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How To Be Where You Are

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”  Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel

If you are already a mystic or a master of mindfulness, you can skip this, but if you are like the rest of us who often don’t pay attention to what’s right in front of you, read on! I’m offering a few tips on how to be where you are.

Put on your “Life is good” T-shirt and settle in to read this. Are you HERE yet?

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  • BE where you are.

Avoid the temptation of multi-tasking.  Be where you are.

    • When you are with your family, be with your family. Don’t dwell on the fact that you daughter needs a haircut or that your husband has a spot on his shirt. Pay attention to what is going on when you are together, and BE there.
    • When you are in church, be in church, rather than planning what happens after services are over, or reviewing your shopping list.
    • When you are at the beach, be at the beach. resist the temptation to worry about what you left undone at the office. Don’t miss your vacation! Your body is warm from the sun, refreshed from the cool water, resting on a blanket—now YOU be there—body, mind, and spirit.
    • When you talk with someone on the phone, pay attention to the conversation. Don’t think about what you want to say next, who else you need to call, or what you need to do when you get off the phone. Be there!
    • When you go to a class or a play or a concert, be. When you settle into your seat, take a moment to bring your mind, heart, and spirit to join your body. Remember, you’re not really THERE until all of you is there.

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  • DO what you do

There are some days when we never really pay attention to what we are doing—and so we miss the joy of it all.

    • When you eat, taste and savor the food.  Look at it; chew it; swallow it; enjoy it. Note color, texture, and flavor.
    • When you walk, pay attention to the world around you: what’s blooming, what you see and hear.  Avoid the temptation to talk on your phone or listen to a book or make mental lists of what you need to do next.
    • When you take a shower, take a shower. Feel the water on your body and enjoy it. Smell the soap. Notice the sensation of the soft towel against your skin as you dry yourself.
    • When you listen to music, full appreciation comes with full attention. Take the time to move the music to the foreground, rather than background. You’ll be surprised at what you hear when you really listen.
    • When you get in bed at the end of a long day, get in bed! Notice the cool sheets, the warm blanket, the soft pillow cradling your head.

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  • SEE the world with God’s eyes

In Jesus, and ever after him, God fully experiences humanity through those God creates in the divine image.

    • When you revel in a sunset, so does God. A million people reveling in the sunset means God revels a million times!
    • When spring and summer flowers bloom in all their beauty, take it all in with your eyes. God, who gives us the gift of sight, admires the fine handiwork of creation in every eye that truly sees.
    • Delight in watching children at play. God sees the little ones bubbling with joy and enthusiasm; for them, everything is new. Your delight is God’s delight.

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  • SEE GOD in all things.”

This is how St. Ignatius of Loyola sums up Catholicism’s sacramental principle.

If everything in creation points to God, we are invited to expect to FIND God in all things.

 Are you ready? Start looking now!

Remember that BEING is a blessing and LIVING is holy. You can do this.  Just BE where you are and DO what you do—and expect God to show up everywhere.

 

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!

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Healing in Black and White

By Stephanie West

I don’t know Brandy’s last name, but it doesn’t matter. I met her by chance really. Brandy is a clerk at my post office. She is black. Her workstation is next to a wall where she hangs her personal calendar each year. That’s how we met.

On one of my errands to the post office, I noticed that Brandy’s calendar looked familiar. It was a calendar from Navigators, a Christian ministry, that features a different scripture verse written in colorful script each month of the year. Hmmm, I thought, Brandy must love God, and she has the courage to hang her calendar on the wall in her personal space, visible to her customers. I related to her immediately.

Time went on, and January came. At the post office, I noticed that there was a secular calendar hanging where the scriptural one had been. I asked Brandy about it. She said she hadn’t been able to acquire a Navigator calendar for the new year. I told her that I thought I may have one! I returned with it on my next trip to the post office, and when I gave it to her, she smiled and immediately hung it up on her wall.

I saw Brandy on and off when I had to go to the post office. We shared a knowing smile, conveying we both loved God, as we went about our daily lives.

Then this year came. 2020. The year of Covid. And now the year of protests by Black Lives Matter and all those who want to see an end to racism and violence. Within weeks of yet another black man’s death at the hands of law enforcement, it seems our collective pot has boiled over, and rightly so. So many people outraged, angry, sad and frustrated by this needless tragedy.

