Image

The Power of Words

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

When I was a child, and other kids would call me names, my mom would remind me, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

people yelling edited

Now in my wisdom years, I’d like to say that statement isn’t true. Words can and do hurt.

Currently my mom is in a memory care unit because of mild dementia, and she is hearing impaired. She still knows who I am, and most times observes the rules of polite conversation, but she has limited vocabulary and only the most basic conversational skills. I call her every night, and if she remembered to hang up the phone correctly, and if she hears the phone ring, she’ll answer.
Some nights she can’t hear me, and just hangs up after I shout a few things at her. Occasionally, she’ll ask, “Who is this, and what do you want?” When I tell her who I am—and she hears me– her tone will change, and she’ll say, “Hello, honey. What’s up?”

telephone-handset-3179133_1920

Then in a five-minute conversation, she asks these questions:
• What did you do today?
• How are you feeling?
• Are you keeping busy?

I answer the questions as best I can, and then ask her about her day. Every day she answers, “It was just another day.”

And then she asks again:
• What did you do today?
• How are you feeling?
• Are you keeping busy?

And I answer again.

Occasionally, the script changes. Last week she asked, “How is your hubby and your family?” Then after I explained that I don’t have a “hubby” and family, and I reminded her that I’ve been a religious sister for many years, she said, “Well, you certainly have brothers and sisters; how are they?”, and I reminded her that I only have my sister, and that our brother has been dead for many years.

“Words will never hurt me?” Oh yes, they will. Most evenings I hang up the phone with a heavy heart. My mom is slipping away from me.

edited

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Recently there was a story in the news about a mother in Rochester who called for help with her nine-year old daughter, who was out of control and talking about suicide. When the police arrived, they could not easily subdue the girl, so they put her in handcuffs and sprayed her with pepper spray. One officer said to her, “Stop it! You’re acting like a child!” and in the midst of her tantrum, the girl cried out, “I AM a child!”

“Words will never hurt me?” I was haunted by the words of that child, the truth of what she was saying, and the poor judgment of the officers who treated her like a criminal rather than a troubled child. Her words cut deeply into my heart.

broken-heart-1127702_1920

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some years ago, a person misinterpreted something I said and reported me. I got a call from a person in authority in the congregation, who berated me for speaking against something that the community had voted to accept. I reminded her that I was a strong proponent of the policy and had worked to implement it. She backed off, then, but when I asked her to go back to the person who had reported me, and tell her that she was mistaken, she refused, saying it was “no big thing” and the incident would soon be forgotten.

“Words will never hurt me?” I had been misunderstood, and the (wrong) story was still out there, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Words have power to hurt and to heal. Words are the way we meet one another and share our thoughts and our hearts. We need to choose our words carefully and listen to others when they speak.

background-4457839_1280

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.

Image

Reflecting on Power and Authority

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1: 21-28) has been the inspiration for me as I reflect on the ideas of power and authority.  It’s a worthy question in our world today: who wields “power” for the good or for evil?  Who exercises authority and whose authority do we respect?

I borrow from my friend, Father Ed Foley, who said: “There has been an unfortunate trend in our country, our schools, in business, and even in our churches to allow power to be ceded to the loudest, to hand authority over to bullies.”

desperate-2293377_1920 (1)

I love a story that may illustrate this:

There’s a party talking to a ship at sea that says, “Ship at sea, please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”  The response was: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

The first party responds, “Sorry, sir, but you will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.” The answering party says, “This is the captain of a United States naval ship. I say you must divert your course.” The first party replies: “Pardon me, sir, you must divert your course.”

uss-america-1986420_1920

Now the American ship says, “This is an American aircraft carrier, the second largest ship in the United States fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North.  I say again, that is 1-5 degrees North or counter measures will be taken. Do you understand?”

The response was, “Dear Captain, the next move is your call. This is a Canadian lighthouse.”

lighthouse-4846854_1920

Plenty of questions arise if we choose to reflect:  there are far too many situations of power over and abuse of authority in our world. But, I’d like to suggest that there are also wonderful situations of power and authority that stem from love and giftedness: the touching stories of care and even of saving another; the artists’ creativity giving life through visual arts and music; the teacher passing on life lessons and wisdom; the medical professionals caring for the sick; the farmer caring for land, crops and livestock, and so many others. May we focus on the power and authority that creates and sustains life; and not that which claims false power and authority—in fact, that destroys life.

