50 Years as a Sister of St. Joseph, by Joan Mitchell

 Joan Mitchell, CSJ celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph this week. She gave this reflection to her fellow Jubilarians on St. Joseph’s Day.

Fifty years ago when our reception walked down the aisle at St. Kate’s Chapel in wedding dresses and left in black with new names, we committed to serving a Church that cloistered its women and kept us apart, but it was also a Church awakening with John XXIII to the modern world.  In 1959 he had written his human rights manifesto Pacem in Terris to the people of the whole world, and less than a month after we entered, the Second Vatican Council began in October 1962.

Joan Mitchell, CSJ
Joan Mitchell, CSJ

The work of the liturgical movement came to fruition when the Council in its first action turned our altars around for dialogue between priest and people and gave us worship in English so we could participate fully, actively, and consciously.

The Council recognized the whole people of God as the Church and called every person to holiness, “God does not save us as individuals without any bond or link between us,” it said, “but as a people to serve God in holiness.”

In 1965, Council ended and in its final document called us into solidarity with the human family: “the joys and sorrows, griefs and anxieties of the people of this world, especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and sorrows, griefs and anxieties of the people of God.”  The theologies of Vatican II formed us irreparably as they rolled off the press.

That same miraculous year, 1965, the Civil Rights Voting Act passed.  The someday the Civil Rights Movement sang about, “We shall overcome…someday,” came at last, freedom came at last.  We were in the laundry when we heard President Kennedy had been shot.  When we heard Dr. King had been killed in April 1968, cloister was gone and we went out and joined the African American community to mourn this gifted leader.

We were still protesting the Vietnam War, but the 60s were a decade of dreams—of a modern Church and an America without racism.  It has left us perennially hopeful and ultimately at odds with the Church in retreat from the world our leaders often label secular but which we claim as our own.  Whoever thought Rome would investigate us for doing too much social justice, for speaking out and stepping up to help people who are poor have health care?  As Sisters of St. Joseph and Consociates, we are people of dreams.  Like the universal Church we have as our patron Joseph the dreamer.

Joseph is uneasy with the obvious when he finds his fiancé pregnant with a child he knows is not his own.  Joseph doesn’t want to expose Mary to the law or the stoning it could require.  He is a just man, used to doing the right thing.  So Joseph plans to send Mary away quietly—until he sleeps on his decision.

I sleep on my side, so when I hear this gospel passage and picture it in my mind, I see Joseph lying down and turning over on his side, leaving the day of his disappointment in Mary behind and turning toward a new day.

His going to sleep is a contemplative act, entrusting himself to rest in the midst of personal turmoil.  In his sleep Joseph’s relationship with Mary draws him into relationship with the child.  He dreams he will name and claim the child as his own.  His turning toward sleep results in changing his society; he disregards its laws, alters conventional expectations for marriage, and finds the living God acting not in the temple but in the young woman he cherishes—the power of relationships to transform the world.

Who would think sleep could change the future of the world?  Who would think 50 years could bring so much change?  In 1964 when we were still novices and Paul VI spoke at the United Nations before the third session of the Council, the Hubble telescope confirmed that all these galaxies and stars that light up our nights are moving away from each other—the cosmos is expanding, the big bang.

All that is bursts forth out of nothingness from a single seed of energy, A flaring forth so powerful the cosmos is still becoming more.

We live in a story that we cannot flip to the end and find the conclusion.

We live in this story among its characters.

We live in a vast pregnancy 13.7 billion years long and counting.

It turns out that Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and the magi were right to see promise in the stars and hold this promise in faith.

Right now the Large Hadron Collider is smashing protons together at nearly the speed of light, looking for traces of the god particle, what gives matter mass and joins everything together, the secret to how our unfolding story began.

In the world of the tiny, the quantum world, cause and effect go out the window.

Waves become particles when we measure to determine where they are going, and yet over time they dance into patterns, self-organizing into new wholes.

As Sisters of St. Joseph and as Consociates we find this dance deep within, this persisting desire for more, for communion, harmony, justice, this openness to God.

We live not only in an infinity of vastness and an infinity of smallness but in an infinity of relationships, the web of life.

Everything that is wants to become more.

Within our bodies we hold this story of our evolving, this drive toward greater, more complex wholes.

Our blood runs red with the iron forged in the super novas of stars.

The bacteria that first awakened to life 4 billion years ago are our ancestors.

The microbes that learned to eat oxygen 2 billions years ago live on in our mitochondrial DNA and fuel us within every cell.

We inherit our eyes from bacteria that first moved toward light, our backbones from the fish, our erect two-footed posture from the apes that left the trees for the plains.

We humans are the universe become conscious of itself, become its singers and healers.

Then in Jesus Christ Holy Wisdom finds a prophet, God becomes one of us.

We live in a fourth infinity—the horizon Jesus’ resurrection sets in our sights, a future in our hands and hearts—a dream of all that love can give life and make new.  We participate in the creative power that Jesus reveals at the heart of God: love.

All of us come here tonight suspended in mystery, challenged to do justice on earth.

How did the years pile up so fast?  What is my future and our future?  Will Pope Francis like his patron rebuild our Church to benefit the poor and heal the abused?

In this mystery that is vastly big, infinitely small, and complexly diverse, we stand together buoyed by faith and challenged to use our power to love and give life, inspired by the Spirit who breathes in our breaths and dances in our heartbeats to cocreate the future, inspired by Joseph’s small act to keep turning toward every new day.

Published by GoodGroundPress

Good Ground Press is the publishing ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. We publish resources for living the Gospel today, including Sunday By Sunday for adults and SPIRIT ONLINE for teens.

5 thoughts on “50 Years as a Sister of St. Joseph, by Joan Mitchell

  1. Thanks for the wonderful remembering of our developing and progressing into the future as part of the universe story. It was awe inspiring. Joanne

  2. Congratulations! What a difference 50 years can make! As I read your writing I realize, once again, where the Catholic faith has women in plain view. Both with nuns and a focus on Mary of Nazareth. We Lutherans have neither. Of course we both have, pretty much, the same bible where (in the New Testament) women have been written out of the story. May God, in all Her greatness, bless you in the years ahead as you share with the world the value and goodness of Women of God.
    Maxine Moe

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