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Going for Gold, Even When No One is Watching

Recently, I was having a conversation with my father about the Olympics. He has always been a big fan of them, especially the summer games. I remember, as a child, watching a variety of Olympic sports with intensity, as several members of my family had different favorites. My great aunt, who lived in Florida and who we sometimes visited over the summer, loved gymnastics. My mother preferred the winter sports, particularly ice skating. But my father loved to watch swimming. Having been a swimmer in high school, he had an understanding for the sport that went far beyond my limited knowledge. As we watched the athletes compete with their best butterfly or backstroke, he would tell us stories about his own time in the pool. How he’d have to get up for 6:30am practices in freezing, outdoor pools, how tough the competition was and, sometimes, how being an athlete kept him out of trouble.

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This year, our conversation around the Olympics was a bit different. We talked about the realities of a pandemic Olympics. How resilient these athletes had to be, how hard it must have been to wait an entire year to compete, and how surreal it must be to finally get to Tokyo and know that the eyes of the world are on you. And then what it must feel like to be in the biggest competition of your life, with no one, not even your family, in the stands to cheer you on.

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Compared to all of the changes we’ve seen in the past year and a half due to the pandemic, the lack of spectators at the Olympics is certainly minor for those of us watching it on TV. But for the athletes, many of whom are miles away from their homes and families, the lack of support and validation must be huge. I couldn’t help but compare their Olympic experience to the lives of our sisters. Both have sacrificed much and worked hard their entire lives, dedicated to something larger than themselves, and in the case of our sisters and this year’s Olympic athletes, quietly and without anyone cheering them on.

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Of course, under normal circumstances, there would be spectators in the stands, nervously watching and waiting to cheer for their country, favorite athlete, or for that next record to be broken. And the sisters don’t, and never have, gotten quite that kind of applause and accolades. They have always went about the work of God quietly, faithfully and without fanfare, going to wherever they were called and meeting whatever needs they saw. And they changed the lives of so many people in the process.

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As we continued to speak about the Olympics, my father also asked me if I had seen the commercial about the Paralympic swimmer, Jessica Long. Being a millennial, I don’t have cable and rarely see television ads anymore, so I looked the ad he described up on YouTube. In it, Jessica’s story is told – a child, born with a rare condition that meant her legs would have to be amputated, given up for adoption. But it’s also the story of her parents, who got the call that this young girl needed a family, and who offered her all their love. (You can watch the commercial here.) My heart swelled as I watched this young woman, who was faced with such adversity all her life, but went on to win gold, her parents supporting her along the way. These are the stories that I love seeing most during the games, whether it be the Olympics or Paralympics. They remind me that with perseverance, hard work, and the ever-important element of faith, we are all capable of things that may have once seemed impossible.

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After this pandemic year, the Olympics are different. Our lives are all different. And I worry that there are still difficult times ahead. But the sisters have taught me that with a lot of work, we can all do great things. Besides, the Olympics are nothing if not a time for people around the world to come together and find commonality. Even though each athlete is playing for their home country, each person can be part of something bigger than themselves.  Much like the sisters, who work “that all may be one,” the Olympics remind us that we are all sharing a common home, that we have the ability to all come together for a common purpose. Like the Olympic rings are all connected, so too is the work that we each do. And maybe, if we cheer each other on however we can, our hard work can change the world.

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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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Learning to Love Summer Again

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

The weeds are out of control in the garden. The lawn needs mowing again! The birdbath is always empty and the nozzle on the hose is broken. The air conditioner in the kitchen is working way too hard to cool the first floor; why didn’t we get whole house air conditioning when we talked about it in the spring?

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Wait! Sit down in a lawn chair with a glass of lemonade for a few minutes and consider this: summer is passing you by, and you’re being crabby about a time you just LOVED when you were a kid. Think about what you loved and re-claim it again. If you feel foolish about doing this as an adult, find a child to take with you! If you don’t have one of suitable age, grab a grandchild or a niece—or grandniece–or a neighbor’s child and have her take you back to the joys of summer, and maybe you can even introduce her to a joy she doesn’t know. Parents and grandparents know that being with children makes it perfectly respectable to act like one (to keep them company, of course).