 May we counteract the unfortunate trend in our country, schools, businesses, and even in our churches that cedes power and authority to the wrong places.

pexels-brett-sayles-5354503 (1)

About the Author

SallieLatkovich.Portrait.web

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.

Image

Why Choose This Life?

By Sister Sarah Simmons

I have been asked many questions by loved ones, friends, and complete strangers over the last four years about my decision to enter religious life. They range from questions about why I don’t wear a habit and how often I pray, to clarification on whether I can still get married and have a family (the answer is no). The most popular question, however, is always “why would you choose this life?”. What they are really trying to get at is why would I choose a life of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience? Why wouldn’t I want a family or home of my own? Why would I want to enter a community whose average age is about two generations older than me? As they ask this seemingly simple but incredibly complex and loaded question, I see them trying to understand why I would choose something that is seemingly the opposite of our culture’s definition of happiness.

beach-1868772_1920

I understand their grappling with my decision just as I did at one point in my discernment journey. My call to religious life cannot be measured, calculated, or sized up because my call is not about logic, but about mystery. It is the mystery of embracing God’s abundant love for me and the desire to share that love extravagantly with others. I found the way I can most fully embrace this mysterious gift is through religious life. I experience the vows and community as the context in which I can fully enter into the inheritance of love that God has bestowed upon me.

The most tangible and practical way I live out this inheritance of God’s love is through my life in community. I see a countercultural, radical life being lived out most concretely in our morning prayer, at the dinner table, and conversations about how often to change the kitchen towels. These everyday moments are the essence of a God centered life for me because it is where the rubber hits the road. The way I live in community reflects how I live religious life in all other areas of my life, including my ministry. For me, religious life begins at our dinner table and in our prayer space, bringing all that we are to one another.

pexels-daniel-frese-744484

This is not to say that a commitment to community is easy or straight forward. Living with others that have a wide range of preferences, wounds, and upbringings requires patience, curiosity, and choosing to love when it is difficult to love. Community is an every day, every moment commitment to making space for others and a choice to be inconvenienced by allowing others into my life and discernment. As a woman who has lived a very independent life, this is hard work. I have experienced the growing pains in learning to allow others to help me, support me, and hold the difficulties and disappointments of life. I thought that the goal of my life was to be successful and have a life of convenience. However, through community I realized that my real desire is to learn how to love with abandon. My work is to listen, to be present, and to make space for every person, no matter our differences. It is saying yes to the mystery of transformation through everyday moments.

pexels-brett-sayles-3733929

Religious life is indeed where I can most fully live into my inheritance of love. I once had grand notions that living a radical life required me to step out of my home and go “out there”. The gift that religious life taught me is that my call to a radical life begins at 7:15am by choosing to get out of bed and pray with my sisters. It is in my choosing to do the dishes and a willingness to have a long conversation about our values around changing the kitchen towels.

love-2573113_1920

As we choose to make space in our hearts and lives for one another, we are choosing to love, and therefore, more fully enter into the inheritance of God’s love that we all share in. However, this is not just for me and my community, but simply the birth-place of belonging. As we nurture love and belonging with one another, we cannot help but share it with a world whose people are struggling to find their way back to one another.

About the Author

Sarah croppedSister Sarah Simmons currently serves as the program associate at Life Directions, a peer mentoring program that works with young adults ages thirteen to thirty-five in Chicago and Detroit. She just recently celebrated taking initial vows with the Congregation in pandemic fashion on zoom. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, reading, and a really good cup of coffee.

Image

What is the Holy Spirit Calling Us To?

 By Sister Christine Schenk

Of all the shocking images that flooded our screens on January 6, I was most outraged by a flag bearing the name of Jesus carried by insurrectionists as they mounted their assault on the U.S. Capitol.

As if Jesus would ever condone this out-of-control mob—fueled by lies and bearing deadly weapons—intent on overturning our country’s legitimate election.

capitol-building-500528_1920

I could barely take in that this was happening at the citadel of my country’s democracy — let alone that the perpetrators would justify their violent behavior by invoking the name of Jesus.

