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Giving Thanks Through it All

27 Nov


The world is crying. Yet we are called to continue, from the depth of sorrow, to give thanks.

Lord, hear my prayer;
listen to my plea for mercy.
I call on You in the day of my distress,
for You will answer me.

-Psalm 86:6-7

Thank goodness for the Psalms. There are as many psalms as there are human emotions. A psalm for every season, every combination of sentiments we have inside of us. The psalms give us words to pray and pray and pray again even when we can barely speak, even when we’re not sure if we believe every word, even when we are close to losing hope.

The psalms reflect the wonderful paradox in our faith. We see a broken world. We sit in the hurt of the attacks in Paris. We look for our place in support of innocent Syrian refugees. We know that sin, sickness and death will always exist. Yet we believe in a God who comes into this broken world, who lives with us, walks with us. And we have faith that this God will conquer sin and death. So in the midst of brokenness, we believe in and respond with hope.

This Thanksgiving, in the muck of horrible news and a world in pain, we find words in the Psalms to help us continue to give thanks.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he
is good,
for his steadfast love endures

-Psalm 136:1

This life is Bountiful. And as the singer-songwriter Peter Mayer so joyously puts it:

You don’t just say grace
Before you dig in
You stand and dance and sway
Around the kitchen
And feast your eyes, astounded by
What you’ve been given
Before you even
Sit down
In Bountiful

I am thankful. I cry with the world. I give thanks. I sit down in bountiful.

Gospel Reflection for November 29, 2015, 1st Sunday of Advent

24 Nov

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 33.14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3.12-4.2; Luke 21.25-28, 34-36

“Stay watchful.”

(Luke 21.36)

Advent begins with a gospel that imagines Jesus coming in glory. The gospel fairly froths with frightening images. Scary gospels can hardly worry us more than our everyday headlines and breaking news. Refugees swarm north across border after border, seeking a safe future for their families. Climate change threatens our planet.

Beginning next Sunday in Paris the United Nations sponsors the 21st meeting among nations to negotiate a limit on global warming to 2 degrees celsius. We are inextricable bound together on our home planet. We are all neighbors profoundly called to cooperate and survive together. What we know we want for our own families is what refugees and immigrants are seeking – safety, education, a future. Jesus insists that the loving actions he teaches and lives will get us through not only every day but any day.

Who do you see as a source of hope we humans can help build a world in which all can thrive?

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Refugees Are Dear Neighbors

19 Nov

Good Ground Press is a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.  Our congregation has published the following public statement in regard to Syrian refugees:

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are heartbroken and outraged by the recent violence perpetrated around the world in places like Paris, Beirut, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

As we join the world in grieving those killed and injured in these attacks, we refuse to allow the actions of radical groups to push us to respond with anything but love and mercy. We urge people around the world and their governments to embrace the refugees fleeing violence and hatred and welcome them into the sanctuary of our countries. Syrian refugees, fleeing a brutal civil war, are themselves victims of ISIS.

Certainly, preventing any future attacks is of utmost importance, but refusing the deserving, carefully-vetted Syrian refugees who are in the process of being resettled in the United States is not the answer. These refugees go through multiple layers of interviews and rigorous security checks. These measures ensure that we can both welcome these refugees and ensure our national security.

We were challenged by Pope Francis in his address to Congress on September 24: “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. … We must not be taken aback by their numbers but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation in ways that are always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

Our charism calls us to love God and love the Dear Neighbor without distinction. We will not distinguish people by religion, color or creed when they cry out for mercy. Let us all respond to our Dear Neighbors with love in their hour of greatest need.

The sadness of so many killed in the terrorist attacks spreads through families and coworkers and touches us all.  In response to our expression of solidarity with our French colleagues at Bayard-Presse in Paris, we heard today:
“Thank you for your message which provides warm thoughts.  The week has been quite chaotic.  One of our freelance editors has been killed in the concert hall Bataclan.  We keep hope that peace will recover but the middle east is fully at war and we pay a very high price in front of this situation.”

War brings with it so much to mourn on every side.

Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ
Good Ground Press

Gospel Reflection for November 22, 2015, Christ the King

17 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Sapphire Dream Photography

Photo via Flickr user Sapphire Dream Photography

Sunday Scripture Readings: Daniel 7.13-14; Revelation 1.5-8; John 18.33-37

Jesus tells Pilate, ” My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to save me from being handed over. My kingdom is not from here.”