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Let’s get started. Go to a park with swings and a wading pool. When your (borrowed) child is on a swing, stand behind him and push him hard until he is yelping with delight. Then, because you are tired, sit on a swing yourself and show the child how you pump with your legs until you, too, are high in the sky. It’s an important lesson to teach him, isn’t it—and you’re having fun!

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Don’t stay on the swings too long. Go to the wading pool and watch your child splash around with the other kids. When she splashes YOU, complain a little and splash her back. Doesn’t that feel wonderful? And it’s quite acceptable to continue the splashing game because she started it!

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Sit on the porch in the evening and catch fireflies in a jar. Remember to show your child how to poke holes in the lid so the fireflies will live. Sit quietly in the darkness and admire their beauty. (It’s all coming back to you, isn’t it?)

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Be sure to have money in your pocket because when you hear the music from the ice cream truck on your street, you may not have time to get your wallet. Of course, you must accompany your child to the truck for safety’s sake, and when the driver asks if you would like something and you start to decline, your child cries out “Go on—get some ice cream!” What can you do but go along with it? You want to be a good sport.

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Do you live near a river or a lake or maybe even the ocean? Plan a trip there soon. Take bathing suits and pails and shovels and a picnic lunch and make a day of it. Show your child how to skip stones across the water. Soak in the sun, cool off in the water, and enjoy picnic food that always tastes better than lunch usually does. If you can, plan a special dessert like big chocolate chip cookies or cupcakes with lots of icing.

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If you are feeling brave, pitch a tent in your yard and sleep out overnight with your child. Here are some basic rules to follow for a successful campout: roast hot dogs and marshmallows, walk barefoot in the wet grass, and tell ghost stories. Oh, and don’t forget to lie on the ground and look at the stars!

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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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Faces of the Children

This spring, I was privileged to travel to McAllen, Texas with four other sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, where we served asylum seekers at the Humanitarian Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

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Sisters Mary Jo Curtsinger, Marianne Race, Mary Pung,
Jackie Schmitz and Rita Ann Teichman when they arrived in Texas

This facility serves parents with minor children approved to enter the U.S. to await asylum hearings, but who haven’t yet acquired their air or bus tickets to travel to their families or sponsors. We were a small part of a team of women religious and lay volunteers who have responded to the call to come and help with a wide range of hospitality needs. The five of us spent most of our time either outfitting each family with a clean set of donated clothing, or supplying them toiletries, cough drops, diapers and formula. Along the way we used our minimal Spanish and our increasingly creative sign language to communicate a bit back and forth.

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I think I can speak for all of us sisters in saying that we are still unpacking the experience. In many ways we have more questions than answers. What we do know is that these families went to a lot of trouble to get to McAllen from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries. Sometimes we actually learned details of the hardship or terror that forced them to flee their homes, with children in arms, and some with babes about to be born.

Sister Erin McDonald, CSJ also served at the border in El Paso, just returning in the past week. We all hope to share more of our experience in coming months. Some of us are now in the process of working with grassroots organizers at places like NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby, in preparing to testify to members of our congressional delegations.

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Sister Erin McDonald during her time in El Paso.

Truth be told, one of my favorite moments was when I presented this little guy with a pair of spider socks to go with the new Spiderman shirt he had just put on. His parents looked exhausted but we three laughed with delight at the speed with which he discarded his old socks and put on the spiders.

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For me and I believe the rest, what sticks with me are the faces of the children.

Isn’t it true that connecting with children is often connecting with joy, hope, simplicity, ingenuity…magic? But it’s more, right?

I keep thinking of lyrics of a song by Sister Kathy Sherman, CSJ, especially these:

Why do we bless the children?

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Why are we concerned about the future?

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Why do we protect Earth and all her creatures?

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Why is our vision so wide?

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The answer is in the refrain:

Because we love God.
Because we love God and all that belongs to God.
Because we love God, we are who we are, and we do what we do.

What might we find if we dare to take a long, loving gaze into the faces of children? Would we see ourselves reflected back? Would we be reminded that the future is theirs, but ours to protect? Would we see the face of God? If you would like to sit with and reflect on this awhile longer, consider watching this video, inspired by one of Sister Kathy’s songs. Maybe it will help you, as it does me, to keep who we are as human beings and what we do in service of God and each other, in the forefront of our minds.

