It was unexpected when Pope Francis declared a year dedicated to Joseph last year. I had already spent significant time with my friend Joe, having just finished the manuscript of my book (My Friend Joe: Reflections on St. Joseph – available as a paperback or ebook) the month before.
Joseph is always there for us, with us. He doesn’t need a special year or day. He can be our friend every day.
He can also be a model for us as we navigate this thing called life.
In my religious Congregation we consider him to be a model of peace in times of struggle and uncertainty.
Check. That would be many times, but certainly now.
He can inspire us to dream. To take risks for those we love. To act justly. To serve God. To work creatively. To love always.
Advent is a season of waiting. We wait with Joseph and Mary for the coming of the Christ child. We wait for the inbreaking of God into the human family. We wait, radically, in a culture that prioritizes control and instant gratification.
In the words of Henri Nouwen:
“To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.”
(Excerpt from “Waiting for God” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, Plough Publishing, 2001)
Just in time for the end of the Year of St. Joseph, I am excited to share the news that my little book of reflections on St. Joseph has been published by Kenmare Press: My Friend Joe: Reflections on St. Joseph. It is available for purchase as a paperback ($8) or ebook ($1) from the Kenmare Press Online Bookstore.
St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus, is central to the Christian story. Yet, so little is known about St. Joseph, either as an historical figure or as recorded in scripture. Much of what we understand about Joseph comes to us from tradition, art, and the lived experience of the faithful over the centuries. Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Susan Rose Francois reflects on her growing spiritual friendship with St. Joseph, who she affectionately calls her friend Joe. Inspired by photographs of Joseph taken by the author, she reflects on her personal encounters with Joseph in conversation with church tradition around this saint. Through art, prose, history, and prayer she encourages the reader to discover, or deepen, their own spiritual friendship with St. Joseph.
This vacation week I brought a pile of novels, literary fiction, and mysteries to read. Turns out all I read were the mysteries, from cozy to popular to the more literary variety.
Why? Certainly not because I am enamored of the violent acts that need to be laid out in order to be solved.
Rather, as I reflected on my selections this week, I settled on two reasons: humanity and resolution.
I’ll start with the last, resolution. So much in my ministry of leadership is unresolved. Just when you think you have a situation sorted, another curve ball comes. These days of uncertainty and disruption mean that the chaos only feels constant. When I begin a mystery, I know at the end it will be resolved. If it is a series, I get the satisfaction of knowing that the sleuth I am coming to know once again will sort it all out. I find comfort in that.
The other reason? Humanity. In mysteries the various aspects of life, good and bad, are considered. Grief, anger, love, guilt, forgiveness, even sometimes redemption. There are patterns to be put together and puzzles to solve, yes, but they are always human patterns and puzzles.
“I am,” a new-to-me song by Jill Phillips, speaks deeply to me of the invitation to let God be God. So I did what I do, and made a video prayer.
Lyrics by Jill Phillips:
Oh, gently lay your head upon my chest, And I will comfort you like a mother while you rest The tide can change so fast, but I will stay The same through past, the same in future, the same today
I am constant, I am near I am peace that shatters all your secret fears I am holy, I am wise I’m the only one who knows your hearts desires Your hearts desires
Oh weary, tired, and worn Let out your sighs And drop that heavy load you hold, ’cause mine is light I know you through and through There’s no need to hide I want to show you love that is deep, and high, and wide
Oh, gently lay your head upon my chest And I will comfort you like a mother while you rest
With all happening in our world this past week, from Afghanistan to extreme climate events to challenging events in the lives of some folks I know, this was an interesting time to be on retreat. I don’t think I fully understood, until I got to the spot of grace and beauty that is Mercy by the Sea, how very tired and weary I have been. I wasn’t entiretly surprised, given the past year and a half in the time of COVID. Plus the fact that I just finished a six and a half year term of leadership for my religious community and have started a second term. What was suprising was the depth of my need for rest. Lucky me … a whole week to rest with God. A privilege really. A luxury. The grace and beauty of this time, for me, has been God’s abundant presence. And my own presence to the wonder of God’s creation.
I usually have so many words rumbling around my head. It can make it harder for me listen for the voice of God. Sixteen years ago, on my first silent directed retreat, the invitation was to let go of the words and focus instead on images. Ever since, on retreat, I feel drawn to pay attention to the beauty of creation through a contemplative photography practice. Resting my eyes on signs of God’s creating presence, God’s love.
Last week I attended the LCWR Assembly. I am always enlivened by the opportunity to gather with other leaders and those who serve religious life, even when COVID means it has to be online. We need spaces to pray, dream, imagine, and join our hearts and minds with others on the journey.
The theme of the Assembly recognized that … The Realm of Transformation: Creating Space for the Future.
Much of what I heard and experienced has been rumbling through my heart and mind. So I wrote about it in a column on global sisters report: Freedom for the Emerging Future . I write about fangirling some religious life heros and ponder freedom and the future.
“We are called to create new spaces that nurture, support and serve life — in our hearts and in our communities—with our yes. … Can I make space for uncertainty? For imagination? For uncomfortable moments? For mistakes? For hope? For joy? I pray for this freedom to be hospitable to the emerging future already present among us. May it be so.”