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I find myself more distressed than ever about the state of our country. A man I have never seen before has been walking around the center of my town with a sign reading, “Silence is Acceptance.” I thought about this. I wondered what I could do or say to help.

That day, I ran out of stamps, so I headed out to the post office with my COVID mask on. Brandy, with her mask on too, was there at her counter. I was so happy to see her. After she gave me my stamps, I asked her how she was doing. She said she was fine. She asked how I was. I told her that I was sad and sorry about what happened to George Floyd, and about the violence happening in the aftermath of his death. She said she knew. I told her that I was also scared. She reached out and grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I became teary and left. Brandy had comforted me like nobody else had. She was Christ to me.

When home, I couldn’t help but notice my gorgeous peonies blooming near my front door. I thought, I should give a bouquet to Brandy to show my appreciation. I hurried back to the post office and went directly to Brandy’s window with the peonies. Brandy came out from behind her counter, and gave me the biggest, warmest hug ever. She and I spent a few moments like that – hugging and crying together, in silent prayer for our people and our country When we finally pulled apart, she told me that not everyone in my white suburban town is always kind. I gave her an understanding nod and told her to please take care of herself. She said the same, and I left hoping that I had been Christ to Brandy this time.

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How graced was that moment! Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Brandy and I are peacemakers. Between us I felt an unspoken agreement to bring peace and Christ’s love to others. Although we were just two people having an interaction, one that won’t solve racism or the systemic problems we face as a nation, there is no doubt we need one another to heal.

What is the verse on the outside of this year’s calendar on Brandy’s wall? “To know Christ is to make him known and help others to do the same.” Amen.

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About the Author

Stephanie West to useStephanie West was born in Wheeling WV, where she attended 12 years of religious education classes with our sisters. She has a degree in secondary education, a Masters in Reading Education, and a Masters in School Administration. Stephanie has taught in Cleveland area Catholic schools and served as a school principal. Since 2010, Stephanie has worked for LifeWorks Ohio where she teaches Choose Life lessons to students. In 2009, she became an Associate of the Congregation of St Joseph. Stephanie and her husband Bill have four grown children and six grandchildren. They have been members of St. Raphael Parish in Bay Village, Ohio for 45 years.

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Finding the Spirit in Upper Rooms

By Sister Jean Ann McGrath

The Covid Quarantine has given me a new insight into the importance of “upper rooms”. No, not penthouses or trendy new restaurants for which “Upper Room” might be a catchy name. I am thinking about my own upper room and about the upper rooms mentioned in Scripture.
First, my own.

I live in a second floor apartment in Chicago with a big picture window. I spend far too much time perched in my favorite chair, coffee mug in hand, with eyes fixed on the activities of Artesian Avenue. It is the place where I pray every day, where I read every day, where I attend ZOOM meetings, and where, thanks to the beautiful trees in front, I literally watch each season unfold.

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It is the place where I watch neighbors walk their dogs, rush to the train that brings them to downtown Chicago, and see kids learn to ride their bikes or master the balance necessary to skateboard. It is the place where I chat on the phone, too often fall asleep watching the late news and, I would like to think, do my best thinking. My upper room is the window to my world.

Do you have a spot like that in your home?

The Covid Quarantine has allowed me to spend more time in my upper room. It has also given me a new awareness of the upper rooms used as a setting for some of the most powerful Scripture readings of this liturgical season.


Jesus often gathered his friends for important moments in an upper room. The events of Holy Thursday begin in an upper room that Jesus had asked his friends to find and prepare. The beautiful Pentecost readings describe those same friends and others gathered in an upper room probably pretty disappointed about what they thought would be the coming of the Kingdom and frightened about their future when “suddenly, there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house where they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

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Not being a scripture scholar but wondering if there was a deeper significance to the meaning of the upper room, I went to Google where I found multiple Old and New Testament references to the upper room. David had some pretty significant instructions about the upper room in the temple his son Solomon was commissioned to build. Another reference noted that the Church was born in the upper room.

Sometimes when I sit in my personal upper room, I wish I could hear the noise of a strong driving wind or see the tongues of fire that might ignite my own experience of the Spirit during these Covid days.

