Monday, March 19, 2012

Silent Influence

Modern Day Joseph
Palestinian Father & Son in Exile
My path had never actually crossed that of a Sister of St. Joesph before I visited the SSJs for a come and see weekend in November of 2009. That's not to say that I didn't know them in some way. I had read Elizabeth Johnson's work in college and had followed the work and writings of Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame) since I had read her first book and heard her speak at my freshman commencement.

Aside from those two connections, I knew very little about the congregation. I mean, I had gleaned as much as I could from the congregation's website, a Jesuit friend had recommended the SSJs to me, and I had been in touch with the congregation's vocation director after being connected with the Philadelphia SSJs through a Vision Vocation Match (a crazy story in and of it self... see: over a hundred e-mails from different groups over the course of 3 days).   But aside from those points of contact, there were few connections I actually had to the Sisters of St. Joseph.

What I did know, I liked- mission and faith driven women engaged in work that united God and neighbor; Women committed to living the Gospel, making a difference through dedication.  

Perhaps the most familiar part of the entire journey of coming to the Sisters was Saint Joseph.

I had grown up in a parish named after the saint, so I knew plenty of what little is known about him . Having come to associate St. Joseph with work for social concerns and justice that my parish engaged in, I also connected to the model of Joseph as quiet and humble servant. That familiarity is part of what spoke to something deeper within me as I approached the SSJs.

Anyone willing to model their life after the simplicity and fidelity of Joseph had a good word in my book.  To bear the name of Joseph and follow in his footsteps meant for me, to live a life of service that trusts in the will of God and works diligently without the need for words or recognition. 

Relative to so many other saints, Joseph is unknown. Yet, his titles are numerous: father, spouse, guide, teacher, worker, dreamer, righteous man, protector. And as I have come to know him more and these women who live in his example, nurturing Christ and living the Gospel life each day, I have come to recognize that the Joseph that played such a part in forming Jesus, is today working to form me.  

His silent influence is incalculable and insurmountable.  By his example I seek to serve others. Like him, I want to hold Christ in my arms, lead others to God, and find God in the midst of the everyday. I want to follow the call that I have heard even through the darkness and my own sleep.  Ultimately, I want to live like the person who has helped me to recognize God and who's life speaks louder than words.  

For all intents and purposes, Joseph in the Gospels is mute.  No words pass his lips, but somehow his life speaks volumes. It has spoken to my heart and remains a silent influence that draws me forward, out of myself and into the life of God in the world.

Pondering of Grace: The Feast of St. Joseph

As a special treat for St. Joseph's Day, I'll be offering two blog posts (hopefully) for the price of one.  What follows is a prayer starter that I wrote for our congregation retreat house, St. Mary's-by-the-Sea. I hope that it brings insight within you on this feast of St. Joseph.

"How are you related to Saint Joseph?" 

That was the question that was directed at me by a second grader a few months ago during a vocation day at Visitation school in Kensington. I had prepared answers for a lot of questions, almost all of which I am still trying to figure out, but that was not one that was on my list.
I knew exactly what that seven year old was asking-if all of us in front of the class were sisters, then we must somehow be related. And if we were all sisters, then it wasn't too far-fetched to believe that surely we were sisters of Saint Joseph, too. My answer was short and simple (and seemed to satisfy the student's intrigue), yet, on this the feast of Saint Joseph, I return to that question which has remained on my heart since that day.
How am I related to Saint Joseph? As one who casts my lot in with Jesus and chooses to associate my name with that of Joseph, who do I say that I am?

Am I the dreamer?
          ...the comforter?
                      ...the diligent worker?
                                ... the caring teacher?
                                         ...the faithful spouse?
                                                 ...the one who goes where I am called?
                                                          ...whose actions speak far beyond words?

Christ asked his disciples early on, "Who do you say that I am?" In our living lives of faith we answer that question daily by laying claim to the person that we are in Christ. As we celebrate Saint Joseph, individually and communally, let us consider what it means to be sisters (and brothers) of Saint Joseph. How do we embody the person who helped to form Jesus? How are we living our call? And what might the Divine be inviting us to by giving us the example of Joseph to live our lives by and find God in during this season of Lent and every day of our lives?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Enduring Questions

There are some questions that stick with you. Those that are planted deep in your heart. Those that have answers that evolve over time. Questions that can't be solved. Questions that beg to be lived in, discovered over and over again.

Last Saturday, I went to Mass with the majority of the women I live with. Aside from Founders' Day back in October, this was the first time in a long time that we were all together to celebrate the Eucharist. The Vigil Mass came after an afternoon congregational meeting that acted as a spring consultation of the membership regarding the future of communal governance. (i.e. How we will meet/consult between major Chapters every 5 years & what format these meetings might take?)  As with any gathering of many people, there were many thoughts on the matter. And this being my first meeting of this type, I tried to absorb all that was being asked and all that was being said.

The questions were far and wide: from the concrete questions of how often and in what manner we would meet as small groups to the larger questions of where the Spirit is leading us and how do we want to be as a congregation.  By the end of the day, I expected Mass to be a capstone of quiet reflection, nothing too challenging, a time to be in union with my God and the women I live with.  And it was, but in the midst of reflection and union also came those enduring questions.

Preaching about the Transfiguration, the presider reflected on the questions that arose within the disciples.  Peter, dumbfounded by what was occurring before his very eyes on the mountain top, suggests pitching 3 tents.   But what's more he bumbles out the words, "It is good that we are here!" In the midst of what was surely terrifying and brought about an avalanche of questions, he recognized the goodness of the moment.

I could have just sat with that for a moment and have been fine, but the presider continued.  He spoke of the importance of questioning and then he recounted a story of how he'd come to question.  In 1995, he'd traveled with a group to Manila for World Youth Day. There he attended Mass with John Paul II and 5 million other people. During the course of that Mass he fainted multiple times and was held up by the crowd. So many people drawn together for their own reasons, supporting one another in the process.

His story though wasn't about that. It was about his first day in Manila.

As his group drove on a bus from the airport to their hotel, a tour guide pointed out sights all around them.  At one point they came to a stop in Manila's mid day traffic. Looking out his window he saw something the tour guide hadn't pointed out.  Down the alleyway, he saw little shacks made of tin and scrap.  He came to learn that this was how the majority of people in the Philippines lived. It made him question- why did they have to live like this? What could be done? Was there poverty just something to be ignored?- All good questions, but none of them made me stop and wonder.  Truth be told it wasn't the greatest homily in the world.Yet his story stirred in me my own memories and with them the enduring questions attached.

You see, I too was changed by a moment in the Philippines.  The story is one I've dwelt on before (read about it here or here). In the shadow of a mountain of trash, questions were awakened in my soul. They had vaguely been there before, but at that moment they took on new importance. They were questions of justice, but even more they were questions of humanity, incarnation, and vocation.

Each one of us has these moments in our lives. Moments that uncovered something we'd never be able to forget and which called us to something greater.  For me, I can trace part of my longing for God, desire to be with others, and need to find peace within chaos to that moment.  From there the enduring questions of who am I, whose am I, and who am I called to be took on new life.  A few days later, a Jesuit friend would ask me if I had ever considered religious life and prompt me not to abandon (but finally take some action on) another enduring question in my life.

Today I am still sorting through those questions given life by experiences far and wide. Each one of us has our own enduring questions.  They guide our lives and they come from having seen goodness in a way we can't quite explain. Like the disciples who came down from the mountaintop spellbound,  we stand in awe of the questions we've been blessed with. And as we travel with them, we are blessed that they endure- reminding us of who we are, where we've been, who God is, and calling us to live evermore into the wondering.