Fear vs. Love


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afearfacedJanuary 6 is the traditional feast of the Epiphany but the liturgical calendar – like the “secular” one – is now fond of moving feasts to a more convenient time, in this case a Sunday. So more about that tomorrow. For now I want to borrow a message from Alan Cohen’s book, A Deep Breath of Life, that seems to me a good reflection on how to proceed in this new year.

Fear tells us that we are small, powerless and separate. Love affirms that we are great, creative, and connected. Which voice do you choose to be your guide?

The way to dissolve a limit is to step right up to it and look it in the eye. When we shine the light on the darkness, we see that the thing we ran from had power over us only as long as we kept it at a distance. When we face what frightens us, we discover that we are bigger than it is. We can do anything we choose; we were not born to live in fear, but in love.

Sometimes all it takes is a step toward a trusted friend who will listen to us. If that seems too difficult, I suggest starting with food – no kidding. Eat a vegetable that you’ve never tried that you can’t imagine liking. Even if you find it distasteful, you probably won’t die from it! (If you already love every vegetable available, try some tofu or guacamole: something foreign to your taste buds). Then stand up and walk a short distance, imagining that you are on the edge of a precipice. Don’t look at your feet; just feel each step and know that you will be able to keep walking without falling over the edge. When you’ve concluded those two exercises, find your friend and give her/him the privilege of listening to you!

Coincidentally, you will probably come to understand the meaning of the word epiphany!








We Are Fields Before Each Other


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afieldofheartsThis morning I am feeling a desire to take life one moment at a time, conscious as I go through the day of all the people near and far who do not have the luxury of heated houses and blanketed beds in which they may choose to hunker down to wait out winter’s extreme behavior. This dangerous moment is deceptive in my neighborhood because the sun is streaming in and the sky is blue, whereas in many places the wind has caused storm surges from the beaches and lake effect snow measured in feet rather than inches to warn of possible catastrophe. My only warning of frostbite is looking out my bedroom window to see the wild dancing of the trees. Somehow this moment seems akin to the world situation where on some days there seems to be danger everywhere.

With these thoughts – feelings, really – I turned to Daniel Ladinsky’s book, Love Poems from God, that I sensed might stabilize me. The book has poems that are translations of what Ladinsky calls “twelve sacred voices from East and West.” I opened to the section on St. Thomas Aquinas whom I have always thought a brilliant mind. Ladinsky has opened to me a new appreciation for the soul of this great theologian and this morning I am challenged and comforted at the same time with the poem that follows here. May we all know the truth of it someday.



How is it that they live for eons in such harmony –

the billions of stars –

when most men can barely go a minute

without declaring war in their mind against someone they know.

There are wars where no one marches with a flag,

though that does not keep casualties

from mounting.

Our hearts irrigate this earth.

We are fields before

each other.

How can we live in harmony?

First we need to


we are madly in love

with the same








Mother Seton


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asetonElizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774-1821) was the first American-born saint canonized in the Roman Catholic Church. We celebrate her today as a woman who, it is often said, “lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.” Her life was a bit like a seesaw with serious ups and downs by turns. She was born into a solid, well-to-do family in the high society of New York but her mother died when she was 3 years old. She was married at age 19 to a wealthy businessman and had 5 children, but his business failed and he died of tuberculosis when Elizabeth was 30 years old. Necessity led her to open a school in Baltimore in order to support her children and grace moved her to found a religious community which grew out of the spiritual nature of how she ran her school. She died at age 46. Franciscan Media says the following about the woman who has become an example of faith to generations of Catholics and is revered as “Mother Seton.”

Elizabeth Seton had no extraordinary gifts. She was not a mystic or stigmatic. She did not prophesy or speak in tongues…The thousand or more letters of Mother Seton reveal the development of her spiritual life from ordinary goodness to heroic sanctity. She suffered great trials of sickness, misunderstanding, the death of loved ones (her husband and two young daughters) and the heartache of a wayward son…She wrote to a friend that she would prefer to exchange the world for a “cave or a desert. But God has given me a great deal to do, and I have always and hope always to prefer his will to every wish of my own.” Her brand of sanctity is open to everyone…(www.franciscanmedia.org)

How can we refuse the offer?







Sing a New Song!


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achoirI love to visit churches where the services are punctuated by vibrant singing. I learned the beauty and joy of music most likely because my mother crooned us to sleep when we were babies and sang virtually every day for some reason, at home, at church, in parish shows (some of which she produced) and into her last days on earth. She had a lovely voice and used it to praise God in every situation. Irish to the core, my father loved to sing as well and my earliest memories of adult gatherings at our house included “sing-alongs” that were as important as food and friends.