I wish that intensive care units throughout the country were upper rooms where critically ill persons and selfless care givers would experience hope and healing. I wish the Congress of the United States would be an upper room where those gathered would put aside political differences to reach out to their own constituents so desperately in need of help. I wish there was an upper room where immigrant families would gather to experience welcome and not fear. I wish there were upper rooms to replace street corners where guns and drugs invite violence and death almost daily.

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It is the season of Pentecost and although I have yet to feel the strong winds or see flames, I do believe the season is such a hope-filled time even in the midst of a pandemic. I am also inspired by the first reading for Pentecost; “I will pour out my Spirit and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old ones will dream dreams, your young men and women will see visions. I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth…”

I will be looking for those signs from my perch on Artesian Avenue. I hope you will find the same in your own upper rooms.

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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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What Are Those Women Doing?

By Sister Pat Bergen

What are those women doing? Don’t they know the whole world is suffering from a pandemic? People all over are staying at home, ridden by fear, isolated from one another. Every system in the world is turned upside down and inside out, evoking chaos on every front. Domestic workers, Certified Nursing Assistants and grocers are applauded as “essential.” Healthcare workers, witnessing a suffering unlike anything they have ever seen before, set out every day to put their own lives on the line to save lives. Riots break out in the streets and beaches. Where are the Sisters? What are they doing?

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Isolation, chaos and fear have been arenas ripe for Sisters of St. Joseph and their associates throughout history. Sisters of St. Joseph carry a dream that cannot be thwarted. Within that dream is a spiritual practice, simple and subversive, to bring about the dream. Yes, our sisters and associates are inviting people across the globe into a practice that has been bringing about a union of neighbors with one another and God since their founding in 1650 France. Once again this practice is changing the atmosphere!

What is happening in the world today is very reminiscent of 1650 Le Puy, France. In Le Puy, different armies marched through the streets for 100 years of war, drafting recruits, ransacking, raping, and killing. Fear marked the people who isolated themselves from one another, not knowing for sure who was aligned with whom.

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Present Day Le Puy, France

This environment is what gave birth to the Sisters of St. Joseph. Six women had a dream of transforming a world of fear, disconnect and isolation into a world of communion, connection and love, where every neighbor was considered as dear and precious to each other. So what did they do to bring this dream to fruition? They used a very subversive movement, familiar to every sports team and used by women throughout history. They gathered women into circles (huddles) under the guise of teaching them a trade –lace making–which they could then sell to buy food for the families.

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Making Lace in Le Puy

To learn to make lace, one must bend in around a pillow, gently moving dozens of bobbins holding delicate threads around pins to see how those bobbins make designs. Here in the huddles these dreaming women would ask, “What is happening in your heart?” As women shared what was breaking their hearts, what was elating their hearts, what was stirring in their hearts, each of the others listened and noticed their hearts stirring and breaking open with grief, compassion, care. . . As they shared what was happening in their hearts and listened to each other, oneness, community, and love for each other was born. And they recognized this as the Spirit of God. Then they asked, “What is it that this Love is inviting of us together as a small community?” The spiritual practice of “Sharing the State of the Heart and the Order of the House” was born. These women discovered an invitation that gave direction to their lives.

adult-blur-bokeh-bright-613321So what are these Sisters and Associates of St. Joseph doing today in the midst of the suffering, isolation, and chaos of this pandemic? They are gathering people in the subversive movement of circle keeping. Sometimes these circles are “Sharing the Heart and Order of the House” circles. Sometimes they are called “Restorative Justice Circles.” From Wichita, Kansas to Washington DC, Sisters, Associates and Co-ministers are gathering people, not on street corners or meeting halls, but on zoom, in sharing circles!zoom-e1584502686382For example, the Sisters and Associates at the Well Spirituality Center, our spirituality center in La Grange Park, have been meeting with people from four continents in the morning for a short prayer, centering participants in the depth of their hearts in union with God’s heart, the heart of the human race and the planet breathing love, courage and healing. They meet again in the afternoon to share their hearts, listening deeply and discovering the invitation of Love for the next step their online community is called to take. In this practice, they are uniting with the Spirit of the Living God to participate in the evolution of the human race and the evolution of the whole universe!

