In our lives, lived amidst more than a dash of chaos at times, whether of the daily variety or the cosmic, we owe it to ourselves to take time to BE STILL. Sometimes we might actually be able to get away, but even a walk in the neighborhood or a moment to stop and breathe can be enough to refill our energy and restock our knowing of whose we are and who we are at our core.
Recently I was reminded of the words of Honoria Gaffney (Mother Evangelista Joseph, first Superior General of my religious community). Writing on humility, she said: “Empty yourselves of yourselves and you will find God.” She wrote those words over a century ago. Wisdom.
This Sunday morning I took some time with one of my favorite prayer forms, setting some of my contemplative photos of the goodness of God’s creation to music, in this case “I Will Be Still” by Young Oceans, featuring Molly Parden. Enjoy!
[Chorus] I will be still I will be still And know, and know And know You
[Verse 1] Though the Earth give way Though the mountains fall to the sea Though its waters roar I will cling to Thee
[Verse 2] Though the nations rage And creation yearns for the Lord Though the Earth may melt I’m forever Yours
[Pre-Chorus] There is no fear As I look upon You
[Chorus] I will be still I will be still And know And know You are God
“Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness…”
~ Pope Pius XII
WHILE THERE is a lot we don’t know for sure about the life of St. Joseph, scripture and tradition tell us pretty confidently that he provided for his family with the work of his hands as a carpenter. It is not uncommon to find statues, like this one, depicting St. Joseph the Worker, where he is holding close to his heart the tools of his trade.
This statue of St. Joseph stands behind Holy Name Medical Center, a hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey, founded in 1925 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and local doctors. Holy Name continues to provide quality care today. This particular scene caught my eye on a winter’s day in January 2019, as I was walking to my car after a meeting at the hospital. My attention was drawn not so much by Joseph as by what just happened to be parked in the background that day—a carpenter’s van. My initial caption for the photo was “St. Joseph checks out the competition.” At the time, I found it to be ironic.
Every day, no matter what is parked in the background, this statue of St. Joseph watches over the hospital. He has an unobstructed view of the entrance to both the emergency room and the Sister Patricia Lynch Cancer Center. Not only does he watch over the hospital workers who provide compassionate care day in and day out, he also watches over the patients seeking care and the family members who entrust their loved ones to the hospital. He has witnessed a lot of sadness and joy over the years—lives lost, lives healed, and new lives coming into the world.
* * *
A little over a year after I took this photo, Northern New Jersey became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, Joseph had a lot more to watch over. The parking lot that Joseph overlooks was soon filled with tents to provide a safe space for outdoor testing and screening. Ambulances drove past Joseph as they brought patients with advanced symptoms of COVID-19 to the emergency room. Families dropped loved ones off, unable to enter the hospital with them or even hold their hands as they faced this new and unknown virus. Essential workers, from doctors and nurses to security guards, housekeepers, and kitchen staff, faithfully and courageously arrived for their shifts each day, not sure what they would face in their personal protective equipment. Sadly, several hospital workers lost their own lives to the virus.
While I may have found it ironic when I snapped the photo of Joseph checking out his fellow carpenters, soon he had lots of construction work to oversee. In just 30 days, the construction and maintenance staff at Holy Name created 276 negative pressure rooms and 120 intensive care beds to accommodate the influx of patients. Their creativity was astounding, especially given that supplies were very limited. Much of the materials they used was purchased at local hardware stores. The spaces they designed ingeniously protected both patients and caregivers. It was nothing short of a miracle, and all under the watchful eye of St. Joseph.
Our religious community continues to sponsor Holy Name Medical Center. As a member of our Leadership Team, one of my roles is as liaison to our sponsored ministries. All I could really offer during those days was my prayer and a commitment to stay up to date on the situation by calling the hotline set up by the hospital to provide regular updates on the fast-moving crisis for staff and board members. Dr. Ron White recorded the hotline updates. In addition to giving status reports on the numbers of patients being treated in the hospital with coronavirus, he also used the power of storytelling to paint a vivid picture of the heroic work by the hospital’s caregivers, in all departments.
