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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.

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Weaving Our Lives Together

By Sister Marcella Clancy

September 1st is a significant date on my calendar. It is the date that I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph at our founding congregation of Nazareth. As I think back over these 60 years, though there are poignant events that stay with me, most of the days and hours have been forgotten. A friend of mine used to say that amnesia was a prevalent human condition. We simply forget. The present moment with all of its demands grabs our attention and commitment. It takes hold of us and we tend to let go of our past. Yet memory is an important gift.

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In Scripture, memory is understood differently than the way we tend to use the word. Biblically “to remember” is not simply recall with the mind but rather to make the event present again. God commanded the Israelites to remember in ritual each year the Passover, so each year they would again experience God’s love for them in this great saving act. The words following consecration at Eucharist, “Do this is memory of Me”, also call us to realize Christ’s act of redemptive love is made present again in our midst.

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We circle all kinds of dates on our calendar both personally, in our families and as a collective community: birthdays, the 4th of July, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Veterans’ Day, Labor Day, etc. etc. etc. Each carries its own traditions and rituals. Sometimes I find myself expecting more than the one day of remembering can deliver. What strikes me now is that it is not about the one day. It is about the cumulative effect. About all I lived in between these days of remembering. When we celebrate someone’s birthday, it is not about the day they were born or even the number of years they achieved. It is about their life, all they have accomplished, loved, given, endured. It is about their courage, hope, goodness, and sense of humor.

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As I contemplate my 60 years, I come to realize that the celebration of this anniversary is not just about me but it is much more about the people in my life who brought me to this point: My parents who had a tenacious faith in God; Sister Etta, who when I asked her if she thought I had a vocation, told me she had been praying for me for 3 years; Sister Marjorie, our novice director, whose passion for God was contagious; Father Ed, my spiritual director for 40 years because he had “something” I wanted in a relationship with God and I thought if I stuck with him long enough I’d get it too; Father Kelly, who in one retreat changed my prayer, and that made all the difference in my life; The environment of support, challenge, and thirst for God and ardor for serving the “dear neighbor” which surrounded me, an air in which I breathed, as a Sister of St. Joseph; the people who I had the privilege of ministering to and with who I came to understand gave me so much more than I could ever possibly give them.

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My life, like every life, is really a fabric that has been weaved with the threads of others’ lives. For me it is important “to remember” and thus make present the accumulative gift my life is, made out of the gift of others’ lives. When you celebrate your next anniversary or birthday may you remember and make present the gift of those accumulative lives that have blessed you and brought you to this point in your own life. My one word is grateful.

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About the Author

marcella for blogSister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, has degrees in nursing and theology. In the past she ministered in hospitals, taught nursing and theology at the college level and served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Currently, Sister Marcella ministers as a spiritual director, facilitates retreats and offers presentations through Transformation Spirituality Center at our Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo.

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There She Goes for All of Us

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

As soon as I saw it, I loved the title that Sister Lyn Osiek, RSCJ gave to her recent article exploring the Feast of the Assumption in Give Us This Day “There She Goes for All of Us”. It packed a double whammy, of the good kind.

In the first place I smiled that Sister Lyn’s theological shorthand matched my own. When I teach about the import of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, I tend to begin with what happens for Mary, happens for all of us. Sister Lyn artfully concludes that “the feast of the Assumption of Mary means the incorporation of our full humanity” in Christ’s conquering of death, and “plays out Paul’s conviction that ‘male and female, we are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28) and that we are all holy.”

Almost simultaneously in the second place, “There She Goes for All of Us” tapped into my excitement for another She, namely, Sister Sarah Simmons, CSJ. Her family and friends have been anticipating her initial profession of vows as a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph this August 15—and now we have witnessed this event, with great joy.

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Sister Sarah Simmons, whose first vows were live-streamed this month.

Sister Sarah’s profession of her personal commitment to the Gospel mission has surely become a touchstone moment for her, but also for all of us. As a public act, it certainly holds us accountable. But more than that it enlivens all of us in our life commitments as sisters and brothers, all women and men who are and will be living consecrated life, as well as those living out their marriage commitments.

