Value of Leisure

I am spending a few days at our vacation house with friends (both old and new). There is not much on the agenda, just rest, relaxation,  and fun. This kind of time is sacred and oh so important, especially given everything we are always so busy doing.

In fact, our CSJP constitutions recognize this reality beautifully:

"In solidarity with our sisters and brothers
we engage in human labor
as a means of service and sustenance.
We recognize the value of leisure
as contributing to restoration and wholeness.
In these ways we come to share
in the creative power of God." (54)

View at North Lake house. 


Conversation with Jesus

I was remembering a former spiritual director of mine the other day. She was an amazing woman, very insightful,  and an important companion on my own journey. She was also very intense and Christ focused. Often she would ask, with feeling: "Where is Jesus in this? Have you talked to Jesus?"

Today's Gospel story from John reminds me of her. It is the one where Jesus arrives at his friends' house (Mary, Martha,  and Lazarus) after Lazarus has died. In Martha's eyes, Jesus was not there when they needed him. And so she tells him:

   “Lord, if you had been here,
   my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
   God will give you.”

I love the juxtaposition of her real, human, and heartfelt frustration,  anger, and grief with her belief in and love for Jesus.

She doesn't hide behind false piety. She doesn't break the relationship.  She stays with it and talks to Jesus. She doesn't exactly know how things will work out. But she knows that it is important to bring it all to Jesus.

My spiritual director would have been proud.


42: Life, the universe, and everything

Today I turn 42 years of age. As some of you know, in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42 was the answer calculated by Deep Thought, the supercomputer, to the question of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

I certainly do not have life figured out, let alone the meaning of everything! Instead I am feeling a bit more like in this Sunday's first reading. "But I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of your people whom you have chosen ... Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart ..." (1st Kings 3)

This morning I managed to wake up before the sunrise.  Isn't it amazing that everyday,  no matter what happened the day before there the sun is again, making the day new? Reminding us of our creator. Inviting us into the messy and marvelous aspects of what it means to be a child of God.
My prayer this morning of my 42nd birthday is one of gratitude for God's faithful love and deep awe and wonder at both the gifts I experience and the nudges to use my gifts in turn for the good of the whole. 

It is raining now as I write these words, but just 40 minutes ago I was outside and watching the sunrise. Such beauty. Both. Sun and rain. Amen.


Bizarre Yet Beautiful

(and its events)
it seems,
comes in a variety of moods.
Humorous,  playful, daunting,
and perhaps,
from time to time, 
in a more bizarre yet beautiful format
that only God understands,
that only God creates.
All of it is life.
To live life fully is the call.
In the mix.
In the midst.
Community. Family. Friends.


Margaret Anna Friday: On misery

Most Fridays I'm going to share a quote from the founder of my religious community, Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare.

"The nations are involved in misery, their countries are desolated, their families are ruined, their blood is poured forth on every side. And why? Because the teachings of the All-merciful are condemned, are neglected, are forgotten, and men who have boasted of their advancement in science are at fault, are unable to maintain the common rights of man, because they have not cared to learn the sublime lessons of political economy taught them by the Creator and Savior of the world."
~MF Cusack, Book of the Blessed Ones, 1874


$100 dollar for your thoughts

Earlier today I was walking along my merry way from errand to errand, pondering invitation and possibility and the incredible connections and opportunities life brings if we are open to it. As I passed by a parking lot, the attendant stopped me and asked: "If I could give you a $100 for your thoughts, what are you thinking about as you walk?"

Recognizing that the $100 in question was purely hypothetical, my first thought was that the price of the thoughts of strangers has gone up faster than inflation! But he looked like a nice gentleman, and so I paused and told him that in fact I was deep in thought about an invitation to consider taking on a new role and doing something new. He actually seemed quite surprised that I responded, but he wished me luck on new endeavors.

What I didn't tell him is that I'm headed to New Jersey tomorrow to spend some time in prayer and conversation with my CSJP Sisters about the possibility of leaving my name in for elected leadership of my Congregation. Fourteen of us will be attending a discernment retreat at our retreat house on the Jersey shore this weekend.  Our Chapter (when the new team will be elected) is not until September. This weekend is a time to get away and ponder whether the Spirit might be calling us to share our gifts in this particular time and in this particular way. I haven't mentioned this on the blog before specifically, but regular readers might have been attuned to an uptick in posts of a discerning nature. This would be why.

I feel the love, support, and prayers of the entire Congregation and a deep peace at keeping my name in the mix for the discernment process. The 14 women who I will spend the next few days with are prayerful, faithful, women of peace with a deep love of the congregation and a commitment to God's people. It will be a privilege to enter this sacred time and space with them.