Each morning, as part of my prayer time, I would dial the phone number, anxious to hear how things were going. Each evening, I would do the same. In between I would hold all the patients, staff, and family members in my prayer. Often, I would think of that statue of St. Joseph the Worker, overlooking all the activity. It gave me comfort, knowing that he was on the job, watching over and protecting all involved, a worker praying for workers in their hour of need.
During those initial months of quarantine, the voice of Dr. White was a lifeline of sorts for me, offering honesty, humor, and hope amid the crisis. Isolated at home in the safety of my own pandemic bubble with the sisters, I nevertheless felt connected to the heroic efforts taking place just a few miles away at the hospital.
* * *
I couldn’t help but reflect on our early sisters who, in 1890, answered the call to serve when a smallpox epidemic broke out in Passaic, New Jersey. They too worked tirelessly to provide compassionate care during trying circumstances. And they too did it all while carpenters hammered away adding space on the other end of the building—no doubt also under the watchful eye of St. Joseph. An account of the time says that when that epidemic ended, the sisters were exhausted, while the doctors, visitors, and undertaker marveled at their superhuman courage and greatness of heart that sustained them almost beyond human endurance.
The Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace say that Joseph’s “courage to live a life of faith inspires us to trust in God’s abiding love, especially in times of struggle and uncertainty” (Constitution 36). While scripture is light on the details of his daily struggles and work, our Christian story is testament to the fact that he faced uncertainty with courage and greatness of heart. “God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage,” writes Pope Francis. Who better to have standing over the comings and goings of the workers and patients at the hospital, watching out in good times and bad?
From the Tradition
The Gospel according to Matthew tells us directly, and early on, that Joseph was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1: 19). It’s not until much later, however, when an adult Jesus faces his dubious home crowd in Nazareth, that we hear indirectly about Joseph’s profession. Almost as an aside, his neighbors dismiss Jesus and his message by asking, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13: 55). Mark’s Gospel echoes the dismissal, “Is he not the carpenter,” (Mark 6:3), leaving out even the oblique reference to Joseph. There we have it—the length and breadth of the scriptural references to the work of Joseph.
These references, in particular the way the word carpenter is dropped as one snide remark among many, do not seem to make the case that it was considered to be a very dignified or noble profession, at least not in the recorded opinion of these naysayers. Yet tradition expands the biography and profession of Joseph so much that, in 1955, Pope Pius XII announced the creation of a new feast day to be celebrated on May 1st in honor of St. Joseph the Worker, “the humble craftsman of Nazareth,” who personifies the “dignity of the worker.”
* * *
Human experience teaches us that a skill or trade is often passed down from parent to child. It is therefore not surprising that church tradition, informed by lived experience, fills in some of the details over time.
For example, texts such as the apocryphal Syriac Infancy Gospels, compiled as early as the sixth century, paint the picture of Jesus helping Joseph in his carpentry work.
And Joseph used to go about through the whole city, and take the Lord Jesus with him, when people sent for him in the way of his trade to make for them doors, and milk-pails, and beds, and chests; and the Lord Jesus was with him wherever he went. As often, therefore, as Joseph had to make anything a cubit or a span longer or shorter, wider or narrower, the Lord Jesus stretched His hand towards it; and as soon as He did so, it became such as Joseph wished. Nor was it necessary for him to make anything with his own hand, for Joseph was not very skillful in carpentry.
The passage is both practical and mystical, with references to doors, milk-pails and cubits and the awesome power of Jesus even as a child. It also is audacious enough, in order to stress the divinity of Jesus, to throw doubt on the actual human skills and craftsmanship of Joseph!
Fourteen centuries later in Redemptoris Custos, his apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, Pope John Paul II claims that the scant references to Josephs’ profession as a carpenter in the canonical Gospels are nevertheless enough to tell the whole story. “This simple word,” carpenter, “sums up Joseph’s entire life.” He was a carpenter who raised his son to know the value and dignity of work. Jesus, “having learned the work of his presumed father,” was known as “the carpenter’s son.”
