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Holy and profane

Holy and human: blog post author and postulant Emily TeKolste in her volunteer ministry in the Mission Advancement office

It’s not often that I spend time with my extended family in public. Sometimes, these interactions remind me how differently much of the world views Catholic sisters compared to my experience.

This weekend, I went to my cousin’s high school graduation party. Partway through the party, one of my uncles started asking me to bless him. Another made a comment about spending time with me to become holy by association.

To be honest, this type of conversation always makes me uncomfortable. It reflects an older interpretation of religious life. One that was formally dismissed at the Second Vatican Council, before I was born. It certainly doesn’t fit with my experience so far in religious life or my experience of myself. It’s just not something I understand.

If I could go back to that moment, here’s what I would say: Associating with me doesn’t make you any more holy than you already are. You are holy because God made you and you are loved by God. I don’t have anything to do with it. Frankly, you don’t have a whole lot to do with it, either. Your beauty, your value, and your holiness are innate, inherent qualities of being. Nothing you do can detract from or add to that.


Later in the weekend, I was having a conversation with Ezra, one of the interns at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, and his friend Tony, who was visiting. Through this conversation, I realized how closely my interaction with my uncles relates to the mission of the White Violet Center to promote health and healing for all creation.

Eco-spirituality rests on the idea that all creation is holy. A theological or philosophical outlook that separates the holy from the profane gives us license to abuse the “profane.”

Ezra, Tony and I had just finished watching the film Erin Brockovich with a few other sisters. That’s certainly a film that shows how abusing the “profane” leads inherently to abuse of the “holy” — those people who are created in the image and likeness of God and become victims of environmental injustice. All of creation is intertwined. Abuse of one part of God’s creation impacts all parts of creation.

Eco-spirituality goes beyond the impact of eco-justice on humans, though. Before there were written scriptures, creation was God’s first revelation of Godself. God wrote God’s very being into the cosmos, a playfulness of chance and an openness to what may come. A relational universe reveals a relational trinity, a relational Godhead. If we treat the scriptures as holy because they are God’s self-revelation to humans, we are called to do the same with all forms of God’s self-revelation.

What else can we learn from God’s revelation, written in the scriptures, written in the words of the saints, written in the world around us, and written in our hearts?

As my housemate prayed at our community meeting this week, “Help us to believe the truth about ourselves, no matter how beautiful.”

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Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste is in formation with the Sisters of Providence. She is a native of Indianapolis and has a degree in sociology from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Emily is passionate about justice with special interest in environmentalism and sustainability. You can follow her blog at solongstatusquoblog.wordpress.com. She currently ministers with the NETWORK lobby for Catholic social justice.

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  1. Tracey Horan Tracey Horan on May 31, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Emily, this is beautiful! Thanks for the reminders and thoughtful connections. My family members will be disappointed to find out, however, that they don’t get a “free ticket into heaven” because of association with me. 🙂 But I’ll take your lead and remind them it’s free because God made it so! Love you!

  2. Avatar carol reuss on May 31, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Relax Emily. Perceptions of others might be acknowledged but they should not burden you.

  3. Avatar Arrianne Whittaker on May 31, 2017 at 12:35 pm


    Thank you for such a touching and well articulation of an experience which I am sure many Sisters have experienced. I know I have as well struggled with this reaction to me by family or friends.

    Sometimes if they are doing or saying something inappropriate they will make a big deal out how they should be doing that in my presence. I always respond with “don’t let me be your conscious, I’ve got enough trouble guiding my own soul!!” They always laugh but I think they also get that it is my truth. I’m just as human as anyone else, and God offers he same grace to me as he does to any being on this Earth.

  4. Avatar Paula Damiano, SP on May 31, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you for this reflection. In some ways this calls me to be more; to commit myself to this life over and over again.

  5. Avatar Paula Modaff, S.P. on May 31, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Good job as always, Emily. I love your passionate appreciation of the Presence of the Holy in All.

  6. Avatar Jean Reynolds on June 2, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I’m fascinated (and delighted!) that a postulant was allowed to attend a cousin’s high-school graduation. Back in the 60s, a close friend of mine entered an order of teaching sisters. She yearned to go to her brother’s wedding but ultimately decided not to even ask. Back then (and it wasn’t really that long ago), it was a sign of holiness for sisters to put distance between themselves and their families. What a healthy change!

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