As a result of this pandemic, the compassion and goodness of the human heart is being seen everywhere. At the same time, economic loss and loss of power over our lives is evoking latent rage, hatred and power struggles that are also hidden in the human heart. At this moment, we must ask, “What will we as human beings choose? What is the Spirit inviting us to? What are we doing?” As sisters and associates of St. Joseph, we are gathering others to listen, pray and contemplate this question. We are all responsible for shaping the future of humanity. We must all be midwives of the communion of love that is laboring to be born.

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About the Author

Pat profileSister Pat Bergen, CSJ, educator, spiritual directress, retreat facilitator has a doctorate in theology and eco-spirituality.  Having completed her term on the leadership team of the Congregation, Sister Pat continues her ministry of formation and transformation in light of the evolving, sacred, interconnected universe.

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Oh why not?

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

Do you ever think that you should get out more?

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Is she kidding me?!

Okay, admittedly, that was a cheeky way to open in these days of lock-down.

Truth be told, I’m here to extend a serious invitation, which meets social distancing guidelines, and is bound to increase your IQ (that is, your Interreligious Quotient*.)
(*I made that up.)

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The Invitation:

Will you take a step to engage with the Muslim community during this holy month of Ramadan?

Actually, you will have accepted the invitation if you persist to the end of this article!

Since the Second Vatican Council, we in the Catholic church have officially held “in esteem” the Muslims and those of other faiths (see Nostra Aetate, especially number 3.) In more recent days, our leaders have urged us all to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and marginalized, particularly with Muslims in the face of a ban on immigration to the U.S.

In this time of Covid 19, Muslims are experiencing a holy month like no other, even as we who are Christians and Jews have experienced discombobulation in our observances of Easter and Passover, respectively. Muslim friends have told me that Ramadan is normally their most social month of the year!

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A little more background.

Ramadan is a holy month in the Muslim lunar calendar (in 2020, it goes from April 23 through May 23.) Ramadan was the month in which the scriptures of Islam, the holy Qu’ran, was given by God through the prophet Muhammad. Muslims observe the month with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, as each is able (reminiscent of the prayer practices of Christians during Lent and Jews during their holy days.)

The Muslim fast from food and drink begins at dawn, and is broken in the context of prayer and a festive community meal called an iftar. Such gatherings typically extend into the evening, at one family’s home one night, at another the next, at a neighborhood center or a mosque community hall the next.

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Perhaps you would choose to show solidarity with your local Muslim community by finding them online, and leaving them a message of kindness and solidarity. The greeting that expresses “happy or blessed” celebration is Ramadan Mubarak! You might get some ideas from Cardinal Cupich’s greeting, which you can find here.

My housemates and I actually knocked at two Muslim homes in our neighborhood last week (wearing masks, minding social distancing), and as the doors opened, we chimed Ramadan Mubarak! Our startled neighbors smiled and gratefully accepted our homemade card and store-bought cookies.

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Admittedly, that mode of interaction wouldn’t be for everybody. A simple yet meaningful way to learn more about Islam as practiced by American Muslims is to look online to link with any of the Catholic-Muslim dialogue partners.

Or hey, maybe you would like to attend a public community iftar with me? Two years ago I went in person, but next Wednesday May 20 (6:00-7:15 PM Central) I’m ZOOMing it, in Chicago and Atlanta. You’re invited to register too!

Why go?

One simple answer: Why not?

Another more cogent answer: In accepting such an invitation with one’s presence, one honors the Muslim community’s tradition and expresses solidarity with their efforts for justice and peace.

The particular community iftar I’m “attending” is sponsored by a remarkable nonprofit in Chicago (since 1997) and Atlanta (since 2016) called the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, which goes by the acronym IMAN. The Arabic word iman means faith, which names the motivating energy that founded and sustains IMAN.

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We sisters and associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph, like IMAN, are striving to go about our mission of unioning love through the lens of an integral ecology, which is the idea that everything is connected. If you’re wondering what that might look like, look more closely at IMAN’s way of being, which resonates deeply with any effort founded upon principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

Their mission?

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) is a community organization that fosters health, wellness and healing in the inner-city by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts, and operating a holistic health center.

What are some ways IMAN is doing this?

