Today is November 11th. A day to pause and remember during this month of memory and thanksgiving.
Since the first World War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, today has been known as Remembrance Day in many parts of the world. In the United States we mark this day as Veteran’s Day. At breakfast this morning we sang Anchors Aweigh to Sister Mary Robert, a navy veteran of WW II.
In my family, today is the day we celebrate the birthday of my eldest brother Joe.
In my CSJP community life, November 11th has two very special meanings. On this day last year, we said goodbye to Sister Kristin, a vibrant community member who I was privileged to get to know and love deeply during our two years together on the Leadership Team.
And six years ago, on November 11, 2011, I professed my final vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.
Our lives together in communities, as families, nations, and part of our global community are filled with so many moments, big and small, that make us who we are and bring the best out of ourselves for the sake of the whole. Sometimes we dwell on the problems, the challenges, the things that worry us or aren’t quite going right, not to mention the very real existence of evil and the darkness that exists along with the light. We need to pay attention to those messy bits, but even more we are called I think to stop and smell the flowers, to celebrate the gift of life and the joy and laughter and hope and very breath we breathe.
Blessings upon blessings if you think about it, really.
And so I pause this November 11th to remember …
I pause this November 11th to give thanks …
I pause this November 11th to pray for peace, for love, and for joy for all of God’s creation.
Eyes open in a strange room
rested (but not)
ready for what comes next
filled with a wondering
encompassing me in possibility, promise, a wee bit of trepidation.
What if God is inviting us?
What if God is inviting us, through it all, to return home to one another?
What if, through the movement towards smallness, God is inviting us to reach out to those we did not need in our exceptional BIG moments?
What if, through the roller coaster of our geopolitical sphere, not to mention the soap opera of our national whatever is the opposite of civil and reasonable discourse, God is inviting us to love each other out of the fear and division?
What if, through the reckless disregard of our very planet–our common home–and our disposable attitude toward people and things, God is inviting us to bless what is near and dear while we make all of God’s creation our own concern?
What if our Triune God–Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier–is beckoning us, cheering us, drawing us near one another despite ourselves so that we can be one in all our wonderful crazy-making diversity?
Just as the Abba is always that, and the Son is always that, and the Ruah is always that …
Just as together they are also more …
Just as together they transform …
Just as together they bless and permeate and dance the story of all that is and was and will be.
This is my prayer upon waking, that I … that we … live into the questions, wonder at the wondering, and embrace the invitation to dance.
My latest Global Sisters Report column has been posted, in which I try to weave together my Congregation’s founding story, the violence and suffering of today, with some inspiration I received from Pope Francis and our Sisters in the UK, not to mention Gandhi’s 82 year old grandson.
In the 131 years since my congregation was founded, the human family has faced two world wars and the onset of the global war on terror. We have developed the capacity to destroy all of God’s creation countless times over with nuclear weapons. Human communities have suffered through more than250 armed conflicts across the globe since 1945, and civilians now make up the majority of the causalities of war, with some estimates as high as 90 percent. Then, of course, there is the ugly reality of gun violence in our own nation, a reality which only seems to seep into our collective consciousness briefly in the face of tragedies such as the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
Last week I found myself holding all of this in prayer as I sat in St. Barnabas Cathedral in Nottingham, England, where our first sisters professed their vows in 1884. I could not help but reflect anew on Bishop Bagshawe’s words then to our first sisters (“To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessings for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.”) . I wondered: What would he make of the sin, turmoil and restless anxiety of our contemporary world which gives rise to such violence? One thing is certain — there continues to be an urgent need for faithful witnesses to peace, compassion and nonviolence today.
Visit Global Sisters Report to read the whole thing.
Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, founded the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace to promote peace in family life, in the church, and in society. I often pray with what Bishop Bagshawe, who supported the new community, said at the profession of the first Sisters in 1884:
“To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessings for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil, and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.”
No small task, this mission of peace that Jesus speaks of in the Gospels.
And 131 years later, what would Bagshawe make of the sin, turmoil, and restless anxiety of our early 21st century. In some ways we are more familiar, too familiar with it, brought into our lives as it is each day through television screens and Facebook feeds. We look, we see, we are moved … And then what? To what end?
