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Baby Love

My three month old baby was crying. I had just gone back to work. And a sister was on the phone, wanting to talk about her upcoming blog post.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, the baby’s cries clearly coming through the phone. “I’m still figuring out this working with a baby thing.”

“It’s perfectly ok!” Sister Ann said. “I love to hear it! She’s telling you she needs something. Isn’t it wonderful, babies just tell it like it is. When do we lose our ability to vocalize what we need?”

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Not my baby, but an accurate representation of her communicating.

The baby calmed down, Sister Ann and I finished our phone call, and she wrote a lovely blog post about finding what you’re looking for (you can read it here.) But what she said got me thinking: what can paying close attention to babies teach us?

So, here are three things my baby has taught me (so far) about life, love, and faith.

1. It’s important to communicate needs.

That first comment from Sister Ann rings true to me. When do we, as people, learn that we need to keep our needs to ourselves? While I don’t think my daughters vehicle of communication would work for all of us (I can see it now…people bursting into fits of tears in the middle of business meetings, the grocery store, a dinner with friends…) it’s true that we often don’t talk openly with others about our needs. Sisters of St. Joseph are very much concerned with being in relationship with others. Open communication is often the first step in a full, open, and meaningful relationship, whether that be a friendship, mentorship, or collaborative relationship. By expressing our needs to others, and being open with them, we can build more meaningful relationships with each other and our world.

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Babies love to communicate, even when we’re not sure what they’re saying!

2. You can love a person you’ve just met – or never met.

The love one has for a child may be different from the love we have for a partner or friend, but it is love that comes about all on its own. A baby doesn’t do anything specific to make us love them: we love them simply because they exist. Not only our own babies, but the infants of others make many of us coo and smile when we see them out in our neighborhoods. Why, then, do we sometimes find it difficult to extend this love to all of our neighbors? Aren’t we all called to love our neighbors, whether they are the person next door or a continent away? And when do we lose our ability to do this willingly? My little girl doesn’t seem to make a distinction between her great aunt or the cashier at the grocery store, so long as they both make funny faces at her, she offers them a smile!

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This baby gets it. 

3. Love is unconditional.

It does not matter if it is 3am, and my daughter has been crying for the last hour. It doesn’t matter if I have only gotten 2 hours of sleep, and am exhausted. I love her the same, no matter what. It’s not surprising, then, that we often refer to God as a Father or Mother figure. God loves us always, unconditionally.

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Tired, but full of love.

Having a new baby has taught me many things: how little sleep I can get and still function; how much coffee I can drink in one day; how many diapers a baby can go through. As she grows, I know I’ll help her learn new things, but I think she’ll keep teaching me too.

About the Author

me and sophie original 2Elizabeth 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, and Harry Potter. She is a new mom, and working to figure it out!

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Pondering “Moral Authority”

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

In the mid 1980’s, the founding Congregation of Cleveland entered into a serious discernment about declaring public sanctuary for refugees from El Salvador. We created an educational video for all of the members of the Congregation, and then came together to hear from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and from the local FBI. We knew that to transport and harbor those without documentation was against civil law.

hammer-719066_1920.jpgAt that meeting, one of the Sisters who had been an educator her whole life spoke about having taught students to be law abiding; she just couldn’t agree to “break the law.” In response, I questioned whether God’s law didn’t take priority. It was a conundrum, and we face the same conundrum when we seek to exercise our moral authority in other matters. I’d like to pose the following question to each of you: What do you consider to be your moral authority and responsibility?legal-1143114_1920For some, one’s moral responsibility is simply keeping the civil law. The assumption is that civil law is right and just. Sadly, that is not always the case. The group of people who are most concerned with keeping the civil law might also be concerned with the consequences of breaking it—having to pay a fine or to spend time in jail.prison-553836_1920 (1)Those who believe that Church teaching is always right and just seek to keep canon law as a way of being loyal to God. And yet, the Church is a human institution, and has been wrong in its teaching in a number of cases: agreeing to slavery, only recently speaking out about capital punishment, the judgment and rejection of LGBTQ men and women.church-3413155_1920.jpgThen there is God’s law as it is revealed in the Gospels. Jesus taught us to love, only love. This includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and those in prison, welcoming the stranger, burying the dead. He taught and modeled non-violence as stones were dropped and swords put away. He taught forgiveness, seventy times seven times. If these laws of the Gospel are not being followed, we are called to, and we simply must, exercise our moral authority: to speak out, to stand up, to shine a light into the night of injustice and immorality.love one anotherWe exercise moral authority in three ways: in educating others regarding the Gospel message; in doing direct service to those treated unjustly or who are in need; and in changing systems that sustain immoral treatment of our brothers and sisters, the dear neighbor. Living the “status quo,” to simply keep the peace, does not indeed keep peace, and is often irresponsible. To act on our moral authority, let us always and everywhere choose to follow God’s law of love, peace, and justice.board-1815982_1920

