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.
On this first day of 2021, I shared the following reflection on today’s Gospel during our prayer service for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace.
In today’s Gospel reading, the Christmas story continues with the arrival of the shepherds who told their amazing story of how they had learned about the birth of Jesus and how to find the Holy Family.
All who heard the story were amazed, but Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
A mother’s heart.
No doubt your own mother may have told you stories about you. Stories of love, care, concern, wonder, amazement, worry.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In our amazing Christmas story, Mary, a woman, is the Mother of God. We hold this as a foundational truth today, in our own hearts. But it was hotly debated in the early church until eventually, she was given the title which had always been etched in her heart. Mother of God.
Her cousin Elizabeth of course knew this in her heart when she welcomed Mary at the Visitation, calling her “Mother of my Lord.”
“There can be no peace without a culture of care,” he says.
In other words, we need to nurture peace in our hearts, our words, and our actions. Mary, Mother of God is also known as Queen of Peace. She mothered peace, the Prince of Peace.
Pope Francis ends his Peace Day Message calling on another title of Mary we know well, Star of the Sea, Stella Maris. And Mother of Hope.
During these times of the pandemic, and these times of endless war and fractures, when we find ourselves “tossed by the storm” and seeking “a calmer and more serene horizon” we need a compass to guide us to peace.
In his message, Pope Francois points to the compass of the fundamental Catholic principles of Care—Care of the dignity and rights of each person, Care for the Common Good, and Care for Creation—as universal principles that might guide all people of Good Will on the path to peace.
“As Christians,” he writes, “we should always look to Our Lady, Star of the Sea and Mother of Hope.”
“May we work together,” he continues, “to advance towards a new horizon of love and peace, of fraternity and solidarity, of mutual support and acceptance. May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.”
And so, we pray …
Hail Mary, full of grace ….
[I created a summary document of the Message of Pope Francis for this 54th Day of Peace. You can download a copy here:
I was reading the Urbi et Orbi message that Pope Francis gave today in an empty St. Peter’s square. He reflects on this time of Covid-19 in light of the story of the storm in Mark’s Gospel (4:35-41).
“Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this. …
Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.” -Pope Francis
More than once in my life I have echoed the disciples refrain… do you not care that we are perishing?
Imagine their consternation, frustration and fear that he is, of all things, asleep!
We are terrified … we think we are alone.
But Jesus is with us in the storm.
A few years ago I created this video prayer reflecting on this passage, set to “How to Sleep in A Stormy Boat” by singer songwriter Amy Speace. The Pope’s message reminded me of this video, and so I share it here in case it is a helpful reflection for others in this time.
Peace. Be not afraid. We will weather the storm together.
I want to continue to believe in the presence of God, the one who strengthens, cheers, and encourages me at all times. – St. John XXIII
I have a little prayer booklet I use sometimes from Twenty Third Publications called Walking with St. John XXIII: 30 days with a good and beloved Pope. This morning I turned at random to a page, which happened to be the second to last page, and read this quote.
Interestingly enough, just a few minutes earlier, I had read this post on our current Pope’s Twitter feed:
In the midst of all those passing things in which we are so caught up, help us, Father, to seek what truly lasts; your presence and that of our brother or sister. – Pope Francis
And I was reminded, instantly, of this quote in our CSJP Constitutions:
We value the ministry of presence as an important dimension of the gospel of peace. In the hope of continuing our tradition of gracious hospitality, we welcome others to our communities and also try to be present to people in their own situations. – CSJP Constitution 18
We are so in danger of disconnection and tuning out all the noise and chaos and bad news and suffering, when truly the invitation is to see God present with us in and through and and beyond all that. Emmanuel, after all, means God with us. God created us, Jesus became one of us, and the Spirit is present among us. Ours is to grow in understanding what this means. Ours is to be open to the presence of God in our day to day moments, not only those precious aha spiritual moments, but in the messy bits too. And I don’t know about you but I have a lot more messy bits than spiritual highs. Our is to be the presence of God for others, and to experience (and accept) the presence of God in others.
At least that’s what my morning prayer time led me to ponder, and I join John XXII in praying and trusting in my loving God who strengthens, cheers, and encourages me/us at all times. If we but listen.
I have not posted in this space for quite some time. Life has been busy and the world has been crazy, you know how it goes.
But tonight, with the President choosing climate denial over truth, short term profit for a few over long term sustainability for this little planet we call earth and its inhabitants, isolationism over true leadership … I feel compelled to write.
The past few weeks have been a tough run. Terrorism and hatred in many forms grips the headlines, from Manchester to Portland. Terrorism in other parts of the world, places like Kabul and Bagdahd which have been ravaged by war, we try to ignore.
Then there is the ridiculousness from covfefe to the very probable meddling of a hostile foreign power in our democracy and hints of possible collusion by government officials.
