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We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

I like to say that Fr. Jean Pierre Medaille FOUND the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph, who had already come together in 1650 in LePuy, France.  He discovered that they had divided the city and lived in small groups in order to serve the needs of the people among whom they lived.  Medaille was a fine spiritual director, who guided the little group in strengthening its foundations and being recognized as an apostolic religious order. (Learn more about our history here.)

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One of his writings was entitled The Eucharistic Letter from which this quote is taken:

“They will have an immense love for this adorable mystery and will recall that this holy sacrament of the Eucharist, having given a beginning to their little Congregation, should also serve to maintain it and cause it to grow more and more in every kind of grace and virtue.”  –Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ,  LePuy, France, 1650.

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We hear in the Acts of the Apostles that in the early Church, followers of Jesus “met in their homes for the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”   Of course, the ritual evolved from homes to church buildings;  and the celebration of the Eucharist became more stylized and universal.  The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II named the Eucharist as “the source and summit” of Christian life.

There is a familiar hymn which summarizes the meaning of the Eucharist in this way:  “We remember how you loved us to your death.  And still we celebrate for you are with us here.  And we believe that we will see you when you come in your glory Lord:  We REMEMBER, we CELEBRATE, we BELIEVE.”

We continue to gather around the table of the Word and the Bread.  Indeed, we REMEMBER the life of Christ, the example for living that we hear in the Gospels. He showed us that love, forgiveness and healing are the way to live.  And he always sought out the poor and marginalized.  He was a prophet, a wisdom teacher, and a builder of community.

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Although the Scriptures we hear at the Eucharist always seem to be proclaimed with such seriousness, let us not miss the joy of CELEBRATION which must have been present especially in the accounts of being gathered  with others at table.  St. Frances de Sales highlighted the gentleness, peace and joy in which we are to live.

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And, we BELIEVE.  Liturgists use the Latin phrase:  Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi .  The loose translation is:  As we worship, so we believe, so we live.  Thus, worship leads to our belief and to our lives.

I realize that there are many hurdles that can get in the way of entering into the Eucharistic celebration fully:  poor music, poor lectors, poor homilies, poor presiding, etc, etc, etc.  Nevertheless, let us take Medaille’s words to heart:  that we be joined in immense love for the Eucharist, that it may cause us to grow in every kind of grace and virtue.

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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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The Struggle is Real

By Sister Judith Minear

Writing this blog is the last bit of work I need to do before I take a day of vacation. That is quite a juicy carrot dangling before me! And yet my fingers falter. I have hit a wall. One of the attractions of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s spirituality for me when I was discerning my vocation is a teaching we adopted from Ignatian Spirituality: as sisters, we are called to be contemplatives in action. My conversation about this with a sister friend last night along with my deep fatigue led me (where else) to Google to study more about this.

In a blogpost by writer Andy Otto, I learned that the anchor scripture in which Jesus models contemplative action for us is Mark 6:30-34. Here it is, from The Message:

“The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.

So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.” bible-2719985_1280This pattern for contemplative action is exactly what I needed to remember. The Ignatian way says, “Being a ‘contemplative in action’ means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life feeds your active life.”

In case you’re wondering, being “nuns” does not pre-empt us from struggling to honor this balance between work and prayer.  Our culture seems to increase the speed of the “rat race” daily, and it is very easy for all of us to get pulled into the vortex of busy-ness, which often ends in exhaustion and self defeat.  Certainly, it can create a sense of dis-ease and emptiness, wondering both “am I doing enough?” and “does anything I do actually make a difference.”

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Like you, we sisters have to consciously and intentionally step away from work, rest, reflect on what we have been doing, and then, once refreshed, step back into our work with renewed zeal. These are the steps I often take, and the questions I ask, as I aim to be contemplative in action.

