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Oops! Please Pardon Our Mistake

Due to a glitch in our system, this morning we accidentally posted a blog post that wasn’t quite ready!

Thank you to everyone who has contacted us about the broken link. This post will be available to you next Wednesday, at our regularly scheduled blogging time.

Thank you for your understanding.

The Beyond the Habit Team

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St. Joseph the Father

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

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

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Shoes at the border – Photo taken by Sister Erin McDonald

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

About the Author

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

 

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What Are You Looking For?

BY SISTER ANN LETOURNEAU

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

By Elizabeth Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-Web

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

 

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Drink Coffee For Peace

By Sister Jacqueline Goodin, CSJ

It’s amazing what two cups of coffee (or tea) can do for us in the morning. It’s like turning a light on in your head. But can coffee’s near magical powers extend to larger areas, say, world peace? I practice peace-making whenever I am aware of the potential for relationship-building, and choose to take the time to share time with another person.

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Some of us may be familiar with the spiritual practice of mindfulness—that is, being aware of everything around us in creation, of our physical self, and of every movement-by-movement action that we make. When we practice mindfulness—even during a busy work day while taking care of the children or shopping for groceries—we slow our inside and outside self. Mindfulness ultimately helps us to appreciate the reality that we are in, to honor what needs honoring, and to consider thoughtfully our next steps.

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So where does coffee come in? It’s a metaphor for taking time, as we would when we savor a good cup of coffee or tea. Mindfulness can be applied to how we are with each other. I admit, many times I miss the potential. But more and more I am becoming aware of the possibility of taking time to be with another person fully. This requires that I set aside my own desires, expectations, or agenda for that person. I choose to empty myself so that I can truly hear the story of the one across from me. I choose to give the other the gift of my time, without rush. People have such interesting stories about themselves. As I listen with full attention, I can hear the connections between the other’s life and my own.

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During moments when we share, we become one human family. Sometimes it feels easier to take time to connect with others when we do so over steaming cups of coffee and a lovely bit of pastry. It’s also the perfect invitation: “Let’s meet for coffee!”

But coffee and pastry aren’t essential. You can practice mindfulness at the grocery store when you look a busy cashier in the eye and ask, “How’s it going today?” and then really listen to their answer. This helps that person feel appreciated for how hard she/he is working, and like a human being again. Every person I encounter is important and worthy of my attention.

Sometimes it’s harder to be attentive to those we are most close with, and sometimes it’s easier. But, it’s really challenging to pay attention, with true respect and openness, when we are with a stranger (from the Gospel perspective can anyone really be a stranger?) or with someone we know thinks very differently from us.

Perhaps if we knew that world peace would be the ultimate reward, would we not invite someone to share pastry and cup of coffee with us?

jackiegoodin.portrait.webAbout the Author

Sister Jacqueline Goodin, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team, and an avid coffee lover. She reminds us that our time spent over coffee with another will have even greater impact if the coffee or tea is grown and harvested in an ecologically sustainable and just manner.

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Where Do You Stand on the Post-Christmas Debate?

By Sister Jean McGrath

The post-Christmas debate goes on:

. . . If your Christmas tree is up on the weekend after Thanksgiving, it is only appropriate that it comes down on the day after Christmas.

. . .Family tradition demands that the tree be up until at least January 6…we used to call that “Little Christmas”…

. . . Keeping the tree up wards off the post-Christmas blues when it is so cold and dark outside. If up to me, I think we should keep until Valentine’s Day.

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Where do you stand on the debate?

I have always been on the keep it up for as long as you can side of the question. On January 6, the feast of the Epiphany (Little Christmas), I finally took down my Christmas tree. It was a bittersweet experience.

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In the last few years I have created a mini-ritual for taking down the tree. While much is written about the traditions related to putting up the Christmas tree, I think it is equally important to celebrate taking down the tree. Whether you have a “live” tree from the local American Legion lot, a tree that you and your family cut down yourselves, or a pre-lit “looks almost real” tree from Home Depot, it is a memory holder that can prompt wonderful reflections on all that was and all that is to be. I offer the following:

The tree holds an eyewitness account of Christmas memories and new traditions created each year. If you have children, what could possibly top the vision of watching them discover all that Santa left for them after his late night visit? One quickly realizes that the time spent searching for the most desired toy of the year was well worth the effort. The new tradition of “family pajamas” creates a family portrait to be treasured for years to come when you wonder who ever thought of that idea.

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The tree is the constant in the flurry of holiday celebrations and gatherings with family and friends where the circle of love between and among all present reminds us of the treasure each is in our life.