About the Author

sallie-sized-for-useAfter 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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St. Joseph the Father

Afternoon tea time, and my thoughts are wandering around in circles between the loveliness of the continued unfolding of spring, in this season of resurrection between Easter and Pentecost, and our May 1st feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

As I walk through our neighborhood each morning, I try to stay present to, and aware of, all the sights and sounds, and occasionally scents, that abound on these warming days. Everywhere I turn trees are budding, leafing; flowers are bursting through the earth, awakening from their winter sleep—which could look like death, if we didn’t believe in the unfailing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth which carries us though each year.bluebell-3248080_1920Birds are back, filling the air with spring song, both the permanent residents, and the migrants who come only for the season, to procreate and raise their young before packing up and heading south again. Listening to their daily songs, I can’t help pondering how curious it is that they are unconcerned about, and oblivious to, the artificial borders and boundaries we draw on our maps. They are not stopped for border checks, put in detention centers, or required to prove their “right” to flock across every kind of “border” from south to north and back again. If only all humans had the freedom of birds.birds-351174_1920Sadly we don’t. Instead we label those who are seeking freedom, asylum, safety, and just a taste of the abundance we have, as illegal and unwelcome. We detain them (relieving them of shoelaces and belts), sometimes imprison them—we degrade their humanity in our attempt to ensure our own safety.

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Shoes at the border – Photo taken by Sister Erin McDonald

It’s not that I don’t want to be “safe”, but as I hear stories on the news, and from our sisters and associates who have given of their time and energy volunteering at our southern border in El Paso, I’m reminded of Jesus telling us that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we are doing to him. I am reminded of him surrounded by children, cherishing and loving them when I see pictures of immigrant/refugee children suffering and separated from parents.jesus-1045267_1920And this brings me back to my, now cooling, tea, and to our patron, Joseph—Joseph the worker. The loving parent, who provided safety for his son, both as an infant refugee, and throughout his youth in Nazareth. I have to believe that this is what all children of God deserve, and what we have to work for, as we celebrate resurrection and move toward growing in the gifts of the Spirit given at Pentecost. Safety, new life, renewal whatever the season or circumstances of our lives—I want to remember all of this as I celebrate and rejoice in this season.St. Joseph the Worker Prayer, Instagram 2

About the Author

Christine Parks
Sister Christine Parks formerly served as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

 

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What Are You Looking For?

BY SISTER ANN LETOURNEAU

The children, dressed in their Easter best and gathered with their colorful baskets, waited for their grandfather to give the word that the hunt had begun. I don’t need to tell you what they were looking for on their search. We all know that kids love to find the colorful eggs that are hidden for their delight, filled with goodies and surprises. But what are you looking for these days?

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Living in turbulent, unsettling times, where bomb attacks, hate crimes, climate change, clergy sexual abuse, Russian interference, and school shootings seem to constantly confront us, we can easily find ourselves looking for the next awful event that is going to happen. We become cautious, wondering if the person walking towards us on the sidewalk is going to harm us. We keep ourselves behind locked doors at home, in the car, and at work. We are vigilant for our own safety and the safety of our children. Wisdom demands it. At the same time, there is danger in generalizing headlines to our everyday lives. The confirmation bias leads us to find what fits with our beliefs and disconfirm anything that refutes it. In other words, we find what we are looking for. If I believe the world is a terrible place, I will remember all the stories I hear to confirm this belief and forget the positive ones.

