Joy in Jesus’ Good News

23 Jun

by Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Joy brims over in our circles of sisters and associates that gather on Wednesdays to talk about Pope Francis’s exhortation Joy of the Gospel.  Spreading joy is his intent.  Its source―“a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” or at least opening ourselves to let Jesus encounter us.  His writing infects us with hope, Catholics and Protestants alike in our groups.

What is so infectious?  Francis writes out of his real life, what he prays and lives daily.  God loves us.  This is what Pope Francis wants us to experience and teach our children.  No one can take way the joy that God loves us.

The cross he wears images Jesus as a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, a lost sheep.  Francis identifies with the lost sheep.  “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking mercy.  Time and again Christ carries us on his shoulders.  No one can strip us of the dignity of God bestowing boundless, unfailing love” (3).

Francis wants an evangelizing church that shares the joy of God’s love for us, a Church that is poor and for the poor.  Sharing our joy is really how Francis defines evangelization.  Joy attracts others.  It bubbles over into love of neighbors.  It infects us with hope.

“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.  That is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (23).

God excludes no one, which is why Francis goes on to call for a global economy of inclusion.  “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh Christ in others” (24).  Francis wants us to smell like the sheep.

If you want to start talking about Joy of the Gospel, just type in the title online and print a copy or buy a book copy at your local Catholic bookstore or on Amazon.  Here are the questions we used to talk about paragraphs 1-49.  This blog will continue with other chapters.

1.    What joy do you experience in the Gospel, in your relationship with Jesus?  How does your experience compare with Francis’s description?  (paragraph 3)

2.    What does Francis think threatens our capacity for joy?  What threats do you experience? (2)

3.    What call do you hear in Francis’s urging us to become evangelizers who “take on the smell of the sheep?”  What sheep do you or should you smell like?  (24)

4.    How have base communities or small Christian communities helped sustain your commitment as a Christian?  How can parishes contribute to renewal?  (28)

5.    What message is “most essential, most beautiful, most grand, most appealing, and most necessary” in your mind? (35)  What communicates the gospel today?  What burdens people?

6.    “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.  …The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (47).  What changes does Francis want to inspire in the church?

Justice Through Sport

17 Jun
via flickr user Corpus Christi Soccer Academy

via flickr user Corpus Christi Soccer Academy

When I lived in Uruguay, I took a trip to see my friends in Argentina during the 2006 World Cup. It was thrilling to live in South America during the Cup, to be among people who loved the sport and were devoted to their team. We went to a local joint to watch the Argentina-Germany game. In a heart-breaking match, Germany advanced on a penalty shoot- out after being tied 1-1 during regulation time. The folks in Argentina were totally devastated. On the streets after the game, I, with my blond hair and blue eyes, got accused of being German on multiple occasions. It felt a little intimidating. These people take their soccer very seriously.

“No, no, I’m not German. I’m American. I was cheering for Argentina!”

It was the one time in Argentina that being from the United States just about saved me life.

After living among soccer enthusiasts, I was not at all surprised to see that Pope Francis had something to say about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. After all, he came to the Vatican from Argentina.

“To win, we must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, intolerance and manipulation of people,” he said. He said being “greedy” in football, as in life, is an obstacle.

“Let nobody turn their back on society and feel excluded!” he said. “No to segregation! No to racism!”


“Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also — and above all I would say — a tool to communicate values that promote the good that is in humans and help build a more peaceful and fraternal society,” he said.  (READ THE FULL HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE)

Historically, sports have been at the forefront of social change. The influence of the global athletic stage is not to be discounted. There have been athletes so talented, so enticing to watch, they have broken open social movements: Jackie Robinson, Mohammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Tony Smith and John Carlos, Billy Jean King, Magic Johnson and Gareth Thomas to name a few. A victory in the sporting arena can feel like a victory for an entire marginalized people. Athletics becomes a staging for life itself. And soccer is the world’s sport. I know from being welcomed into soccer games in El Salvador, Uruguay and Kenya that soccer is a universal language. Any patch of ground can be a pitch. Any two objects can make a goal. You don’t even need a ball. I’ve met amazing soccer players all over the world who started out as kids practicing with nothing more than some paper tied up with a string. Soccer has the power of universality. Maybe that’s why Pope Francis has such a large collection of soccer jerseys. And why he is hoping that the World Cup can be a celebration of solidarity.