At the liturgy Sister Sarah spoke of how the radical self-gift of American Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke has inspired her own. When Sister Maura chose to stay with her oppressed community in El Salvador, she did so out of the conviction that every body mattered. Sister Maura modeled Jesus’s words and actions in the Gospel text Sarah chose: there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

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Sister Maura Clarke, MM, ministering in Central America among the local people. She and three other churchwomen (Ita Ford, MM; Dorothy Kazel, OSU; and Jean Donovan) were brutally slain by a death squad in El Salvador, December 2, 1980

Sarah spoke of how Sister Maura’s life witness called her to journey in deeper trust in God, a trust that opened her to creating space for others.

Actually, we in the Congregation of St. Joseph were doubly blessed this summer, celebrating Sister Jennifer Berridge’s initial profession of vows on July 25 in Wheeling, WV.

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Sister Jennifer after having made her first vows this July.

Maybe you’d like to know the actual content of our profession of vows. Here’s what Sister Sarah and Sister Jennifer professed:

God of Great Love, in the name of Jesus, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I come before you to offer myself in response to your call. Moving always toward profound love of you and the dear neighbor and entirely dependent on your grace in living out my profession, I vow poverty, celibate chastity and obedience…In the spirit of the self-emptying love of Jesus, and with your blessing and grace, I will live and work to bring all into union with you and with one another. I thank you God for all the love I have known, and ask your grace to live these vows in a spirit of gentleness, peace and joy.

This profession holds Sister Sarah’s response to the the call that she experiences, the call to continually deepen trust in God who is Communion of Love, and who is always inviting us to create space for the dear neighbor. With Sisters Sarah and Jennifer, we sisters vow to listen deeply in community, to love widely, and to live simply so to honor and protect all creation.

Writer Alice Camille (Give Us This Day, “The Value of a Person”) helps us appreciate the heart of the mystery of the Assumption of Mary by situating its proclamation in historical context. Post-war 1950 marked an era when life was cheap: war crimes, disease and famine had created nightmarish ruin across the planet. It was in this moment, in protest really, that Pius XII chose to affirm that every part of Mary was precious to God, that every part of her was sacred vessel who had carried Christ. There she goes for all of us.

And so, in the words of poet Mary Oliver, “What will you do with your one, wild and precious life?”

You’re invited to meet some of our sisters and associate and hear why they chose the Congregation of St. Joseph here.

About the Author

IMG_4596 (3)Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger CSJ, DMin is Co-minister of Vocations for the Congregation of St. Joseph, pictured here having “attended” the initial profession of vows of Sarah Simmons, CSJ, August 15, 2020.

*Cover image by Sister Mary Southard, Touch the Earth

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Enough, For Now

By Sister Christine Parks

The weather took a turn today. We’ve only just entered into August and Mother Nature seems to be taking a time-out from what has felt like an unseasonably hot, sunny summer (by Michigan standards anyway) to remind us that we are headed toward another Autumn.

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However I’m not writing summer off yet as we head deeper into August, even though I’ve already postponed my vacation plans first from June to September, and now even that’s been cancelled due to the vicissitudes of these unusual and difficult times. Since I don’t have a large RV or camper (or even a tent anymore) it’s hard to make plans that involve any significant travel or overnight stays anywhere. And I haven’t really started to think about making a retreat—the where, when and how to take some time away for prayer, in the midst of the pandemic.

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But still there’s the view outside my window, sun dappled leaves dancing in the morning breeze. There’s the garden crying out for attention; there’s the hawk that swept by at shoulder height this morning, and the voracious hummingbird visiting the feeder; sunsets at Lake Michigan begging to be observed; and there are still a dozen or so nature areas and parks within a couple hour’s drive begging to be explored. All this and more—enough for at least one mini-vacation, and/or retreat, every day.

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And so I am trying to reflect more deeply on a quote from the writer Iris Murdoch (in a recent posting from Gratefulness-Word for the Day): There is no beyond, there is only here, the infinitely small, infinitely great and utterly demanding present. If only I stood still long enough for a bit of re-creation today and today and today. If only I sat still long enough to touch and be touched by the holy today.

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I’m hopeful and wondering if that can actually be enough for now, enough for this moment, enough for me, enough for all of us to learn from the teaching of this time in our shared experience of limitation, loss and vulnerability. Perhaps it’s enough to walk today with these words by activist-farmer, writer-poet, nature philosopher Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound…
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—Wendell Berry in “The Peace of Wild Things”

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About the Author

Christine use this oneSister Christine Parks formerly served as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. She currently serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional program presenter, with Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

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Finding Light in Little Things

Since the pandemic started, life has been different for all of us. As an employee who is able to work full time from home, and who is also a mom, my life has changed drastically in the last few months. I have not set foot in my office since the end of February, and my daughter now stays home with her dad and I rather than going to her grandparents’ house during the week.