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What if we consciously looked for what the Easter egg symbolizes? For Christians, the Easter egg originally represented the Resurrection of Jesus. The hard shell was the sealed tomb and cracking the shell was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection for me means new life and hope. In the days before Easter I was on the look-out for “resurrection moments,” moments when my heart was stirred with joy. They’re easy to find in the springtime, when the natural world is waking up from the winter. A week before Easter, however, we had about six inches of snow and I feared the buds that were ready to burst forth would succumb to the cold. To my delight, they didn’t. The daffodils, tulips, and magnolia trees are in bloom. Resurrection came despite the polar vortex and the late snowfall. My heart sang as I walked around the neighborhood noticing all the bright, colorful flowers.

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Another resurrection moment occurred for me when the sister I live with snuck a candy bar into my lunch bag. I could hardly keep from smiling when I saw it. The small gift was a simple surprise that warmed my heart with the love of my sisters in community.

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My ministry of journeying with people in psychological therapy affords me many resurrection moments. While I’m trusted with many emotions and stories that are frequently not shared in public, I’m also blessed to give witness to breakthrough moments when people work through painful times or gradually begin to see themselves as being loveable.

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What Resurrection moments come alive for you today? Let your internal headline be: Jesus is Alive! And be on the lookout for when he brings joy to your heart. Remember, we find what we are looking for.

About the Author

Ann CroppedSister Ann Letourneau, PsyD has been a Sister of St. Joseph for 29 years. She is a staff psychologist at Central Dupage Pastoral Counseling Center in Carol Stream, IL where she sees individual clients and offers educational presentations on various psychological and spiritual topics. Sr. Ann is fascinated by nighttime dreams and runs a monthly dream group at The Well Spirituality Center, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph in La Grange, IL.

On Call

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ

Can you remember a time in life when you were challenged in conversations to find a simple answer to the question “What do you do?”

This question typically aims to elicit the nature of your work or ministry. While it’s up to your discretion as to how to portray the adventures of your waking hours, I find that if I don’t put it into a succinct phrase or two, the questioner usually begins to shift and fidget, or worse, look back at me like that RCA Victor dog.

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For almost three months now, my response to that question has usually included the mention of the words vocation ministry, and in so responding I’ve come to some new awarenesses. First, vocation ministry has little chance of making sense to anyone until the inquirer knows about my identity as a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph. And that awareness has led to another: I’ve actually been implicitly on call as a vocation minister ever since I’ve become a Sister of St. Joseph.

PaulaTeresePilon.jpgSome of us have had the lived experience of being explicitly on call in their work, and so have a head start on this concept. Sister Paula Terese Pilon, CSJ, for example (left), works as an at-home hospice caregiver through Cleveland Clinic on weekdays, but is also on call on rotating weekends. As we know, life happens outside of a Monday-Friday schedule, and someone needs to be ready to respond. When on call for hospice care, Paula Terese is in a kind of ready-to-respond consciousness that differs from when she’s “clocked out” on a free weekend.

Calling on God

So, does God ever “clock out?” Dutch theologian D. Erasmus (d. 1536) asserted a response—in Latin, as he was wont to do—that coheres with the theology of all Abrahamic faiths and more:

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“Called upon or not called upon, God is present.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that this phrase (as well as its various translations) have been showing up lately in contemporary graphic art. There are several posters and wall art that feature it in connection with famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung (d. 1961), who had had this phrase carved over the door of his home. Jung is the one, by the way, who proposed that we humans share a collective unconscious.

Called by God

So, what is it we believe that God is up to in this omnipresence?

Isn’t God always calling us in some way to participate ever more radically in God’s own flourishing life and outpouring love? Haven’t our own “vocation stories” been written out from day-to-day encounters with the God of Life and Love, through the ones who have made God manifest in our lives? As you may have guessed, my answers to these questions are Yes, and Yes!

