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What is the Holy Spirit Calling Us To?

 By Sister Christine Schenk

Of all the shocking images that flooded our screens on January 6, I was most outraged by a flag bearing the name of Jesus carried by insurrectionists as they mounted their assault on the U.S. Capitol.

As if Jesus would ever condone this out-of-control mob—fueled by lies and bearing deadly weapons—intent on overturning our country’s legitimate election.

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I could barely take in that this was happening at the citadel of my country’s democracy — let alone that the perpetrators would justify their violent behavior by invoking the name of Jesus.

In succeeding days, like most of the country, I was glued to cable news and smartphone alerts trying desperately to understand how this could have happened.

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As I write this blog, we are celebrating the Baptism of Christ.  The reading from Isaiah describes a prophetic servant of God that prefigured Jesus:

He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth. (Is 42:1-3)

This Jesus is a far cry from the one evoked on the insurrectionist’s flag.

So we must ask, to what is the Holy Spirit calling us to in this moment? What are we as a Christian community being asked to do?

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Here are some things that came to me:

  • We must pray. Pray for our country, our elected officials (including our outgoing president), our law enforcement, our fellow citizens, and all those members of cult-like militias and hate groups who blindly follow a false god.
  • We must ask civic communities, communities of faith, and religious leaders to join Cardinal Cupich and our own Congregation of St. Joseph in issuing statements that condemn the use of violence and “work to end the rampant rage and division that have overpowered our nation.”
  • We must contact our state and federal legislators and demand accountability by
    • passing laws against domestic terrorism (If you can believe it there are none right now.)
    • prosecuting insurrectionists and rioters to the full extent of the law.
    • censuring or demanding the resignation of any lawmaker or public servant who promotes the false narrative that the presidential election was fraudulent.
  • We must organize interfaith and interreligious networks to
    • educate and provide a counter narrative to toxic cults that highlights God’s prime directive to love one another.
    • build relationships of trust and understanding across faith communities
    • engage with fellow citizens who are vulnerable to cultic expressions of an idolatrous heresy that bears no resemblance to Jesus the Christ.

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I ask you to join me with this prayer:

Grant us, O God,
A vision of your world as your love would have it:

A world where the weak are protected,
and none go hungry or poor.

A world where the riches of creation are honored and shared
so everyone might enjoy them.

A world where different races, cultures and creeds
live in peace and harmony, with equal regard.

A world where peace is built with justice
and justice is guided by love.

Give us the inspiration and courage to go forth with willing hearts, minds, and bodies to build such a world, through Christ Jesus.

And may the God of hope fill us with every comfort and joy in believing. May the peace of Christ abound in our hearts and minds. and may the Holy Spirit gift and guide us now and forever. Amen.

– Prayer used with permission from FutureChurch

About the Author

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Sister Christine Schenk has worked as a nurse midwife to low-income families, a community organizer, a writer, and the founding director of an international church reform organization, FutureChurch. Currently she writes an award-winning column “Simply Spirit” for the National Catholic Reporter.

Her book Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2017) was awarded first place in History by the Catholic Press Association.

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2021: What is Ours to Do?

By Sister Judith Minear

It feels deeply appropriate to be writing this blog on the morning of the winter Solstice, a celebration that reminds us that even the darkest days do brighten. Normally during these solstice days, I am, in equal parts, reflecting on the year that it is ending and pondering my intentions for the new year.

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This year is different. 2020 was not the year any of us expected. Each of us has faced tremendous loss among our families, friends and other relationships. Our nation has encountered economic collapse, racial division, and a polarized electorate. Devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods and the hottest year on record has created the environment we lived in. We sheltered in place, worked from home, and discovered that the most essential people are not billionaires nor movie stars. They are first-line doctors and nurses dealing with those who have Covid. They are women and men who often barely earn minimum wage. These heroes checked us out at grocery stores and picked up our trash and recyclables. They made food for us in restaurants and re-invented an education delivery system overnight. And the list goes on and on.

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Indeed, 2020 has been a year of challenge and change. This is the year we discovered how truly fragile daily plans, long-range strategies and the once-normal flow of everyday life really are. And so, we changed. Or we tried to, anyway. In Solstice terms, we hibernated in our own homes to keep ourselves and one another safe. We began to use technology creatively to pray, celebrate, connect, play and yes, also to work and have meetings. We did our best to adapt and prosper.

