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Four Lessons Learned from My Canine Best Friend

By Sister Judith Minear

As a lover of all animals, I have certainly found God in all creation, including dogs. But one of COVID’s greatest isolation gifts to me was the almost-daily companionship of a Goldendoodle named Ginger. It is true what they say: when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.

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I do not remember exactly how it happened, but sometime in January, I had the opportunity to walk Ginger, whose two humans are dear friends of mine. A combination of my love of winter and a brisk walk with her lifted my spirits. This led to a commitment to a morning walk with her as often as I could…and that walk has led to many, many lessons learned from my canine best friend. Here are some of them.

Have Faith

While my goal is to walk Ginger every day, my work schedule or health sometimes precludes doing so. Regardless, Ginger watches faithfully from her window, trusting that I am just around the bend. She isn’t discouraged when I don’t show up and resumes her post again the very next day, sure that I am almost there. How attuned am I to promises made and promises fulfilled, and how faithful am I to God’s presence in my life?

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Forgiveness, No Judgment and Unconditional Love

The first time I had to miss multiple mornings in a row, I expected Ginger to act a bit more, shall we say, gingerly, towards me. But no. Each daily walk is greeted with utter excitement, as if this was the first walk of her life. Ginger has reminded me that I do not have to be perfect to be loved deeply. She has taught me that it is ok to pay attention to my own needs. Her love, like God’s, will always be there.

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Be Mindful, and Follow Your Instincts

In the early days of our walks, I mentally mapped out a route and we followed it every day. Eventually, Ginger began to tug at her leash to cross the street…or sniff the grates. As I watched her begin to shape our walks, I learned so much about mindfulness. While my map had been all about efficiency and distance, Ginger taught me to be mindful to what was happening around us. Her alertness and attention to sound, smell, taste and sheer joy has opened my heart more fully to being in the moment. I have laughed out loud watching her shovel fresh snow into her mouth. We have paused to watch deer on lawns, squirrels digging for treasure and even watched an owl in a tree. She has sniffed flowers and gleefully rolled in dewy grass. Because of her example, I pause more to take in the God-moments that are always around me. For the first time in a long time, I am fully awake to this season of new life! What an Easter gift! 

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Love Your Neighbor

Ginger has never met a stranger. She assumes that every passing car and every person on the side walk is there to love and be loved. She greets each one with equal parts leaps of joy and unconditional love. Her trust and assumptions of goodness are lessons in themselves. Her worldview is clearly one of love for every kind of neighbor, just as we are called to unity as sisters, associates and friends of Joseph. Watching her generosity and love has nudged my heart to open wider and deeper to the needs of others in the world.

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There is so much more I continue to learn from Ginger.  What started out as exercise with a buddy turned into so much more. Every walk is a new life-lesson; every cuddle is a renewed learning about unconditional love. Thank you, Ginger, for teaching me what it means to live life and love God to the fullest.

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.

 

* all photos of Ginger were used with permission from her humans. 

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The Only One We Have

By Sister Christine Parks

It’s not uncommon for me to contract a moderate to severe case of spring fever in February. Over the years when this has happened, I usually self-medicate with pots of daffodils and tulips, crocus and hyacinths—whose purchase I justify with the certainty that they’ll get planted in the garden to bloom again the next year, or the year after if they get lost or hide out in the garage. Then I sit back and wait, not always patiently, through most of March, for the vernal equinox to arrive; for spring to step across the equator, pushing winter ahead of her as she journeys north.

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Somehow it also seems appropriate that a good part of this waiting happens during Lent, while the earth (at least at this latitude) remains frozen, and the days more dark than light; making the synchrony of the arrival of spring and the mystery of resurrection even more deeply meaningful. They both burst forth out of their separate tombs, into the light, bringing new life. After all, what in nature can seem more tomb-like than a dried out bulb or seed, planted in the dark earth. All that life pent up in what looks, from the outside, more dead than alive.

