New Adventures on the corner of Susan and St. Joseph

Well friends, after almost ten years in this sacred if virtual space, I have decided to transition to a new blog. This blog will stay live so you can peruse my musings and journey into religious life.

But for new adventures, please visit me At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph!

Peace Out my bloggy friends,



Time to make the donuts ... or write a thesis

This morning I woke up early (for me), ready to start the day with this thought: "Time to make the donuts."

For those of you who were around in the 80s, this is of course the tag line of a series of commercials for a certain donut chain.  Every day, Fred the Baker would wake up bright and early and head out the door to make the donuts.

Given that I need to get my thesis done in pretty quick order during the next 3 months, while simultaneously preparing for my comprehensive exams, I'm not surprised this bit of pop culture popped into my subconscious. I've got a pretty rigorous research, writing and study plan.

And TODAY is the day I switch from research to actually writing the first chapter.  Hence, today is the first of many days when it is "time to write the thesis."


Firmness of Rock

I've been back in my graduate student life for a week and a half now, after spending a wonderful three weeks immersed in the present and future of my religious community.

If you've been reading the blog, then you know that I am in the midst of writing my thesis and studying for comps as I finish up my time at Catholic Theological Union. And you also probably saw that starting in January I begin a new adventure as part of our full time five person Congregation Leadership Team. Lots of changes and transition and unknown are ahead. Lots of work and deadlines and, undoubtedly, stress ahead (I'm thinking more about the work of finishing thesis/comps, but this will also be part of the mix of the work and life of the next 6 years too!). But for now, at least, I feel oddly calm, deeply at peace, and ready for what God has in store.

Thursday I had the opportunity to meet with my spiritual director and look more closely at the movement and my experience of God in my life during these weeks. Spiritual direction is always such an amazing chance to step back and get a glimpse of what is really unseen in our relationship with God, of touching into the underlying presence and power of the Spirit in our lives.  I sometimes compare spiritual direction to the experience of therapy, except that instead of being about problem solving or developing coping mechanisms for the craziness of life, the focus is on opening the heart and letting God in to do what God does, if that makes any sense.  Really, it is a graced time of digging into the God stuff in the midst of all of our human stuff.

My spiritual director listened as I recounted the experience of Chapter and my excitement and hope for religious life and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, as well as my deep desire to share my gifts in service of our charism and future, now. I also shared some of my own murkier feelings, my wonderings, my vulnerabilities, and the prayer I have felt since the day my community invited me to discern this journey: to grow in humility, gentleness, and patience.  She then invited me to stop, sit with all that I had shared, and see if a word or an image or a feeling emerged.

And it was this ... I feel the strength of God's presence as I face the unkown. I feel held and supported by God's deep abiding love for all God's creation, including me. And it is upon this foundation, step by step, that I feel God pushing and pulling and drawing me forward into my/our/God's evolving future. I didn't have a picture for this feeling at the time, but since I have remembered and reflected on this picture I took a few years ago on retreat of a stone wall ... Big stones, small stones, a rocky path, but firm, true, and sure all the same, leading us together into the heart of God.


Margaret Anna Fridays: On Hospitality

It's a tradition on this blog to share some words of wisdom and inspiration on Fridays from the founder of my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day. Given that our Chapter Call at our recent Congregation Chapter centered on hospitality, I thought I'd share her reflection on the Gospel story of Emmaus when the two disciples invited the traveller (Jesus), to sit with them at table.

