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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!

 

 

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Finding Connectedness

By Sister Theresa Hafner

Walking to get my 10,000 steps in is something that I do every day.  I enjoy being out in nature.  It instills a sense of calm from the difficulties or struggles of the day, and provides time to reflect.  Experiencing the wonders of creation imparts a sense of connectedness with everyone and everything I encounter.

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Taking a walk the past few weeks, during the corona virus stay at home order, has heightened this sense of oneness.  There is a sensitivity, that each person I pass or see in the distance is carrying their own fears, anxieties, and hopes; for themselves and those they care about and love.  How can I be strong for my family?  Will I get my job back when all this passes?  How can I take care of my father when I can’t even visit him?  Will my sister be safe working at the hospital?  How can I ration my food so I don’t have to risk going out to the store again?  The uncertainty of our lives is palpable.  And yet, almost everyone I pass smiles, waves, and says hello.  The realization that we are all in this together helps to put things in perspective, and allows us not to become overwhelmed by how much our daily lives have changed.

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I have felt at times, when I am sitting impatiently alone in my apartment, the strong need to do something, to get out and physically help others during this health and economic crisis.  I would like to encourage everyone to not overlook the little things.  A simple greeting to unknown neighbors we pass on a walk; a phone call to family or friends; a smile and wave through the window; including those we have encountered throughout the day in our prayers; are all things that have the potential to significantly brighten, and help to relieve the stress, of someone’s day.  While I talk, text, and zoom with people to stay connected, it dawned on me that these unknown neighbors I pass on my walk are the only people I see in person, and that connection means the world to me right now.  As in any service we offer, we also are the recipients of the caring and love that is expressed.

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Shout out to my sister Jo, and brothers John and Ed who are essential workers, and to all people who are doing the work needed in our communities during this difficult time.

Sending love, prayers, and God’s peace to everyone.

About the Author

Theresa croppedSister Theresa Hafner, CSJ, entered the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph in March of 2001.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from John Carroll University and currently ministers in the Cleveland diocese at a local parish in the Faith Formation office.  Theresa enjoys nature photography, is an avid baseball fan, and  treasures the company of  family, community, and friends.  ​

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A Blessing in Times of Uncertainty

It’s hard to know what to say as I write today, when our world seems to have changed dramatically in the past week, and so much more could change between now and when you read this. I’m sure that many of us are filled with all kinds of questions and emotions as we enter one of the most extraordinary periods of Lenten “fasting” that any of us have known, giving up habits of socializing, travel, going to work, eating out, and even attending Mass.

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And yet scripture continues to speak to us—to comfort, challenge, and offer us hope—in extraordinary and routine circumstances alike. This past Sunday’s readings speak of awakening to see as God sees, calling us to be healed of our blindness and live in the light of Christ.

The masterful storytelling of this week’s Gospel weaves together different forms of blindness and sight: not only the literal, physical blindness of the man who Jesus heals, but also the metaphorical blindness of the disciples who assume that sickness and disability are punishment for sin, as well as the blindness of the man’s neighbors and parents, and the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees.

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I can picture the willful blindness of the latter being almost comical as the story unfolds: a man blind since birth is suddenly able to see after a stranger rubs mud made of spit on his eyes, and his neighbors are unable to see the miracle (“No, it just looks like him,” they say). His parents are unable to appropriately acknowledge what has happened—Jesus has healed their son!—because they are blinded by their fear of the religious authorities. And when the man is brought to the Pharisees, they are unable to see the reality in front of them because they are blinded by a fixation on legalistic righteousness. I can practically hear the exasperation in the man’s voice as he explains, for at least the third time, that Jesus healed his blindness—“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see . . . I told you once and you did not listen,” (John 9:25, 27)—and yet the Pharisees are still unable to see.