About the Author

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Sister 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 sorting clothes at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

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Light For the World

By Sister Paula Terese Pilon

In November 2020, at a virtual gathering for the National Religious Vocation Conference, Father David Kelly, Executive Director of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation based in Chicago, gave a presentation entitled A Ministry of Hope. Part of his presentation focused on the importance of “changing the narrative” and its correlation to moving beyond past injuries. However, his three-pronged approach also aptly applies to the current reality of religious life today:

1) Come together to tell your stories.

2) Commit to doing what’s hard.

3) Remain hopeful.

This is the blueprint of our existence.

When I entered religious life with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Nazareth in Kalamazoo, MI in 2003, we were in conversation with six other communities of Sister of St Joseph about uniting to form one congregation. This pivotal decision to come together was born out of our desire to share our resources so that we could continue to live out and further our mission of unifying love, and was forward looking and deeply rooted in our belief that religious life is alive and vital in today’s world. We officially became the Congregation of Saint Joseph in 2007.

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Bringing together seven, formerly independent, communities was no small task. We were from seven different states and had seven different and unique cultures. However, we were committed to our mission and remained hopeful that our union would bring about good. Indeed, it has opened and broadened us in ways we could not have predicted.

While some believe that religious life is dying due to the declining number of vowed sisters, we know that numbers do not tell the whole story. Even though it might look different, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t experiencing God’s call to vowed religious life. And others are being called to service in other ways, such as associates. Together, we all work to unite, heal and to be light to one another.

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Amanda Gorman, in her poem read at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, encouraged us to be light to the world. She stated,

‘We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.’

Her words speak so eloquently of the call of many men and women religious. As sisters of the Congregation of Saint Joseph, our call is to animate these words. By joining together, we knew we could be a brighter light to the world around us. We did this through discovering new ways to serve our dear neighbors, without distinction, ways that were not possible when we were seven individual congregations. We found others; lay colleagues and partners, equally committed to this mission of reconciling, unifying love, with whom we now collaborate. We are a visible witness of the Gospel values and we devote ourselves to creating opportunities that help to heal the wounds inflicted on both humanity and the world.

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One of the most important parts of our journey to join together was relationship building. We invested a lot of time and resources into meeting with and getting to know one another. Relationships are, after all, at the heart of who we are and one of our greatest assets. We are still a work in progress, but coming together all those years ago gave us renewed energy and hope. We have challenges, but we work through them together. We are a family. 

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Other congregations have since asked us to tell our story because they felt that the way we came together was very successful and life-giving. This was and is one way that we are a light to others, as Amanda Gorman invited us to be.

I am inspired daily by so many of our sisters who teach me that whatever our age we can contribute to furthering and living out our mission. Our light shines no matter the age, no matter how big or little our actions seem. I see the women in my congregation daily living from an inner light that shines through the actions they do – whether it be prayer, kindness to others, writing letters to or calling public officials, to protesting or working towards systemic change and unity of a divided nation and many other ways. They have taught me that trust in God’s divine Providence is so important. That although religious life is changing God is still working in us and still calling others to this life. When I hear people saying that religious life is dying, I remember my congregation’s foundation. In 1650, LePuy France, six women felt called to go out into the city and meet the needs of their dear neighbors. Just as those women were a light for the people of their time so also we strive to be a light for the people of our time. I believe God is still calling women and men to holiness — and I am filled with abundant hope.

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About the Author

Paula-TereseSister Paula Terese Pilon lives in Cleveland, Ohio and works as a chaplain at Cleveland Clinic Hospice. Originally from Michigan, Paula Terese is very found of her home town of Ann Arbor. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family and listening to audiobooks. She loves her life as a sister! 

Learn more about becoming a Sister or Associate of St. Joseph today! 

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God-not-in-a-box

By Sister Christine Schenk

I have always loved the Holy Spirit.

As a young child,  this was the first image of God to which I felt a real connection. The images of God-the-father and God-the-son seemed so settled and so definite. Both were male: one Yahweh-thunderbolt creator; one sympathetic, crucified savior. Aside from being hard for a young girl to identify with, they were sort of scary.

And then there’s the Spirit. Not defined. Not exclusively male. My girl-child self was already enthralled with the natural world’s spectacular beauty. The Holy Spirit is the God-name I recognized as that mysterious loving Presence I had already sensed through nature. God-not-in-a-box who is tenderly near.