Being implicitly on call means to me that I’m alert to how God may be acting in my life and in other’s lives, and inviting them to take a step in joining the divine mission of unifying love. Simultaneously, God is calling me to model, invite and welcome.

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Calling Others

Last June, attendees of the Skowhegan Moose Festival which takes place in Skowhegan, Maine, attempted to set a world record for the most amount of people calling moose at the same time. Did you know there wasn’t a record for this yet? Well there wasn’t, but now there is because the Bangor Daily News recently announced that the effort was confirmed by Guinness World Records. A total of 1,054 people, “grunted, wailed and otherwise channeled their inner moose” according to the official press release. If you have to know more about this you can read the story here.

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What does this have to do with vocations? Let’s just say that it got me pondering how we Sisters and Associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph could muster our individual and collective consciousness to call people to our mission of unity and reconciliation. I’ve realized that I need to sit prayerfully before God and a mirror and ask which of my own attitudes and behaviors nurtures an invitational and welcoming disposition, and which inhibit the same? Borrowing from St. Ignatius, I might call this question a vocational examen.

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We as followers of Jesus are on call every day to deepen our atunement to God’s calling. This is certainly the Lenten Gospel message! Jesus promises that our own deepened responses to his call to unity will bear much fruit, which could mean becoming the stuff of someone else’s vocation story.

Mk 4:8-9; Mt 5:15-17; Lk 24; Jn 4:39

About the Author

MaryJo.Smaller

Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min. is a practical theologian who is co-ministering in vocation work with Kate Theriot, M.S., CSJ Associate Director. Whenever Mary Jo visits her sister’s family in Vermont, she is always hoping to sight a moose (from a safe distance of course).

Learn more about the Congregation of St. Joseph here. Meet a few of our Sisters including Sister Mary Jo here. To learn more about our vocation ministry, click here.

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A Few of My Favorite Things: Sisters, The Sound of Music, and Moving Beyond the Habit

NOTE: The following was originally written and posted in January, 2017. It was our first ever blog post so we wanted to explain the title, Beyond the Habit, and what that means to us. For those who started following us later and sometimes ask about the title, we are re-sharing this. 

By Elizabeth Powers

When I was three years old, I met my first real-life nun. Or at least, the first one I recognized. She was dressed in a dark habit, her rosary dangling at her side. I was, in a word, ecstatic. I grabbed my grandmother’s hand the minute this sister walked in our front door and whisper-shouted to her in awe, as only toddlers can, “It’s a nun from The Sound of Music!” Both my grandmother and the sister laughed, and in a few weeks I received a gift from this sweet sister, a small music box that played the Sound of Music classic “My Favorite Things.” That music box sits on my shelf, still one of my own favorite things today.

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  Nobody solves a problem like Maria.
Maybe she can help us understand habits?

These are the nuns that many of us recognize. The sisters we see on TV and in movies, from The Sound of Music to The Flying Nun and Sister Act, appear to us all in black, their habits a veil of secrecy, their lives a mystery of prayer. As I got older, I met many more Catholic nuns, but I quickly learned a long black habit and veil were seldom signs that I was speaking to a sister. In fact, the majority of the sisters I’ve had the pleasure of knowing do not wear a habit at all.

So why is the habit still what we associate with when we think of sisters? And why did sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph start wearing habits at all? When the Sisters of Saint Joseph were founded in 1650 in France, the garb they chose was the dress of the widow. By wearing this “habit”, sisters could move around freely in their community without the accompaniment of a father, brother or husband and safely do good works without being questioned. They blended in. But as widows stopped wearing black and times changed, the habit became a symbol that separated sisters from everyone else.

What’s ironic about this is that Sisters of St. Joseph believe that all people are ONE with God and one another; that no one should be singled out as being better or worse than any other person. While the habit told the world who the sisters were, it also encouraged this feeling of “otherness,” that sisters were somehow different. Thanks to guidelines established by the Vatican in the 1960s, sisters were encouraged to return to their roots and consider their original intentions as a congregation. For Sisters of St. Joseph, this meant a return to “blending in” with those with them they live and work in the world. In hopes that all people could work together, with no distinction between sisters and ordinary individuals, sisters in the Congregation of St. Joseph stopped wearing the habit and started wearing plain clothing.