In succeeding days, like most of the country, I was glued to cable news and smartphone alerts trying desperately to understand how this could have happened.

woman-1006100_1920 (1)

As I write this blog, we are celebrating the Baptism of Christ.  The reading from Isaiah describes a prophetic servant of God that prefigured Jesus:

He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth. (Is 42:1-3)

This Jesus is a far cry from the one evoked on the insurrectionist’s flag.

So we must ask, to what is the Holy Spirit calling us to in this moment? What are we as a Christian community being asked to do?

pexels-jeff-stapleton-4220084

Here are some things that came to me:

  • We must pray. Pray for our country, our elected officials (including our outgoing president), our law enforcement, our fellow citizens, and all those members of cult-like militias and hate groups who blindly follow a false god.
  • We must ask civic communities, communities of faith, and religious leaders to join Cardinal Cupich and our own Congregation of St. Joseph in issuing statements that condemn the use of violence and “work to end the rampant rage and division that have overpowered our nation.”
  • We must contact our state and federal legislators and demand accountability by
    • passing laws against domestic terrorism (If you can believe it there are none right now.)
    • prosecuting insurrectionists and rioters to the full extent of the law.
    • censuring or demanding the resignation of any lawmaker or public servant who promotes the false narrative that the presidential election was fraudulent.
  • We must organize interfaith and interreligious networks to
    • educate and provide a counter narrative to toxic cults that highlights God’s prime directive to love one another.
    • build relationships of trust and understanding across faith communities
    • engage with fellow citizens who are vulnerable to cultic expressions of an idolatrous heresy that bears no resemblance to Jesus the Christ.

hands-2168901_1920

I ask you to join me with this prayer:

Grant us, O God,
A vision of your world as your love would have it:

A world where the weak are protected,
and none go hungry or poor.

A world where the riches of creation are honored and shared
so everyone might enjoy them.

A world where different races, cultures and creeds
live in peace and harmony, with equal regard.

A world where peace is built with justice
and justice is guided by love.

Give us the inspiration and courage to go forth with willing hearts, minds, and bodies to build such a world, through Christ Jesus.

And may the God of hope fill us with every comfort and joy in believing. May the peace of Christ abound in our hearts and minds. and may the Holy Spirit gift and guide us now and forever. Amen.

– Prayer used with permission from FutureChurch

About the Author

Schenk head shot2

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.

Image

2021: What is Ours to Do?

By Sister Judith Minear

It feels deeply appropriate to be writing this blog on the morning of the winter Solstice, a celebration that reminds us that even the darkest days do brighten. Normally during these solstice days, I am, in equal parts, reflecting on the year that it is ending and pondering my intentions for the new year.

snow-834111_1920

This year is different. 2020 was not the year any of us expected. Each of us has faced tremendous loss among our families, friends and other relationships. Our nation has encountered economic collapse, racial division, and a polarized electorate. Devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods and the hottest year on record has created the environment we lived in. We sheltered in place, worked from home, and discovered that the most essential people are not billionaires nor movie stars. They are first-line doctors and nurses dealing with those who have Covid. They are women and men who often barely earn minimum wage. These heroes checked us out at grocery stores and picked up our trash and recyclables. They made food for us in restaurants and re-invented an education delivery system overnight. And the list goes on and on.

woman-in-blue-shirt-wearing-face-mask-3881247

Indeed, 2020 has been a year of challenge and change. This is the year we discovered how truly fragile daily plans, long-range strategies and the once-normal flow of everyday life really are. And so, we changed. Or we tried to, anyway. In Solstice terms, we hibernated in our own homes to keep ourselves and one another safe. We began to use technology creatively to pray, celebrate, connect, play and yes, also to work and have meetings. We did our best to adapt and prosper.

apple-iphone-smartphone-desk-4158

As 2021 looms large, I find I am more interested in gaining perspective on how I (and all of us) navigated 2020 than I am preparing to rush into setting any kind of expectations for the coming year. What is the chance that we as a nation might use this time to regroup, reassess and remind ourselves of what is really important in our lives? To do that, we need to take a deep look at ourselves and how well we have navigated, individually and collectively, the tumult caused by Covid.

pexels-olya-kobruseva-5428833

Here are some of the questions we might use to help us gain this kind of interior perspective:

1. What have I learned about myself this year? How has 2020 challenged and changed me?
2. How well have I adjusted (and continue to adjust) to pandemic life? What is my capacity for resilience?
3. What adjustments have I made that work well?
4. What has not been working so well, if anything?
5. What steps have I taken to address my mental and spiritual health?
6. What do I miss most about my life before pandemic? How can I make those things happen differently?
7. To be ready to help others, we must “put our own oxygen masks on first”. How am I taking care of my body, mind and spirit so that I am ready to serve others?
8. What are three habits or practices that I rely on to help me live my best life?