1. STOP: In order to begin the cycle of balance, we first need to step away from our work. When we are fatigued, our work becomes just that: work. We need to restore wholeheartedness. art-bright-card-1749900
2. REST: It is almost impossible to move from periods of overwork directly into peaceful prayer and reflection. What does your mind, body and spirit need? Sleep? Play? Connections with family and friends? A retreat? Find what you need, and do that.adorable-animal-animal-photography-1056251
3. REFLECT AND LEARN: When I reflect on my life and ministry, I ask myself a few questions. Where have I been seeing God in my work? Where might I have been avoiding God? What do I need to do to help myself find quiet, reflective time in the midst of my busy life? What did I learn from my reflection that will help me in the future? woman-1030920_1920
4. WORK: When I am rested and have renewed my energies through reflection, I can allow this to inform my ministry when I step back into an active life. I am a better reflection of God’s image and carry a brighter light to the dear neighbor. student-849822_1920

Each of these steps – work, rest, reflection, repeat – informs the other. What I, and each of us, needs to remember is that for this restorative cycle to begin, we have to STOP. Which is what I am doing now. Next time, I won’t wait so long!

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 our 25 sponsored ministries. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

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What’s Left to Say?

By Sister Christine Parks

This morning I had to toss out what I had begun writing for this blog—something “poetic” about August, the month when summer begins its slow stroll toward Autumn and harvest time. After the news of two more mass shootings on the first weekend of this month (El Paso and Dayton) all of that poeticism felt more than a bit frivolous, and disrespectful to those who were victims of the shootings, their families, and to the very serious state of our nation these days.

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So having let go of my first draft, I’m left sitting here, heart bruised, mind reeling, fingers poised over the keyboard, wondering: what’s left to say? What’s left after all the news coverage and analysis; after all the words of experts, and comments of survivors of prior violence; after all the tears of those who have lost loved ones to another inconceivable act of gun violence; after the trauma or numbness of seeing and hearing over and over the details of two more of these horrendous acts.

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One response could be to simply stop—stop listening to and watching the news, stop reading the reports whether in print or online, stop talking, over coffee, lunch, the “watercooler”, about another unthinkable event (and how many unthinkable events are required before we begin to think this is our new normal? And I know some who have.) This option, however doesn’t help, doesn’t ease the pain, doesn’t stop the hatred, doesn’t eliminate the fear that it can (and probably will) happen again, and again—and maybe next time in my city. Although, actually, it already has happened where I live.

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Like many of you, I also bring this to prayer. Praying for those who lost their lives, the injured, families and friends, and even for the shooter—for the healing of all those whose anger, pain, suffering, hatred bring them to this place of unholy violence. But even that doesn’t feel like enough, not when I know what lurks in the depth of my own mind and heart sometimes. Perhaps any prayer for a change of heart must begin with my own.

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As a community, sisters and associates, who believe wholeheartedly in the union of all creation in a loving compassionate God, we stand with all those striving to bring about an end to violence and hatred. We stand with all those who are willing to write, act, work—and yes—pray for a change of heart for our nation and world. Some days my personal contribution doesn’t feel like that much, but when added to yours, and yours, and yours it increases exponentially; becomes part of the field of compassion that spreads out from every heart (yours and mine) and makes space for healing and love to grow.

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About the Author

Christine Parks

Sister Christine Parks formerly served as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. She currently serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional program presenter, with Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

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Go and Do Likewise

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

Mid-July presented us with two kinds of scorching heat that made it hard to breathe; one reported by the weather channel and the other by political newscasts. At the same time, the lectionary presented us with the Gospel of the Good Samaritan from Luke:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

We know this story pretty well, right? The scholar questioned Jesus, yet then answered his own question correctly in describing the heart of revelation as loving God with one’s whole self, and loving the neighbor as oneself. But the scholar couldn’t stop there and asked Jesus this follow-up:

And who is my neighbor?

Imagine a mixed crowd of people in the United States today, listening closely to Jesus’s response to try to catch a political spin. Would his answer to the question be:

 “Your neighbors are the migrant peoples desperately running for their lives from their violent homelands…”

Or, maybe they’d be listening for a lead-off reply like:

“Your neighbors are the innocent unborn children in this country, in mortal danger of ever drawing their first breath…”

With either answer, Jesus would lose half the crowd. Today we live in the land of sound bites and snap judgments, rarely waiting for what follows a comma.

But Jesus answered, as he often did, with a story or parable of people who found themselves traveling the same road. One of these people shows us what it looks like when someone lives wholly in love with God, whose nickname is Compassion.

I checked out what eminent scripture scholar Father Raymond Brown (d. 1998) had to say about this parable in his book An Introduction to the New Testament.