This story invites us to ask how we, too, may be blind to what God is calling us to see, the miracles that may be taking place before our eyes. Particularly at a time when the path ahead of us is unclear and many people are blinded or paralyzed by ideology and fear, how is God calling us to see past appearances “into the heart” of our reality and the needs of our time? In the weeks ahead and always, may we seek the light of Christ to illuminate our hearts and allow us to see truly in a time of chaos and fear, trusting, like the psalmist, that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil, for God is with us and will be our light.

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I leave you with the following prayer, that I hope will bring you light in these difficult times.

A Blessing in Times of Uncertainty

When it feels as if your foundations are being shaken
and the way ahead is dark,
may you feel yourself surrounded and filled by the Love
in which we live and move
and by whom we draw our every breath.
May the Love that moves the sun and other stars
light the path before you–if not the entire journey,
at least your steps today.
And may you know kindness and courage and health
and truth and freedom from all anxiety.

About the Author

59311500010__B3FFF6AF-E78E-4D94-81FC-4467158B0B52Jessica Wrobleski is an Associate with the Congregation of St. Joseph and currently serves as Vice President of Mission at Saint Joseph Academy in Cleveland, Ohio.  Originally from West Virginia, she received her PhD from Yale University in 2009 and has taught and written on theological ethics and spirituality.

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One Week in the Spotlight

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

This week, we celebrate Catholic Sisters Week. As the Catholic Sisters Week website says:

Fifty-two weeks a year women religious stand with the poor and immigrants, teach children, fight injustice, heal the sick, share spirituality, empower women, defend the planet, promote peace, create community, offer hope …

But for one week, we shine the spotlight on women religious.

On the whole, sisters don’t seek the spotlight. But for one week, we make the exception and highlight the good work being done by our sisters around the world. So, in honor of Catholic Sisters Week, I thought I would offer you a look at one sister who is a shero of mine: Sister Marlene Schemmel.

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Sister Marlene with associate Marlene Rink

Sister Marlene actually has done all that in the list above, in one way or another. Most of it since she moved “beyond the habit” in 1965.

Like so many of us, Sister Marlene has taught children about everything from spelling to Jesus, and served in administrative positions in Catholic schools—creating community as she went along.

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Sister Marlene with students

She has offered hope to the marginalized—especially women—by standing in the margins with them, and fighting the injustices that would keep them there.

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Sister Marlene doing justice work in Bolivia

Sister Marlene is a founding and ongoing animator of one of our Congregation of St. Joseph Spirituality Centers, The Well. Her ministry there is essentially one of integral ecology, fostering a holistic quest for health of mind, body and spirit; as well as promoting peace in many ways, including the care of our beloved planet.

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Sister Marlene with students at “Peace Camp”

When she’s not on the ground in Haiti with medical and educational trips, Sister Marlene is fundraising for them back in the States.

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Sister Marlene on a recent trip to Haiti

A stalwart member of the Congregation’s anti-racism team, Sister Marlene has “walked the talk” in opposing institutional racism, at home and in society.

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Sister Marlene with Linda Eastman from the CommUnity Diversity Group, from which she and the congregation received an award for anti-racism efforts

Last year Sister Marlene was among the many sisters who served migrants in El Paso.  Everywhere she goes, she tell the story of the pain and injustice experienced by the asylum seekers. She illustrates these hardships by sharing her experience of witnessing the tender, yet bittersweet, reunion of one man with his wife and children.

Reunited at the border

Through it all, Sister Marlene lives with God and neighbor in humble friendship, exuding gentleness, peace and joy. She has great trust in the power of prayer, and is grateful in advance to all of you who will hold her in prayer as she faces kidney cancer. Indeed, we sisters and associates are all eternally grateful for how you have sustained us with your love and prayer throughout the years.

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Sister Marlene, shining her light

Sister Marlene is just one example of a sister who has made a difference in the lives of others. This Catholic Sisters Week I’d like to ask, what difference have sisters made in your life? Consider thanking a sister today!