  • Asserting that health care is a universal human right, IMAN has established a federally qualified medical, behavioral and dental health center.
  • Understanding that injustice is structural, IMAN mobilizes local advocacy for criminal justice reform, access to healthy food, and housing policy.
  • Knowing the power of community-engaged art, the dynamic presentation and expression of the arts have been integral to IMAN’s work since its inception.
  • Standing for the dignity of citizens returning from incarceration and high-risk youth, IMAN’s Green Re-entry program provides transitional housing, life skills education, and sustainable construction training.

Sometimes, pictures speak louder than words. Watch this clip featuring IMAN’s work in this time of Covid 19.

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If you accompany me, and many others, to IMAN’s community iftar, you will doubtlessly hear an “ask” to support their work. I can assure you that your spiritual gifts of prayer and solidarity would be received—with overflowing gratitude—as enough.

So, why not? Ramadan Mubarak!

About the Author

image3Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min., completed her doctoral thesis-project at Catholic Theological Union (2018), entitled Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking in Solidarity on the Path to Interfaith Leadership. She is pictured here, second from left, with her 10 Muslim and Catholic participants on the fourth of four gatherings for interreligious appreciative learning.

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Comforted and Consoled

By Sister Marcella Clancy

“Blessed are they who mourn and who grieve,
they shall be comforted, they shall be consoled.”

When I learned Michigan’s Governor Whitmer extended the “Stay Home” order, I was not surprised, but was disappointed. “What’s the first thing you wanted to do when ‘this’ is over?” a journalist asked. No one mentioned shopping or material things in their response. Hugging someone and visiting in person topped the list. I would have said I want to go to Buddy’s, order a margherita pizza and a glass of dirty blonde beer and bask in the comfort that the tangible presence of friends bring.

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I am tempted to perceive the impact of covid 19 through my own lens of discomfort. Yet a larger question haunts me. As Sisters of St. Joseph, we commit ourselves to work to achieve unity of ourselves, neighbors, and creation with God and with one another. How do I absorb and hold the collective pain and broken hearts of my brothers and sisters that this pandemic has caused?

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It is overwhelming. As I write the coronavirus has resulted in over 56 thousand deaths nationally and over 200 thousands globally. Over 17 million Americans have lost their jobs and possibly 35 million around the world. Thousands who have toiled for years now have lost their livelihood. The U.N. Security Council warns that famines of biblical proportions loom as the poor, who suffer the most, are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus and its consequences. A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping. Rachel weeping for her children and she cannot be comforted because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15) Just because I cannot see their faces does not mean they are strangers or aliens to me.

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A conflict lives in me. The Easter Season beckons me to live in the joy of the Risen Christ. Yet there is a beckoning to let this immense suffering shelter in my own heart. Johann Baptist Metz’s reminder helps, “Whoever hears the message of the resurrection of Christ in such a way that the cry of the crucified becomes inaudible, hears not the Gospel but rather a myth.” I am constantly tempted to move too soon to resurrection rather than to listen with God, without growing weary, to the cry of those crushed in spirit. Perhaps like Mary Magdalen I need to wait by the tomb longer. We have witnessed the positive effects the absence of human activity has on the environment. Yet Earth too weeps and offers us comfort. The healing of humanity and Earth are inextricably bound together.

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While warning not to “ignore, spiritualize, or glorify” suffering, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ offers an alternative in the prayer of lamentation. Lamenting, she asserts, drives us to God complaining, mourning, wailing, doggedly demanding, “Why?” “How long?” “Where are You?” There are no “rationale explanations or neat theological solutions”. Rather in lamenting we keep “the question opened living with the ‘not yet’ of history while insisting on the promise of God.” The prayer itself allows the cry of the suffering to dwell in me, to give their anguish a voice lifted up to God, and ease the grip my own self-centeredness. Lamenting unto God has the potential to soften my heart, move me to do what I can to alleviate the misery and dismantle unjust structures which cause the poor to suffer more. Lamenting keeps hope alive, the Light that darkness cannot extinguish.

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Pope Francis in a TED talk said, “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope… can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you.”

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When Jesus included those who mourn and grieve among the blessed, he did so because they will be comforted and consoled. I suspect Jesus not only meant by God in eternity, but by me, by you in the here and now. We are the promise Jesus made to those who mourn and grieve. We are to be their comfort and their consolation. If there is a grace in this pandemic, this is this invitation.

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About the Author

Marcella Clancy.LoResSister 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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Moving A Little Past Fear

By Eileen Biehl

Greetings to each of you out there who have had too much time to think in these past few weeks. Have you come to any new insights? Are you wiser, kinder or smarter after all these weeks of thinking?