1st Prelude. - Represent to yourself the room where Jesus reclines at table with His favoured hosts. 
2nd Prelude. - Pray that sweet Jesus may often visit you thus, and, reclining in the home of your heart, give you Himself, the living Bread. 
1st Point. - The faithful disciples not only constrain Jesus to abide with them, they also offer Him hospitality. Alas! even when we have constrained Him to abide with us, do we not too often forget His presence, and not only fail to offer Him the best we have, but sometimes even refuse Him what He asks for? How can we expect to know Him 'in the breaking of the bread,' if we have not entertained Him with the feast of sacrifice? How can we expect that He will manifest Himself to us at table, if we have not carefully prepared for His entertainment? Let us learn from the disciples how to invite Jesus, and how to entertain Him when we have invited Him. They invite Him by earnestness, and they entertain Him by love. 
2nd Point. - The disciples find Jesus in the ordinary duties of life. If we only sought for Him as we should do in these duties, how blessedly we should find Him! Then, indeed, we should truly know Him in the 'breaking of bread;' then our hearts would be constantly expecting it. What duty has He not hallowed? what employment has He not sanctified? If we walk, we may unite our steps to the steps of Jesus--at Passiontide, to His suffering steps; at Easter, to His glorified steps; at Christmas, to His infant steps; and in the long weeks of Pentecost, to His weary steps. If we think, we may unite our thoughts to His suffering thoughts, His infant thoughts, His glorified thoughts. If we sleep, we may unite our sleep to His sleep in Mary's arms, His sleep in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, or to His last sleep on earth. Why do we not unite our life to His life? It is our privilege; it should be our consolation and our only joy. 
3rd Point. - Consider how we may glorify the risen Heart of Jesus manifesting Himself at table. May we not try to do so in two ways? First, by endeavoring to unite ourself to the like actions of Jesus in every duty and employment, and by seeking to find Him and converse with Him in all; and secondly, by seeking to know Him 'in the breaking of bread.' Jesus is our life. He gives Himself to us in the Sacrament of the altar, and He has said Himself, 'he that eateth Me, same also shall live by Me.' (S. John, vi, 58.) This, then, is our life. Oh, let us seek it; let us love it; let us live on it; and seek more and more, in receiving it, that we may be incorporated into it, until, like the apostle, we may say, 'I live, yet not I, but Christ who liveth in me.' 
Aspiration. - Body of my risen Jesus, be my life. 
~M.F. Cusack, Meditations for Advent and Easter (1866)


Theology Quotes: Rosemary Radford Reuther

I'm digging back into the research for my MA thesis. My working title is "Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance." Next week I am going to start writing, but for now I'm finishing up reading on social sin.  One of my sources led me to look back at Rosemary Radford Reuther's classic text, Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology.  She of course is writing (rightly) specifically about the social sin of sexism, but it applies to all "isms" and forms of social sin.

I especially appreciate how she both draws distinctions and makes the connection between individual responsibility and the systemic nature of social sin. Change begins with us, here and now, in our relationships with God, self, and other through our choices and identity as authentic human persons.


Global Sisters Report: Critical Yeast for this Crucial Time

My latest column has been posted for the Global Sisters Report. The publication schedule means that my columns tend to be published about a month or so after I write them. Consequently, it's always an interesting exercise to re-read now what I thought then, and see what still resonates.

This month's column is religious life focused and offers a metaphor that I have found useful from John Paul Lederach's book The Moral Imagination: The Art & Soul of Building Peace, namely critical yeast.

Often times, when we find ourselves facing supposed impossibility, it is because we do not think that we have the critical mass needed to overcome the situation. ...
Lederach offers an alternative image to critical mass that he names critical yeast.Instead of asking a question about quantity, how many people, Lederach challenges us to ask who, which people, in this situation, “would have a capacity, if they were mixed and held together, to make things grow, exponentially, beyond their numbers?” (pg. 91). Put another way, what mix of people might make the good stuff of life grow and spread?
As I ponder the present reality and my hopes for the future of religious life, I find myself returning again and again to Lederach’s metaphor of critical yeast.  It has been especially helpful in imagining the path forward as we face a time of rapid demographic change and the small-scaling of North American religious life.
You can read my entire column at the Global Sisters Report. I also really recommend Lederach's book. It's almost 10 years old but it is so fresh and offers real creative invitations for thinking and acting in ways that build peace in the midst of our complex global realty.

Re-reading my column now that it's posted, having just come back from an incredible 3 weeks with community where the life, energy, and passion was palpable as we pondered ways to engage the needs of today in new ways through our charism of peace through justice , I find myself smiling.
In many ways, what we were about was embracing the power of critical yeast.

Now, to move forward together as community for mission and make the vision real!


Our 22nd General Chapter Ends ... Another Chapter Begins

The 22nd General Chapter of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace has come to an end. For the past 10 days, we have been gathered outside of Seattle to break open our Chapter theme, "Deeper and Wider - The Challenge of Peace."

It is both humbling and amazing to realize that this was the 22nd time since our founding in 1884 that the community has come together to discern our future direction and elect new leadership. We certainly stand on the shoulders of incredible women of faith who trusted deeply in God's abiding love and took risks in order to serve God's people in need and meet the needs of the day.