Taking inventory about what has worked well for each of us during these turbulent times would surely serve us as we work with others to identify and address the local, national and global issues the pandemic has magnified and which must be addressed. Conversely, examining what has not worked well for us provides an opportunity to discover ways to make adjustments that will aid us as we move forward into 2021.

covid-4948866_1920

In her article, “The Pain of 2020 and the Hope for 2021,” Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP says this: “We have gone through life-changing events this past year. There’s no ‘going back to normal’ to the way things were. Life is different now…we cannot un-see our vulnerability, nor the fragility of our lives physically, emotionally, and economically… but loss also reminds us of our abundant blessings, so many we take for granted daily, like food, clean water, a roof over our heads, good health, and meaningful work.”

For me, and I suspect for you, December 31, 2020, will be a very different New Year’s Eve. Not just because we will be sharing this celebration mostly with those in our same household, but because we are very different now than we were a year ago. I do not know how 2021 will unfold, but I do know that I intend for it to be less about me and more about we.

What are the things we care about that are worth fighting for in 2021? Healthcare disparities? Systemic racism? Creating a healthier planet? Tackling economic, food insecurity and housing injustices? Immigration? More? And how will we lead in such a way that others will want to join us in this work? The lessons of 2020 can truly show us the way.

What is ours to do for every kind of neighbor, without distinction? What is ours to do?

May 2021 be a year or working together in all ways for a just and peaceful world.

Happy New Year!new-year-5798330_1920

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.

Image

O Holy Night

I’ve never been a big Christmas person. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that, but you can also read about it here. So, in years past, I’ve mostly waited for Christmas to be over. But, strangely, this year has been different. The day after Thanksgiving I insisted that we get our tree up. I decorated every available space in our living room and kitchen with twinkle lights, Christmas tree figurines, and white, fluffy fake snow.

pexels-freestocksorg-704218

My partner thought I had gone a little bit crazy, and my nearly two-year old daughter loved it, exclaiming “Lights! Wow!” over and over again. But through it all, I found myself singing a song that was not one of my normal favorites: O Holy Night.

While O Holy Night is obviously a traditional Christmas song, I’m normally more of a fan of songs with a little more bop. Things like Jingle Bells and Rudolph are often sung in our house – especially since having a daughter. But I found myself singing O Holy Night over and over again.

nativity-4620015_1920

When was the last time you really listened to that song? Here are the lyrics of the first verse, for you to consider:

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Did you catch the line that I’ve found myself singing over and over? There are several from the whole song that fit this year, I think, but the one I kept singing is a simple one:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

pexels-tim-mossholder-383646

More than anything else, that line resonates with me in this year of the pandemic. Like many people, this year has been stressful for me and my family for a variety of reasons. We have all done our best to stay home, to stay safe. But it has not been easy. There has been job loss, restlessness, and illness. The world has shown itself to be sometimes an uglier place than I like to imagine, between the political vitriol that surrounded the elections and the meanness I have witness among some members of my community. Clearly, this year, we are a very weary world.

winter-3006823_1920

But that’s why, I think, this Christmas really sticks out to me. A thrill of hope! We have reason to rejoice, even if it is not easy. In my family, this holiday has become less about the commercialism of Christmas. We agreed to keep it small, to only give each other gifts that bring joy and fun. I’ve done most of my shopping online, as I continue to avoid stores, and it has made me considerably happier than I am some years, when fighting the crowds at the stores seems to take up a lot of my energy. We are focusing on what is truly important: family, love, and faith.

I added one final piece of art to my mantle this week. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.
I hope you can rejoice this year, despite the hardships we all face. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

my-mantle-1-for-web

About the Author

me-and-soph-sized-downElizabeth 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!

Image

We Hope Despite the Darkness

By Sister Christine Schenk 

I love Advent. It brings a special brand of hope and light to the darkest days of our calendar year. This sacred season of waiting and expectation is especially poignant now as our world holds its collective breath wondering if joy is even possible amid pandemic pain.

pexels-torsten-dettlaff-195030

But that is the whole point of Advent. We hope despite the darkness. We hope, not because we can see light, but because we trust in another to be light for us.