Fourteen years ago many of us woke up to sheer terror on our television screens, watching planes crash into towers of glass and steel, knowing that human beings were inside them.
Fourteen years ago in response to terror, we launched our wars on terror. Wars beget wars. Suffering builds on suffering. And our sisters and brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Syria are caught in the mess, striving to live lives of laughter and love in peace.
Fourteen years ago today I became a peace activist, reorienting my personal life and mission. It is good to be reminded of that as I go into this day. How can I be a peaceful presence with those I meet today? Where are my opportunities to influence policies and practices that promote peace? How am I called to conversion in my own heart, my own way of being in this world?
In the midst of sin, turmoil and restless anxiety, I am called to hold fast to the vision and mission of peace, in the company of other people of peace. I have to believe that even that makes a difference.
Promoting peace has been central to the mission of my religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace from our very beginnings. Our original 1884 Constitutions tell us that we were founded “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.”
Promoting peace is also central to the mission of the Church. This has been true from the very beginnings of the Christian community. This morning as I was praying with the Scriptures in my morning prayer book, I ran across this quote from a homily by St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407), one of the early Church fathers and a Doctor of the Church:
So as far as a human being can, you must do what Christ the Son of God did, and become a promoter of peace both for yourself and for your neighbor. Christ calls the peacemaker a child of God. The only good deed he mentions as essential at the time of sacrifice is reconciliation with one’s brother or sister. This shows that of all the virtues the most important is love.
Sometimes, when I tell people that I am a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, they ask if we are a new community. In conversation with these folks, this seems to be because we have a notion that concern for peace is something new. Hence, a community founded to promote peace must have been formed recently. And yet, as these words from an early Christian leader tell us, and truly as the example and peaceful witness of Jesus constantly remind us, peace is central to our mission as Christians.
This morning as I was praying with this reflection and the Scriptures, I found myself remembering a song from my childhood – Grease from the movie of the same title with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. My sister Monica and I used to spend hours in our bedroom, hairbrush in hand, singing the lyrics along with our vinyl recording of the sound track (the G-rated version of course!). In prayer today, I playfully changed the words of the song, simply replacing the word “grease” with the word “peace.”
They think our love is just a growing pain Why don’t they understand, it’s just a crying shame Their lips are lying, only real is real We stop the fight right now, we got to be what we feel Peace is the word
It’s got a groove, it’s got a meaning Peace is the time, is the place, is the motion Peace is the way we are feeling
Peace is the word my friends. We are the motion. Go … be peace today!
“As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.'”
The headlines of course are filled with the recent killings in Jerusalem and the continued bloodshed in Iraq and Syria, not to mention the political infighting in Congress. The headlines gloss over or ignore other situations of violence, such as poverty and oppression. There is violence in our streets, our homes, our very hearts.
But Jesus tells us, there is more. More is possible. Peace is possible.
Imagine Jesus standing in our midst today, seeing that we have everything within us which makes peace possible, should we choose to see and live it:
Our goodness. Our love. Our compassion. Our possibility. Our mercy. Our yearning for justice, equality, and reconciliation.
Can we open our eyes and our hearts to the reality that peace is possible?
Can we choose, live, and act for peace, in our our lives?
Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day. Happily, thanks to public domain and the many internet book projects, much of her writing is now available online. She was a woman of her time and yet, ahead of her time in many ways. In this quote, for example, she writes about the type of Sisters she wanted to join her new community. She recognized that the mission to promote peace in family life, in church, and in society required a certain type of person.
We are beginning a new Order. We want brave, noble, large-minded, courageous souls…”
~Mother Francis Clare to the new community, 1887
She wrote those words in 1887, and our history tells us that this is who God called to our Congregation. At our most recent Chapter in September, we responded anew to her call 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.”
This week is National Vocation Awareness Week here in the U.S., and I happen to be attending the 25th anniversary convocation of the National Religious Vocation Conference in Chicago with three of my CSJP Sisters.