(John 18.36)

The final Sunday of the Church year, the Feast of Christ the King, holds up in Jesus an alternative vision of power for leaders in the world. Jesus testifies to truth that is not armed and ready to fight but to the truth he demonstrates in feeding the hungry, giving sight tot he blind, raising Lazarus. Jesus reveals God’s power is love that heals and gives life. To follow Jesus we must testify to the truth within us, in the gospels, and in our tradition that recognizes the sacredness of every person.

This week as we lament with the people of France who have experienced terrorist attacks, we need also to ask how we can build up the kingdom Jesus is talking about — the unarmed work of building world community. The representative from our district is the only Muslim in Congress. Yesterday he stood on the steps of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, urging people to extend their hands and introduce ourselves to the followers of Islam among our neighbors.

How can you be an instrument of peace where you live?

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Year of Mercy

17 Nov

Our Year of Mercy begins December 8th!


Pope Francis wants each of us to be “an oasis of mercy.” Keep his wish alive in your home, school, or parish with this beautiful poster. Together we can bring Jesus’ spirit of love to our world.

Click here to download your FREE poster and forward it to a friend. Help the oasis creep into the desert.



Social Action Has Two Feet!

12 Nov


The Sacred Space Between

6 Nov
Photo via Flickr user romanlily

Photo via Flickr user romanlily

When I practice the warrior two pose in yoga, my instructor invites us to fix our gaze somewhere in the space between our reaching middle finger and the wall. What we tend to see as dead space, I have come to see as a calming focal point. This intentional gaze has helped me see and feel the space between things, between people, between God and me. When I pray to start my session with youth, I ask God to be present and alive among us, and I picture God’s love in that space between. I can see it and feel it, God’s love and presence. God draws near but does not overwhelm us.

God makes space for us to be ourselves.

I love this idea from Rabbi Sacks about God being a parent who loves us enough to give us room to grow.

There has to be separation before there can be connection. We have to have the space to be ourselves if we are to be good children to our parents, and we have to allow our children the space to be themselves if we are to be good parents.

God loves us as a parent loves a child – but a parent who truly loves their child makes space for the child to develop his or her own identity. It is the space we create for one another that allows love to be like sunlight to a flower, not like a tree to the plants that grow beneath. The role of love, human and Divine, is, in the lovely phrase of Irish poet John O’Donohue, “to bless the space between us”.

God gives us space. Moses wanders in the wilderness. God tells Abraham to leave his father’s house. Jacob gets sent away. Humans seem to understand what God does: space is a key component to love and growth. My sister-in-law just returned to her kids after a week long silent retreat. Creating this space from the people we love can be scary and hard at times, but we need to follow God’s lead and recognize the space we all need to grow. We dream most vividly when we are in a strange place.

I have been a mom for almost a year. It is the most intense, intertwined love I have ever felt. Sometimes, in an amazing way, the intensity of the love feels heavy. I have only been away from my son for one day since he was born. We have been steadfast companions.

Recently, my spouse sent me a blog post on motherhood that had this line in it:

Though you may never have parenthood all figured out, there will be a day when you will find a way to wrap that love around yourself, instead of being buried in it.

It’s true. As we head toward a year, I feel myself emerging from being buried in this amazing, consuming love. The other parts of my identity are waking up again to mingle with the mom in me. In human relationships, there can be aching and longing involved in distance. I am grieving a little as with my baby starting to walk and needed less milk. As he becomes more of a person, his dependence on me changes. But the love doesn’t. It has been important for me to remember that the space between us is sacred, and important for us both. God gives us space and asks us to give that space to each other. In the sacred space between, there is room for us to love and to grow. It helps to see the space between as holy and remember that God is breathing there.

Keeping Faith

4 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Michael W. May

Photo via Flickr user Michael W. May

My memories of the notorious sixties are not the free love and abandon of the sexual revolution but the incredible revival of the Catholic Church at Vatican II and the civil rights marches upending Jim Crow.  In that decade we experienced finding a way where there is no way.  The impossible can come to be.

The Second Vatican Council proved to be a crack that let the light of the modern world into the Church and let the Church loose in the world to do the work of justice and mercy.  The most revolutionary document of Vatican II called the people of God to solidarity with the least among us—“the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of this world especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of God” (Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #1).

Many Catholics have learned to put their faith into action and do the works of mercy and justice that Gaudium et Spes calls forth.  Liberation theologies arose in Latin America and spread as ways to give voice to people at the base of society and work with them for justice.  Pope Francis deliberately set the Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8, the golden anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which passed at the very end of the Council.  Pope Francis wants Vatican II to live and evolve.