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As 2021 looms large, I find I am more interested in gaining perspective on how I (and all of us) navigated 2020 than I am preparing to rush into setting any kind of expectations for the coming year. What is the chance that we as a nation might use this time to regroup, reassess and remind ourselves of what is really important in our lives? To do that, we need to take a deep look at ourselves and how well we have navigated, individually and collectively, the tumult caused by Covid.

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Here are some of the questions we might use to help us gain this kind of interior perspective:

1. What have I learned about myself this year? How has 2020 challenged and changed me?
2. How well have I adjusted (and continue to adjust) to pandemic life? What is my capacity for resilience?
3. What adjustments have I made that work well?
4. What has not been working so well, if anything?
5. What steps have I taken to address my mental and spiritual health?
6. What do I miss most about my life before pandemic? How can I make those things happen differently?
7. To be ready to help others, we must “put our own oxygen masks on first”. How am I taking care of my body, mind and spirit so that I am ready to serve others?
8. What are three habits or practices that I rely on to help me live my best life?

Taking inventory about what has worked well for each of us during these turbulent times would surely serve us as we work with others to identify and address the local, national and global issues the pandemic has magnified and which must be addressed. Conversely, examining what has not worked well for us provides an opportunity to discover ways to make adjustments that will aid us as we move forward into 2021.

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In her article, “The Pain of 2020 and the Hope for 2021,” Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP says this: “We have gone through life-changing events this past year. There’s no ‘going back to normal’ to the way things were. Life is different now…we cannot un-see our vulnerability, nor the fragility of our lives physically, emotionally, and economically… but loss also reminds us of our abundant blessings, so many we take for granted daily, like food, clean water, a roof over our heads, good health, and meaningful work.”

For me, and I suspect for you, December 31, 2020, will be a very different New Year’s Eve. Not just because we will be sharing this celebration mostly with those in our same household, but because we are very different now than we were a year ago. I do not know how 2021 will unfold, but I do know that I intend for it to be less about me and more about we.

What are the things we care about that are worth fighting for in 2021? Healthcare disparities? Systemic racism? Creating a healthier planet? Tackling economic, food insecurity and housing injustices? Immigration? More? And how will we lead in such a way that others will want to join us in this work? The lessons of 2020 can truly show us the way.

What is ours to do for every kind of neighbor, without distinction? What is ours to do?

May 2021 be a year or working together in all ways for a just and peaceful world.

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About the Author

16-judyminear-copySister Judith Minear currently serves as part of a 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration. CSJ Ministries is the umbrella organization that works with ministries that are members of our Mission Network. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

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O Holy Night

I’ve never been a big Christmas person. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that, but you can also read about it here. So, in years past, I’ve mostly waited for Christmas to be over. But, strangely, this year has been different. The day after Thanksgiving I insisted that we get our tree up. I decorated every available space in our living room and kitchen with twinkle lights, Christmas tree figurines, and white, fluffy fake snow.

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My partner thought I had gone a little bit crazy, and my nearly two-year old daughter loved it, exclaiming “Lights! Wow!” over and over again. But through it all, I found myself singing a song that was not one of my normal favorites: O Holy Night.

While O Holy Night is obviously a traditional Christmas song, I’m normally more of a fan of songs with a little more bop. Things like Jingle Bells and Rudolph are often sung in our house – especially since having a daughter. But I found myself singing O Holy Night over and over again.

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When was the last time you really listened to that song? Here are the lyrics of the first verse, for you to consider:

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Did you catch the line that I’ve found myself singing over and over? There are several from the whole song that fit this year, I think, but the one I kept singing is a simple one:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

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More than anything else, that line resonates with me in this year of the pandemic. Like many people, this year has been stressful for me and my family for a variety of reasons. We have all done our best to stay home, to stay safe. But it has not been easy. There has been job loss, restlessness, and illness. The world has shown itself to be sometimes an uglier place than I like to imagine, between the political vitriol that surrounded the elections and the meanness I have witness among some members of my community. Clearly, this year, we are a very weary world.

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But that’s why, I think, this Christmas really sticks out to me. A thrill of hope! We have reason to rejoice, even if it is not easy. In my family, this holiday has become less about the commercialism of Christmas. We agreed to keep it small, to only give each other gifts that bring joy and fun. I’ve done most of my shopping online, as I continue to avoid stores, and it has made me considerably happier than I am some years, when fighting the crowds at the stores seems to take up a lot of my energy. We are focusing on what is truly important: family, love, and faith.

