle, but we believe in miracles. The good Lord gives us the grace to handle what these days ask for, one step at a time. God is carrying us. Let us pray to make wise choices, and have the courage to act. The Lord is the solid foundation under us, and the Center still holds. 


More than ever we find ourselves in the hands of God. It is a profound spiritual experience to know and feel our vulnerability. Lord, turn our weakness to strength and confidence in your loving care. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. Light that redeems, Light that restores, Light that heals, Light that protects, Light that saves, be with us now and always. Build in our spirits a quiet confidence that no matter what happens, the Center holds. Amen. 


  • What are some areas of life in which you feel vulnerable right now? 
  • Think of a recent situation that demanded your courage. 
  • What were you feeling and thinking as it began? 
  • What did persons around you say and do to help you face your fear? 
  • At what point did your fear begin to diminish? 
  • What is an earlier point in your life when you faced a fear? 
  • How did you get through that period, and what were the long-term results in your life? 
  • Is there anything you are facing now that creates fear and anxiety? 
  • Is there something you have learned in the past as a skill to get you through? 


  1. Fankry, Tony. “How to Embrace Vulnerability as Our Greatest Strength,” February 4. 2018, 
  2. Greenberg, Melanie PhD. “The Six Attributes of Courage.” Psychology Today, August 23, 2012 
  3. Kimball, Gayle, PhD. Calm: How to Thrive in Challenging Times. NY: Equality Press, 2020 
  4. Lamott, Anne. Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage. NY: Riverhead Books, 2021 

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