Tonight I'm headed out for an early birthday dinner with my father and then head to the airport early tomorrow. Most likely I won't be posting for a few days until after the retreat.

Until we "meet" again, please pray for the Sisters attending the discernment weekend.  In the words of our Congregation Chapter prayer:

Come Holy Spirit, refresh and renew us,
draw us deeply into your love, 
soften our hearts, rouse our spirits,
open us to all that the Congregation Chapter may entail.
St. Joseph, dreamer and practical one,
help us live our dreams into reality.
May the whole of creation
rejoice in God’s justice and live in God’s peace.
We pray with confidence and faith. Amen


Feast of Mary Magdalene

Today is the Feast of Mary Magdalene. Faithful friend of Jesus, Apostle to the Apostles. I love this icon of her from Micky McGrath, OSFS. "At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn."

This morning, praying with the Gospel story of Mary at the tomb in John, I was struck with the fact that Mary saw the Risen Christ because she stayed at the tomb weeping. It was her relationship with her friend Jesus and her emotional life that opened her up to the joy of the Resurrection. 

"They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put them." Was she confused? Yes. Even after she saw the Risen Christ (and mistook him for the gardener!), she was confused. 

But our Jesus can work with confusion. God does not need us to have it all figured out.  We need to show up, live with open hearts, and share the Good News.

Pray for us, St. Mary Magdalene, that through the confusion and tears we too may see the Risen Christ and be transformed through the hope of the Resurrection.


Inspiration for life

Today's first reading from Micah was one that helped inspire this blog, has accompanied my ongoing discernment in life, and guides my daily living of the vows.

As I wrote in the first post on this blog almost 10 years ago in the early days of my vocation discernment:

"The following scripture passage has been very present to me the past few months...

'You have been told, O people, what is good, and what Yahweh asks of you: Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God'. - Michah 6:8

Is it possible that it's really that simple? ... The invitation to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God is just too good not to at least check out .... and so I am."

And so I continue each day. As it happens, my congregation's vow formula is also inspired by this Scripture passage. These are the words I said when I professed my perpetual vows:
In response to God's call to seek justice, to love tenderly, and to talk in the way of peace, I, Susan Rose Francois, in the presence of our Congregation Leader, and in the presence of the community gathered here, vow to God, poverty, celibacy, and obedience, for life, according to the Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
.... each and every day.


On Mustard: the call to be pesty weeds for God

This Sunday's Gospel story includes the parable about mustard seed. The best reflection I have ever heard on this comes from Sister Pat Farrell's 2012 address at LCWR:
Joyful hope is the hallmark of genuine discipleship. We look forward to a future full of hope, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Hope makes us attentive to signs of the inbreaking of the Reign of God. Jesus describes that coming reign in the parable of the mustard seed.

Let us consider for a moment what we know about mustard. Though it can also be cultivated, mustard is an invasive plant, essentially a weed. The image you see is a variety of mustard that grows in the Midwest. Some exegetes tell us that when Jesus talks about the tiny mustard seed growing into a tree so large that the birds of the air come and build their nest in it, he is probably joking. To imagine birds building nests in the floppy little mustard plant is laughable. It is likely that Jesus’ real meaning is something like Look, don’t imagine that in following me you’re going to look like some lofty tree. Don’t expect to be Cedars of Lebanon or anything that looks like a large and respectable empire. But even the floppy little mustard plant can support life. Mustard, more often than not, is a weed. Granted, it’s a beautiful and medicinal weed. Mustard is flavorful and has wonderful healing properties. It can be harvested for healing, and its greatest value is in that. But mustard is usually a weed. It crops up anywhere, without permission. And most notably of all, it is uncontainable. It spreads prolifically and can
take over whole fields of cultivated crops. You could even say that this little nuisance of a weed was illegal in the time of Jesus. There were laws about where to plant it in an effort to keep it under control.

Now, what does it say to us that Jesus uses this image to describe the Reign of God? Think about it. We can, indeed, live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the movement of God’s Spirit. Our hope is in the absolutely uncontainable power of God. We who pledge our lives to a radical following of Jesus can expect to be seen as pesty weeds that need to be fenced in. If the weeds of God’s Reign are stomped out in one place they will crop up in another. I can hear, in that, the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero “If I am killed, I will arise in the Salvadoran people.”

And so, we live in joyful hope, willing to be weeds one and all. We stand in the power of the dying and rising of Jesus. I hold forever in my heart an expression of that from the days of the dictatorship in Chile: “Pueden aplastar algunas flores, pero no pueden detener la primavera.” “They can crush a few flowers but they can’t hold back the springtime.” 