If there is a sport that has world power, it’s soccer. And it’s biggest, most strategic stage to do some good is the World Cup. How interesting that Pope Francis knows that, cares, and is using the event to remind us what is truly important.


13 Jun

A few years ago my friend invited me to a join her at a yoga retreat on the North Shore. It proved to be an important invitation to accept. I had been practicing yoga for a few years, but was still very much a beginner. I had little experience in Iyengar yoga and had not experienced the restorative power of the practice. My cabin at the retreat overlooked Lake Superior. The air off the lake was chilly in June. I spent hours between classes sitting on the Adirondack chair reading and watching the sky change over the water. Twice a day a small group gathered in the yoga center to practice. We took saunas. We shared in a vegetarian potluck. This, for me, was retreat at its best. There was movement and rest, silence and conversation, ample sun without ample heat. Everywhere I turned it was gorgeous. When I returned home, I actually felt like a different person. My mind, body and spirit were awake and calm, rested.


The morning after my return, a co-worker tilted his head at me and said, “What’s different about you? Did you cut your hair?” He couldn’t put his finger on it, but to him, I looked different physically. I wasn’t surprised. I felt different at my core, at the cellular level. It was incredible. I told him about the weekend and he said, “Wow, that must have been some retreat. You’re glowing.”

This weekend I’m going back to the same retreat. Now, three years of yoga learning later, I am even more aware of how little I know. I’m excited to learn, and I’m equally excited to get away. I’m bringing my spouse, good food, good books, good podcasts and lots of comfy clothes. Dan and I are giddy in anticipation of a few days in a new place, away, in nature, finding balance between movement and rest, silence and conversation, sun and shade.

The word retreat can have a subtle negative residue, maybe from old wartime images of retreating– running from, backing down, defensively on our heels. But it doesn’t feel like I’m running away from anything. This retreat feels like I am running toward my own body, my partner and my God. I know those things are here and now, too, but breaking routine is a gift that I cherish. I believe in retreating. I retreat myself and bring young people on retreats all the time. Every time, I think of people who simply can’t retreat. Taking enough time in a new place to find renewal and rejuvenation can come at a cost. I believe leisure time, this time of reflection, is a human right not a luxury. It’s good for the body, mind and soul. Yet the middle class is shrinking and the working poor population is growing. Retreating for some is becoming a luxury.

I think of this coming retreat as a check-in and a check-up. It’s a chance to listen to God through nature, through my partner, my teacher, my friends, the silence and myself. I hope to come home refreshed and renewed, conscious and grateful, ready to continue to encourage retreat and work for a world where are people are able to embrace the humanity of leisure time.

Gospel Reflection for June 22, 2014, Body and Blood of Christ

12 Jun

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

John 6.51

John’s gospel equates faith in Jesus with faith in Jesus’ signs. Faith that this blood is real drink and this flesh is real food is the same as faith Jesus is really from God.  Eucharist is a commitment we live out.  To share the Body of Christ in this sacrament is to commit to give one’s self for the life of the world as Jesus did.

How has participating in Eucharist nourished and transformed you over time?


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Gospel Reflection for June 15, 2014, Trinity Sunday

10 Jun

“God so loved the world, that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”

John 3.16

God is the shared life at the heart of the universe, three in one love.  We must constantly be aware that when we use language to name God, we are using metaphors.  When we call God father, we are saying God is like fathers we know.  We, and the scriptures, also call God mother, friend, and lover.  These, too, are only images.

Many people, especially women, experience a problem in our use of so much male language to name God.  Sometimes maleness seems the essence of the triune God.  As some theologians point out, if God is male, then the male is God.  None of us wants to limit God to being in our own image, and especially not to just one gender image.  It is important to name God as richly and fully as we can.

What names of God have meaning for you and have helped you call on God in times of difficulty or joy?

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Face to Face

3 Jun

In a beautiful blog post about idolatry, human encounter and the Ark of the Covenant, Evan Wolkenstein writes:

In Parashat Terumah, the Israelites receive the blueprints for a majestic tent—the mishkan—that will eventually house the magnificent Ark of the Covenant. As we read the vivid description, we can picture its grandeur. During the Israelites’ journeys through the desert, the mishkan serves as a portable temple, with the home of God’s indwelling, the Ark, at its center.1 The Israelite tribes camp around it, placing it at the heart of the nation.While the detailed beauty of the Ark sounds stunning, the medieval commentator Abravanel wonders about its design. The first of the Divine Laws prohibits graven images of any kind, replications of any being, heavenly or earthly.2 But upon the cover of the ark perch two cherubim, winged human forms.3 It would seem that by including these forms, God is breaking God’s own Law. There is a possible resolution to this seeming contradiction in the very details of space and shape that make this parashah and its focus on design so fascinating. “From above the cover,” says God, “from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant,”4 God will meet with humanity. The voice of God emerges not from the mouth of any graven image, but from the empty space between two faces.