Nope, me either.

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But, after too many weeks of thinking the same things, I am beginning to see a crack where some light is peaking in. My fatigue of constant news updates, worry, anxiety, obsessive sanitation and isolation is easing – mainly because I’m moving a little past fear into a different reality. And I do mean just a little past fear. But it’s enough. Kind of like cracking a knuckle. A snap, a release, a tiny reset.

I’d like to share that it was a meaningful ZOOM conversation that moved me, a card that arrived in the mail, a poem that I read, a Facebook post, or something someone in my household did for me. It was all of that and none of that in particular.

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Slowly, tentatively, I find myself inching to new questions and new possibilities. Life after the pandemic is going to be a challenge; however, I’m getting ready to think about that and accept some changes as a new reality. I do feel that there will be some things that I’ll never stop missing and other things that I can adjust to and acclimate myself towards. I cannot say exactly what those things are. But, just this much movement in my thinking feels like a good stretch.

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I miss my kids, my grandkids, my whole huge extended family, my friends, my coffee people, my workout buddies, my co-workers – and I’m pretty sure that I will reconnect with them eventually. The imagining of those reunions makes me smile and a little weepy.

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I try to imagine traveling again, going to a graduation or a wedding reception, being at a baseball game, and I have to pause. I see it happening but it might look different. I believe we will get to be together again. All is not lost to us. But change is going to happen. And I’m praying for the grace to appreciate it all.

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The grief, the sadness, the inequities of COVID 19 should affect us all forever. I want everyone to share in the collective unfairness of coronavirus and its devastation. But, I also want us to reclaim some hope. Even if it’s a tiny ounce. When we are in survival mode, we aren’t usually thinking about hope. But, it is there. It is present. Hope endures and lets us tap into it as we keep moving forward. Tomorrow I might not feel this hope, but, for today, I welcome it and I appreciate the respite.

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About the Author

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Eileen Biehl is an Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph and also works as the editor of the magazine, ImagineONE. She loves her family, good coffee, and Pilates. She’d like to love writing for fun, but she’s not quite there yet.

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Life Resurrected

By Sister Christine Parks

Ever since our non-normal Easter I have been pondering more deeply the gospel of the “empty tomb” and its meaning for our current time, when we seem to be surrounded by so many tombs full of victims of covid 19. I’m also wondering about how it may be calling us to a deeper appreciation of Earth and all creation as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this week.

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In her book Quantum Grace: Lenten Reflections on Creation and Connectedness (The Sunday Readings), Judy Cannato* writes:  While it was still dark, early in the morning, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb in which her beloved Jesus had been laid. The day before had been the Sabbath, the day of rest, but how restless Mary must have felt! How agonizing the in-between time must have been for her—that time between laying his body in the tomb and this moment when, finally, she could steal away to be with him again, even if there was no longer life in him. How horrified she must have been to arrive at the crack of dawn and discover that the tomb itself had been cracked open and the stone rolled away. (p.115)

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In John’s gospel we are told that: she stayed outside the empty tomb weeping…And isn’t that exactly where so many of us are standing these days? We are in the midst of our own experience of loss—although our tombs may not feel so empty—as we weep and mourn the thousands of lives lost to this seemingly insatiable virus. As we try to cope with our frustration at being cooped up at home, whether alone or with others. As we grieve the loss of our usual routines of work, socializing, leisure, play (and for me that means missing the glorious spring wildflowers blooming in all my favorite nature areas). As we listen to too much news, too many reports of dire situations and shifting opinions. As almost everything we were looking forward to with the coming of spring seems to be either postponed indefinitely or cancelled. As we try to accept the slowing down and relax into the reality of having no control over this present state we find ourselves in.

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And yet we are Easter people! We are called to place our faith, trust and hope in a resurrected life we cannot begin to imagine. The tomb is empty! Life is resurrected—which doesn’t mean bodily resuscitation—and thus we are unable to recognize it most of the time. Resurrection life doesn’t look like we often think it should, or expect it to. Instead it looks like the person standing beside me (6 feet socially-distanced of course) in the line at the grocery. It looks like my loved one suffering with addiction or mental illness; the person seeking freedom from persecution, torture and death who stands at the border seeking asylum. It looks like those who are most vulnerable and without the necessities of life. And today it looks like those whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by this pandemic.

