Joseph’s dreams and the meaning of life

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod had died, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream
to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel,
for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
He rose, took the child and his mother,
and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea
in place of his father Herod,
he was afraid to go back there.
And because he had been warned in a dream,
he departed for the region of Galilee.
He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth,
so that what had been spoken through the prophets
might be fulfilled,
He shall be called a Nazorean. -Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

A few years ago one of my seeking friends called me a lot to have discussions about the meaning of life.  “I just don’t get it Julia,” she would say.  “Why are we born, if our death is inevitable?”  Her insightful question is certainly valid, and undoubtedly common.  Because my friend is normal, I was embarrassed to admit that I had never really thought about the question before.

I don’t think that I have ever worried about the meaning of life because I made a choice when I was a child.  Early on I decided what life’s meaning is for me.  Now I know how to say it: the point of all this living is relationship.  It’s so true for me and it guides all my actions.  When I am lazy or selfish, a mantra bubbles up from inside, like a signpost directing me where to turn:  the point of life is relationship. It’s all about relationship.

Then, guided by the Truth and challenge of relationship, I turn away from my ego and my desire to hide.  I choose to relate.  I shut up and unplug and listen to God within and around and tell God my deepest secrets. We get closer and I am reminded that good relationships always take a lot of work and time.

My friendship with God then turns me out again; I orient toward the other in community, friendship, family, city, creation, neighbor.  I sit with my elder sister and laugh and love. I talk to my siblings on the phone. I listen to the stranger, even when I feel like I should rush.  I pray with my friends and cry with the suffering.  I ask my students questions. I gaze at the moon because I know she is my sister and I pray for the earth because she is certainly my mother, in a way.   Over and over, I struggle to let go of my agendas and notice how the moments of  my days beg me to pay attention to other beautiful elements in God’s kingdom.

Because I relate to all sorts of people I am forced to stretch and grow.  My perspectives change and I am required to leave the ordinary behind.  I let God give me new encounters and accept the fact that I never get to be the same.  I now understand that considering relationship the meaning of life is not only Christian and Trinitarian, but Franciscan.  And, as scientists are now discovering and teaching, it is human.  So, it’s a good thing I am one.

Joseph got this, it seems.  Because he was friends with God and was familiar with His voice, it was very clear to him when his dreams were from God.  Because he understood the language, he could follow the directions and then so lovingly care for the Blessed Mother Mary and the Holy Child Jesus.  He chose to obey, because the relationships with his wife and his Son mattered most.

Like Joseph teaches, when we let dreams direct us we aren’t picking what’s comfortable, or even about what makes sense. Even though it may seem impractical, when we let our relationship with God and others guide us, we’ll quickly realize that we are dancing with the holy and becoming a blessing to others.

There’s a great beauty in the blessing.  When we let relationships be our meaning we are free to be a holy family.  Thanks be to God!

Photo from Flickr sharing

Born-Again Christmas

art and poetry by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

diversity of light energizes and zaps

seeds sprout into enlightened silence

presence powers

pulls and dances

no crushing yet


cracks allow





and joy

to be birthed

from a still,

fire-y womb-like




and merges

into one.

may it be done.

(Kingdom has come!)

MERRY CHRISTMAS, dear readers! May you be deeply blessed with great peace and joy and may your work of birthing God’s kingdom into the world in your own ways be a light.  Love, Sister Julia

love and the toxic dumps

This gospel life is all about love. Lately, as I’ve journeyed with suffering, I have been convinced that love is the most powerful force in the universe.  I am not a scientist, but I am certain that it is a fact.

Evidently it’s my nature to be empathetic.  It may sound nice, but I assure you that feeling the pain of others is not peaches and pies.  It’s very hard.  When I try to let myself be available and be a loving presence to those who are impacted by great suffering, I sometimes feel damaged too.  I get overwhelmed and crushed, then I feel confused about what to do with myself.  I suspect that this may be the experience of all of us who have felt totally messed up by the love of God.

As hard as this is, I continue to think it’s the whole point.  We are made for relationship and companionship.  We are made to pour out and be emptied by grace and then used by the great Love, who is God, to make changes and bring forth the kingdom here now.