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I wish I could tell you this is what working from home really looks like…

Trying to work full-time from home with a one year old in the house, one who started walking at the beginning of lockdown and is now running and climbing and generally causing mischief, has been stressful. There are days that I long for the structure of my old life. The nine to five, Monday through Friday, drop-off, pickup, routine that we had all really just gotten used to.

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…but really it looks like this.

I know I’m not alone mourning this old way of life – for many of us, life has changed drastically. But I also think I, and perhaps many of you, have the tendency to romanticize the things that I can no longer do. I was reminded today that our old lives were not without their stressors when I came across a memory from this winter.

Let me start out by saying, I’m not much of a morning person. Don’t get me wrong, I love the kinds of mornings when I can wake up without an alarm, plod downstairs, make a good pot of coffee, and eat breakfast in the quiet calm of the day. However, mornings like that are increasingly rare in my life (especially since having a daughter.) Before the pandemic, most mornings were a rush of getting myself and my daughter fed, dressed, bundled up and out the door.

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Breakfast at our house.

These mornings were often a bit harry. If I was lucky, my daughter would sleep until I had gotten dressed and ready for work, and then I’d feed her and dress her and we’d head on our way. But that was rarely the case. More often then not, I’d be woken by her cries before my alarm even went off, fumbling around in the dark for my glasses before I scooped her up and got her taken care of. Then, while I tried to brush my teeth, she would cry, indignant that I wasn’t playing with her or reading her a book.

Many mornings, something had to give. My daughter would sometimes show up to my parents’ house still in her pajamas. Rather than blow-dry my hair in the morning, I’d throw it up in a ponytail and head out the door. But the days that were the hardest, the ones that I simply could not manage, were the ones where I did not have time to brew a pot of coffee.

On the morning of this particular memory, none of us had gotten any sleep. My daughter was teething and wouldn’t sleep through the night, no matter what we tried. Her dad had to be to work early, and so was not able to help. I had managed to get dressed, but my daughter had gotten milk all over me with her breakfast so I had to change again. Nothing was working.

We finally got in the car and headed towards the highway when I went to take a sip of my coffee, only to realize it wasn’t there. Stressed out, and already running late, I decided to go through the drive through at the coffee shop. I just couldn’t make the half hour commute on so little sleep without a coffee.

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The line, of course, was long, my daughter was unhappy in the back seat, and I sat there, stewing in my frustration. Why were there so many people in line? Why couldn’t my daughter sleep through the night? Why couldn’t mornings be easy?

My day would probably have been ruined by my sour mood, if not for what happened next. When I got to the window and went to hand the woman manning the register my card, she waved my hand away.

“The person ahead of you already paid for your drink,” she said.

I looked at her for a moment, stunned. Here I was, annoyed at every little frustration, seemingly angry at the world, and yet this small act of kindness stopped me in my tracks. I took a deep breath and then smiled, handing her my card anyway.

“Well, then I’d like to pay for the car behind me,” I said.

I got my coffee and got back on the road, my mood completely altered. This small gesture of kindness from a stranger had lifted my spirits and reminded me of the simple goodness we can find in the world, if we’re not to busy or irritated to look. That day, my morning commute didn’t seem so bad.

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This memory, of course, is only one of many. And as I thought about it, I was reminded of the general feeling of disorder and chaos my mornings used to bring. Were those supposedly structured mornings really better? Sure, I would drop my daughter off and then be able to work in my office for the day, but the drop off and pick up stress often loomed large over my day. And most weekday management of our daughter was left to me, her father sometimes working until well after she had gone to bed.

These days, I get up with my daughter, get her some milk, and then hand her off to her father, who has gotten to spend more time with her than he ever has before. I brew a pot of coffee at home and then head to my desk (sometimes still in my pajamas!) While I sometimes get interrupted by a small toddler, squealing and running in to my room with a book in her hands, her joy is infectious, and the work still gets done.

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Interruptions come with smiles.

Instead of bemoaning our old life, I’m trying to find ways to appreciate the new. No matter what happens, with the pandemic and with our world, life still goes on. Morning still comes. And the small acts of kindness, both by strangers and by our friends and family, still bring light to our world.

About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-WebElizabeth 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!