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As I trudge along my pilgrim journey today, I find I need each person of the Trinity in different ways at different times. But there is something special about the Holy Spirit.

Look at the witness of the early church. The disciples are always saying things like, “then the Spirit told us to go here, so we went” and “the Spirit told him not to go there, so he stayed away.” See this passage in the book of Acts: “[Paul and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16: 6-7).

Did you ever wonder how Paul and Timothy knew it was the Spirit talking to them? Maybe they acted on a subtle but definite inner prompting and only in retrospect did they realize it was the Jesus-Spirit.

Alternatively, as my Quaker friends would say, the “way would open.” Or not. And that’s often how the Spirit guides us still.

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I love that the Spirit seems so very practical and yet so powerful.

How about this passage preceding Peter’s church-changing encounter with Cornelius: “While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them’ ” (Acts 10: 19-20).

After that, we read of Peter’s conversion, welcoming Gentiles without first requiring circumcision: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. … Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10: 34-35; 47).

That one encounter changed everything.  For the first time, the infant Church began to recognize the breadth and depth of God’s love—a love meant for all peoples, not only for the people of Israel. 

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The Spirit loves to shake up our stereotypes.  If we are open, the Spirit will break open our vision and allow us to see the gentle, powerful ways of God’s unfathomable love.

Leonard Bernstein once wrote in his “Mass,” “God loves all simple things. For God is the simplest of all.” There is a simplicity about God-in-the-person-of-the-Spirit that is both disarming and attractive.

Have you ever heard the Spirit’s still, simple voice?

How did you respond?

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About the Author

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Sister 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 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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Recovering the Laughter

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

Recently, while visiting sisters in Cleveland, I had the opportunity to join some of them for a simple supper. While we were all together, we told each other stories and joined in laughter around the table. That laughter was just wonderful, refreshing and energizing.

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In reflecting on that experience with joy, I realized that we have all been so very serious over the last year of the pandemic. As we begin to recover and return to life, it is important that we recover laughter. It really is the “best medicine.”

A little research shows that there are both physical and mental health benefits to laughter and humor.

Some physical health benefits include: boosting immunity, lowering stress hormones, decreasing pain, relaxing muscles, and preventing heart disease.

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Some mental health benefits include: adding joy and zest to life, easing anxiety and tension, relieving stress, improving mood, and strengthening resilience.

Although life has been very serious over this last year, laughter is very natural to us. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born.

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Even if a person did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, one can still learn to laugh at any stage of life!

Here are some ways to start:

  • Smile: Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter is contagious. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.

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  • Count Your Blessings: The simple act of noticing what is positive in your life will distance you from negative thoughts and feelings that block humor and laughter.
  • When You Hear Laughter, Move Toward It: When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask: “What are you laughing about?”  Be quick to respond by joining in the laughter.pexels-keira-burton-6147175
  • Spend Time with Fun, Playful People: The playful point of view and easy laughter are actually contagious. I went out to lunch with friends who were fairly new. There were puddles in the parking lot, and so I jumped in a puddle on our way out. They were caught off guard and responded with laughter and jumping in puddles themselves!pexels-luna-lovegood-1104014
  • Bring Good Humor into Conversations: Ask others: “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?” I recently cracked an egg into a bowl, covered it with a coffee filter and put it in the microwave to cook. I had forgotten to pierce the egg! You guessed it, it exploded all over inside the microwave. I could only laugh at myself and at the exploded egg!pexels-roman-odintsov-6898858
  • Do Something Silly: If nothing comes to mind, ask others for advice or to join in the silliness.pexels-alena-darmel-7322370
  • Be Aware of What Media You’re Consuming: Do not watch TV or movies that are overly serious or even violent. At least, do not make a habit of taking in frightening, dark entertainment or reading. This input does indeed block lightheartedness.
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If you remember the movie Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, there is a scene with Ed Wynne who sings the song: “I love to laugh, loud and long and clear. . .”  The world would be a better place with more humor, laughter and joy.  May we be instigators of these virtues for the good health of all.

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About the Author

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

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Four Lessons Learned from My Canine Best Friend

By Sister Judith Minear

As a lover of all animals, I have certainly found God in all creation, including dogs. But one of COVID’s greatest isolation gifts to me was the almost-daily companionship of a Goldendoodle named Ginger. It is true what they say: when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.