I love the idea that God emerges from the empty space between two faces. God shows up in human encounter. When I lived in Uruguay, we took an afternoon break to sit together and drink mate, which required a thermos of hot water, loose tea leaves in a gourd and a special metal straw. Mate was the excuse, but the ritual was about human encounter.

via flickr user angel de olavide

via flickr user angel de olavide

In the US, for me it tends to look like inviting people to sit down to drink coffee or eat food together. Just the other day, I sat with three different friends individually throughout the day — one for morning coffee, one for lunch, and one for dinner. I woke the next morning filled with a sense of intimate and abundant love and joy, but I was also tired. The act of sacred listening and vulnerable sharing in honest conversation takes energy from our entire beings. So much so, that at times we forget to truly show up in these encounters. We pace ourselves to get through our days by presenting a veiled version of our truest selves. But that is one place God has promised to show up.

When I am feeling burned out at work, for example, I imagine the two cherubim with God dwelling in the empty space between the two faces. I go through my day more intentionally looking people in the eye, asking how they are and waiting, open to really hear the answer. It takes discipline and a different posturing. I always move more slowly on those days. I generally get much less “work” “accomplished.” But I also get re-energized about that work that I am supposed to be accomplishing.

Wolkenstein goes on to say, “In other words, if idolatry is to hear the voice of God emerging from a block of gold, then the opposite of idolatry is to see God’s face in every human being, to hear God’s voice emerging from the relationship of any two beings, face to face, eye to eye, ish el achiv—from one person to another.” Our society could benefit from less blocks of gold and more face to face encounters of true listening. I think of drone strikes, anonymous internet bullying and screaming politicians. I think of gated communities, texting during dinner and people in prison or the hospital or nursing homes who don’t get visitors. Then I think of the two cherubim on the Ark. Encounters are the true gold. God promises to dwell with us, among us, when our communities prioritize sacred human encounters.

Gospel Reflection for June 8, 2014, Pentecost

3 Jun
 Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

John 20.21

In this Easter appearance Jesus gives his friends a purpose that makes the passage a fitting Pentecost gospel. Jesus sends disciples as the Father sent him. He commissions them and us to continue his mission. For this purpose Jesus breathes his animating Spirit upon them just as the Creator breathed life into the first humans in Genesis 2.24.

What nudgings of the Spirit do you perceive recurring in you?  How do you respond?


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28 May

On Sunday I got into a kayaking accident. We had missed the warning that the creek was to be avoided due to water speed and rapid strength. The accident could be a blog post on it’s own. The rapids flipping me into cold May water, me fighting to get my feet out in front of me and having to just let go as the current turned me backward so I couldn’t see the rocks coming that would have their way with me– I know there was a lesson for me somewhere in there about hubris or the current of life or the rocks on the journey that hurt less if we relax. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Two flips of the kayak left me chattering, bleeding, bruised and a little shook up.  I was also missing a water bottle, a track jacket, two flip flops and my wedding ring.

At first, none of these losses meant anything to me. I’m try not to get attached to stuff. But over the week, I started missing my wedding ring. It wasn’t particularly valuable—it was a titanium band I ordered online for under $100. I could order another. And I knew intellectually that not having a ring did not change any aspect of my actual marriage. But it had, over the years, grown to mean something to me as a symbol.

via flickr user CubanRefugee

via flickr user CubanRefugee

This week I have been pondering the need of humans to have tangible transitional objects for our biggest moments of joy and pain. Words will never express what becoming married has meant to me over the years, but somehow my ring had captured some of it and held it for me, reflected back to me. I miss the comfort that came with twisting it absent-mindedly during the day.

My friend, when she miscarried, decided to plant a tree in her yard  so symbolize the life that took hold in her body for a short while. The tree is a tangible, visible companion for her family and continues to bring her great comfort. Someday she will tell her beautiful daughter about the tree, too.