That other is Jesus.

christmas-manger-4579219_1280

Tomorrow the church’s liturgy begins the “O” antiphons which are ancient refrains dating to the eighth century. From December 17-23, a different “O” antiphon is sung each day at Mass and in the church’s Evening Prayer. The antiphons weave biblical imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures into a lovely theological tapestry celebrating the messianic titles of Jesus and what they might mean—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

These messianic titles are respectively, O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord/Leader), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Radiant Dawn/Dayspring), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), O Emmanuel (O God-With-Us).

Several years ago, I reflected on the “O” antiphons and composed a prayer-poem (below) about what they might mean. For me, the coming of Jesus brings hope, comfort, light, and a peace that truly does “surpass all understanding” (Phil 4:7).

season-2806215_1280

I invite you to take a bit of time and reflect on what the coming of Jesus might mean for you.

O Wisdom,

Sophia’s child,

and Mary’s too,

 bring us back to you.

O Adonai,

set us free

of fear, despair,

misogyny.

O Justice Flower,

of Jesse tree,

uproot our hatreds.

Wash us clean

in just-reign waters,

plant us deep in Thee.

O Key of David,

open heaven’s gate

unlock, unblock,

a captive people

too long enthralled

by hate.

O Radiant Dawn,

light the way

of all who long

to preach, to teach,

 to consecrate

heavenly hosts

of God’s indwelling.

O Emmanuel,

strengthen weary arms,

steady trembling knees

bring surcease of sorrow.

O Advent Light,

dispel death’s dark shadow.

Awaken a waiting world

  to life’s fresh-blessed tomorrow.     

sunset-2839118_1920

For more on the “O” antiphons and to read the original click here. Also, several years ago, the composer Joseph Gregorio set my prayer-poem to music. If you would like to listen, click here and select Advent Reflections I.

About the Author

Schenk head shot2

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.

Image

Waiting for the Light

We have just entered another season of Advent, and already I am leaning toward the Winter Solstice and beyond. Feeling hemmed in and confined by a winter of COVID that has barely begun; yearning for spring and an end to limitations and restrictions, even as we all get a bit more used to them—wondering what a mask-less world where we can again embrace and be together with each other, will be like at the other end.

But, sticking to the here and now for a moment. Following the annual (and this year very out of the ordinary) Thanksgiving celebration (traditionally more turkey, Santa parades, and football than heartfelt, prayer-full giving thanks for many), Advent arrives. This liturgical season of waiting in the growing dark for the coming of the light and Word-made-flesh. I have recently been pondering how curious it is that we translate that to read “made human” and forget all the rest of creation which is as clothed in the flesh of God’s presence in the world as we are.

During these December days, we wait for the “One” who is already here; who also waits for us to tear ourselves away from the myriad of competing distractions, and notice the Holy which surrounds us. And, of course, this year we wait for a promised vaccine, our hoped-for savior, to bring life back to normal.

But I do find myself wondering what “normal” will look like, having moved through these days. I’d like to believe the acrimony and division will begin to heal, not just go back underground or get taken to the streets in destructive ways. I’d like to believe that we will truly recognize the impending danger of radical and life-threatening climate change, and take serious and realistic steps to change our life style to a more sustainable one. I’d like to believe we will return to welcoming the stranger (read immigrant, refugee), the “widow and orphan”; to feeding the starving across the globe; to freeing those unjustly imprisoned; and doing the hard work of recognizing how white privilege and systemic racism have manifested in our own lives, communities and institutions.

If I were going to write a letter to Santa, these are the things I’d be asking to find—however imperfect or untidy the wrappings—under our Christmas tree this year.

The more realistic alternative is to put this litany of needs into my prayer-bowl and pray daily for the courage and strength, the increase in love and compassion, to work on my own conversion of heart, my own being and doing for earth and justice, before asking that of anyone else.

There’s room in the prayer-bowl for your needs and hopes. I would love to have you join me in this.

About the Author

Sister Christine Parks, CSJ, serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional retreat/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 poetry.

