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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!

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Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

By Sister Marcella Clancy

Father Ron Rolheiser describes a man who thought he lost his faith. He went to an old  Jesuit known for his wisdom. The priest said, “All I can offer is this: “Place yourself in God’s presence for an hour every day. Stay, even if God does not show up.”

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The man left disappointed, but desperate, he did what the Jesuit advised. After a month his problem completely disappeared. He could not identify the moment or hour, the day a shift had happened but it had. He had no visions, no special insights and no revelations but something had changed in him. This story highlights aspects of an indispensable prayer.

  1. Prayer is not efficient. I am not talking about a specific form of prayer that many of us learned in religious education: the prayer of praise or adoration, thanksgiving, petition, or sorrow for sin. I am talking about the prayer when I simply make myself available for God, grant God an expanse of time to inundate to me. The purpose of this prayer is to stretch myself out in front of God and wait. I can’t even specifically tell you what I am waiting for or if I know when my waiting has been answered. Yet, there is a difference in my life when I am faithful to this practice and when I am not.

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  1. Prayer is not productive or measurable. So many questions arise: Is it “working”? Am I fooling myself? Is anything is “happening”? And, of course the there is no answer except to believe God is faithful. The breaking-in of God is not earned or deserved. It is always, always a gratuitous gift. I have talked enough to others to know that there is always the temptation when I feel “prayer is good”, I did something right and when “prayer is empty”, I did something wrong. Which is a subversive way of claiming credit rather than recognizing all depends on God’s enormous goodness.

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  1. Prayer is inclusive by its nature. Prayer is not disembodied, private or individualistic. Prayer isn’t selfish. In the very act of being available to God we create a breach for God to flow into all the wounded, broken spaces in our world, into all the dark spaces where violence and hatred breed. In pondering about this blog, I was keenly aware of all the strife, anger, divisiveness, and civil unrest present in our country. Should I explore how I, as a Sister of St. Joseph, am complicit in this troubling time? For it is incompatible with the Gospel to be silent regarding injustice. Yet unless those words are bathed by prayer they may only add to the anger and violence. I cannot “see” the difference my prayer makes in my world, no more than I can “measure” the difference it makes in me. To open to God’s consuming love is to open the world to that same transforming fire.

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  1. Prayer is transformative. Prayer changes us, not all at once but gradually, quietly. In prayer God works undetected, secretly, under the cover of silence and in our depths. Prayer is not always peaceful and lovely. Prayer is an essential part of the process of being made whole and oftentimes our personal demons and resistances arise. They come to God within, like beggars, wanting to be healed. Our responsibility is to welcome them to the table of our heart.

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We pray to praise and thank God, to ask God for what we and the world needs, to seek forgiveness and healing. Yet one of the primary purposes of prayer, not mentioned in our religious education classes, is to marinade and bask in God. Prayer gradually changes our face into the face of God, our presence into the presence of God’s love. To pray is a courageous act of trust. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin urges us, “Above all trust in the slow work of God… Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

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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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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.