It can all be too much, but in the midst of the swirly nature of life right now, I feel I must proclaim these words.
I believe in goodness.
The goodness of people to stand up to hateful speech in my adopted hometown of Portland, risking all for goodness.
The goodness of folks who stand up for what is right, on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, Earth our common home, healthcare, justice and peace.
Yesterday I had the privelege of being with lay leaders from our csjp sponsored ministries in New Jersey. Day in and day out they provide compassionate care in health care, education and social service to people who are poor and vulnerable. We had the chance to hear stories of how the mission is alive today. In the midst of the challenge and strain of this crazy time, goodness abounds.
There is much we cannot control, but we can believe in goodness and act that way. We can choose to bring goodness into this world, little by little, relationship by relationship.
Pope Francis recently called for a revolution of tenderness.
Let’s be good and tender. Let’s follow that sage advice from Micah. Let’s act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God.
Catholic life in the United States, judging by my social media feed, is alive with energy and excitement about the Pope’s visit, and rightly so. Sister Sheila, our Congregation Leader, will be representing us at the Papal mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception today. Meanwhile, I will have to follow the excitement from afar since I am visiting our CSJP community in the United Kingdom for a couple of weeks.
Today I had the sheer privilege of joining some of our CSJP Sisters and Associates on an outing to visit the mission to seafarers at the Immingham Docks, the largest port in this country. I had no idea what to expect, and ended up being very moved by my experiences today. At the end of the day it felt more like a pilgrimage than an outing.
Immingham is located near Grimsby, England on the North Sea, the town where our first Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace began our mission of peace in 1884. The mission to Seafarers there is part of the Apostleship of the Sea – a global Catholic Charity which ministers to all seafarers, regardless of nationality or belief. Some of our CSJP Associates in the area volunteer with the mission.
At Immingham, we met Fr. Colum Kelly who is Chaplain to the mostly men, or “lads” as he calls them, who come from around the globe bringing imports such as coal, grain, biomass, wood, and automobiles to England. If you think about it, most of what we use comes to us wherever we are from places far, far away. And as I learned today, 90% of world trade is transported by ship. And, if you stop and think about it, those ships require human beings to navigate the seas.
That’s where the seafarers come in. A quick look at the visitors book shows that the seafarers come from all corners of the globe – Philippines, Vietnam, Poland, Greece, and Turkey to name a few. Fr. Colum told us stories of some of the cases he has been called in on to intervene, situations where the seafarers arrive in port hungry because there is not enough food on board, or in some cases they have not received their promised wages in months. Sadly, wage theft is a common problem in many industries, and is related to the reality of forced labor and human trafficking across the globe.
The stories Fr. Colum shared were powerful, and renewed my commitment to work against what Pope Francis has called the “globalization of indifference.” We live in a globalized economy, which means that we are intimately linked to the men, women, and sometimes children who harvest, mine, transport, and transform the raw materials which become the many consumer items we take for granted in our daily lives. Fr. Colum spoke of the invisible life of the seafarer. He also spoke with great passion and love for his ministry, which he described as the Church bringing its mission of hope and love to the margins, even in this invisible world to which we are all, in fact, connected.
Not all of the situations are so dire. Many of the seafarers work for honest companies, travel in safe vessels, and receive adequate food and regular wages. But they still spend as much as 9 months at sea, separated from family and isolated. The Seafarers Center welcomes them when they are in port with a shop, chapel, internet cafe, games room, money exchange, phone cards, etc… The mission was damaged in a flood after a tidal surge a couple of years ago, so the space we visited was bright and inviting. Fr. Colum and the lay chaplains also go on board the ships, offering a listening ear, providing religious services, and inviting them to the center. They also hold Christmas parties where they share gift boxes with toiletries and other sundry items donated from local parishes, often the only bit of cheer during the seafarers’ holiday.
In addition to learning about the mission and the life of the seafarers, we also were led in a couple of powerful meditations by Fr. Colum. One invited us to look at our own lives in terms of the cargo we carry–the “bad” cargo such as excessive busy-ness, past hurts, concern about what others might think, etc… — and our “good” cargo — our gifts and love and passion. How do we balance our cargo during our life’s journey, as we go about the work to which the God who loves us unconditionally has called us? Simple, really, but something which I found myself thinking about quite a bit on the two hour coach ride home.
Fr Colum also shared with us a devotion to Mary which was new to me … Mary Undoer of Knots. Apparently this is a favorite devotion of Pope Francis, which he first discovered when studying in Germany depicted in a painting he saw in a Church. This depiction of Mary draws on imagery from one of the early theologians of the Church, St. Ireneaus. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis introduced and encouraged this devotion in Latin America.