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I do not remember exactly how it happened, but sometime in January, I had the opportunity to walk Ginger, whose two humans are dear friends of mine. A combination of my love of winter and a brisk walk with her lifted my spirits. This led to a commitment to a morning walk with her as often as I could…and that walk has led to many, many lessons learned from my canine best friend. Here are some of them.

Have Faith

While my goal is to walk Ginger every day, my work schedule or health sometimes precludes doing so. Regardless, Ginger watches faithfully from her window, trusting that I am just around the bend. She isn’t discouraged when I don’t show up and resumes her post again the very next day, sure that I am almost there. How attuned am I to promises made and promises fulfilled, and how faithful am I to God’s presence in my life?

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Forgiveness, No Judgment and Unconditional Love

The first time I had to miss multiple mornings in a row, I expected Ginger to act a bit more, shall we say, gingerly, towards me. But no. Each daily walk is greeted with utter excitement, as if this was the first walk of her life. Ginger has reminded me that I do not have to be perfect to be loved deeply. She has taught me that it is ok to pay attention to my own needs. Her love, like God’s, will always be there.

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Be Mindful, and Follow Your Instincts

In the early days of our walks, I mentally mapped out a route and we followed it every day. Eventually, Ginger began to tug at her leash to cross the street…or sniff the grates. As I watched her begin to shape our walks, I learned so much about mindfulness. While my map had been all about efficiency and distance, Ginger taught me to be mindful to what was happening around us. Her alertness and attention to sound, smell, taste and sheer joy has opened my heart more fully to being in the moment. I have laughed out loud watching her shovel fresh snow into her mouth. We have paused to watch deer on lawns, squirrels digging for treasure and even watched an owl in a tree. She has sniffed flowers and gleefully rolled in dewy grass. Because of her example, I pause more to take in the God-moments that are always around me. For the first time in a long time, I am fully awake to this season of new life! What an Easter gift! 

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Love Your Neighbor

Ginger has never met a stranger. She assumes that every passing car and every person on the side walk is there to love and be loved. She greets each one with equal parts leaps of joy and unconditional love. Her trust and assumptions of goodness are lessons in themselves. Her worldview is clearly one of love for every kind of neighbor, just as we are called to unity as sisters, associates and friends of Joseph. Watching her generosity and love has nudged my heart to open wider and deeper to the needs of others in the world.

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There is so much more I continue to learn from Ginger.  What started out as exercise with a buddy turned into so much more. Every walk is a new life-lesson; every cuddle is a renewed learning about unconditional love. Thank you, Ginger, for teaching me what it means to live life and love God to the fullest.

About the Author

16-judyminear-copySister Judith Minear currently serves as part of a 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration. CSJ Ministries is the umbrella organization that works with ministries that are members of our Mission Network. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

 

* all photos of Ginger were used with permission from her humans. 

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The Only One We Have

By Sister Christine Parks

It’s not uncommon for me to contract a moderate to severe case of spring fever in February. Over the years when this has happened, I usually self-medicate with pots of daffodils and tulips, crocus and hyacinths—whose purchase I justify with the certainty that they’ll get planted in the garden to bloom again the next year, or the year after if they get lost or hide out in the garage. Then I sit back and wait, not always patiently, through most of March, for the vernal equinox to arrive; for spring to step across the equator, pushing winter ahead of her as she journeys north.

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Somehow it also seems appropriate that a good part of this waiting happens during Lent, while the earth (at least at this latitude) remains frozen, and the days more dark than light; making the synchrony of the arrival of spring and the mystery of resurrection even more deeply meaningful. They both burst forth out of their separate tombs, into the light, bringing new life. After all, what in nature can seem more tomb-like than a dried out bulb or seed, planted in the dark earth. All that life pent up in what looks, from the outside, more dead than alive.

And now we come to April. Truly the month (in our northern hemisphere) of increasing daylight and warmth, regardless of the occasional freeze or snowfall. A month of greening, growth spurts and pastel blooming—and everything blooms, whether the blooms look like flowers, or not, as in the case of the amazing Symplocarpus foetidus, (i.e. the ‘lowly’ skunk cabbage seen below), which you will find in many boggy areas if you get out wood-walking early in the season.