Image

About the Nine

By Sister Jean Ann McGrath

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For many years in our parish, the day began with a beautiful liturgy where a table blessing and even a loaf of fresh-baked bread from a local Italian restaurant was sent home with each family to share at their Thanksgiving table. This year, I worry that the spirit of gratitude and peace that set the tone for the day may be difficult to replicate as COVID 19 protocols limit the number of people who will be able to attend the liturgy and health and safety regulations alter the rituals that made the day so special.

covid-19-4939288_1920

One thing that will not change is the Gospel reading, the lovely narrative about the ten lepers who, when they encountered Jesus, begged to be cured. The gospel story is focused not only on the healing miracle, but also on the disgrace that only one remembered to come back and say thank you. During my teaching years, I loved to retell that story as a way to remind my students how often we forget to say thank you for the blessings and graces we too often take for granted. We Christians sometimes have pretty poor manners.

bible-3043383_1280

This year, I have a different take on the gospel story and have thought more about the nine who forgot their manners than the one who returned.

For most of my life, I have been quick to judge the ingratitude of the other nine. This year, I think I want to “give them a break” and think about how they danced into their future healed, happy, and yes, perhaps hopeful for a life they could not have imagined had they not so boldly asked for the grace to be healed.

directory-466935_1920

I think I can relate more to the nine this year because of the turbulent times in which we live. The Covid Crisis, political anxiety, deep concern about the economy, and isolation from loved ones are just some of the signs of a world that begs to be healed. I yearn for the consolation and strength of crowded Churches where the rituals of life, weddings, sacramental celebrations, and even funerals create the memory making moments that shape our life and faith journey. I yearn for the raucous family Thanksgiving celebration that each year seems to have more “kids’ tables” as our family grows.

pexels-cottonbro-5791669

This thanksgiving, like the ten lepers, we stand waiting and begging to be healed from the uncertainty of our troubled world. And, because ours is a God of infinite compassion, empathy and mercy, we know that one day we, like the ten, can be confident that healing will happen. But, will we remember our manners?

I would like to think that among the nine, one of two were just so overjoyed at being healed that they could not wait to be reunited with the community that had shunned them. “Look, I am whole and home!”

Maybe one or two were the more contemplative and introverted type who just had to sneak away and ponder what had just happened in their lives “How could this be when I was so hopeless and alone and now I am whole again?”

Perhaps there were a few skeptics among the nine…”Is this a temporary cure? Can I dare return to life as I once knew it?”

I have at times, been the one who remembered to return and say thank you. I have also (and perhaps more frequently) been one of the nine who for reasons unknown, but possibly understandable, took the blessings of life too much for granted.

bible-3043384_1280

This Thanksgiving will be so different than others I have known. Our large family will not be gathered around a single table. Out of town relatives will not be flying in to celebrate. The Thanksgiving Liturgy will be very simple. But I will be more conscious of the ten who waited to encounter the healing presence of Jesus. I hope I remember to say thank you.

But if not, I believe that the God who can heal and transform all that worries me these difficult days, is also is a God of infinite patience, understanding, and grace who will understand if I forget my manners.
Happy Thanksgiving!

thanksgiving-2903166_1280

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!

Image

The Mystery of Religious Life-My Story of Faith, Hope and Trust

By Sister Erin McDonald

It’s National Vocation Awareness Week! My vocation story is my life story and as I reflect on it, I think of the scripture verse, “Is anything too marvelous for God?” (Gn 18:14) My story is a culmination of millions of moments of love, failure, prayer, doubt, trust, and a deep sense of mystery. It is a pilgrim story. A journey of call and response as well as a realization that I am exactly where I am meant to be. Throughout the centuries thousands of women and men have responded to God’s call to become a sister, nun, priest or brother. Religious life has taken many different forms and membership has ebbed and flowed but despite these constant shifts and changes, the unexpectedly marvelous work of God has been woven through it all.

ErinSister Erin displays the ring she wears as a sign of her commitment to her vows.

This may be where you expect me to share all the juicy details of my messy and grace-filled pilgrimage towards being the finally professed sister that I am today. Well, not quite. I’m going to tell you a bigger and more marvelous story about the movements and excitement of vowed religious life today.