And now we come to April. Truly the month (in our northern hemisphere) of increasing daylight and warmth, regardless of the occasional freeze or snowfall. A month of greening, growth spurts and pastel blooming—and everything blooms, whether the blooms look like flowers, or not, as in the case of the amazing Symplocarpus foetidus, (i.e. the ‘lowly’ skunk cabbage seen below), which you will find in many boggy areas if you get out wood-walking early in the season.

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April is also the month of Earth Day (April 22), when we celebrate our planet home. In recent years this celebration has become ever more poignant as we recognize the damage we have inflicted, continue to inflict, on this world. Earth Day is a special opportunity to commit, or re-commit, ourselves to act, advocate and connect with the global community; to take steps to protect, conserve and heal this lovely planet—the only one we have.

In the depths of February, I wrote the following love poem for my writing group. It feels appropriate to share as we move toward another Earth Day celebration, recognizing that we have a shrinking number of years to make significant changes in our living, working and being on and with earth. Yet we can choose now to turn away from the destructive path we are traveling, to one that respects and honors the gift of creation that surrounds us.

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Earth Borne

How do I love thee?
            (After Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Let me tell the ways, uncounted, diverse
as the life you hold, forms you take—eagle
and egret, panther and porpoise, balsam
and birch, milkweed and monarch—now a
single snowflake falling amidst a blizzard
clothing the bare bones of autumn’s remains.
Now sunrise, dragging all the hues of
morning up the sky, then setting sun pulling
all the shades of evening beneath horizon
edge until only the vast universe comes
visible one light at a time. I love
you in all your peculiarity—gecko and
giraffe, aardvark and avocado, humus and
homo sapiens, all born from your womb.

By Christine Parks, CSJ

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About the Author

Sister Christine Parks, CSJ, serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional retreat and 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 and poetry.

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Celebrating Resurrection

By Sister Marcella Clancy

“Christ’s resurrection is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that in the interior of the world God’s fire is already burning, and this will bring everything to blessed ardor in its light. He has risen to show that this has already begun.” (Karl Rahner)

In these early days of the Easter Season, Resurrection nags at me. The slow deliberate movement of Holy Thursday and Good Friday draw me into the intimate, enormous love of Jesus as he bends to wash feet, gifts himself as Bread and Wine, endures unbearable suffering and fully surrenders to an ignoble death. The pervasive, waiting silence of Holy Saturday stirs anticipation for the unfolding joy of the Easter Vigil and the sheer gladness of Easter morning. Then…. What??? It feels to me the remaining 49 days of Easter seem rather anticlimactic? Is this as it should be? I perform certain Lenten practices to enter more fully into the suffering and death of Jesus. Why do I not have Easter practices to enter more fully into the Resurrection of Jesus? I am not sure if I give Easter its due, that I celebrate it wholly.

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This may seem a heady and irrelevant question. A pondering that belongs in the realm of theological consideration. Yet, I sense the reality of Resurrection is to be more meaningful in my, and in our, everyday life. We are happy for Resurrection. We are glad things ended well for Christ. Yet, there is a tendency to think of personal Resurrection in the realm of the hereafter, a spiritual transformation, a promise fulfilled after the travail of this world. My tendency is not to think of Resurrection as tangible, as unfolding in my life now.

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Resurrection is the living force of God’s undying love constantly and continuously at work in creation, in me, in you, a promise that is being fulfilled even as I write. Yet today the mass killings of ordinary Americans, the destruction of homes and lives from tornadoes and the injustice of racism dominate the news. No amount of words can describe the untold grief and heartbreak on this globe. Each of us can empathize because no one is exempt from loss, disappointment, sorrow, anguish, or pain. “Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus…” Each of us can identify with the suffering and death of Jesus because we touch it profoundly within the folds our own lives. Is not Resurrection, “…the power of Christ’s life in these bodies of ours”, (2 Cor 4:12) to be experienced even more deeply?