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Fr. Brown wrote that Jesus’s answer—that is, his telling the story of the Compassionate One on the road—illustrates Jesus’s point that, one can only define the subject of love, not the object.

That is, one can only define the lover, not the ones who are to be loved. Jesus chose a Samaritan to illustrate a person, a subject, whose range of loving is unlimited. So, Jesus is telling us that asking, “who is my neighbor?” is the wrong question. The better one is, “who am I, and who do I want to be?”

Thank you, Fr. Brown.

Let’s take a look at a few more people who have meditated on this story. Consider this artistic interpretation of the parable by 17th century Italian painter Domenico Fetti (d. 1623).

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Apparently, Domenico doesn’t want us to spend too much energy on the two figures receding in the lower left corner of the painting – the priest and MLK.jpgthe Levite who hurried past. Luke doesn’t actually tell us why, but as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, the ones who hurried away may have asked themselves, “If I help this person, what will happen to me?”

In Jesus’s parable, the compassionate Samaritan asked, “If I don’t help this person, what will happen to him?”

Clearly the Samaritan and the object of his mercy are front and center. Domenico seems to want us to look into the eyes of the one who has been saved from the ditch, because it is his eyes we can see. The face of the merciful helper is not revealed.

Dominic Fetti.crop.jpgWhere is the rescued person’s gaze at the moment he’s hoisted to safety? At first I thought he was looking straight at me, trying to catch my eye. But then I wasn’t sure…maybe his gaze is unfocused, sort of lost in utter amazement that he was suddenly given hope again,  and surprised that his life has been given back to him.

Can we dare to put ourselves in the place of this vulnerable one? To realize that we too are this vulnerable when alone, and to feel the wonder and gratitude of, “…I once was lost but now am found”?

What about the figure of the Samaritan, whose face we cannot see? We know that the hearers of Jesus parable looked down their noses at Samaritans; they were traitors,  hated foreigners, enemies.

But Jesus’s listeners didn’t really know any Samaritans personally. They would hardly let their eyes meet those of Samaritans, much less ask the 1st century equivalent of, “How’s it going?”

th-Amy-Jill-Levine-and-her-book-The-Short-Stories-of-Jesus.jpgLet’s hear from Dr. Amy Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament. She notes in her book, Short Stories by Jesus, that, not only does the Samaritan feel the pain of the wounded one in his gut (compassion), he allows himself to be inconvenienced by time-consuming, resource-depleting action. That is, he showed mercy.

I turn to a final interpreter of this Christian tradition, to the Jesuit priest who was living in neighboring France during part of Domenico’s day. He is none other than the one who co-founded the Sisters of St. Joseph (along with our first 6 sisters) in 1650, Fr. Jean Pierre Médaille.

Father-MedailleFr. Jean Pierre reiterated Jesus’ teaching that we are to love God and neighbor without distinction. If you’ve heard this before, what is your understanding of it? That when you’re loving your neighbor, you’re loving God?

Or,

That you are to love all neighbors as you love God without distinction? That every neighbor, every person, is to be loved as much as any other neighbor or person?

Fr. Médaille headed off the red herring-question of, “Who is my neighbor?” by his choice of words. In his original French, he referred to the neighbor as la prochaine, which means “the next one.” That is, the neighbor is the next one you encounter, or the one who is right next to you.

Consider one of Fr. Médaille’s maxims, one that reflects Jesus’s teaching on compassion: “Interpret another person’s actions in the best possible light.” Many of us sisters would tell you, it’s one of the most challenging to heed in everyday life.

Sisters and associates of St. Joseph have inherited the Ignatian spirituality of being “contemplatives in action.” The scholar in Luke’s gospel seemed to get it: that compassion (a feeling) and mercy (an action) are Jesus’s teaching. And so, that’s our call: to open ourselves to feel the gut-wrenching needs of the ones we encounter, and to act with mercy in response.

But where to start? With whom? How?

God revealed the answer in Deuteronomy (30:10-14) which tells us to fear not, the command is not too mysterious or remote for you. The Word of life is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts, you have only to carry it out.

When we need help, we look to God whose range of loving is unlimited. The Spirit gathers us at Eucharist and elsewhere to remember and know the One who lifts us up and pours the wine of compassion over our wounded hearts, and anoints us with the oil of mercy… so that we might go and do likewise.