Please join me, us, in praying for women (and men) who might be hearing God’s call to be brave, noble, and large-minded, especially those who might be called to live out this call as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace or Associates.
If this was who was needed to promote peace in Mother Francis Clare’s time, it certainly seems true today in 2014.
I was invited to give a reflection on Ephesians 2:12-22 today at an all school mid-day prayer service held in our chapel at Catholic Theological Union. It was a wonderful opportunity to ponder the word of God in the context of our community. Here’s what I shared:
As a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, I was delighted when I was invited to offer a short reflection on this reading from Ephesians, in which the theme of peace is so strong.
“For he is our peace … He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”
I can’t help but hear echoes of my religious community’s Constitutions, where we say:
“Christ is our peace, the source of our power. United with him we engage in the struggle against the reality of evil and continue the work of establishing God’s reign of justice and peace.”
Christ is our peace, calling us to unity. But if we look around, so much divides us. Dividing walls abound, some of them quite literal like the ones we build on our borders.
Christ is our peace, but WE must make that peace known in our world. In the words of Paul VI who was beatified in Rome just this past weekend: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
As I have been sitting with this reading these past few days, I have been struck by another line from Ephesians:
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners…”
In 2003, the Bishops of the United States and Mexico crossed the dividing wall between our nations, united as one Church, to reflect on the reality of immigration and the need for immigration justice.
In the letter, the Bishops reflect on themes of migration and hospitality in Scripture:
From Abraham and Sarah offering hospitality to three strangers, who were actually a manifestation of God
To the edict to welcome the stranger, remembering Israel’s own exile in Egypt
To the Holy Family’s own flight into Egypt
To the reading we have today, of which the Bishops say:
“The triumph of grace in the Resurrection of Christ plants hope in the hearts of all believers and the Spirit works in the Church to unite all peoples of all races and cultures into the one family of God.”
Just look around our community here at CTU. Our students come from places that are far and places that are near. We come from places of relative peace and prosperity and places that have experienced deep division and heart wrenching violence.
We come to learn to be unifiers, reconcilers, bearers of mercy and builders of peace.
CTU is now even a place of hospitality, welcoming immigrant women and families in the Marie Joseph House of Hospitality across the street.
We have also been invited to participate in a practical work of mercy this week through a winter clothing drive for our immigrant brothers and sisters.
As the CTU community, we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.
May we be reconcilers in our families and communities.
Anxiety. It’s not imaginary. It’s not soft and cuddly. It is real. Certainly anxiety has been a part of my own life for as long as I can remember. My mother used to talk about my ‘anxiety bunnies.’ Therapy, prayer, and just being gentle over the years has helped me to befriend my anxiety and learn how to deal with it without it dealing too much with me, if you now what I mean.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved that anxiety has a part to play in my own Congregation’s story. In 1884, at the profession of vows of the first Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, Bishop Edward Gilpin Bagshawe said this:
“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.”
As a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, then, my object is to be present to the restless anxiety of the world (and in myself) in ways that bring peace.
Today as I was walking home from church through city streets aglow with the splendor of autumn, I found myself reflecting on today’s second reading from Philippians (4: 6-9).
Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
First of all, my dear friend Paul needs to realize that as much as we might wish to brush our anxiety bunnies under the rug, they will pop back up from time to time. We will have anxiety. I will (and do) have anxiety. But he has a point that rings true with my own experience.
The path to peace in the midst of the restless anxiety of our world (and our own hearts) is to bring that anxiety to God. To bring our prayers and concerns and wonderings to our God who of course already knows all about them, but there is something good and intimate and honest about laying it all before our loving God.
And so having placed our anxieties before God, we can let them rest there and focus instead on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent.
Whatever is lovely … so much is lovely, as my autumn walk this morning showed me in abundance. Does that make all the yucky or complicated or worrisome stuff of life go away? No. But it brings some peace that helps us to be more authentic and our best selves as we face what we have to face in life.
Or so it seemed to me this morning on my autumn walk.
May the God of Peace be with you all, and may whatever lovely things you come across on your path today touch your heart and stop you in your tracks, if just for a moment.