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The power of Resurrection lives in everything: the rising sun, the buried seed, the budding crocus, the hanging chrysalis, spring rain, crushing beauty, the pregnant womb, the helping hand, the comforting word, the unexpected inspiration, an act of charity, the commitment to justice, reverence for creation, the movement toward goodness. Resurrection comes to us a thousand ways each day. Do I recognize it? Do I celebrate it? It is also true in every encounter each of us possess the capacity to deposit the power of Resurrection in others’ lives.

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Resurrection is not shallow or glib, a forced joy. In the midst of suffering, hopelessness, and even death, Resurrection is the staying power of faithful love meeting God’s creative, enduring power of life. This is ultimately what is salvific. To work for justice in the midst of oppression, to work for unioning love in the midst of hatred, to work for kindness in the midst of violence, to work for generosity in the midst of greed, to work for equality in the midst of disparity, to work for reverence in the midst of desecration, to work for compassion in the midst of judgment — these are the moments we make the encounter with the Risen Christ just as real as those moments Mary Magdalen, the travelers on the Emmaus road, the disciples in the upper room, and Thomas met him. This tired world resembles the exhausted disciples who fished all night and caught nothing and yet in the dim light of morning, our work of faithful love points to an obscure figure on the shore and hope rises again, “It is the Lord!”

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Lent is over. I put away my Lenten practices. But what do I take out to celebrate the Easter Season, the Resurrection of Christ? I hold the promise, the fire, the light, the power, the life of Resurrection within me. You hold it within you. The world suffers enough. What it needs is Resurrection.

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About the Author

marcella for blogSister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and has degrees in theology and nursing.  She has served in parish ministry, accompanied others in spiritual direction, and served as retreat director for many years. She has taught theology as an adjunct faculty. Currently she does some writing, spiritual direction, and gives presentations. She believes that the core of our life is moving toward love of God and love of our dear neighbor without distinction.

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The Greatest of These is Hope

By Sister Jean Anne McGrath

“In the end there remain faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.”

How often we hear these powerful words from St. John’s gospel and find comfort, challenge, and a sense of oneness with all who believe in the power of love to mend a broken world.  This year, as we prepare to celebrate Easter and the amazing news of the successful inoculation of literally millions of persons with lifesaving vaccines, I think my prayer might be altered a bit; “and the greatest of these is hope”.

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This is the season to celebrate HOPE. After a full year of eye-opening revelations and deprivations we have learned that despite being the most advanced nation in the world we are indeed vulnerable, hurting, and subject to forms of paralysis we never dreamed possible.

The list of things for which we used to hope has shifted dramatically. I never thought that I would ever be hopeful for a safe trip to the grocery store, a hug from my grand nieces and nephews, a chance to celebrate liturgy in the faith community I love, a comfortable face mask, a burger and fries with friends at the local pub. But hope is in the air today.

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Helen Keller wrote, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” In the last twelve months we have seen the pain and suffering caused by a microscopic and invisible virus. We have felt the intangible fear when we realized, “it seems to be everywhere”. And, against all odds, brilliant and dedicated scientists have achieved the impossible and almost unimaginable miracle of finding multiple medicines that promise to help us through this international crisis.

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In her beautiful poem, “A World in Morning”, highly gifted poet laureate Amanda Gorman names the sense of relief and gratitude we are experiencing as we begin to see some important signs of recovery in all areas of life.

And so, on this meaningful morn,
We mourn and we mend
Like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend.

I think mourning and mending well define these (almost) post pandemic days. I think they also define Easter hope and Easter joy and provide a new focus and direction to use the experiences of these last twelve months to live more authentically as “Easter People” whose experience of great loss and suffering has transformed so much of what we have for too long taken for granted.

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Will we forget the heroic work of first responders whose endless hours in emergency rooms and intensive care units often included holding the hands of patients who died alone?  Will our memories be able to hold the pictures of mile long lines of families waiting in food lines for the necessities required just to survive for the next week? As we return to “business as usual” can our hearts hold the compassion and empathy to stay close to those who have lost loved ones to this dreaded virus?  If not, why not? If so, How?