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April is also the month of Earth Day (April 22), when we celebrate our planet home. In recent years this celebration has become ever more poignant as we recognize the damage we have inflicted, continue to inflict, on this world. Earth Day is a special opportunity to commit, or re-commit, ourselves to act, advocate and connect with the global community; to take steps to protect, conserve and heal this lovely planet—the only one we have.

In the depths of February, I wrote the following love poem for my writing group. It feels appropriate to share as we move toward another Earth Day celebration, recognizing that we have a shrinking number of years to make significant changes in our living, working and being on and with earth. Yet we can choose now to turn away from the destructive path we are traveling, to one that respects and honors the gift of creation that surrounds us.

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Earth Borne

How do I love thee?
            (After Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Let me tell the ways, uncounted, diverse
as the life you hold, forms you take—eagle
and egret, panther and porpoise, balsam
and birch, milkweed and monarch—now a
single snowflake falling amidst a blizzard
clothing the bare bones of autumn’s remains.
Now sunrise, dragging all the hues of
morning up the sky, then setting sun pulling
all the shades of evening beneath horizon
edge until only the vast universe comes
visible one light at a time. I love
you in all your peculiarity—gecko and
giraffe, aardvark and avocado, humus and
homo sapiens, all born from your womb.

By Christine Parks, CSJ

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About the Author

Sister Christine Parks, CSJ, serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional retreat and program presenter online and in Kalamazoo. She also works with the Congregation’s Protect & Heal Earth initiative and sustainability efforts. Leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing and poetry.

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Celebrating Resurrection

By Sister Marcella Clancy

“Christ’s resurrection is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that in the interior of the world God’s fire is already burning, and this will bring everything to blessed ardor in its light. He has risen to show that this has already begun.” (Karl Rahner)

In these early days of the Easter Season, Resurrection nags at me. The slow deliberate movement of Holy Thursday and Good Friday draw me into the intimate, enormous love of Jesus as he bends to wash feet, gifts himself as Bread and Wine, endures unbearable suffering and fully surrenders to an ignoble death. The pervasive, waiting silence of Holy Saturday stirs anticipation for the unfolding joy of the Easter Vigil and the sheer gladness of Easter morning. Then…. What??? It feels to me the remaining 49 days of Easter seem rather anticlimactic? Is this as it should be? I perform certain Lenten practices to enter more fully into the suffering and death of Jesus. Why do I not have Easter practices to enter more fully into the Resurrection of Jesus? I am not sure if I give Easter its due, that I celebrate it wholly.

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This may seem a heady and irrelevant question. A pondering that belongs in the realm of theological consideration. Yet, I sense the reality of Resurrection is to be more meaningful in my, and in our, everyday life. We are happy for Resurrection. We are glad things ended well for Christ. Yet, there is a tendency to think of personal Resurrection in the realm of the hereafter, a spiritual transformation, a promise fulfilled after the travail of this world. My tendency is not to think of Resurrection as tangible, as unfolding in my life now.

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Resurrection is the living force of God’s undying love constantly and continuously at work in creation, in me, in you, a promise that is being fulfilled even as I write. Yet today the mass killings of ordinary Americans, the destruction of homes and lives from tornadoes and the injustice of racism dominate the news. No amount of words can describe the untold grief and heartbreak on this globe. Each of us can empathize because no one is exempt from loss, disappointment, sorrow, anguish, or pain. “Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus…” Each of us can identify with the suffering and death of Jesus because we touch it profoundly within the folds our own lives. Is not Resurrection, “…the power of Christ’s life in these bodies of ours”, (2 Cor 4:12) to be experienced even more deeply?

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The power of Resurrection lives in everything: the rising sun, the buried seed, the budding crocus, the hanging chrysalis, spring rain, crushing beauty, the pregnant womb, the helping hand, the comforting word, the unexpected inspiration, an act of charity, the commitment to justice, reverence for creation, the movement toward goodness. Resurrection comes to us a thousand ways each day. Do I recognize it? Do I celebrate it? It is also true in every encounter each of us possess the capacity to deposit the power of Resurrection in others’ lives.