 

About the Author

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

 

 

 

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About Celibacy

By Sister Chris Schenk

My Mom had a very hard time accepting my desire to be a nun. We could not really talk about it. She had great dreams that I would have a nice career, marry a wealthy man (preferably a doctor or lawyer) settle down, have children, and live a happy life.

In retrospect, I think I fell in love with God somewhere around the eighth grade, although I did not realize it until much later.

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I have always loved things religious. Whether it was attending Mass, learning about the great philosophers, or reading the lives of the Saints, God seemed the ultimate of  “strange attractors’ to use the language of today’s science. I could not really explain my attraction to God, only that it was often more interesting to me than many other things in my life. I had boyfriends of course, sometimes more than I wanted.

While I liked men a lot, I often liked them better as friends than as romantic partners. I fell in love a couple of times but somehow the relationships never felt like quite enough.  Something inside was not real thrilled with settling down with just one person. Something inside was searching for “something more,” as I have now come to recognize.

God, on the other hand, was gradually becoming my most interesting and most long-lasting relationship. After a retreat in which I was blessed with a powerful experience of God’s unique sense of humor, unconditional love, and profound acceptance of me in all my quirkiness, I drove home filled with the knowledge that I would give my life over to this delightful Mystery.  But how? For me, it would have to be through Catholic nundom.

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While in one way it made no sense, in another way, it made the most sense of all. How better to express my longing to love God with my whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, than through my most precious gift, my body?

For me, vowed celibacy is an embodied response to Mystery. It springs from the profundity of a relationship, no less than the marriage commitment.

Needless to say, my Mother was not pleased. I have forgiven her though, because, why would she be pleased? Her deepest happiness had come from falling in love with my Father. Their 60-year marriage was filled with ups and downs, but also much, much love. Why wouldn’t she want this for her daughter?

I worked as  nurse midwife for nearly 20 years and know quite a bit about the awesome gift of our sexuality. I was afraid I must have some deep-seated psychological dysfunction that would make me want to choose celibacy as my desired mode of expressing love in our world. It seems pretty oxymoronic, after all. On the other hand, how could anything adequately express love for God? I wonder if this is the best deep down philosophical and psychological explanation for the attraction to religious celibacy. When no amount of loving could ever be enough to express such a big love, a commitment to love beyond the physical, may for some be the best response of all.

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The celibate mode of loving is not about giving up, but about witnessing to a love that fulfills and completes as deeply as the most passionate of sexual expressions. One thing I know from my midwifery career is that a big part of the pleasure of sex, is its ecstatic, almost mystical component.

Prayer can lead to a similar fulfillment. After all, doesn’t it make sense that the God who created us for ecstasy would also attract us in this most positive of human experiences?

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Not that being a nun is always ecstatic! Any more than being in a married relationship is always ecstatic. My choice of religious celibacy, while not always easy, has been deeply fulfilling, healthy, and what brings me the deepest happiness.

Which is not to say that I don’t need deep down soul friends and companions as much as the next person. These anchor me in the sure knowledge of being loved and valued. Some of my deepest down soul friends are married couples who have on occasion blessed me with some pretty profound conversations. They tell me their married intimacy both expresses and deepens their relationship to God as well as to each other. Their spirituality, growth, and capacity for intimacy are of a piece with their married commitment in, through, and with this God of wondrous Mystery.

Deep waters these, and very beautiful.

Another thing I love about the celibate way of loving is that it really does free me to take risks and be available to the needs of others. More so for me than if I had family obligations which must enter the decision-making equation. This is a good choice for my adventurous spirit.

When all is said and done, I guess my celibate commitment is the best response I can give to Mary of Magdala’s plaintive refrain in Jesus Christ Superstar:  “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”  I don’t really know how to love the God of Love either, but this feels right, and it makes me happy.

Deep waters these, and very beautiful.

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About the Author

Schenk head shot2Sister Chris Schenk has worked as a nurse midwife to low-income families, a community organizer, a writer, and the founding director of an international church reform organization, FutureChurch. Currently she writes an award-winning column “Simply Spirit” for the National Catholic Reporter.

Her recent book Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2017) was awarded first place in History by the Catholic Press Association.