In the rush to put the tree up, we might lose sight of the memory so many of the ornaments hold. Construction paper snowflakes, popsicle stick stables, glitter sparkled angels crafted so carefully by pre-school artisans now home from college for Christmas. (“I cannot believe you saved that” as the now sophisticated sophomore scholar revels in the magic and memory of time that passes so quickly.)

Be very careful to wrap the tiny silver framed picture ornament with:”Baby’s First Christmas” a gift that announced the adoption of a grand-niece who at ten years of age continues to bring so much joy to her family as she grows each year.

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A special box is here for the lovely Waterford crystal globe sent from cousins in Ireland so many years ago…Three generations have ensured it be part of family legacy and tradition.

I am careful to wrap the light strings with a prayer that they will last for another year. The old “bubble lights” are almost impossible to find now. I hold my breath each year for the aha moment of plugging everything in for the first time, hoping these vintage bulbs will light not only the tree but the faces of all who gather around the tree during the beautiful season of Christmas.

Today is a damp and cold January day. Most of us are back to work or school. Christmas aisles at Target have been replaced with Valentines and yes, even bathing suits for Spring break, but I am enjoying one of the best days of the New Year. The tree is in a big green bag, the ornaments are carefully boxed, and my heart is grateful for memories of another wonderful Christmas and the promise held in that tree bag and ornament box.

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This Christmas like those in the past will light the way for a new year filled with hopes and dreams, worries and wonders, surprises and disappointments which will enrich the tree when it is put up again next December.

Happy New Year!

About the Author

JeanMcGrath
After 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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Reflecting with the Epiphany

by Sister Sallie Latkovich

I love the Epiphany Story from Matthew’s Gospel. Mostly, I love the reflections it evokes. I thought you might like to reflect with me. . .

An epiphany is like an “A-ha” moment for us: when we see something new, or come to understand something we thought a mystery, or greet another/others with new recognition of who they are, and who we are in relationship with them. Thus, it is an apt title for the traditional story of the “Three Kings” visiting the newborn Christchild. I am given cause to reflect on various “epiphanies” I have experienced recently. How about you?

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If you look at the story in Matthew’s Gospel, 2:1-12, you will notice that there is no mention at all of  “Kings.” So, what’s the story? We have a hymn where we sing: “We three kings of orient are. . .” Look back at first book of Kings, where Yaheweh asks Solomon to ask for anything; and Solomon requests an understanding heart. From that encounter on, the gift of wisdom is seen as a gift given to kings. Thus, the three in their wisdom of seeking out the Christchild are named as kings. Here, I am given cause to reflect on the “wise ones” I have met in my own life—those with understanding hearts who reflect well on their experience of life. Who are the wise ones of your own life?

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Furthermore, these magi are from the “east.” Thus, they are not native to the place. I reflect here on our own mission of unifying love, and greeting the “dear neighbor.” I must admit here my own prejudices, my preconceived judgment of those who are different from me in any way. Do you too have such prejudices?

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The sojourners “saw the star at its rising.” Stars are always guiding lights. Remember when the Israelites were crossing the desert in the exodus? They were led by a fiery cloud in the heavens; thus, a light in the sky. What/who are the guiding stars in my life? Perhaps these have been sure signs of the direction in which to go. What/who do I look to for guidance? And, specifically, guidance in my journey to God?

Enter King Herod: who sought to use the travelers to find this “newborn king” and report back to him. Even the youngest child who hears the story knows that Herod does not wish to “do him homage,” but rather to do him harm, so as not to be a threat to Herod’s power. There is often a bump in our roads, a detour that threatens to move us off course, even a threat that we seek to overpower. Has this ever been your experience?

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Finally, the same guiding star (by which they were overjoyed in the text) leads them to the place where the child was. EPIPHANY!!! Don’t miss the detail that “they went into the house.” They weren’t simply observers, but truly entered in. When have I chosen to observe God’s work instead of entering in and participating? The visitors seemed to understand, so they prostrated themselves and did him homage: behaviors in the presence of a king—this newborn king of the Jews.

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We have often heard that they gave him great and priceless gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Any souvenir shop in Israel today has a “three pack” of these same gifts! One homilist I heard suggested that these were astrologers, readers of the stars; or even magicians, a derivative of the word magi. And, if they were practitioners of illusion, they surrendered their tools of illusion because they had discovered the truth: the Christchild, Emmanuel. Oh my; what are the illusions of my life, untruths that I cling to? Am I willing to surrender these in light of finding the truth of God in my life and world? Are you?

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I hope you will spend some time reflecting on this wonderful story from the Gospel, and the truths it might reveal to you.

About the Author

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