Fr. Colum shared a prayer of his own to Our Lady Undoer of Knots — a fitting devotion of course for someone who works with seafarers! He also led us in a time of reflection on the knots in our own lives before we ended the day with liturgy in the chapel there at the mission.
Each of us, of course, often finds our thoughts, minds, and even prayers tied up in knots. We worry about this or that, we are unsure how we will do x or how we will navigate that sticky situation with you know who.
How beautiful to call on Mary the undoer of knots in these moments of our lives. I’ll copy Fr. Colum’s prayer below, because perhaps you too might like to call on Mary in this way:
Holy Mary, mother of God and our most blessed mother too. You know my problems, both small and large, that like knots are tight and difficult to undo. I feel restricted by them and do not know how to overcome them. The knots of my heart, the knots of difficult family relationships, the knots of loneliness, knots of things yet to be forgiven …. Mother of mercy, untie the knots I am burdened with, journey with me from the darkness of confusion, into a new path of light.
Yes, this is a teaching document, but it is so much more. It is a poetic reflection on what it means to be human. It is a challenge to “every living person on this planet” (3) to responsible living on our common home for present and future generations. It is an invitation to shift our understanding of our relationship with the rest of creation from one of domination to partnership, from exploitation to protection, and from separation to connection.
It is certainly significant and meaningful to have a religious and world leader with the credibility of Pope Francis unequivocally state that “. . . we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. . . . mainly as a result of human activity” (23). However, his message is much deeper and even more challenging.
Having just finished my second reading of Laudato Si’, I think that his most radical message is that we are family. God has put us into relationship with each other and all of creation, and we therefore share responsibility for the whole. “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family” (42).
You know you run in certain nerdy church circles when your Facebook feed fills up with creative ways to observe the liturgical season of Lent. One meme that is making the rounds is a “Reverse Lent Challenge,” with the message that rather than giving something up (like the proverbial chocolate) you might consider taking something on, such as making a commitment to helping a family member or friend, writing notes to lonely folks, etc… It’s a nice idea to be sure.
As for me, I gave up giving up a long time ago. Well, that’s not actually exactly true. I do still take the opportunity of this season to look at my life and see what is getting in the way of a healthy relationship with God, others, and even self, and commit to making adjustments. The focus that helps me is not on what is given up, but rather what is gained. I also find this to be a very personal practice, and so I’ll be keeping to myself what I’ve chosen as my own personal Lenten practice(s).
We don’t have to go far to see what kind of fast it is that God seeks. This morning’s reading from Isaiah is one of my all time favorites, and makes it pretty clear:
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
This time of Lent is such a gift. It is a time set aside to reorder our priorities and to prepare our hearts, lives, and world for the joy of the resurrection.
If you are still sorting out your own Lenten practice, I highly recommend reading the Lenten message from Pope Francis. I’ve adopted his closing lines as my own Lenten prayer:
During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum”: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.
Blessings of peace as we ease into this Lenten season. May your heart (and my heart) be opened by God’s love to what is really important.
I will never forget the day when I first learned about the four American church women who were killed in El Salvador 24 years ago today. It was 1988 and I was a junior at a Catholic girls high school. One of the Sisters from the community who sponsored my high school came to our religion class to speak about her work with the people of El Salvador, which was still embroiled in a brutal and bloody civil war. She brought pictures of the children and families she accompanied and shared the story of her ministry. She also told us the story of Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, lay missioner Jean Donovan, Sister Maura Clarke, MM, and Sister Ita Ford, MM who had been beaten, raped, and murdered by five members of the National Guard of El Salvador just a few years before, because of their presence and ministry to the people of that country. Their bodies were left in a shallow grave along an isolated roadside. I remember being shocked by the story. I also remember being overpowered by the realization that this Sister who was talking to us and sharing her own story also put herself at risk of a similar fate. And it became clear to me that her reason was love. Love of God and love of the people of El Salvador.
Love … that’s the real meaning of Sisterhood. Love is worth living for. Love is worth taking risks for. Love is even worth dying for. What else does the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus teach us?
In the words of Sister Ita Ford in a letter to her goddaughter, written just a few months before her murder:
I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be — that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I’m seeing and living things that others around you aren’t… I want to say to you: don’t waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy.
Chances are, most of the people who will tune in to the second episode of the ‘reality’ show The Sisterhood tonight do not know this real life story of the power of Sisterhood. Hopefully, however, the message still comes across that vowed religious life isn’t about giving up make up, or hiding away from the world, or fleeing the drama that comes with being human. In my experience, it’s about finding something worth living for, something that energizes you and causes you to share your God given gifts in a particular way to help address the unmet needs of the world. It’s about responding to the transformative love of God in a way that challenges, supports and transforms you as you seek to transform the world in the company of your Sisters. It’s about love.
In the words of Pope Francis in his message for the Year of Consecrated Life: “You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.”