Music reminds us that we are more than intellectual beings by causing our spirits to soar with joy or to experience deep feeling with the words we sing or the music itself. Consider the beauty of harp music, the call of a violin, the majesty and joy of trumpets and the reach into the heart of piano music…

I wonder why we don’t spend more time singing since it is known to be good for us as a psycho-physical exercise. Perhaps we might consider music as a good companion for this new year. Psalm 98 has been called “A New Song to the Holy One” and I can hear the St. Louis Jesuits leading us for years at Church calling us to “sing a new song unto the Lord! Let your song be sung from mountains high…” How can that be done without some energy and building enthusiasm? (Swaying is essential as well.) Do we think about what we’re singing? In your church or anywhere you praise God, might you use any of the following to describe the music? Does is have enthusiasm, vigor, buoyancy, exuberance, spirit, animation, zeal, ardor, gusto, or any notable feeling? Perhaps that sounds silly to you but what activity where we might add music is more appropriately passionate than our praise of God? As a last word I offer part of my favorite translation of Psalm 98, the psalm for today and an image that also gives us the reason for the song.

Raise high each voice till all can hear the joyous news you bear. Praise God till earth itself becomes a song, till seas and all the waters flow and waves begin to dance with land and all the peoples sing. Let every river lift its hands to clap in time, while hills and valleys join in song to offer hospitality to the Holy One, who comes to right our every wrong… (vs. 7-9)







Back To Work


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ahabitatgroupI took a vacation from the news over the long weekend just concluded. I think we have a responsibility to stay informed but sometimes we just need a break. Consequently, I just spent almost a half-hour reading all sorts of headlines from internet news services to see what I had missed. There weren’t many surprises and I surmise that’s because many groups and individuals were sitting things out, just as I did. It’s interesting surfing like that, however – a good way to have a birds-eye view of what we see as important as a culture. There are still threats from North Korea and the White House (which I do not mean to dismiss!) as well as legislative issues and stories – serious ones – about the weather. I found nothing about the deeper concerns of our spiritual well-being, however, so my “two cents” this morning as we get back to the routine of life in this new year will be what I think is a very important point for reflection from Thomas Merton.

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in God’s creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. (New Seeds of Contemplation, 32-33, excerpted)







Blessing the New Year


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afacesunlightThe first reading in our lectionary this morning contains a perfect blessing for this day of new beginnings. Before I transcribe it here, I have two notes from “last year” to be attended to.

1. Some have questions about the title of yesterday’s entry that shows up for you as four numbers that have no reference to anything in the writing. As I often do not know the title until the post is written, I need to be careful to remember not to post until the title comes to me because the moment I post, all those who receive the message by e-mail receive it. There is no going back with those readers; only those who check the website find the edited entry. The title I chose was “Holy Family” but my computer had already chosen the numerical title when I realized I had forgotten to name the post. Thanks for asking about it.

2. I want to thank those of you who responded to our plea for donations during the recent campaign. This is the first time that we have included a specific outreach to our blog readers and it was gratifying to me that you responded. In addition to friends of many years, I was delighted to receive checks/PayPal notifications from readers whom I have never met – in person or otherwise. Please note that it’s never too late to donate, and be assured of our appreciation for all the ways in which you support the blog and the Sophia Center.

Now for the blessing we offer you from God and from us as we begin this new chapter in our lives:

“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (NUM 6:24-26)







Holy Family


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afamilyworldToday, the feast of the Holy Family, I am flooded with memories and gratitude for the blessings of my youth. The luxury of growing up with an intact nuclear family as well as the proximity of cousins galore is somewhat more rare these days and something to be treasured. In some wonderful, seemingly organic way, those of us who are now the “elders” seem deeply connected to the younger generation of our family. Although scattered around our country and even the far reaches of the world, on the infrequent occasions when we are together, delight is as palpable as the genetics that we share.

I know that I am privileged far beyond the boundaries of what money can buy and I wish such love as exists in my family for all people. Such love does not imply lack of struggle but rather a willingness to acknowledge our imperfections as well as the bonds that hold us together. And in our time we are faced with a new sense of what family can mean as people research their ancestry and submit their DNA to testing, learning whom they ought to be calling “sister” an “brother” in a wider sense than we could have imagined.

Let us, then, on this threshold day of a new year, recognize that we are all connected, and let us resolve to hold the possibility of “one world, one family” as our goal for the future.







The Eve of the Eve


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awomaninacrowdI come late to this task this morning. Perhaps it was the cold that kept me sleeping until the shocking hour of just before eight o’clock! The temperature continues to hover around zero degrees and warnings of frostbite because of wind still make the national news. I feel rather stuck here in my chair with the only thought being that of the impending turn of the calendar. Today is not the last day of the year; that reality dawns with tomorrow but seems all around me now in shadow. Psalm 96 calls me to praise but I feel like a person on a diving board who isn’t sure of how to swim in the water that awaits me.

There seems to be nothing to do but to throw the responsibility for it all back to God and pray in the words of Jesuit John Morris hoping that will suffice as remote preparation for the coming new year.