 

 

 

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The Gift of Faith

By Sister Ann Letourneau

Faith. The belief there is a being greater than I can imagine. The conviction that if I lead a good life on earth, I will go to a place of unconditional love and peace when I die. Most days I take this gift for granted. Lately, however, I find myself filled with gratitude for the gift that faith is to me. In the last year and a half my family has suffered from three untimely deaths. One of my brothers died at the age of 60 after living with a rare form of dementia for seven years. One grand-nephew and one grand-niece died within months of their birth. I just can’t imagine the grief without leaning into my God and holding onto the belief that these precious little ones and my brother are enjoying full knowledge of God with my parents, and one day we will all be reunited.

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Don’t get me wrong. This grace of faith does not take away the sting of death and the indescribable heaviness of my heart.  “Life is not supposed to be this way!” I find myself yelling at God. “You could have done something about this!” God holds all my anger and pain. God listens and offers me comfort even when I am not open yet to receiving it.  God lets me be human at the same time I am a person of faith. Losing those we love is like having one’s heart ripped out. I think God gets that. God made us for relationship, how could we not feel as though a part of us has died when our loved ones die?

The image that keeps returning to me in my prayer is of holding my faith in one hand and the gravity of my human emotions in the other. They are both important. Denying one for the sake of the other is harmful. If I denied my belief system and allowed the complex emotions of grief to take over, I would be overwhelmed and might be perpetually angry with this Being that is so much bigger than me. I would play the “blame game,” accusing God of causing, or at least not stepping in to save, my family from this pain. In my best self, I don’t think God works this way. God does not cause awful events. In the course of nature, painful things happen, but that is not on God. God can bring good out of the pain if I choose to pay attention.

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Denying my raw emotions is just as damaging. Stuffing emotions and thinking my faith takes them away is called spiritual bypass. We bypass the human need to feel the loss of those we love. I contend that when we deny such emotions they come out in ways that are not helpful to ourselves or our relationships. We may find ourselves reacting to other minor events with strong emotion or being more irritable than usual. Or, the built up emotion may cause us to be physically sick.

In one hand I hold the grief that I have never before experienced. In the other, I hold the greatest gift I have been given, faith. I need both. I need to express the depth of my anguish and lean into my God for comfort. This is the only way I can navigate this human journey called life.

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. Sister 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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The Circle of Love

By Sister Carol Crepeau

Come out of the circle of time
And into the circle of love
-Rumi

These days in the Christian calendar are the octave of Pentecost. The Church celebrates the coming of God’s spirit, God’s energy to the apostles and disciples who up until Pentecost were cowering in a safe room. Just in case …

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This Blog isn’t a theological treatise on the meaning of Pentecost but rather a real life example of God’s spirit, energy, infused into a group of Sisters living in the Chicago area.

God’s energy is transmitted in many ways – through word, through nature, through song through ideas, through connection.

For me and for some others, one of the most tangible Pentecost experiences happens on the last Saturday of each month at 9:30 in the morning…

In the Archdiocese of Chicago there are many communities of Women Religious. We come from many different cultures, have different missions, different occupations and, yes, wear different clothing – some of us wearing distinctive dress and some dressing American.

Just as on the first Pentecost differences in speech and culture disappeared, so too on these Saturday mornings we are all simply Chicago Catholic Nuns.

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We stand in a circle on a street corner in a neighborhood in Chicago, pray, and hopefully witness peace and unity. We go to a different neighborhood and a different corner each month. A particular corner is chosen because a “sister” or “brother” was murdered on that corner during the month.

Sometimes cars pass by and inquire what we are doing. Sometimes neighbors join us or just walk by. Sometimes we are the complete circle. We pray, naming each person who has been murdered in our dear city during the month, and we bless the neighborhood with our presence and our prayer to our healing God.

This circle of Sisters calls us each month to

Come out of the circle of time
And into the circle of love

Won’t you join us in your own circle of love?

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About the Author

Sr. Carol photo editedSister Carol Crepeau, CSJ, ministers as a facilitator and leader of group dynamics for non-profits. Guiding the annual Congregation of St Joseph Pilgrimage to LePuy and Lyon, France is one of the most wonderful activities of her life. She also enjoys a good book and gathering with friends for prayer and conversation.