John Paul II teaches that through the institution of May 1st as the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, the church recognizes the “special prominence” of human work, especially manual labor. “Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way.” Jesus, working alongside Joseph, “brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.”
O Glorious Patriarch, St. Joseph, humble and just artisan of Nazareth, thou hast given to all Christians and particularly to us an example of a perfect life through diligent labor and admirable union with Jesus and Mary. Assist us in our daily work in order that we, Catholic artisans, may also see in it an effective means of glorifying God, of sanctifying ourselves, and of being a useful member in the society in which we live. These should be the highest ideals for all our actions.
O Dearest Protector, obtain for us from the Lord humility and simplicity of heart; love for our work and kindness toward our fellow-laborers; conformity to God’s will in the unavoidable trials of this life together with joy in bearing them; recognition of our specific social mission and a sense of responsibility; the spirit and discipline of prayer; docility and respectfulness toward superiors; the spirit of brotherhood [and sisterhood] towards our equals; charity and indulgence with our dependents.
Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness, when Heaven seems to be shut in our regard, and even the very tools with which our hands toil appear to rebel against us.
Grant that, in imitation of thee, we may keep our eyes fixed on our Mother, Mary, thy dearest Spouse, who, as she spun silently in the corner of thy shop, would let her sweetest smile course over her lips. Besides, may we never take our eyes off Jesus, who was busily occupied with thee at the carpenter’s bench, in order that we in like manner may lead on earth a peaceful and holy life, a prelude to the life of eternal happiness that awaits us in Heaven forever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for Our Daily Work
Dear St. Joseph, you who used your skills as a carpenter to provide for your family, watch over and protect us. Inspire us to embrace the God-given gift of the co-creative power of work. Your humble example, barely recorded in the Gospels, is enough to help us understand the dignity of human work and workers. Be our companion in good times and bad. Help us to face the daily challenges, and the extraordinary ones too, even as we pause to spot glimpses of joy in our shared life. We pray that policy makers and employers will recognize and respect the rights of workers. Knowing that you passed along your knowledge to Jesus, we ask you to guide us in our daily work.
 A. Cleveland Coxe, Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson, eds., “The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers. New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. http://gnosis.org/library/infarab.htm.
I have an affinity for those Scripture passages where the people or disciples complain to God. Because, who hasn’t? In today’s first reading Moses is also a target, the fate of leaders throughout history. (Numbers 21)
From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road, to bypass the land of Edom. But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
Disgusted. Wretched. Very descriptive. And real.
The story continues that God sent serpents to bite the people as punishment for their complaints! Which spurred the folks to apologize, and then God helped Moses get everyone to chill out by making a bronze serpent on a pole, and everyone who looked at it lived.
The nitty gritty reality of the complaining is what sticks with me. And makes me laugh every time this reading comes up in the lectionary. Because if I am honest, my own conversations with my loving creator sometimes fall into the complaint variety. Sometimes they are substantive and grounded in true issues. Sometimes they are of the more petty variety. Most often probably in the middle? And if I am to be real before God, I can’t stuff it down or pretend I don’t feel all the feelings.
When my Mom was dying of cancer twenty years ago, I had my first true (adult) crisis of faith. It was accompanied by a lot of complaining of the substantive variety. I had a valid beef with the reality of suffering and most particularly the suffering my Mom was going through, and how God was seemingly ok with it. Still do all these years later, truth be told. A wise priest friend encouraged me to spend some time with the psalms. They were filled not only with complaining, he told me, but even anger at God. And anger, he pointed out, is a pretty intimate emotion.
Somehow reading those ancient complaints and screeds against God brought me closer to God in the midst of the reality of suffering. Here’s the thing … while in today’s story from Numbers, God may have punished the people first, the story ends with mercy. The story always ends with God’s mercy. God listens. God is with us. And God wants to hear our complaints! As we hear today in Psalm 102:
Let this be written for the generation to come, and let his future creatures praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoners,to release those doomed to die.
So go ahead. Groan. Complain…. God has heard worse. We won’t find the way through by ignoring the death dealing realities of life, real and figurative. We might miss life giving opportunities if we do. God invites us always to bring our realities to our relationship with our loving creator. And for that I am very grateful.