I added one final piece of art to my mantle this week. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.
I hope you can rejoice this year, despite the hardships we all face. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

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About the Author

me-and-soph-sized-downElizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, Harry Potter, and PBS. She is a first time mom, and working to figure it out!

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We Hope Despite the Darkness

By Sister Christine Schenk 

I love Advent. It brings a special brand of hope and light to the darkest days of our calendar year. This sacred season of waiting and expectation is especially poignant now as our world holds its collective breath wondering if joy is even possible amid pandemic pain.

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But that is the whole point of Advent. We hope despite the darkness. We hope, not because we can see light, but because we trust in another to be light for us.

That other is Jesus.

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Tomorrow the church’s liturgy begins the “O” antiphons which are ancient refrains dating to the eighth century. From December 17-23, a different “O” antiphon is sung each day at Mass and in the church’s Evening Prayer. The antiphons weave biblical imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures into a lovely theological tapestry celebrating the messianic titles of Jesus and what they might mean—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

These messianic titles are respectively, O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord/Leader), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Radiant Dawn/Dayspring), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), O Emmanuel (O God-With-Us).

Several years ago, I reflected on the “O” antiphons and composed a prayer-poem (below) about what they might mean. For me, the coming of Jesus brings hope, comfort, light, and a peace that truly does “surpass all understanding” (Phil 4:7).

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I invite you to take a bit of time and reflect on what the coming of Jesus might mean for you.

O Wisdom,

Sophia’s child,

and Mary’s too,

 bring us back to you.

O Adonai,

set us free

of fear, despair,

misogyny.

O Justice Flower,

of Jesse tree,

uproot our hatreds.

Wash us clean

in just-reign waters,

plant us deep in Thee.

O Key of David,

open heaven’s gate

unlock, unblock,

a captive people

too long enthralled

by hate.

O Radiant Dawn,

light the way

of all who long

to preach, to teach,

 to consecrate

heavenly hosts

of God’s indwelling.

O Emmanuel,

strengthen weary arms,

steady trembling knees

bring surcease of sorrow.

O Advent Light,

dispel death’s dark shadow.

Awaken a waiting world

  to life’s fresh-blessed tomorrow.     

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For more on the “O” antiphons and to read the original click here. Also, several years ago, the composer Joseph Gregorio set my prayer-poem to music. If you would like to listen, click here and select Advent Reflections I.

About the Author

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Sister Christine Schenk has worked as a nurse midwife to low-income families, a community organizer, a writer, and the founding director of an international church reform organization, FutureChurch. Currently she writes an award-winning column “Simply Spirit” for the National Catholic Reporter.

Her book Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2017) was awarded first place in History by the Catholic Press Association.

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Waiting for the Light

We have just entered another season of Advent, and already I am leaning toward the Winter Solstice and beyond. Feeling hemmed in and confined by a winter of COVID that has barely begun; yearning for spring and an end to limitations and restrictions, even as we all get a bit more used to them—wondering what a mask-less world where we can again embrace and be together with each other, will be like at the other end.

But, sticking to the here and now for a moment. Following the annual (and this year very out of the ordinary) Thanksgiving celebration (traditionally more turkey, Santa parades, and football than heartfelt, prayer-full giving thanks for many), Advent arrives. This liturgical season of waiting in the growing dark for the coming of the light and Word-made-flesh. I have recently been pondering how curious it is that we translate that to read “made human” and forget all the rest of creation which is as clothed in the flesh of God’s presence in the world as we are.

During these December days, we wait for the “One” who is already here; who also waits for us to tear ourselves away from the myriad of competing distractions, and notice the Holy which surrounds us. And, of course, this year we wait for a promised vaccine, our hoped-for savior, to bring life back to normal.

But I do find myself wondering what “normal” will look like, having moved through these days. I’d like to believe the acrimony and division will begin to heal, not just go back underground or get taken to the streets in destructive ways. I’d like to believe that we will truly recognize the impending danger of radical and life-threatening climate change, and take serious and realistic steps to change our life style to a more sustainable one. I’d like to believe we will return to welcoming the stranger (read immigrant, refugee), the “widow and orphan”; to feeding the starving across the globe; to freeing those unjustly imprisoned; and doing the hard work of recognizing how white privilege and systemic racism have manifested in our own lives, communities and institutions.