I am often asked why I would make a life commitment to being a sister during a time perceived by many as a period of the diminishment and dying of religious life. However, this is only one aspect of the story of religious life today. As I reflect on my experience of the gifts and graces of being a sister, my heart overflows with gratitude and joy. Religious life is in itself a mystery. It is not easily explained or justified. It is a mystery of call and response. Inspired by hidden promptings of the Holy Spirit, we are summoned to give our whole self to living the Gospels, building the Kingdom of God, and being a prophetic voice for God’s great love. Believing that God’s promise endures because God is always faithful, I continue to experience a vibrant and faith filled life with young sisters. I continue to believe that nothing is too marvelous for God. That our future is filled with hope and possibility because I believe that God is alive and active among us. Young women are stepping into this life and we are finding beauty and boldness in our communion with other young vowed religious, with the women religious and associates in our home congregations, and with all of creation.

Sarah-and-JenniferSisters Jennifer Berridge and Sarah Simmons, who both professed first vows with the Congregation of St. Joseph this summer.

Young sisters today, just like our sisters before us, are seekers. We seek ways that will deepen our call, enable us to live our vocations more fully, allow us to become more rooted in our congregational charisms while living grounded in God’s hope for our future as religious women. God’s grace is always at work among us even when we cannot perceive or recognize it. The fabric of our history as Sisters of St Joseph is woven with resilient threads of hope, courage and deep trust in God, even at times when the way forward wasn’t clear. Sisters of St Joseph have persisted through war, famine, crossing great oceans, founding new communities, Church reforms and great cultural shifts. Despite it all, nothing was too marvelous for God and our sisters and associated persisted and so will we.

pexels-karolina-grabowska-4219654

Beyond the circles of new Sisters of St Joseph there is a marvelous movement of young sisters from across the country banding together to tend the flames of vowed religious life. “Giving Voice” is a vibrant peer led organization of young Roman Catholic women religious from across the country who, compelled by the love of Christ, desire to serve the dear neighbor, to expand their relationship with God and to strive for a more just and equitable world. “Giving Voice” creates space for younger woman religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams, and challenges in this life. We do not seek to separate from our home congregations but to create times of mutual support, shared prayer, discernment, friendship, and Spirit filled experiences. “Giving Voice” consists of women representing various races, cultures, and congregations. It most accurately reflects the diversity of the people to whom we are called to minister. “Giving Voice” is a movement of inter-congregational, inter-cultural, and inter-generational women. It is broad and varied in its expression of religious life yet grounded in the Mystery of God that continues to call us into being. “Giving Voice” is life giving to its members and enriches their home congregations. Watch this video to learn more about the most recent Giving Voice gathering.

Giving-Voice-Photo-Intercongregational-1Sister Erin, with other sisters from Giving Voice.

I love being a Sister of St Joseph, yet, “Giving Voice” creates a circle of pilgrims with whom I can share this journey now and into the future. This also creates fertile ground for our communal dreaming and discerning the ways in which God is calling us into newness. These relationships are the catalyst for the mysterious work of God to emerge among us.

So my message is not the messy and intimate details of my personal journey to being a Sister of St Joseph but a testament to the excitement and vibrancy of this life. To share our story of hope and deep trust in the slow work of God. I share our story of a collective group of young, passionate and faithful women who want you to believe in us and to believe in our future. At a time when our country and our church are experiencing seemingly unbridgeable divisions and increasing cynicism, “Giving Voice” witnesses to a unified future of religious life shared among a diverse group of women.

walking

Giving Voice participants include Catholic sisters from both apostolic and monastic communities, congregations that wear habits and those that do not, and women who encompass a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and races. We are not divided by our differences but bonded together by what we hold in common. As our shared communion with Christ deepens and expands, so does our love and unity with each other. May we all be filled with renewal, rejuvenation, and inspiration. As I imagine the future of vowed religious life, I see it is full of possibility and, like the sisters who came before me, I will continue to ask, “Is anything too marvelous for God?”

About the Author

erin-cropped Sister Erin McDonald, CSJ currently serves as the University Minister for Service and Social Justice at the University of Detroit Mercy. Prior to this she served as a case manager Freedom House Detroit where she worked with asylum seekers from all around the world, helping them settle and assimilate in the US. Sister Erin also spent two years as a humanitarian aid worker in Rwanda with the Jesuit Refugee Service. She professed first vows with the congregation in 2015 and final vows in 2019.

Editors Note: Portions of this blog were first published in the Fall/Winter issue of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s magazine, imagineONE.