A young theater tech major was biking through Madison the summer before his senior year when he got hit by a drunk driver and died. The theater department dedicated the entire season to him, and after the last show, the tech director presented a box made out of pieces of wood from each of the sets with his name on it. His classmates, whose handprints were all over the wood from hours of building, rehearsal, performing and strike, placed items of importance in the memorial box during a dedication ceremony.

Our limited human brains cannot fully process and comprehend things like the love of God or the pain of death. We strive to use words, but they fall short. These objects– the cross, bread and wine– can bring a glimpse of the intangible world to us so that we can assign meaning to them, touch them and believe. What symbols do you lean on in your life to bring meaning to the mystery?

Gifts of the Spirit

22 May

Each weekday morning at our house progresses remarkably the same. My bleary-eyed sons stumble their way downstairs to cuddle with me for a bit before watching a show of their choice on The viewing of a television episode insures that I can have approximately twenty-three minutes to myself to shower and get ready for the day. I frequently use this wonderfully quiet alone time to reflect on and mentally work through challenges I am facing: a writing project on which I am blocked, an intractable issue involving my sons for which there seems to be no creative solution, a break in a relationship that seems resistant to mending. Often, as my sons’ refrain of “Is it time for breakfast, mom?” rings in my ears all too soon, the thought upon which my rumination ends is, “I want someone to tell me it is going to be okay.”

It has been interesting to be able to put this refrain into words (perhaps this ability coincides with my children getting old enough to do a bit more for themselves, thus freeing me for more self-care and self-reflection than the first few years of their lives made possible). I think it is a bass note that has been there all along, and it is only now that I am able to hear it more clearly and to think about what it portends. The first part (“I want someone”) indicates a desire for relationship, for companionship, for feeling that I am not alone in the world as I face its prosaic and more extraordinary challenges. The second part (“to tell me it is going to be okay”) means that I do not want people to fix things for me, but rather to assure me that I have the strength to make it through.

via flickr user justinbaeder

via flickr user justinbaeder

In the realm of human relationships, I am beginning to see how this need for a supportive someone in my life says little about the friends and family I already have and everything about me. If I want someone to tell me it is going to be okay, I first have to be willing to tell someone that I am not okay. Sharing my vulnerability, owning up to the times when I feel over my head, and openly expressing my emotions is truly challenging to me. When I do not do these things, I deprive the important people in my life the opportunity to be there for me. If I cannot open up about my weakness, they won’t know to reflect back to me what they see as my power and ability.

This Sunday’s Gospel from John 14 also reminds me that it is not toward human beings alone that I can turn to for the sort of compassionate and encouraging relationship that seems to be a deep necessity in my life right now. Jesus tells his disciples that he will ask the Father and that the Father will send an Advocate to be with them always. And Jesus keeps his word, as we find out later in the Gospel of John. Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection, breathes on them, and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Put another way, Jesus insures that his disciples will have the help of the Spirit to assist them as they go into the world to do his work.

As members of the body of Christ, baptized into Jesus’ family, we can trust that the Spirit is with us always as a companion on our spiritual journeys. In fact, I do not need to “want someone to tell me it is going to be okay” when I realize that the Spirit of God is already with me, already empowering me with the gifts of the Spirit that are given us in baptism and that are renewed when we receive Eucharist. These gifts are:

  • Wisdom: the desire to contemplate the things of God
  • Understanding: the ability to comprehend divine truth, especially as revealed through Jesus Christ
  • Counsel: the ability to judge how to act based on faith
  • Fortitude: the courage to follow through on actions suggested by the gift of counsel
  • Knowledge: the ability to see our lives as God sees them
  • Piety: the desire to worship and serve God
  • Fear of the Lord: the desire to act out of hope and out of wonder and awe of God (which is different than acting out of fear of punishment)

When I feel as if I am alone, I need to make my vulnerability known to others and I need to reconnect with the Spirit who is already accompanying and empowering me. I can trust that I am never working alone, and while a problem may feel too big for me, who am I to say what is too big for God?

Gospel Reflection for May 25, 2014, Sixth Sunday of Easter

20 May
Jesus told his disciples, “And I will ask the Father, who will give you another Advocate to abide with you always: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees nor recognizes the Spirit; but you know the Spirit because the Spirit abides with you and will be in you.” 

John 14.16-17

Jesus assures the disciples that they will have everything they need for their lives and mission after he is gone. Furthermore, if they stay open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will continue to experience divine presence.

How would you feel in the disciples’ place?

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