If I were going to write a letter to Santa, these are the things I’d be asking to find—however imperfect or untidy the wrappings—under our Christmas tree this year.

The more realistic alternative is to put this litany of needs into my prayer-bowl and pray daily for the courage and strength, the increase in love and compassion, to work on my own conversion of heart, my own being and doing for earth and justice, before asking that of anyone else.

There’s room in the prayer-bowl for your needs and hopes. I would love to have you join me in this.

About the Author

Sister Christine Parks, CSJ, serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional retreat/program presenter online and in Kalamazoo. She also works with the Congregation’s Protect & Heal Earth initiative and sustainability efforts. Leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing poetry.

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About the Nine

By Sister Jean Ann McGrath

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For many years in our parish, the day began with a beautiful liturgy where a table blessing and even a loaf of fresh-baked bread from a local Italian restaurant was sent home with each family to share at their Thanksgiving table. This year, I worry that the spirit of gratitude and peace that set the tone for the day may be difficult to replicate as COVID 19 protocols limit the number of people who will be able to attend the liturgy and health and safety regulations alter the rituals that made the day so special.

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One thing that will not change is the Gospel reading, the lovely narrative about the ten lepers who, when they encountered Jesus, begged to be cured. The gospel story is focused not only on the healing miracle, but also on the disgrace that only one remembered to come back and say thank you. During my teaching years, I loved to retell that story as a way to remind my students how often we forget to say thank you for the blessings and graces we too often take for granted. We Christians sometimes have pretty poor manners.

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This year, I have a different take on the gospel story and have thought more about the nine who forgot their manners than the one who returned.

For most of my life, I have been quick to judge the ingratitude of the other nine. This year, I think I want to “give them a break” and think about how they danced into their future healed, happy, and yes, perhaps hopeful for a life they could not have imagined had they not so boldly asked for the grace to be healed.

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I think I can relate more to the nine this year because of the turbulent times in which we live. The Covid Crisis, political anxiety, deep concern about the economy, and isolation from loved ones are just some of the signs of a world that begs to be healed. I yearn for the consolation and strength of crowded Churches where the rituals of life, weddings, sacramental celebrations, and even funerals create the memory making moments that shape our life and faith journey. I yearn for the raucous family Thanksgiving celebration that each year seems to have more “kids’ tables” as our family grows.

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This thanksgiving, like the ten lepers, we stand waiting and begging to be healed from the uncertainty of our troubled world. And, because ours is a God of infinite compassion, empathy and mercy, we know that one day we, like the ten, can be confident that healing will happen. But, will we remember our manners?

I would like to think that among the nine, one of two were just so overjoyed at being healed that they could not wait to be reunited with the community that had shunned them. “Look, I am whole and home!”

Maybe one or two were the more contemplative and introverted type who just had to sneak away and ponder what had just happened in their lives “How could this be when I was so hopeless and alone and now I am whole again?”

Perhaps there were a few skeptics among the nine…”Is this a temporary cure? Can I dare return to life as I once knew it?”

I have at times, been the one who remembered to return and say thank you. I have also (and perhaps more frequently) been one of the nine who for reasons unknown, but possibly understandable, took the blessings of life too much for granted.

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This Thanksgiving will be so different than others I have known. Our large family will not be gathered around a single table. Out of town relatives will not be flying in to celebrate. The Thanksgiving Liturgy will be very simple. But I will be more conscious of the ten who waited to encounter the healing presence of Jesus. I hope I remember to say thank you.

But if not, I believe that the God who can heal and transform all that worries me these difficult days, is also is a God of infinite patience, understanding, and grace who will understand if I forget my manners.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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About the Author

JeanMcGrathAfter years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!

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The Mystery of Religious Life-My Story of Faith, Hope and Trust

By Sister Erin McDonald

It’s National Vocation Awareness Week! My vocation story is my life story and as I reflect on it, I think of the scripture verse, “Is anything too marvelous for God?” (Gn 18:14) My story is a culmination of millions of moments of love, failure, prayer, doubt, trust, and a deep sense of mystery. It is a pilgrim story. A journey of call and response as well as a realization that I am exactly where I am meant to be. Throughout the centuries thousands of women and men have responded to God’s call to become a sister, nun, priest or brother. Religious life has taken many different forms and membership has ebbed and flowed but despite these constant shifts and changes, the unexpectedly marvelous work of God has been woven through it all.