I hoped the Synod on the Family might turn out to be a mini-Vatican II.  It met in October for three weeks after meeting for its first session in fall 2014.  After the first session Pope Francis called for consultation and listening sessions with the people of God in dioceses throughout the world.  Although the official consultation questions proved unusable, people found ways to communicate their insights and family issues to their bishops and Rome.

At the synod Pope Francis called for bold and frank talk.  He had bishops work in small groups to interact more.  The heads of religious orders auditing the synod ceded three of their six seats to women, so their three minutes each are in the record.

The 270 bishops who gathered aren’t exactly family men.  Some note they hear about family problems in hearing confessions.  Perhaps some have carried the smell of the dirty diapers or a baby’s spit-up from helping out with nieces and nephews or friends’ children.  Perhaps they have stood in for grandparents or aunts and uncles, corralled two year olds, lived their drama with adolescents, and scrounged rent when a boss cut back work hours.  Perhaps they have paid the rent for a person at the backdoor of the parish house.

I hoped that 270 bishops would bless remarried couples.  Pope Francis sped up annulments. The synod kept the door open by urging pastors to work with couples case by case and respect their consciences.  I hoped the 270 bishops could hear the sensus fidelium on the issue of contraception and pronounce the time of death.  The people of God have widely exercised their consciences on this issue.  I hoped the 270 bishops could accept that moms and moms and dads and dads can love and commit to each other and raise children.  But that would have been a surprise and – shock in some African countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Perhaps for a bishop it is hard to go forward without making past judgments seem fallible.  But in an evolutionary cosmos God comes to us from the future, urging us to all we can become, not just from the past.  The Holy Spirit has been at work in our world, making it new from the beginning.  The gospel has been at work for 2000 years, teaching us to keep the two great commandments.  We keep on.

These are the hopes of an educated white woman in North America.  I’m not a widow in Kenya who wonders what will become of the ten AIDs orphans she has taken in, nor am I a dad carrying a child on his back on the walk from Syria to safety in Germany.

Many cannot imagine marriage or civil union between same sex couples.  Since the seventies I have wondered why the Church and society doesn’t expect fidelity of same sex couples just as we do of men and women.  This is happening now that GBLTQ relationships are more out and public.  Partners I know reveal everyday they can love each other, their children, their parents, their friends.  The word is out they can keep the two great commandments of Jesus in the gospels.  We of the Church need to work at realigning moral law with biological science, Jesus’ gospel message, and people’s lives today.

“We discover the possible from the real.”  Karl Rahner

Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

All Souls’ Day Prayer

2 Nov
Photo via Catholic Relief Services Facebook page.

Photo via Catholic Relief Services Facebook page.


Today we remember and honor the memory of our loved ones who have passed on, as well as for those who have passed on around the world. Click here to view the full prayer from Catholic Relief Services.

Extravagant Wastefulness

23 Oct

Sara Groves has a new album coming out soon. In preparation for that, she allowed a film crew to follow her around while she ran errands, and what came out spoke to me loud and clear.

She speaks about how pragmatism has infected every institution, including the church. We focus on usefulness, and as a singer and songwriter, she thinks it is the artist’s job to push back on that undercurrent. Artists, in order to create, need to take up an amount of space that seems extravagant and wasteful to the rest of the world.

I have found that to be true as a writer as well. My professor would say, “If writers don’t take time to be contemplative, who will? That is our role in society, to be brave enough to do nothing. To sit and think. To go on long walks in the rain and to not speak until we have something to say.” When I went to study writing, I worked hard and fast. I was considered productive and useful. As my teacher, she pushed me to slow down, to count doing nothing and sitting and thinking as the most necessary part of the process. Writing stopped seeming like production and started feeling like art. It started to feel decadent and wonderfully extravagant. If I rushed, I could produce something, but it didn’t glow. I had to embrace the subversive parts of the creative process. I had to be wasteful with my time.

Groves reminds us that the push to be useful is so strong that when we take a break to contemplate or create or do nothing, we feel guilty. We have to carve out time to take Sabbath, to take a long walk, to let God speak to our hearts. The children, the older folks, the artists, the homeless, they are good at taking up this space. They have let go of this drive to be useful and sit in the pocket of being. They are inviting us into this extravagant wastefulness where we are not useful, we are not productive, but there is space for God to speak. There is space for beauty to be created.

Being a working mom, I am struggling to carve out that time. I want to return to it, but how? Taking a whole day off does feels extravagant and wasteful. And essential. So I am beginning as I always do, with small steps. I am going to pick a day each week to stay away from my phone and computer. I am going to let my child invite me into a whole day of extravagant play. I know, deep down, God will meet me there in that space. The space the world may call wasteful, God calls sacred.


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