Lately, my spirit has been stirred by a very profound experience of suffering. I was honored to accompany a neighbor and friend through an intense ER and hospital experience.  I had to inform her family about what was going on and struggle through my own desire to serve as a great loving presence as much as possible.  She is doing okay, praise God! Nonetheless, the experience of loving through it has profoundly changed me.

As I found myself stating to my students last week, the cross of Christ teaches us that suffering is redemptive. (I can’t help but to wonder if Mary thought that even through her labor pains.) It also seems, however, that grief can be damaging if we’re not careful.

There is so much in the world that can give us great grief and cause us to feel very overwhelmed.  In addition to accompanying my friend through her suffering, yesterday I gained a new awareness about how the consumption of our culture destroys the poor in other places.  Again, sorrow consumed me.

I happened to catch yesterday’s episode of Fresh Air from NPR.  As I listened, my stomach was sour with sadness.  I learned of how our addiction to technology is creating large amounts of toxic waste that then are dumped in developing countries and dangerously disposed of by poor women and children.

Meanwhile, we feel good  about “recycling” our old laptops and Ipods and excited about our new technological toys.  Clearly, this is not the way that Jesus taught us.

What is one to do?  I often am not really sure, but I do know that I must keep feeding my faith.  We can’t turn away from the suffering. Instead, Jesus teaches us to turn toward pain and sorrow, as He does.  We must serve as loving presence and act for a new day.  We must pray and journey together.

I believe in the promise of the new day and the power of the love of Jesus.  As I ache and have hope in the promises of love, I am fed by the word of God.   This advent I have been nourished by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, as he proclaims the promises of peace given by this great force of Love.

Then his father Zechariah,  filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” -Luke 1:61-79
May our feet truly be guided on that path of peace and may we love like Jesus.
As we move, we know that we are transformed by the fierce force of Love. For this, we say thank you God, for being the source, the salvation and the hope.

Landfill photo courtesy of the Photographic Information eXchange,

the disturbing, poor baby Jesus

Pop Quiz!  This is a question from a test I recently gave my Peace and Justice students.  See if you can get it right!

The answer will be at the end of this post, in case you’re not really sure.

Advent is a season of waiting. This year, I keep asking God what I’m waiting for.  Do I need some huge conversion in my life? Do I need a new dose of hope or energy?

Maybe my anticipation is broader than my inner life. It probably is. I think it may actually have to do with economics.

I am disturbed and disoriented by the ever widening-canyons between the rich and the poor.  Some people I know are damaged by the economic earthquakes.  They can’t feed their families. They wander around seeking a safe place to sleep.  Some of my students can’t afford school supplies, books, and school uniforms.  And, less locally, I still pray for the beautiful people I met when I visited Namibia in 2002 who would walk miles to fetch their water, cook meals over an open fire, and live without electricity.  It’s no secret that this is how the majority of our world lives.

Awareness about economic injustice has messed me up.  Certainly, no one should ever have to worry about making it to their next birthday simply because they don’t have what they need to keep living.  When others have more than enough and continue to consume, it’s even more ridiculous. Seriously, it makes me so mad that it’s hard for me to be kind.

I am even more disturbed when I read the Christmas story in the bible and let it challenge me.  It seems like if we really take this gospel seriously, we have a lot of culture changing to do.  How can we change our habits from shopping and partying to being and praying? During advent, how can enter into the cheer of the season and go to parties, but yet fast in preparation?  I don’t know, but I know that every year I wrestle with my holiday habits.  I usually end up making a few crafts, giving a few donations, and then buying simple gifts for my immediate family. It never feels like it’s quite right, but it probably is okay.

As I struggle, I remain grateful that amazing Christians have figured out some ways to celebrate Christmas the gospel way and lead the rest of us, who are lost and disturbed.   I am encouraged and energized by the things that others have organized and how they continue to challenge the systems through efforts of compassion, generosity and community.  Here’s an example.  This is my favorite video of the week:

When I showed that video to my students they said “Sister, that’s raw.” (That’s a very good thing.) When I asked them what acts of generosity and service they were planning to do during Christmas break some of them had trouble coming up with an answer.  It seems to me that although it’s attractive to celebrate Christmas counter-culturally, it’s really hard to break our habits.