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What have we learned that will nudge us to nurture a deep sense of hope that will make our world a bit more kind, a bit more patient, a bit more empathetic and compassionate.

I recently saw a poster which read: “Hope is a passion for what is possible”. I love the quotation because it makes hope an active verb, not merely a feel-good noun. In this Easter season, I want to have a hope-filled passion for justice, a hope-filled passion for gratitude, a hope-filled passion for doing my small part to ensure that the poor and marginalized can also experience a passion for what is possible.  I want the lessons of the last twelve months to encourage more than a seismic sigh of relief, but instead, a seismic shift in how I might become become my better self.

Gorman’s poem includes an invitation:

For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,
Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.
So, ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain:
Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.

May we not forget the ache that we have endured, but rather be on fire with a passion for what is possible.

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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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Befriended by Joseph

By Sister Marcella Clancy

When we bloggers are asked which dates we might want to submit a blog, I almost always say “it doesn’t matter”. This time, I specifically requested the first date in March. March is the month of St. Joseph. About 6 years ago, when I moved from Cleveland back to the Detroit area, I was apprehensive about finding a place to live. It seemed appropriate to pray to Joseph. He was given responsibility for finding safe shelter for Mary and Jesus. So, I thought maybe he would help me. That began an increasing sense of the very quiet, tender, subtle presence of Joseph in my life.

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I didn’t bury a statue of Joseph. I know some folks do that. I didn’t have an A-Ha! moment, like “Wow, this is the place! Thanks, Joseph!” No, there was just the sense of a gentle, caring presence gradually assuring my heart and hushing my anxiety. I did find a place that seemed right but then began a journey with Joseph from furnishing the apartment to developing a more contemplative stance in my first years of retirement. Joseph silently companioned me. All of this was almost imperceptible. One could contribute it to my wanting it to be true or simply my own imagination.

But I trust there is a possibility of intimacy between those who entered already into the fulness of life and those of us still on the way. The Church calls it the communion of saints and has us profess belief in it in every creed. Yet it became much more than an abstract concept when I experienced not so much Joseph’s intercession in answering my prayer but rather an abiding and comforting, companionship. Not consciously, maybe not even every day. Yet, like I experience my friends’ supportive presence when they are absent and as well as when they are present, so I experienced Joseph’s faithful friendship.

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On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter, “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart) proclaimed this the Year of St. Joseph. He did so because this is the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. The Pope begins his letter, “With a father’s heart Joseph loved Jesus.” “In Joseph”, the Pope continues, “Jesus saw the tender love of God.” “Tenderness”, he says, “is the best way to touch the frailty within us.” There is not a word of Joseph’s in the Scripture. Yet, his quiet steadfastness pervades the infancy narratives. “Saint Joseph”, to quote Francis again, “reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

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In the brief Scriptural passages that mention Joseph, one could find a number of virtues he exhibits. Yet, for me the most significant is his gentle kindness. Kindness is not a flamboyant quality. It is hidden within the fabric of relationships, offering support, encouragement, and cultivating the best in the other. It frees us from the abrasive callousness by which we wound one another. Kindness is courageous. It propels us beyond our selfishness and myopia and gives us the capacity to experience the world of another person with deep compassion. To be befriended by Joseph is to be willing to learn to gaze on the world as God constantly does with kindness.

In the midst of Lent, Joseph might not be the first saint to come to mind. His martyrdom was the daily self-gift in the most ordinary of lives, often confronted with events beyond his understanding, at times hostile, frequently unanticipated and bewildering. Joseph was not simply passive but responded with a mature faith and trust, not expecting his faith and trust to protect him or those he loved most from suffering. Surely his example offers many a pathway through the Lents of their own lives.