How/where are you called to be a pesty weed for the reign of God?


Resisting Evil ... Forging Hope

The liturgical readings for this Saturday seem tailor made for our present news cycle.

From the prophet Micah, we hear:

Woe to those who plan iniquity,and work out evil on their couches; In the morning light they accomplish it when it lies within their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them; They cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance.
The Psalmist writes:
Why, O LORD, do you stand aloof? Why hide in times of distress? Proudly the wicked harass the afflicted,who are caught in the devices the wicked have contrived. 
For the wicked man glories in his greed, and the covetous blasphemes, sets the LORD at nought.The wicked man boasts, “He will not avenge it”;“There is no God,” sums up his thoughts. 
And then in Matthew's Gospel: 
The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesusto put him to death. When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.
Our present news cycle is filled with the consequences of evil planned on couches. Peoples are plotting against other peoples or closing their hearts and doors to compassion and our common humanity. There are good news stories to be sure as well, but those do not get the air time. Instead, we are submerged in woe.

Jesus could have been submerged in woe. People were literally planning his death. And what does he do? He withdraws from the place ... he was a man of deep prayer. Yet when people followed him, he did not ignore them or push them away, but ministered to them.

At our last CSJP Congregation Chapter, we wrote these words in our Chapter Act: "We live in a society marked strongly by the violence of war, violence to people through poverty and a sense of powerlessness and alienation, violence to earth, sea, and sky--violence that is truly cosmic."  Those words would also fit our present news cycle! As a community pursuing justice and seeking God's peace, how did we respond in our Chapter Act? "In response we commit ourselves to grow more deeply toward a nonviolent way of being and acting as peacemakers." Like Jesus, our call is to withdraw (resist) and to respond in hope.

A few months ago I read something by the great liberation theologian Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez regarding hope. I'd like to end this Saturday morning reflection with his words:
Hope is, in the first place, a gift from God. Accepting this gift opens followers of Jesus to the future and to trust … God’s gift is not an easy hope. But as fragile as it may seem, it is capable of planting roots in the world of social insignificance, in the world of the poor, and of breaking out and remaining creative and alive even in the midst of difficult situations. Nonetheless, hope is not waiting; rather it should lead us actively to resolve to forge reasons for hope.
No matter what the news, let us resolve to forge reasons for hope.


Margaret Anna Fridays - Personal, Prompt, and Practical Action

It's been a while since Margaret Anna Fridays have appeared on the blog.  Reviving the tradition, most Fridays, I’m going to share a quote from the founder of my groovy sisters, Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare. Here is today's installment:

The trouble is that poverty in the aggregate touches no one’s heart; it is no one’s business; the consideration of the matter is put off as too much of an outside question to need personal, prompt, and practical action.-The Question of Today: Anti-Poverty and Progress, Labor and Capital, M.F. Cusack, 1887



This month I'm attending the Summer Institute of the National Religious Vocation Conference, otherwise known as "Vocation Director School."  This is in preparation for moving into vocation ministry next year when I finish my degree.  I believe with all my heart in the future of religious life and my own community, and I suspect that God is indeed calling women to join us in our mission of peace. This course is to give me some of the nuts and bolts around how you actually promote vocations and work with candidates.

The last few days we've been focused on the application and screening process. I've had flashbacks to my own experience of completing the application for candidacy to my community, which of course is documented on this blog. My reaction from the way back machine? "Whew! Guess this would winnow out those who weren’t so serious."

Seriously. This is important stuff. You want to make sure that the people who join your community are able to live the life as a Sister fully ... for life. That requires a certain level of screening and assessment which is more than understandable. However, if I thought the process seemed daunting from the side of the applicant, looking at it from the side of the Vocation Director can be just as daunting!

Which is where today's readings come in. As I prayed with the Scripture this morning, I found myself reflecting both on the the first reading and the Gospel.

From Isaiah: 
O LORD, you mete out peace to us,for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.

From Matthew's Gospel:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,for I am meek and humble of heart;and you will find rest for yourselves.For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

The take away? Perspective. And trust. As we say in our CSJP Constitutions:

As we live our vows each daywe trust that Christ's blessing promisedto peacemakers will sustain us,knowing that God working in uswill accomplish more than we can askor imagine.

My task these weeks is to soak up as much information as I can that will help me when I move into this ministry. I will also learn from the current vocation director (who was my own awesome vocation director by the way!) as I develop my own plan for this ministry. I will work with the other Sisters on the vocation team, leadership, and the whole community. We all share in our love of community and desire to continue to release the charism. Ultimately, then, my/our role is to show up and follow Jesus, trusting that God working in us will accomplish what needs to be done, even that which we cannot yet imagine.