Today, as I was driving to Heathrow airport to return my rental car before my departure,I drove by a street called “Makepeace Road.” What a name!
I wonder how often the residents of Makepeace Road think about the name. Is it something so familiar that it does not give them pause. Or do they see the name as they drive onto their street or write their return address on an envelope and think … yes, I should make peace with … [fill in blank].
As we finish the third week of Advent and begin what this year is an actual full fourth week of the Advent season, it is a good time to ponder how I am called to make peace
In my own heart.
With those I love, but where there may be some strained relationships or hurts.
With those who drive me a little crazy.
With those with whom I disagree or just don’t understand.
Peace is possible, but it begins at home and it takes effort and intention.
May we all strive to make peace in our lives, community, and world, no matter what street we happen to live on.
I am grateful for today, for every day really. Yet today is a day set aside to give thanks and, as one is able or in the mood, to celebrate these gifts in the company of family and friends.
This week in the United States has seen the tragic and bloody consequences of violence, the power of the gun lobby, and the consequences of division and hateful rhetoric. It sets an odd context for giving thanks.
This month began with elections that mirrored the polarization and division in our land. Sadly too it seemed that even the Bishops conference was not immune.
Wars continue amid our global family in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and far too many other countries. As we speak families are on the march through the dangerous Darien Gap while others have finally safely reached our borders to seek asylum, only to be turned away.
Our human family is in the midst of a mess. And Earth our common home is caught up in it all too.
And it is in this context that we are to give thanks?
Thanks for the gift of life and love.
Thanks for the possibilities and opportunities to turn things around for the common good.
Thanks that the sun rises and sets each and every day, most often with amazing artistic touches.
Thanks for the people in our lives and the air that we breathe and the creativity within our hearts and minds.
Thanks for all that is and was and will be, even if it is messy. Thanks that God is with us in the mess.
Thanks for companionship, family, friends and four legged friends.
Thanks for the gift of hope.
Today we celebrate and give thanks.
Tomorrow the work of making the world a better place continues.
Today is the Feast of Pope John XXIII. More than a decade ago I was a speaker at a conference where I saw this banner with the beginning of one of his famous quotes:
The rest of the quote is also worth reflection:
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
Hope. Dreams. Possibility.
More and more I am convinced that this is the way, to lean into these, to live into these. How often do we instead despair or compare? What would the world be like, our communities, our planet, if we put all this energy into creating goodness in a spirit of hope and possibility?
As I begin my day, how am I called to live into hope and possibility?
Praying in gratitude this day for the witness of this holy man who opened the windows of the church all those decades ago. May we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit among us for the good of the whole.
Today also happens to be the 14th anniversary of my first profession of vows as a Sister of St Joseph of Peace. I could never have imagined all the possibilities that have taken shape in my life since that hopeful yes all those years ago!
Yesterday I accomplished something I have not done in a long time … I got a 100% score on the Saturday New York Times News Quiz. While I am ridiculously proud of this feat, I sincerely wish the news stories were less along the lines of the lamentations of the Prohpet Habakkuk in today’s first reading:
How long, O Lord? I cry for help / but you do not listen! / I cry out to you, “Violence!” / but you do not intervene. / Why do you let me see ruin; / why must I look at misery? / Destruction and violence are before me; / there is strife, and clamorous discord. /
Discord and strife, violence and destruction. That is what filled this week’s news quiz. It is enough to make one wonder … how does it all end. It is enough to make one despair, what can I do. How to focus on the good amidst all the messiness.
Last week I was blessed to be able to spend some time on the lake. I was working remotely some and taking some down time as well. Much of the said down time was spent looking at the lake, observing its many moods.
Often in the morning, there would be a mist floating above the waters. There is tremendous beauty there in the fog. Potential and wonder, if only we look at it. Perhaps the day will end up cloudy.
Or in beautiful sun and blue skies.
Or a mixture of the two.
Then the Lord answered me and said: / Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, / so that one can read it readily. / For the vision still has its time, / presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; / if it delays, wait for it, / it will surely come, it will not be late. / The rash one has no integrity; / but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
We wait. We live. We love. We work.