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I write about my experience of Joseph, because in this month of Joseph, I want to encourage others to let this silent, ordinary man of Scripture with his gentle kindness befriend and companion you. His presence has been a blessing to me and I think Joseph can be a blessing to you. As Pope Francis writes, “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”

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About the Author

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Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and has degrees in theology and nursing.  She has served in parish ministry, accompanied others in spiritual direction, and served as retreat director for many years. She has taught theology as an adjunct faculty. Currently she does some writing, spiritual direction, and gives presentations. She believes that the core of our life is moving toward love of God and love of our dear neighbor without distinction.

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The Power of Words

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

When I was a child, and other kids would call me names, my mom would remind me, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

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Now in my wisdom years, I’d like to say that statement isn’t true. Words can and do hurt.

Currently my mom is in a memory care unit because of mild dementia, and she is hearing impaired. She still knows who I am, and most times observes the rules of polite conversation, but she has limited vocabulary and only the most basic conversational skills. I call her every night, and if she remembered to hang up the phone correctly, and if she hears the phone ring, she’ll answer.
Some nights she can’t hear me, and just hangs up after I shout a few things at her. Occasionally, she’ll ask, “Who is this, and what do you want?” When I tell her who I am—and she hears me– her tone will change, and she’ll say, “Hello, honey. What’s up?”

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Then in a five-minute conversation, she asks these questions:
• What did you do today?
• How are you feeling?
• Are you keeping busy?

I answer the questions as best I can, and then ask her about her day. Every day she answers, “It was just another day.”

And then she asks again:
• What did you do today?
• How are you feeling?
• Are you keeping busy?

And I answer again.

Occasionally, the script changes. Last week she asked, “How is your hubby and your family?” Then after I explained that I don’t have a “hubby” and family, and I reminded her that I’ve been a religious sister for many years, she said, “Well, you certainly have brothers and sisters; how are they?”, and I reminded her that I only have my sister, and that our brother has been dead for many years.

“Words will never hurt me?” Oh yes, they will. Most evenings I hang up the phone with a heavy heart. My mom is slipping away from me.

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Recently there was a story in the news about a mother in Rochester who called for help with her nine-year old daughter, who was out of control and talking about suicide. When the police arrived, they could not easily subdue the girl, so they put her in handcuffs and sprayed her with pepper spray. One officer said to her, “Stop it! You’re acting like a child!” and in the midst of her tantrum, the girl cried out, “I AM a child!”

“Words will never hurt me?” I was haunted by the words of that child, the truth of what she was saying, and the poor judgment of the officers who treated her like a criminal rather than a troubled child. Her words cut deeply into my heart.

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Some years ago, a person misinterpreted something I said and reported me. I got a call from a person in authority in the congregation, who berated me for speaking against something that the community had voted to accept. I reminded her that I was a strong proponent of the policy and had worked to implement it. She backed off, then, but when I asked her to go back to the person who had reported me, and tell her that she was mistaken, she refused, saying it was “no big thing” and the incident would soon be forgotten.

“Words will never hurt me?” I had been misunderstood, and the (wrong) story was still out there, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Words have power to hurt and to heal. Words are the way we meet one another and share our thoughts and our hearts. We need to choose our words carefully and listen to others when they speak.

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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.

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Reflecting on Power and Authority

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1: 21-28) has been the inspiration for me as I reflect on the ideas of power and authority.  It’s a worthy question in our world today: who wields “power” for the good or for evil?  Who exercises authority and whose authority do we respect?

I borrow from my friend, Father Ed Foley, who said: “There has been an unfortunate trend in our country, our schools, in business, and even in our churches to allow power to be ceded to the loudest, to hand authority over to bullies.”

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I love a story that may illustrate this:

There’s a party talking to a ship at sea that says, “Ship at sea, please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”  The response was: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

The first party responds, “Sorry, sir, but you will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.” The answering party says, “This is the captain of a United States naval ship. I say you must divert your course.” The first party replies: “Pardon me, sir, you must divert your course.”

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Now the American ship says, “This is an American aircraft carrier, the second largest ship in the United States fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North.  I say again, that is 1-5 degrees North or counter measures will be taken. Do you understand?”