Mighty God, Father of all, Compassionate God, Mother of all, bless every person I have met, every face I have seen, every voice I have heard, especially those most dear; bless every city, town and street that I have known, bless every sight I have seen, every sound I have heard, every object I have touched. In some mysterious way these have all fashioned my life; all that I am, I have received. Great God, bless the world. (Hearts on Fire, p.152)






Works of Which Women Are Capable


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acsjpixINTRO: As I opened to the Catholic Bishops’ website this morning to find the lectionary readings for today I began to sing because the heading was “The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas.” I expect that you, too, are immediately singing now: “…my true love gave to me five golden rings.” That may be a little hokey but even a little more far-fetched perhaps is my follow-on thought that five golden rings might signify a 50th anniversary, the year that I have just completed as a Sister of St. Joseph. (Sorry, it’s actually how my mind works!) I was recently asked to talk about what that means so at the risk of posting the longest message you will ever have from me, see what follows here if you are interested.

Women religious have been living for hundreds of years by looking deeply into the eyes of the dear neighbor and seeing the radiance and love of Christ reflected there. To be that love in the world is the reason the Sisters of St. Joseph came to be.

It began with six women sitting in a kitchen discussing the world situation – the immediate world of 17th century France, that is. They saw the poverty and tension visible in the lives of the people of their town, Le Puy en Velay, and decided they had to act. They chose to divide the city up according to need and then went out to meet those needs, visiting prisons and teaching young women to make lace so they would have a way other than prostitution of earning money to feed their children. The Holy Spirit was surely guiding these ministries and continued to do so when the first call came from the United States for Sisters.

In 1836, another small group of six women sailed for St. Louis to teach the deaf and the Native Americans in the surrounding area. In the 180 years since then that the Sisters of St. Joseph have ministered in the United States, times have changed significantly as have the needs of the world. After nearly two centuries of ministry in this country, first building and serving in schools and hospitals, Sisters have now returned to the Spirit of our founding mothers whose vision was to do all the works of which women are capable and which will benefit the dear neighbor. “All the works of which women are capable”…That’s everything, right? We now still serve in schools on every level from daycare/pre-school to universities. We are nurses and healthcare providers of every kind but also artists and spiritual directors, house parents for the disabled or the homeless, musicians, lawyers, officers of organizations, and those whose primary ministry is prayer. We are strong women, not bowed by adversity, who make their voices heard for justice. We are also kind women, peaceful and caring of the poor, and caring as well for this beautiful world in which we live.

We are diverse lovers of God. Oh, yes! We are diverse! In becoming the Congregation of the Great Love of God, (a moniker that we often call on to define ourselves at our best), we have come to understand that diversity does not mean division but rather gives the possibility for growth at every turn so that we can grow together for the good of the world. Religious life is an awesome call, but it is just that: a call. And it is a mystery.

Most Sisters today would be able to speak about their call to some extent, but at the heart of things, definition is impossible. Why, for example, of the 45 young women in 1966 who were discerning their role in life, did five of us who entered the Sisters of St. Joseph move to the novitiate, take temporary vows, all the while continuing to discern the rightness of the call, and then take the step of professing lifelong dedication to God. Why us? If asked we might have to say: “It’s a mystery.” And it is God’s grace that has allowed it to unfold.

Today the life of a woman religious seems not so dissimilar from that of other women and in some ways that is quite true. We are indistinguishable these days from other women in our dress, our activities – and we work alongside other women and men in any number of professional roles. There are also many women I know who are not Consecrated Religious whom I consider much holier than I, although it is useless to judge that. Though the outer framework of our lives seems much like that of others, however, there is a significant difference. There are many women and men who cherish their faith and our religious rituals and whose love of God and prayer life are extraordinary, and yet the fullness of their lives does not abide in a religious community. Some of us, however, after an extended period of discernment come to the conclusion that religious life is, as one writer has expressed it, “the native country of their soul and nothing else can finally satisfy them.” I believe I can say with certainty that after fifty years of living the life, we would most assuredly agree with that statement.


A Cry Heard in Ramah


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asyrianboyToday is not a happy remembrance in the calendar of Church feasts. It is the commemoration of “the Holy Innocents,” the victims of Herod’s massacre of all the baby boys under two years old. Herod was determined to eliminate the possibility that someone – a “new-born” king (Jesus) – would usurp his power. Since he had no idea of where that child might be found, his rage prompted the terrible deed that left so many mothers bereft. It was a fruitless gesture, as violence always is, because Jesus and his parents were well on their way to Egypt when the massacre occurred.

This violence is replicated in our time whenever war and senseless killing happens around the world. I see in my mind’s eye faces of Syrian children in the bombed-out buildings in Aleppo. Closer to home are the images of Sandy Hook just five years ago this month. Although murder is always difficult to endure, the tragedy always seems more horrific when innocent children are killed almost before their lives have begun.

I am praying for parents today, especially for mothers who have lost a child for any reason or no reason at all. For those whose children die because of senseless violence, drug abuse, war, starvation, traffic or other accidents, suicide…so many causes that leave a gaping hole in the hearts of those left behind.

The poignant message of today’s gospel, which Matthew (MT 2:18) saw as
the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, calls for our prayer for the sorrowing today. We cannot ignore the pain of his words that speak to the cry heard in our own day around the world: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”