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Some sisters wear habits and some sisters don’t.
But we all wish we had Maria’s dance moves.

Today, our “habit,” the thing that guides us and connects us to our mission of oneness, is love. It is because of this habit of love that we are starting this blog today. In a world that often feels filled with separation, in which anxiety about the future and fear of “otherness” prevails, we start writing today to bring love to the world. You won’t see us in the traditional habit, but you can still find us in the habit of love, writing and working for the good of the world.

As Maria Von Trapp sang, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.” We hope that this blog will become one of your favorite things, a place to come to find love, understanding about the sisters and their work in the world, and fun sister stories to brighten your day!

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About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-Web

Elizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer when faced with a particularly poignant, sister-inspired moment. She loves reading, writing, and Harry Potter.

 

A Fresh Look at Lent

By Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ

If the title of this blog caught your eye, chances are good that like me, you’ve lived through many Lents. Over the years it’s easy to start having embedded ideas about Lent; to fall into long-established practices and cultivated expectations of what we should accomplish or achieve. This year, I wonder if it is time for me to take a fresh look at the season before Easter.

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I am caught by a line from the first reading from the Book of Joel for Ash Wednesday: “Return to Me with your whole heart.” What an extraordinary Scripture with which to begin Lent. It seems to me it is a call of profound yearning that rises deep from the heart of God. It is a call toward ardent intimacy. The first word of God with which we are to begin this 40-day journey proclaims the passion with which God desires our whole being.

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When I was younger, the image I had of what I was to do during Lent was similar to the actions of a sculptor. I wanted to be my own Michelangelo. I thought through my Lenten practices I could chisel myself into a holy woman, that if I was faithful enough to prayer, penance and acts of charity, I could arrive at Easter a transformed woman. Instead I always arrived at Holy Week a little disappointed. I was never quite faithful enough to become as holy as I longed to be. It seemed I was left with the same flaws and faults I had on Ash Wednesday. It took me a long time to realize that growing into the fullness of who God created me to be is primarily the work of God, and not accomplished through my own efforts.

I once had a memorial card of an artist friend. On it there was a simple prayer: “May my clay be ever moist that I may not lose the impression of Your fingers.” It seems to me this is a better image of Lent – not of myself as sculptor with a hammer and chisel in hand but of God as a Potter with tender and knowing fingers gently shaping the clay of my being. The Lenten practices of prayer, penance, and acts of charity do not make me holy but are simply the watering that makes me moist so God can have Her way with me. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6)

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It is good to discern what Lenten practices God is calling us to. But life is messy. There are daily frustrations, misunderstandings, irritations and annoyances. There may also be great sorrow, disappointment, pain or loss. Though I do not believe God causes any of this, the messiness provides opportunities to respond with humility, patience and love. There have been times I was so intent in being faithful to my prayer that I overlooked someone who needed a listening ear or helping hand. How do I recognize those occasions when I am presented with an opportunity to love not as I choose, but as life presents to me? As God presents to me?

Yet I think there is still a more profound perspective by which I am to walk the Lenten journey. I could live the season as I usually do – out of my “shoulds”, my desire to be holy or my yearning to yield to God. Yet with age comes wisdom, and I’ve come to realize it is not about me. It is about God.

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Early on in my life, martyrs, missionaries and saints became my heroes and heroines. I wanted to imitate them, be like them. It felt to me that they knew a divine secret. A hidden mystery from which all else flows – how tenderly, deeply, fully and unconditionally God loves me. I can never fully grasp this profound reality, but it moves me to extraordinary gratitude, humility and love.

It is not by chance that we begin this sacred journey of Lent with the ardent, longing cry of God. This year, may we hear more deeply this divine secret silently pleading in our hearts: “Return to Me…I want nothing less than all of you.”

About the Author

Marcella Clancy.LoRes

Sister 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.