The response was, “Dear Captain, the next move is your call. This is a Canadian lighthouse.”

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Plenty of questions arise if we choose to reflect:  there are far too many situations of power over and abuse of authority in our world. But, I’d like to suggest that there are also wonderful situations of power and authority that stem from love and giftedness: the touching stories of care and even of saving another; the artists’ creativity giving life through visual arts and music; the teacher passing on life lessons and wisdom; the medical professionals caring for the sick; the farmer caring for land, crops and livestock, and so many others. May we focus on the power and authority that creates and sustains life; and not that which claims false power and authority—in fact, that destroys life.

 May we counteract the unfortunate trend in our country, schools, businesses, and even in our churches that cedes power and authority to the wrong places.

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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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Why Choose This Life?

By Sister Sarah Simmons

I have been asked many questions by loved ones, friends, and complete strangers over the last four years about my decision to enter religious life. They range from questions about why I don’t wear a habit and how often I pray, to clarification on whether I can still get married and have a family (the answer is no). The most popular question, however, is always “why would you choose this life?”. What they are really trying to get at is why would I choose a life of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience? Why wouldn’t I want a family or home of my own? Why would I want to enter a community whose average age is about two generations older than me? As they ask this seemingly simple but incredibly complex and loaded question, I see them trying to understand why I would choose something that is seemingly the opposite of our culture’s definition of happiness.

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I understand their grappling with my decision just as I did at one point in my discernment journey. My call to religious life cannot be measured, calculated, or sized up because my call is not about logic, but about mystery. It is the mystery of embracing God’s abundant love for me and the desire to share that love extravagantly with others. I found the way I can most fully embrace this mysterious gift is through religious life. I experience the vows and community as the context in which I can fully enter into the inheritance of love that God has bestowed upon me.

The most tangible and practical way I live out this inheritance of God’s love is through my life in community. I see a countercultural, radical life being lived out most concretely in our morning prayer, at the dinner table, and conversations about how often to change the kitchen towels. These everyday moments are the essence of a God centered life for me because it is where the rubber hits the road. The way I live in community reflects how I live religious life in all other areas of my life, including my ministry. For me, religious life begins at our dinner table and in our prayer space, bringing all that we are to one another.

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This is not to say that a commitment to community is easy or straight forward. Living with others that have a wide range of preferences, wounds, and upbringings requires patience, curiosity, and choosing to love when it is difficult to love. Community is an every day, every moment commitment to making space for others and a choice to be inconvenienced by allowing others into my life and discernment. As a woman who has lived a very independent life, this is hard work. I have experienced the growing pains in learning to allow others to help me, support me, and hold the difficulties and disappointments of life. I thought that the goal of my life was to be successful and have a life of convenience. However, through community I realized that my real desire is to learn how to love with abandon. My work is to listen, to be present, and to make space for every person, no matter our differences. It is saying yes to the mystery of transformation through everyday moments.

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Religious life is indeed where I can most fully live into my inheritance of love. I once had grand notions that living a radical life required me to step out of my home and go “out there”. The gift that religious life taught me is that my call to a radical life begins at 7:15am by choosing to get out of bed and pray with my sisters. It is in my choosing to do the dishes and a willingness to have a long conversation about our values around changing the kitchen towels.

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As we choose to make space in our hearts and lives for one another, we are choosing to love, and therefore, more fully enter into the inheritance of God’s love that we all share in. However, this is not just for me and my community, but simply the birth-place of belonging. As we nurture love and belonging with one another, we cannot help but share it with a world whose people are struggling to find their way back to one another.

About the Author

Sarah croppedSister Sarah Simmons currently serves as the program associate at Life Directions, a peer mentoring program that works with young adults ages thirteen to thirty-five in Chicago and Detroit. She just recently celebrated taking initial vows with the Congregation in pandemic fashion on zoom. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, reading, and a really good cup of coffee.

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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.