This advent, may God give us the blessings of wisdom and knowledge to understand the ways that our economic systems are unjust.  May God give us the graces and the courage we need to challenge the economic oppression. Dear Baby Jesus, help us to be enlightened about how to say “yes” to You and “no” to the rich King Herod, in our own ways and our own time. Amen.

Oh, and the answer to the quiz is TRUE in case you still weren’t sure!

P.S.  May we also praise God with joy for the Christians who continue to spread the gospel message, even if they seem irreverent as they do it.  This is my 2nd favorite video of the week, fellow Catholic and satirist Stephen Colbert reminding us how Jesus hung out with tax collectors:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive

Yo Soy Una Guadalupana (I Am A Guadalupana)

Photo, Dupre encountering Mary Guadalupana, used with permission from Delilah Montoya

Posted by guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey

A Story of Marta

“I’m nervous because I’m here illegally.” Marta held out her arm for a blood pressure check. The nurse in the free clinic and I quickly reassured her that everything was confidential and she had nothing to fear. Marta continued, “I’m nervous because I am illegal and when we were crossing the border I was gang-raped by robbers. My husband convinced me to come in and get checked for STDs. I am nervous to find out the results. I don’t know if I got sick.”

We stopped in our tracks.  Here was something no one should ever have to worry about. Marta sat waiting for the doctor with courage.

America—Land of Maria

I came to the Catholic faith in Mexico. The Virgin Mary was everywhere and she completely confused me. Why did she have so many names? Why did women gather in the street to pray the rosary? Why did teenagers carry her face on everything they wore?

And why did I have to wake up at bloody 5 o’clock in the morning to blaring trumpets on December 12? I walked with sleep still in my eyes to the church. The smell of roses hit me like a wall that almost knocked me over. The church was packed. Guitars and mariachis led our songs. Welcome to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

The priest proclaimed the Gospel.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:39-43

Mary travelled to her cousin Elizabeth to help her prepare for childbirth. She came to comfort her and be of service.

Mary has done the same for us. She came to the people of the Americas in 1531 through the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, except this time instead of staying for three months she has stayed for almost five hundred years! Mary came to the Americas speaking Nautl with the face of a Mestiza. After her appearance eight million native Mexicans converted to the Catholic faith. She knew that we needed her to be our Mother. She was not a Goddess, but a woman of service and a face of compassion.

My friends patiently explained to me the meaning of Guadalupe. She came to us when we needed her and she has not left us alone. At the same time, she is a poor woman who suffered and opened her heart. As the Mother of God, she can come to us as no other woman can. As a woman she understands us as we are.

I need Guadalupe because I need to draw closer to Jesus. I need my heart to be busted open by the injustice around me, but before I drown in despair I need the hope of roses and guitars in the middle of the night.

I thought if I learned Spanish that I could welcome Mexican migrants in the United States the way they embraced me in their home country. Instead, I found it to be the opposite. In trailers, in farm labor camps, and in churches, they welcomed me. Even here, where they are strangers in the culture and face discrimination and deportation, I found hope. Last week a migrant was stranded here in Minnesota and our parish gave him a gas card to get to some family members. Tears in his eyes, he looked at us with confidence, “If you are ever in Guanajuato, my home is your home.”

After being examined by the doctor, it turned out Marta had no STDs. Her wounds were more intangible: the long road of healing before her, the daily insecurity of migrant life, and the challenge of feeding and clothing her family. Standing beside her is another woman who took a dangerous journey to help her family, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

an advent day

The sky cracked open

and with a boom, a crack and a caress

Truth came to.

In a hushed corner of the universe,

the corner of that one woman’s soul,

a spark ignites.

She lifts up her gaze

and holds her breath

sensing something

on its way.

Beyond the frost on the winter glass,

beyond the fence with the waiting bird,

beyond the city limit dump,

beyond the trees that shrink in the breeze,

a speck catches her eye.

This speck in the silent sky

moves toward her

forcefully with destiny

that can’t be


That woman- she knows

without squinting or doubting, that

a change is coming.

She moves and begins,

cooperates and prepares

by simply getting into her day.

With a click of her tounge

and a glance to the sky,

she begins to pray,

“Thank you Good God,

for this Advent day.”

hearing and seeing, then proclaiming the goodness

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”  – Matthew 11:2-5

Jesus tells us to say it like we see it, and like we hear it.