The atmosphere during our gathering was buzzing with energy, love, and passion for our charism of peace through justice and a deep desire to move together, as community for mission, to meet the needs of today. One of my CSJP Sisters often speaks about the "sneaky Holy Spirit," and I think that is a good description for the ways the Spirit was nudging, even disturbing us, to embrace this new moment in our community history.

We celebrated the profession of vows of FOUR Sisters during the early days of our gathering. Sister Dorothy professed perpetual vows, while Sisters Juliana, Katrina, and Sheena professed their first vows as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  This was the first time we have celebrated profession of vows during a congregation Chapter. The joyful hope was palpable.

Our Congregation Leader, Sister Margaret Byrne, invited us to seize this particular moment as a new opportunity to "begin again." She actually used the word "again" 23 times in her address, which was grounded in our rich community history as well as the present call of Pope Francis to move beyond "structures that give us a false sense of security" in order to witness to the Gospel with our lives and reach out to those on the periphery of society.  Fr. Anthony Gittins spoke to us of radial discipleship and Sr. Gail Worcelo reflected on living on the edge during this moment of grace.  We also heard the deep desires of the seven Sisters who have entered during the past decade (myself included) to move forward together as community for mission.

In many ways, it seemed as if the Holy Spirit was weaving together all of these threads in creative ways which culminated in our Chapter Call:

Disturbed by the Spirit, we recommit ourselves to Jesus' way of radical hospitality. 
We are called to a deeper and wider living of community for mission in company with poor and marginalized people. 
Our contemplative discernment pushes us, individually and as Congregation, to action; deeper mutual support enables us to take risks for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
As disciples of Jesus, we respond anew to the call of Mother Clare to be "brave, noble, large-minded courageous souls."

We will be living into and out of this call during the next 6 years.  And starting in January, I will be living this call in a particular way as I respond to the call of the Chapter to serve in elected leadership as part of our Congregation Leadership Team. This will certainly be a new chapter in my own life!

But first, I am sitting now in the departures lounge at the Seattle Airport getting ready to head back to Chicago where I will spend the next 3 months finishing up my studies.

One benefit of moving into this new leadership role is that as I was saying goodbye to the CSJP Sisters and Associates I have spent the past weeks with, I know that I will have an opportunity to see them all again soon. And that, my friends, is a blessing.


13 years later .... Praying for Peace

Thirteen years ago today my heart was both broken and awoken to my call to seek peace in our wounded world.  I've written before on the blog about how I became a peace activist thirteen years ago on September 11, 2001.  In many ways, the seeds of my vocation as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace were also planted in my heart that day, although it took a few years for my head and feet to catch up.  And now, on this 13th Anniversary, I am at the half way point of the 22nd General Chapter of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Today is a free day, but I have invited some of my Sisters and Associates to pray with me at 11am in our meditation chapel this morning.

This morning, I brought to prayer President Obama's speech last night, detailing plans to "ramp up" our military involvement in Syria and Iraq in the next phase of our war on terror. I also brought to prayer this morning the families of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and the war and violence that has followed.  And continues to follow ... and lie before us ... until and unless we choose the path of peace.

And so I pray. For peace in our troubled world.  For an awakened heart and conscience on the part of our political leaders and indeed on the part of the American people.  That we may accept the responsibility of what has been done in our name and commit all our efforts instead to building true peace upon the foundations of justice. I pray for all the lives lost and forever changed through terrorism and the wars on terror.  I pray for dialogue and diplomacy, not bombs and death.  I pray in hope and gratitude for people of good will from every nation, race, creed and way of being. That peace may come, that we may help to bring about that peace. 

Pope Leo XIII, considered the father of Catholic Social Teaching (and perhaps not coincidentally the Pope who blessed Mother Francis Clare's new community, St. Joseph's Sisters of Peace) wrote this:

O Lord, you see how everywhere the winds have burst forth, and the sea is convulsed with the great violence of the rising waves. Command, we beseech you who alone are able, both the winds and the sea. Restore to [humankind] the true peace of your name, that peace which the world cannot give, and the calm of social harmony. Under your favor and inspiration may [people] return to due order, and having overthrown the rule of greed, bring back again as ought to be, the love of God, justice, charity toward neighbor, temperance in all desires. May your kingdom come.
God of peace, push and pull us to work and pray and live tirelessly for peace. Be in the mind and heart of our political leaders. Enkindle the flame to build peace among all your children. May we seek peace, and may peace come. Amen.