ErinSister Erin displays the ring she wears as a sign of her commitment to her vows.

This may be where you expect me to share all the juicy details of my messy and grace-filled pilgrimage towards being the finally professed sister that I am today. Well, not quite. I’m going to tell you a bigger and more marvelous story about the movements and excitement of vowed religious life today.

I am often asked why I would make a life commitment to being a sister during a time perceived by many as a period of the diminishment and dying of religious life. However, this is only one aspect of the story of religious life today. As I reflect on my experience of the gifts and graces of being a sister, my heart overflows with gratitude and joy. Religious life is in itself a mystery. It is not easily explained or justified. It is a mystery of call and response. Inspired by hidden promptings of the Holy Spirit, we are summoned to give our whole self to living the Gospels, building the Kingdom of God, and being a prophetic voice for God’s great love. Believing that God’s promise endures because God is always faithful, I continue to experience a vibrant and faith filled life with young sisters. I continue to believe that nothing is too marvelous for God. That our future is filled with hope and possibility because I believe that God is alive and active among us. Young women are stepping into this life and we are finding beauty and boldness in our communion with other young vowed religious, with the women religious and associates in our home congregations, and with all of creation.

Sarah-and-JenniferSisters Jennifer Berridge and Sarah Simmons, who both professed first vows with the Congregation of St. Joseph this summer.

Young sisters today, just like our sisters before us, are seekers. We seek ways that will deepen our call, enable us to live our vocations more fully, allow us to become more rooted in our congregational charisms while living grounded in God’s hope for our future as religious women. God’s grace is always at work among us even when we cannot perceive or recognize it. The fabric of our history as Sisters of St Joseph is woven with resilient threads of hope, courage and deep trust in God, even at times when the way forward wasn’t clear. Sisters of St Joseph have persisted through war, famine, crossing great oceans, founding new communities, Church reforms and great cultural shifts. Despite it all, nothing was too marvelous for God and our sisters and associated persisted and so will we.

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Beyond the circles of new Sisters of St Joseph there is a marvelous movement of young sisters from across the country banding together to tend the flames of vowed religious life. “Giving Voice” is a vibrant peer led organization of young Roman Catholic women religious from across the country who, compelled by the love of Christ, desire to serve the dear neighbor, to expand their relationship with God and to strive for a more just and equitable world. “Giving Voice” creates space for younger woman religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams, and challenges in this life. We do not seek to separate from our home congregations but to create times of mutual support, shared prayer, discernment, friendship, and Spirit filled experiences. “Giving Voice” consists of women representing various races, cultures, and congregations. It most accurately reflects the diversity of the people to whom we are called to minister. “Giving Voice” is a movement of inter-congregational, inter-cultural, and inter-generational women. It is broad and varied in its expression of religious life yet grounded in the Mystery of God that continues to call us into being. “Giving Voice” is life giving to its members and enriches their home congregations. Watch this video to learn more about the most recent Giving Voice gathering.

Giving-Voice-Photo-Intercongregational-1Sister Erin, with other sisters from Giving Voice.

I love being a Sister of St Joseph, yet, “Giving Voice” creates a circle of pilgrims with whom I can share this journey now and into the future. This also creates fertile ground for our communal dreaming and discerning the ways in which God is calling us into newness. These relationships are the catalyst for the mysterious work of God to emerge among us.

So my message is not the messy and intimate details of my personal journey to being a Sister of St Joseph but a testament to the excitement and vibrancy of this life. To share our story of hope and deep trust in the slow work of God. I share our story of a collective group of young, passionate and faithful women who want you to believe in us and to believe in our future. At a time when our country and our church are experiencing seemingly unbridgeable divisions and increasing cynicism, “Giving Voice” witnesses to a unified future of religious life shared among a diverse group of women.

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Giving Voice participants include Catholic sisters from both apostolic and monastic communities, congregations that wear habits and those that do not, and women who encompass a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and races. We are not divided by our differences but bonded together by what we hold in common. As our shared communion with Christ deepens and expands, so does our love and unity with each other. May we all be filled with renewal, rejuvenation, and inspiration. As I imagine the future of vowed religious life, I see it is full of possibility and, like the sisters who came before me, I will continue to ask, “Is anything too marvelous for God?”