 

About the Author

MaryJo.LoResSister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, holds a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago where she later served as the director of the Biblical Study and Travel Program. She was received as a candidate for vowed membership with the Congregation of St. Joseph in 2002 and professed final vows in 2011. She taught theology courses at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park (a sponsored ministry of the Congregation), and now serves as Co-Director of Vocations Ministry for the Congregation.

 

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The Ritual of Ash Wednesday

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

When I was in college at Cleveland State University, I worked part time in the CYO Office of the Diocese of Cleveland. On Ash Wednesday, I went to the Cathedral for Mass at noon. The place was packed! While Mass was being celebrated, people were lined up in the side aisles to get ashes. It came time for Communion, and the businessman in front of me in line appeared before the priest who offered the Body of Christ. The businessman said: “I’m not here for THAT, where are the ashes?” I was just shocked.

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Then, when I was a Pastoral Associate in a parish, the phones rang continuously asking when ashes were being given. One of the priests on our team laughingly suggested we put in a drive through window to give ashes.

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Another time, when I was at Catholic Theological  Union in Chicago, I wasn’t able to be present for the prayer and giving of ashes. I stopped in the sacristy of the chapel, to find another faculty member preparing the little bowls of ashes. I asked to receive them. He paused in silence,  blessed the ashes, and signed my forehead with the words: Repent and believe in the Gospel. This holy moment returns to my mind each Ash Wednesday, and my understanding and appreciation of this ritual grows deeper.

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As the Catechumens, or those who are converting to Catholicism, begin this Lenten time of purification, as they prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, we who have been baptized enter into a time of purification as well: recalling our Baptism, and seeking to renew our commitment. We are marked with ashes as a sign of our intent to enter into this process.

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Later in the Lenten season, the Catechumens experience three scrutinies, or special rites, involving self reflection on sin and the saving grace of Christ. We too enter into these reflections as individuals, communities,  and as society. Let us ask ourselves the following questions based upon scripture:

  • John 4:5-42
    How are we the Samaritan woman at the well? How are we offered living water, and thus new and true life?

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  • John 9:1-41
    How might we be the man born blind, and to what are we blinded? How are we offered new sight and new vision, leading to a new and deeper belief in Christ? (

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  • John 11:1-45
    Like Lazarus, what is dead in our lives? How are we entombed? What does the voice of Jesus sound like, calling us by name to new life?

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Being signed with ashes on Ash Wednesday is much more than a once a year ritual that is rote. It is rich in meaning, and marks our annual process of purification and renewal of our baptismal gift. I wish you a spirit-filled and blessed Lenten journey and Easter season.

About the Author

SallieLatkovich.Portrait.webAfter nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

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Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

By Elizabeth Powers

In a world where screens rule our daily lives, I try very hard to make sure my one year old daughter does not get too much time with technology. I keep phones and tablets away and generally try to keep the TV turned off. But on those occasions where turning on the television is a necessity, Sesame Street is my go to. Having grown up with the loveable and learning oriented puppets myself, I feel more inclined to let my daughter watch them sing about the ABC’s then to allow her to view other cartoons or children’s shows that are less educational.

While my daughter does like some less traditional favorites (I’ve never seen a child get so excited about Count von Count in my life) her absolute favorite, like so many toddlers before her, is Elmo.

But if you haven’t watched Sesame Street in awhile, you may have forgotten that the show does more than teach ABC’s and 123’s. Having now watched more episodes than I care to admit, I’ve been reminded over and over again that this show is not only educational in an academic way, but in a moral way as well. Often, as I’ve watched Elmo and the other characters grapple with learning important lessons, I’ve thought of the sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph live and work that all people may be united with God and with one another. And what does Sesame Street preach if not the importance of caring for and being united with our neighbors, friends, and even those we don’t see eye to eye with. So, here are three lessons that Sesame Street teaches that remind me of the sisters.