We don’t ignore the messy bits, but we also can’t ignore the promise and possibility. What we notice makes a difference, as does how we engage, whether it is the news headlines or the literal horizon before us. We have two eyes and a heart and God intends for us to use them for the good of the whole, for the vision still has its time. Wait for it. It will surely come. It will not be late.
I like to begin my day with a cup of tea, some reflective reading, and quiet time with God.
I am slowly working my way through The Listening God by a Trappist nun, Miriam Pollard, OSCO. This morning I sat down for meditation time after reading a beautiful yet down to earth reflection by Sister Miriam. Pondering the “little pains” and “discordant restlessness” we all have in our pockets and on our hearts, she ends by turning to God who says to our most wounded self:
“Give me the self you do not want to be. Give it here. Let it stop squirming and be still in the self I am. Let it sleep my sleep and wake my waking.”
This spoke deeply to me. And so I sat in my favorite spot, holding my warm mug, and closed my eyes to sit with God for a bit before I started my day.. To sit with this giving over of my most wounded and squirmy bits to my loving creator. Breathing in. Breathing out. Peace.
I had forgotten they are doing road work outside my window. Bursts of rather boisterous jackhammering interrupted my quiet time. My peace. Sigh.
Somehow, perhaps because I am becoming more accustomed to the mess and chaos of life these days, I found peace between the boisterous bursts. And humor in the interruptions. And gratitude for those people working on this early morning. And sympathy for neighbors roused from slumber or otherwise disturbed in their morning routines. And loving concern for all those truly suffering these days, lives interrupted by war and violence and illness and death of loved ones.
Once again I learn the lesson that God is with us IN the mess of life, in the noise, the chaos, the pain, the tearing down and building up. God is there, God is here, and so are we.
“When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.”
Peter’s reaction is so human. He has so missed his friend, his teacher. Hearing that Jesus is here, NOW, he can wait no more. He jumps into the sea, fully if lightly clothed. He abandons his task and leaves the job of bringing in the boat and the fish to his companions. He couldn’t wait.
Also of course he must have been remembering how he left things with Jesus. How he denied him not once but three times. How he abandoned him at his most vulnerable. How he lacked the strength. (Nevermind that in his excitement to get to shore he abandons his friends and his job. We are all slow learners.)
“When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come, have breakfast.’”
But Jesus never gives up on us, no matter how many times we abandon him or our tasks. He helps Peter remember what is his to do. And he feeds him and all the disciples.
There is a lesson there for all of us slow learners.
Who does not have half their attention elsewhere these days.
The horror facing civilians in Ukraine. The dawning reality of the climate crisis. Political polarization even in families and churches. Racial and economic disparity that seems entrenched and at the same time dismissed.
These are the signs of the times that led my religious Congregation, the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, to commit in our Chapter Act this week To Be Who We Say We Are.
“Urged by a burning desire to speak and act boldly with open, loving and adventurous hearts, and in collaboration with others, we now commit to:
Cultivating and practicing peace through justice by the intentional living of interculturality, anti-racism, and inclusion
Addressing, healing, and being present to the wounds and broken relationships among ourselves and all of God’s Creation
Resisting every form of war and violence
Making a place for everyone at the table where all are welcomed and gifts are honored
It is time to be who we have always said we are. It is time to live our words. We embrace these promptings of the Spirit with courage, humility, hope and trust.”
As I have prayed with the Chapter experience and these words, the words of the song Free by the Good Shepherd Collective and Liz Vice keep playing in my head and heart. So I did what I do and made a video prayer.
🎵 So let the light in, keep it shining, let it break into the darkness … Love shall overcome 🎵
Margaret Anna Cusack, our founder, said: “The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire a love and desire for it.”
Bishop Bagshawe, who we claim as a co-founder, told the first Sisters at their profession in 1884: “To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessing for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil, and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.
So on the one hand the task can seem huge and overwhelming. Impossible even. And yet … Love shall overcome. Peace is possible. Peace is God’s gift. A gift to love and desire and work for and share. For then, indeed, we will all be free.