Speaking the truth is not as easy as one would think. One of the greatest challenges of telling the truth is that people aren’t always interested in it. It seems to me that it’s quite trendy to avoid pain and suffering. Many times my stories of ministry and my proclamations of passions have been responded to with cries of “It’s so depressing to hear about all that, Julia. Can’t you talk about something else?” Yet, paradoxically, crowds gather around TV sets watching reality shows, sitcoms and the news only to hear dramatic stories about people hurting one another. With laughter and groans, people of all types allow the painful stories to flow through their lives.

What about the goodness? When it comes to saying the good stuff—to giving each other reasons to hope—I think it can be radical to speak out. Sharing the goodness is an act of resistance to the oppression. I teach urban African-American teenage boys at a high school in Chicago, and it’s amazing. In attempts to respond to Jesus’ command to tell the good news, I could easily just babble on and on and tell you stories about how incredible my students are.

First though, I think it is important to acknowledge the influence of judgments when we hear who the stories are about. When I decided to take my job, some very good people that I knew became reactionary.  I actually heard really nice Christians gasp and say “aren’t you terrified?!”  When I asked them what their question was about—whether it was about race, or boys, or urban students—the conversation would usually boil down to awkwardness from fears of people different than themselves.

Jesus set us all free enough to speak the good news, however. When I hear people say they are impressed with my ministry (because of who my students are), I am tempted to get defensive and angry. Then I remember that we are all afraid of what we don’t know.

My students have admitted that they are afraid of the woods. I used to be afraid of the city (I grew up in the woods on a goat farm in Iowa).  To do this gospel work, we all must allow grace to guide us and set us free from our fears.  The truth is that my students are the same as all other teenagers I have worked with.  They’re diverse, passionate, caring, faithful, prayerful, complex, hungry, hopeful, hard-working and curious. They’re incredible.

So, the good news!  Teens are awesome because once they learn the truth they are driven to act.  They understand, with ease, that social change comes through awareness and meaningful non-violent action.

Last week, my students were so into discussing the Gospel challenge of serving the poor that they begged me to stay in class.  (And I am pretty sure that they weren’t completely trying to skip their next classes, really.)  They spoke of being inspired by the story of Dorothy Day and how they could relate to her because she went through a conversion and changed her life. Another group of my students were so full of ideas for service projects that they had trouble picking one and getting started.  And, this past weekend, I sat in a circle with another group of teens and heard their dreams for a better world and what they were already working on as peace projects.

We all are called to do projects of peace. We all are asked to feed each other with hope and faith.  I get “godbumps” anytime I see the boundaries of difference broken, diverse people gathered in prayer and working for social change. I am so grateful for the light that shines when a young person steps forward and works for change.  One teen I know is working with the pro-life club at her school to begin a suicide awareness and prevention movement.  Another is bridging a gap between the suburbs and inner-city youth and bringing her suburban friends with her to tutor at a junior high within Chicago. I also know a young man who is uniting his passion for sports and caring for people on the margins to organize a basketball tournament for people with disabilities.

I suppose that one might say that it is my job to support these teens.  The reality is that they support me.  They keep me going and keep me hopeful.  I am honored to listen to their good news, to bless and share.  I don’t have to look too far to see and believe that Jesus and the Spirit are working to transform us and our communities.

The power of the Spirit and the miracles of the Christian church certainly extend beyond what happens in the lives of teens.  Recently, I have also been blessed to meet some amazing leaders in the emerging Church movement.  Throughout our world young adults of various denominations are living intentional community, praying and radically serving the poor, and non-violently advocating for systemic change right now.  They soak up the great traditions of Christian history, such as praying the liturgy of the hours and monastic life, and allow the Spirit to guide them to new ways of doing the work.  For example, some young adults just wrote and published a new book that combines the traditional prayers with radical responses to injustice.  It’s called Common Prayer, naturally.

God is so good and God is up to some amazing stuff.  Deaf people are really gaining their hearing, blind folks can now see, the lame are picking up their mats and dancing around, and the dead are rising to new life.   It’s beautiful to witness.  Hope is a light that shines brightly over the new city of God being built here and now.  We’re getting ready because we don’t only know another world is possible, we see another world emerging.

Rejoice and be glad, and help us get ready.  Help us spread the good news, Jesus lives!