1. Be Kind to Everyone.

Kindness reigns on Sesame Street. No matter who you are or what you look like, you are treated with kindness. And, if you’re not, others will jump to your aide and explain why kindness is important for everyone. The people (and monsters) bring kindness to everyone, even the most vulnerable among us. In an episode I recently saw, Slimey, the pet worm of Oscar the Grouch, is being bullied by the Big Bad Wolf.

Once they know what is happening, all the other characters stand up for Slimey, not only to stop the bullying, but to teach the Big Bad Wolf why what he is doing is wrong. While the wolf may enjoy “huffing and puffing,” the poor worm does not enjoy being blown to the other side of Sesame Street. And isn’t this the sort of kindness that we wish to see in the world? The kind where we all band together, not only to help those in need, but to right the wrongs in our society through kindness?

2. We Are All the Same

Diversity is also an important concept that stays at the forefront of Sesame Street. The storylines often share the importance of different cultures and traditions and help talk through difficult topics that may come up as a result. For example, in one episode, two girl puppets of different ethnicities worry that they won’t be able to do a dance routine together because they are unable to style their hair the same way. In another, a woman from India teaches about a holiday that she enjoyed with her family growing up and the culture that she misses. Whether the problems faced in an episode are big or small, they are all met with caring by everyone. No one is made to feel less than because they look different from someone else or come from a different place.

3. Love One Another

My daughter’s favorite, Elmo holds one of the most important lessons of all. In every episode of Sesame Street, we are treated to a segment of “Elmo’s World,” a world where Elmo explains a word or concept he’s thinking about and then learns more about it. Each of these segments ends with a simple “Elmo loves you!” Because no matter who you are, you are worthy of love and friendship.

So how do we get to Sesame Street? How do we get to a world where kindness, diversity, and love are some of the most important issues of the day? In our day to day lives, it may be easy to forget the importance of these simple lessons. But if we each do our best to keep them at the forefront of our minds, perhaps we can help bring sunny days to our world.

About the Author

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Elizabeth 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 new mom, and working to figure it out!

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The Gift of Winter

By Sister Marcella Clancy

The singer and song writer, Sara Thomsen, in speaking of her Winter Wanderings Tour talks about how the season of winter calls her to a “crawling inward”. She asserts that the hushed silence of winter inevitably draws her inward. Winter calls us to introspection in way perhaps the other seasons do not. There is the lovely promise of spring calling us to witness its soft blooming. There is the sunny allure of summer beckoning us to play outside. There is the exquisite beauty of autumn with its delicious fruitfulness delighting all our senses. Winter calls us to be more courageous of heart, to brave the chilling cold, the long hours of darkness, the stilling of the world wrapped in waiting. Winter calls us to contemplation.

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There is a tree that has befriended me outside my window in the courtyard. In the summer it looks like it has decked itself out and is ready to go to a ball. Now it seems dead. Its lovely curved branches all bare but for a soft layer of snow resting peacefully on them. I know under the blanket of snow the tree is still vibrant and that flowers lie sleeping. Even the birds chirping noisily who visit my balcony every morning in spring are now nowhere to be seen or heard. Rain makes distinctive pattering sounds as it falls. Snow is hushed and silent, soundlessly heaping up soft mounds on the ground.

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For the most part life is hidden, resting, sleeping in the winter. Winter calls us to consider what is hibernating within us, what new life is geminating waiting to burst forth in the spring. There is a natural quieting in winter. We shutter tight our windows and close our shades much earlier. Outside noises are dulled or eliminated. We cuddle into sweaters and huddle under blankets. Perhaps we also need to nestle into the inner chambers of our heart. Perhaps we are called to warm ourselves by that inner fire that burns slowly within.

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It is a challenge in our culture to listen to the quiet. It is so much easier to turn on the TV, the CD, and the smart phone that provides music, news, and distraction, literally at our fingertips. There is a certain discipline we require that other ages and cultures did not. We are very busy people. There is always another task to be done, another project to accomplish, something new to hear or report. Yet each season calls us to notice the changing season in our inmost being.