About the Author

erin-cropped Sister Erin McDonald, CSJ currently serves as the University Minister for Service and Social Justice at the University of Detroit Mercy. Prior to this she served as a case manager Freedom House Detroit where she worked with asylum seekers from all around the world, helping them settle and assimilate in the US. Sister Erin also spent two years as a humanitarian aid worker in Rwanda with the Jesuit Refugee Service. She professed first vows with the congregation in 2015 and final vows in 2019.

Editors Note: Portions of this blog were first published in the Fall/Winter issue of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s magazine, imagineONE.
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A Pandemic Halloween

By Sister Ann Letourneau

Each year as the leaves change from their summer green to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow a memory from junior high returns to me. I am circled up with my classmates on a concrete floor in the basement of the parish convent. The lights are dimmed and pleasant music is playing. Sister Pat Stanley, CSJ is in a chair sitting outside of our circle meditatively reading as each of us pull slimy seeds from a pumpkin.

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I don’t recall the exact words she actually spoke but now I imagine them to have been an adaptation, appropriate for a junior high school student’s understanding of Father Medaille’s Maxim 3:

“Empty yourself continually in honor of the Incarnate Word who emptied himself with so much love for you (Philippians 2:7). Make your commitment to live in the practice of the most sincere, true, and profound humility possible to you. Do so on all occasions, to everyone but especially to God, from whom must come all the blessings of your institute.”

Father Medaille invites us to honor Jesus by emptying ourselves as he did when he took on human likeness. Jesus never stopped being God and our goal is not to be emptied of who we are, but to live fully who we are while being emptied of ego traits that allows us to believe life is about anything or anyone but the love of God.

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As I ponder what this call might mean for me in the Fall of 2020, the year of the pandemic, I realize this emptying of self has happened over and over again since Mid-March. I have been emptied of the control I thought I had in my life and the ease in which I lived. Before, I rarely thought twice about stopping at a store or whether it was safe to connect with someone in person. Now, I truly limit where I go and with whom I socialize.

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I will admit that some days it is hard not be overwhelmed or to let irritation, sadness, or depression be the driver of my life. I am continually reminded of how little control I have ever had and that all the day to day experiences I have held as important are not core to who I am. I am humbled to remember that I am God’s and all the trappings and the comings and goings in which I easily get caught, are not core to being me. The core of me, of being God’s, is to be a love which is always pointing to and bringing God’s love to all.

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Just like the millions of pumpkins who will be emptied of their interior in order for a small candle to be placed inside to light the way for trick-or-treaters or to bring a smile to faces who pass, so too I am continually emptied so that in my countenance, my very being, will light a path to God and feel the love and life of the one who, out of love, emptied himself for us.
As you carry out the ritual of carving a pumpkin this year, I invite you, as Sister Pat invited my class, to contemplate that which you need to let go of in order to remember that you belong to God and are to be a witness to the light of Christ.

About the Author

Ann CroppedSister Ann Letourneau, PsyD has been a dedicated Sister of St. Joseph for 34 years, living in Kansas, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois. Ann currently ministers as a clinical psychologist at Central Dupage Pastoral Counseling Center in Carol Stream, IL. During the pandemic she has been meeting her clients virtually. Ann also mentors the mentors of new members by serving as Director of Initial Formation.

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Dying and Rising Are One

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

Several years ago, when I was with a group in the Holy Land, we were visiting the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The group was at the altar of Mt. Calvary, where we commemorated the death of Jesus. We were gathered in a semi-circle, quietly singing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” as each member reverenced the spot. In the midst of this holy moment, a messenger came to tell us that the Resurrection Chapel was available for our Mass, and we were invited to move there quickly. Within about three minutes we were in that Chapel, beginning the Mass by singing “Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise.”  It was a little disjointing to say the least. The Franciscan Friar, Steve Doyle, began the Mass by saying:  “Isn’t life just like this? Dying and rising happen at the same time.”  I find this to be true.

We have had a number of deaths of Sisters in our Congregation in the last month or so, two of them younger Sisters who were my friends. Another long time dear friend died after a decline of two and a half years. The losses of these fine women and my own grief have filled my heart with sadness.

I am a believer in the resurrection! There is eternal life after death, and there is new life even in the midst of sorrow and grief. I recently celebrated my 70th birthday, and was touched by the wonderful messages in cards from family and friends. 