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Some are calling what we are living through these days our “new normal”, and I find myself bristling at that term. Not only is this time not normal, I’m not sure what we need is a return to the old normal. All around we hear reports of how our earth, air, and water is being renewed because of this imposed change in human behavior. Perhaps, as we move through this Easter season and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in unusual—and in many places digital ways, since we can’t gather together in person—we can make our own commitment to choose to live more simply and sustainably, walk more lightly, use less resources, and nurture the healing of earth beyond this time.

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About the Author

Christine ParksSister 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.


*Judy Cannato was an associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph with an office at River’s Edge, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network in Cleveland. She concentrated on the relationship between science and religion in her retreats and writings. She died from a rare form of cancer on May 7, 2011.

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Where is God in the Agony of Coronavirus?

By Sister Christine Schenk

When we entered the Lenten season, who among us would have imagined celebrating Holy Week and Easter amid so much death and suffering?

Having experienced the mystery and agony of this most sacred of seasons, we are also witnessing—now in real time—the mystery and agony of Earth’s peoples.

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Some are gasping and fighting for each breath. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones, spirited away to die in isolation.

Some are exhausted doctors, nurses, and first responders wondering where they will ever find strength to see this pandemic through.

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Some are government officials—governors, mayors, congressional representatives, and public health experts seeking to calm a terrified citizenry and diminish the havoc wreaked by a vicious virus that does not discriminate.

Others are scientists, inventors, and drug and equipment manufacturers working to find and/ or produce desperately needed curative medicines and machines.

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Still others shelter at home,  educating their children, caring for their elders, and wondering how to pay looming bills with no money coming in.

How are we, who believe in God’s great love, called to enter into a time the like of which we have never experienced?

Where IS God’s great love in this?

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Is it possible to comprehend the paradox of Jesus’ own witness during this excruciating time?

It is painful to be powerless in the face of  great suffering.

For this reason, I would like to reflect briefly on the experience of Jesus’s women disciples during the week of suffering we just experienced.  They were powerless, but their witness points to a reality even deeper than our overwhelmingly painful present.

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Gospel accounts in Mark and Matthew tell of a special meal held in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper two days before Passover (Matt 26: 1-14; Mark 14:1-9).  Both passages say the religious leaders were seeking to arrest and kill Jesus. In this context, an unnamed woman approaches him with an alabaster flask of expensive ointment and anoints his head.

Immediately the other (presumably male) disciples reproach her and complain that the ointment was wasted and could have been sold “for a large sum” and given to the poor.

Yet, I wonder if the real reason for their complaint lies elsewhere.

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Image: “He-Christa” – She Who Anoints. Mosaic by Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ in Caremlite Monastery in Snagov, Romania. Photo by Tina Beattie (cropped).

This unnamed woman understands Jesus’s messianic destiny more deeply than the others.  In the Hebrew tradition, prophets are the ones who anoint kings—as Samuel had anointed David to succeed Saul as king of Israel (1 Sam. 16). The word “messiah” means literally “the anointed one. ”

This woman’s silent act of prophecy affirms that Jesus is the one all Israel has been expecting—the Messiah—who will save them from oppression.

Jesus, at least, appreciates her action:   “Let her alone; why do you trouble her?” he asks.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me . . .  She has done what she could . . . and truly I say to you wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Jesus knows he is about to die, and so does the unnamed woman. It must have comforted him deeply that like him, she saw beyond impending suffering and affirmed  the profound reality of a saving, if pain-filled grace. A grace that—against all odds—ultimately frees believers from the power of evil.

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Though powerless, the anointing woman witnesses to a saving reality that transcends our present pain.

“She has done what she could,” says Jesus.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Where are we being invited to “do what we can?”  What beautiful thing reflects our solidarity with our suffering world?

Perhaps we are like the “many women” who Palm Sunday’s gospel says, “watch from a distance,” silently accompanying Jesus through an unimaginably painful death (Matt 27:55).

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Like the women at a distance, we too are powerless.

We are powerless as we watch the powerlessness  of a crucified  Messiah—and as we watch a crucified world during this pandemic.

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We offer what small comfort we can … the comfort of our presence, our sorrow, our lament, and our prayer.