Chapter Moments

We say in our Constitutions that at Chapter, "we celebrate our unity, renew our life and spirit, reflect together on the call of the gospel, and make decisions in fidelity to our charism." At the end of Day 3, we have certainly done the first 4. Decisions will not come until next week.

Celebrating our Unity:  It is such a joy to spend time with Sisters and Associates from all three regions. Some I know very well. Others I am just getting to know. We are having our Chapter at a hotel and the other guests are very curious about this group of joyful people who obviously love one another. Talk about gospel witness!

Renew our life and spirit: Last night we celebrated the first ever profession of vows at a Congregation Chapter, with not one but FOUR professions!  It was such a hope filled moment to witness the first profession of my Sisters Katrina, Juliana and Sheena and the final profession of Dorothy. All I can really say is .... God is very good.

Reflect together on the call of the gospel: We are beginning our Chapter with input to help us reflect on our call as Sisters and Associates of St Joseph of Peace at THIS particular moment. Yesterday, our Congregation Leader, Sister Margaret Byrne, inspired and challenged us: "Here at this Chapter we have an
opportunity – more than that, an obligation – to begin again, to think anew about what the call to go deeper asks of us." And today, Fr. Anthony Gittins invited us to consider discipleship, hope, community/communitas, and the Spirit. He said, "You cannot privatize the good news. If it is good news, you need to put your life on the line."

Wow. The Spirit is moving. We have been each day with a period of silent contemplative prayer. Our conversations have been rich and challenging, as we encourage and inspire each other to live out this line from the Chapter prayer we have been praying for many months: "St Joseph, dreamer and practical one, help us live our dreams into reality."  Amen. So be it. Amen.


Margaret Anna Fridays - Chapter Edition

It's a tradition on this blog to share some words of wisdom and inspiration on Fridays from the founder of my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day. 150 CSJP Sisters and Associates are gathering outside Seattle, Washington today for our Congregation Chapter. Over the next week and a half we will be pondering our future and making decisions that take us deeper and wider in response to the challenge of peace. Given that, I thought these words were more than appropriate!

Let us begin to-day, let us begin now. We may expect many failures, we shall meet with many difficulties; but our failures will not become less by waiting nor our difficulties less by delay.

No doubt Mother Francis Clare and all our Sisters who have gone before us will be cheering us on from heaven during these days of Chapter. 

Please keep us in your prayers as well.


Sacred Community Space

I have been spending these days at St. Mary-on-the-lake in the company of my CSJP Sisters. It is always a joy to just BE with them/us. 

In these days before Chapter, there are other Sisters from across the Congregation here who have come a bit early to be with us.

Our dining room here has circular tables, so there is always room to "squeeze in one more" at breakfast or lunch or as we just sit and have a cup of tea.  The conversation and presence,  just being with one another, is sustaining and energizing. The love we share for God and each other is palpable.

Our coming together is truly sacred space.

Tomorrow I head to the hotel where we'll have chapter to help set up and welcome Sisters and Associates coming from near and wide for our Congregation Chapter. Please hold us in your prayers!


Embodying Hope

I have been privileged to spend the last 3 and a half days in sacred space and in the company of holy women.  At the invitation of our Congregation Leadership Team, the seven Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who have entered community in the last decade met with some Sisters in leadership, vocation, and formation roles to share our experiences, hopes, and dreams. We had an agenda and a marvelous facilitator, but what happened was beyond our imagining and will, I am sure, lead to some incredible hope-filled dreams becoming reality.

This was the first time the seven of us had all been together. Some of us know each other well, but as there are essentially two main formation groups, we had never before mixed and mingled or even shared our stories.  We come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences, but the common threads were astonishing and deeply moving.

We say in community that something special happens when we come together in person, and this experience was yet another embodiment of that reality. It was also an emodiment of hope. The energy was palpable in the room. Our charism of peace through justice was alive. And on more than one occasion, I felt the presence of Margaret Anna Cusack (known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, our founder).

Our reality is that we are separated on a regular basis by many thousands of miles. But we have a deep connection now to each other that I know will continue to grow and bear much fruit. I'm also aware that as we welcome those who are "yet to come" to our circle, we will be even more enriched, challenged, and inspired.

As we say in our Constitutions .... we face the future with gratitude and hope!