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I always tend to be a little cold. A friend once told me he thought God would send me to purgatory just for a while to warm me up a bit. So it has not always been easy for me to make winter a friend. Yet I have come to recognize winter brings its own unique blessings and inviting beauty. Earth rests in winter. Perhaps we are invited to find times and places to give ourselves more rest. This does not necessarily mean more sleep but a rather a fruitful rest that allows for creativity and generativity to emerge.

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Life is present but more hidden in winter. Perhaps we are encouraged to spend less time in the world without and more time in that hidden inner life within. Silence is louder in winter. Perhaps we are moved into more extended moments of silence, to listen more deeply to the quiet longings, urgings, and deep desires of our own heart. We wait in winter. We expectantly wait for the first warming and buds of spring. Yet there is something sacred about waiting. Waiting prepares us, helps us get ready, arouses expectations, develops anticipation, creates an eagerness for a promise we cannot yet see. What might winter be inviting us to wait for?

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A recent Gallup Poll found that 36% of Americans named spring as their favorite season of the year while 27% preferred fall, 25% summer, while only 11% identified winter as the season they liked most. Obviously we might have to reconsider what it is about winter that we are missing.

Gifts of the Winter Season: quiet restfulness, peaceful silence, comforting darkness, warmth against the chill, artistic layers of soft snow, the hidden life within, sacred waiting – which gift of the Winter Season beckons to your heart? What gift of winter longs to nourish you?

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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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The After Holiday Blues

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The “after holiday blues” is what many of us experience after the hustle and bustle of the holidays: the various celebrations with family and friends, time off of work, and the fun of it all. There is a time of withdrawal from all of that, as we resume something of a normal life and schedule. That transition may be accompanied by feelings of some sadness—the after holiday blues.

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What can we do to beat the blues?  I’d suggest following all of the good advice we hear on ever so many TV Commercials, promoting physical health. These same suggestions can promote inner and spiritual health as well.

 

EAT RIGHT

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What nourishes your soul?  What might you be allergic to, that makes you “soul sick?”

My soul is nourished by good conversations with friends—not just a quick “Hi, how are you?” but a real sharing of hearts. I am also nourished by a good concert of an orchestra or a singer I enjoy.  Then there are good movies. All of these “nourishers” are food for the soul, taken to heart. It is so important to eat good, nourishing food for the body; and it is equally important that our souls are well nourished.

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Just as some of us have food allergies, there might be activities that make us “soul sick.”  I find I am allergic to negativity and complaining, to violence that is provided for entertainment. Sometimes, the evening news is “soul-sickening.” Trying to avoid these activities can help keep my soul nourished.

 

EXERCISE

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What stretches your soul, and builds “spiritual muscle?”

Often, my soul is stretched by reading books and articles that are outside of my penchant for theology and spirituality. Thus, biographies of people who have accomplished great things, reflections on historical events, and accounts of organizations that serve various groups of people in need.

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A few of Sister Sallie’s recent soul-stretching reads

Even moreso, my soul is stretched by conversation, even with people with whom I do not agree. Sometimes the conclusion of those conversations is simply to agree to disagree.

 

REST

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What is truly restful for your soul?

Here we might hear the words of Jesus in the Gospel saying “Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is interesting to me that Jesus did not say: I’ll do your work, I’ll pay your bills, I’ll step in for you. His best promise is simply rest.

Perhaps that rest comes in “peace and quiet.”  And, in that peace and quiet, we might be given to prayer—to remembering the presence of God in our lives. A gentle walk in a place of beauty is very restful.

I recently discovered that holding a baby who is sleeping is equally restful for the one holding the baby.

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So, if you find yourself experiencing the after holiday blues, I hope that these simple suggestions will be a way for you to restore hope and goodness as we await the new life of springtime.

About the Author

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After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.