Matthew’s passion narrative tells us that Jesus cried out his sense of desolation and abandonment, “My God my God, why have you deserted me?”

What is less well known is that Jesus is praying the first line of Psalm 22  which continues

“. . . Yet, Holy One, . . . in you our ancestors put their trust, they trusted, and you rescued them; they called to you for help and they were saved, they never trusted you in vain.”

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It is good to pray Psalm 22 when we are angry, abandoned, and hopeless as many of us are feeling right now.

Jesus found comfort in naming his sense of being abandoned by God. But then he placed his trust in God’s power to save.

A dear friend once told me to never look at the cross without also seeing the resurrection. So, when we contemplate Jesus’ suffering on the cross—we begin to fathom the mysterious reality of evil and death — but we also come to a deeper reality – God’s power to save.

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Now is a time to remember that our world is one — and our Jesus is suffering in it.

Now is a time to trust in God’s pain-filled power to save.

During a season of Resurrection that still feels like Good Friday, where are we invited to “do what we can”?

What beautiful act reflects our own solidarity with a suffering world?

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About the Author

Schenk head shot2Sister 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 recent 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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Unwrapping the Alleluia

By Sister Jean Ann McGrath

At the parish school where I worked, we had a long standing tradition each Ash Wednesday. As part of our prayer service, we symbolically  “boxed up” the word “Alleluia” as a way to tell the children that the next forty days are a special time in the church year and that they would not be hearing that word until it is joyously proclaimed at Easter. As I think about this blog, I am wondering how we will unwrap the Alleluia this year.

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If you, like me, are spending hours scanning various screens during our imposed isolation, you are probably experiencing a surreal world. One of the most difficult things for me has been trying to balance scenes of overcrowded emergency rooms and the daily announcement of mounting casualties with the  amazing tales of heroism, creative ways to stay connected with friends and families, virtual concerts, and inspiring messages of hope from around the world. Trying to balance both is in itself a challenge to my mind, my heart, and my desire to be a person of deeper faith and trust.

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This blog will be posted right before Holy Thursday, the beginning of a Triduum time which none of us could have imagined and that most of us will be celebrating very differently this year. We will not be at mass together. We will not be witnessing the ancient rite of the washing of feet, the reading of the passion narrative, the lighting of the Easter Fire. We will not be having Easter egg hunts, lavish Easter brunches, or spring vacations to sunny and warm places across the country.

But will we be able to unwrap the Alleluia?

What will we do to ensure that we can shout the Easter Alleluia even if it is from our front porch or on our computer screen?

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As we approach the holiest time of the Church year, I am challenging myself and you to make sure the Alleluia rings across our world, our neighborhood and  in the confines of the homes in which we are literally confined.

I am going to start with prayer; prayer for those who have contracted the virus and for those who love them. (A friend of mine, the mother of nine and grandmother of 27 has the virus and is totally quarantined from them. Her isolation is more painful than the horrific cough that has lingered for weeks.) I am going to pray for the first responders, those doctors and nurses who literally put their lives on the line every time they report for a new shift. I am going to pray for the President and his staff. Although we may have vastly different political views and I wonder “why” and “if only”, the challenges they face are enormous. I pray that the difficult decisions they need to make each day will be informed not only by scientific data but also by deep wisdom and heartfelt compassion.

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I am challenging myself to be less frightened and more faith-filled during these Triduum days. Discouragement is itself a contagious virus but I am encouraged by the words of a journalist whom I deeply respect: “the only thing that spreads faster than this virus is hope.” If you look, you will see hope everywhere.

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Finally, I am going to find small concrete things I can do from my isolation booth (my apartment). Maybe make an Easter basket for the nurse across the street? Maybe make phone calls to seniors in the parish whom I know will be alone on Easter Sunday. Maybe a gift card for the girl who cuts my hair who will be out of work for another six weeks…. The alleluia opportunities are endless.

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There will be no Easter liturgy in our parish this year to unwrap the Alleluia, but it will be unwrapped and will be an anthem to sustain us well beyond the recently extended days of social isolation. It will be the heartfelt hope that unites us even if we must stay six feet or six thousand miles apart. It will be the promise of new life in Spring, in Easter, and in all of us.

And so, (a few days in advance)  ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA

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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!