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Resurrection is not shallow or glib, a forced joy. In the midst of suffering, hopelessness, and even death, Resurrection is the staying power of faithful love meeting God’s creative, enduring power of life. This is ultimately what is salvific. To work for justice in the midst of oppression, to work for unioning love in the midst of hatred, to work for kindness in the midst of violence, to work for generosity in the midst of greed, to work for equality in the midst of disparity, to work for reverence in the midst of desecration, to work for compassion in the midst of judgment — these are the moments we make the encounter with the Risen Christ just as real as those moments Mary Magdalen, the travelers on the Emmaus road, the disciples in the upper room, and Thomas met him. This tired world resembles the exhausted disciples who fished all night and caught nothing and yet in the dim light of morning, our work of faithful love points to an obscure figure on the shore and hope rises again, “It is the Lord!”

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Lent is over. I put away my Lenten practices. But what do I take out to celebrate the Easter Season, the Resurrection of Christ? I hold the promise, the fire, the light, the power, the life of Resurrection within me. You hold it within you. The world suffers enough. What it needs is Resurrection.

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About the Author

marcella for blogSister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and has degrees in theology and nursing.  She has served in parish ministry, accompanied others in spiritual direction, and served as retreat director for many years. She has taught theology as an adjunct faculty. Currently she does some writing, spiritual direction, and gives presentations. She believes that the core of our life is moving toward love of God and love of our dear neighbor without distinction.

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The Greatest of These is Hope

By Sister Jean Anne McGrath

“In the end there remain faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.”

How often we hear these powerful words from St. John’s gospel and find comfort, challenge, and a sense of oneness with all who believe in the power of love to mend a broken world.  This year, as we prepare to celebrate Easter and the amazing news of the successful inoculation of literally millions of persons with lifesaving vaccines, I think my prayer might be altered a bit; “and the greatest of these is hope”.

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This is the season to celebrate HOPE. After a full year of eye-opening revelations and deprivations we have learned that despite being the most advanced nation in the world we are indeed vulnerable, hurting, and subject to forms of paralysis we never dreamed possible.

The list of things for which we used to hope has shifted dramatically. I never thought that I would ever be hopeful for a safe trip to the grocery store, a hug from my grand nieces and nephews, a chance to celebrate liturgy in the faith community I love, a comfortable face mask, a burger and fries with friends at the local pub. But hope is in the air today.

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Helen Keller wrote, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” In the last twelve months we have seen the pain and suffering caused by a microscopic and invisible virus. We have felt the intangible fear when we realized, “it seems to be everywhere”. And, against all odds, brilliant and dedicated scientists have achieved the impossible and almost unimaginable miracle of finding multiple medicines that promise to help us through this international crisis.

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In her beautiful poem, “A World in Morning”, highly gifted poet laureate Amanda Gorman names the sense of relief and gratitude we are experiencing as we begin to see some important signs of recovery in all areas of life.

And so, on this meaningful morn,
We mourn and we mend
Like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend.

I think mourning and mending well define these (almost) post pandemic days. I think they also define Easter hope and Easter joy and provide a new focus and direction to use the experiences of these last twelve months to live more authentically as “Easter People” whose experience of great loss and suffering has transformed so much of what we have for too long taken for granted.

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Will we forget the heroic work of first responders whose endless hours in emergency rooms and intensive care units often included holding the hands of patients who died alone?  Will our memories be able to hold the pictures of mile long lines of families waiting in food lines for the necessities required just to survive for the next week? As we return to “business as usual” can our hearts hold the compassion and empathy to stay close to those who have lost loved ones to this dreaded virus?  If not, why not? If so, How?

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What have we learned that will nudge us to nurture a deep sense of hope that will make our world a bit more kind, a bit more patient, a bit more empathetic and compassionate.

I recently saw a poster which read: “Hope is a passion for what is possible”. I love the quotation because it makes hope an active verb, not merely a feel-good noun. In this Easter season, I want to have a hope-filled passion for justice, a hope-filled passion for gratitude, a hope-filled passion for doing my small part to ensure that the poor and marginalized can also experience a passion for what is possible.  I want the lessons of the last twelve months to encourage more than a seismic sigh of relief, but instead, a seismic shift in how I might become become my better self.

Gorman’s poem includes an invitation:

For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,
Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.
So, ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain:
Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.

May we not forget the ache that we have endured, but rather be on fire with a passion for what is possible.

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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!