The leaves of this autumn are about to turn into their magnificent colors. 

My family celebrated my grand nephew’s first birthday on zoom with great laughter and amazement at his antics. Somehow, my sad heart has also experienced great joy.

So, indeed, death and resurrection seem to happen together, simultaneously. The human heart has the capacity to experience both at the same time. It’s a mystery to be sure. And, it’s good to be reminded of it.

About the Author

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After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

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Holy Ground: Home as Sacrament

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

This is holy ground; we’re standing on holy ground.
For the Lord is present, and where [God] is, is holy. . .”
–John Michael Talbot

Some years ago, when my father was in a skilled care facility and my sister and I were preparing to move my mother to assisted living, I had the task of helping my mom clean out our family home, where my parents had lived for over sixty years. I worked there one day a week, and it was challenging, not only because of the accumulation of possessions and the decisions we had to make about them, but also because of the flood of memories that came with the handling of the “stuff” of their lives. Most of the time, my mom was cooperative and helped me with the sorting, but occasionally she would get upset and tell me I needed to go home and come back another day.

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I remember one special day when we were sorting Mom’s dressy clothes, most of which she had made, and would probably never need again. As I pulled each item out of the closet and showed it to her, she would tell me the story behind it.

“I made this outfit for the Mediterranean cruise Dad and I took. We had to dress for dinner each night.”

“I made this dress for Jason’s (my nephew’s) wedding.”

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“I wore this outfit for many special occasions: graduations, First Communions, anniversaries. It showed up in a lot of pictures, but I just really liked it.”

“This is the dress I made for your sister’s second wedding.”

That day it was clear to me that we were not just sorting clothes; we were sorting memories, and I felt like I was turning pages in a living scrapbook. These clothes were signs, objects that conveyed a deeper meaning than what was apparent to the eye. We decided to give away most of the clothes. As I folded them, I realized that what I held in my hands was holy.

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When my younger brother died, his body and belongings were shipped to us from San Francisco, where he had been living. I remember going through the visitation at the funeral home, the funeral liturgy, and the lunch that followed, in a daze. As our guests were leaving, the funeral director called my sister and me into his office, where he gave us a box of my brother’s belongings, including the clothes he wore to the hospital where he died. His high-top athletic shoes had the laces loosened, like he just stepped out of them—and I was struck by the deep significance of those shoes—a sign of the life he “stepped out of”, never to return. I don’t remember what we did with the shoes, but I do remember that for me, at that moment, they were holy.

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On days when I am really in the present moment, I realize that much of the “stuff” of my life is holy because it points to a deeper reality, so as I use these holy signs, I remember and celebrate.

  • The mug I use for coffee each morning was a gift from a friend who is a potter.
  • On cold days, I wrap myself in an afghan crocheted by my grandmother.
  • I wipe my hands in a kitchen towel made by a friend.
  •  I eat fruit salad from a blue and green glazed pottery bowl I bought at a craft fair I attended on a beautiful summer day.
  • I wear a sweater vest my mom crocheted for me 20+ years ago as a birthday gift.
  • I cook with pots and pans given to me by one of our sisters when she was leaving her apartment and moving to assisted living.
  • I have a quilt my grandmother made using scraps of fabric my mom used to make me dresses and blouses when I was a young girl.
  •  I make cheesecake from a recipe written in my grandmother’s hand, and remember that she made it for many special occasions.
  • I have a small pottery vase I bought when I was at Yellowstone National Park. My friend who was with me at the time, asked me what I was going to do with it. “I’ll hold it and remember,” I said.
  • I wear a “Minnie Mouse” apron that ties me to a dear friend who died much too young. When I wear it, she’s with me.

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You get the idea. When I’m paying attention, I know that my apartment is holy ground, and much of what I touch is holy. Try it for yourself. Walk around your house and consider your belongings and the deeper meanings that are right below the surface. All around you are signs of people you love, events you recall, and powerful memories. As often as you can, celebrate and remember. This is your holy ground.

About the Author

Cmolik.Jeanne.webSister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ, has served in various leadership positions including being a member of the Congregation Leadership Team from 2007-2013. She has also ministered in elementary schools, high schools, and parishes in the Cleveland area, and worked with new members in the Congregation. She enjoys reading, travel, music and writing blog posts! Currently she offers spiritual direction and works with RCIA in a local parish.