St. Joe and me

I have been praying to St. Joe, the earthly father of Jesus, a lot lately.

I call him St. Joe instead of St. Joseph because shortening his name makes him more real to me, like a friend. When I pray to saints it is helpful for me to behave like we are in relationship; change occurs on a relational level.

I am a single, 27-year-old female who is not trying to sell a home or become a carpenter. Although I have little in common with St. Joe, we have been having a lot of chats.

I am a nanny by trade and the majority of my week is spent loving and taking care of other people’s children. I educate, wash the clothes and change the diapers of little ones.

St. Joe is my friend through all of this labor because, when it comes to loving the children of others, I am pretty sure there is no one better to model my heart after. I am often tired and drained in this work. The words I say seem to bounce right off the back of the energetic four-year old. Frustrated again and again, I turn to St. Joe:

“Please help me to love this child like you love Jesus.

Help me to not get caught up in the frustrations of the day-to-day.”

This simple prayer calms and encourages me to think more deeply about the dynamics of the Holy Family. I find myself wondering, just as I do about myself, if St. Joseph knew how difficult raising a child would be, if he ever doubted that what he was doing mattered and if the love he provided was enough.

While teaching children as a nanny, I am learning too. It shows me that loving people is messy and imperfect, that God gives us the saints to encourage us and to help us strive for holiness. They are given as gifts because God loves us so infinitely and provides examples of people just like us who have become saints. Similarly, as I explore and deepen my faith Jesus’ lessons on loving children, especially as a non-biological parent like St. Joe, inspire me.

snow-globe
“I have had this Holy Family music box since I was two,” says Alicia, “I simply adore the way Mary and Joseph are looking at baby Jesus.” (Image courtesy Alicia Grumley)

And the more I talk to St. Joe about caring for children not our own, I realize we have even more in common. I am loved very deeply by a stepparent. As I look at the role St. Joseph plays in the life of Jesus and the role my own stepmom plays in mine, I realize that by taking on the responsibilities of loving another’s child we open our hearts to being conductors of the spiritual works of mercy. We embrace all seven of them: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently and praying for the living and the dead.

I know that, throughout her marriage to my dad, my stepmom has and continues to do all of this for me and my brothers. I suspect that St. Joe would have also practiced these works of mercy with Jesus. I imagine that there were times when St. Joe prayed to be better at these things, just like I do.

So what do I, a single 27-year-old non-homeowner and non-carpenter have in common? Love. Lots and lots of love by the will of God, mercy. I know I need it, and I know I can grow by practicing it.

Thanks for the example, St. Joe.

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Alicia Grumley has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they met at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They remain connected as members of an online writing group. Alicia’s writing can be found online at OwnYourOxygen.wordpress.com (which is her self-care advocacy site) and AliciasAlleluia.wordpress.com (where she delves into aspects of the Catholic faith that interest her) You can also find her work at Sick Pilgrim.

 

Being a companion through the mystery of suffering

I’ve never had any training in hospital chaplaincy, and I know little about medicine. Like many people, I feel awkward and uncomfortable around suffering. I prefer what I know how to manage, like the classroom where I teach. But when an acquaintance’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, was in a serious bike accident, I didn’t hesitate before agreeing to go and sit with her and her family.

My response to Elizabeth’s need wasn’t measured or thought-out. Rather, it seemed to gush from a natural space in my heart. I found that I could not…

 

[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for U.S. Catholic. Continue reading here.]

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Two worker houses: where ‘stranger becomes neighbor’

Guest blogger, Amy Nee

One evening in May I sat on windowsill in the room I’d recently moved into at New York’s Maryhouse Catholic Worker. With legs folded into the frame, I watched a little window of sky that subtly made the dramatic shift from pale yellow to blazing pink without comment.  I was sitting with the thought that while I had spent my day absorbed in preparing for, hosting and cleaning up after a memorial service at Maryhouse, my Chicago-area White Rose Catholic Worker friends were participating in a nonviolent uprising that swelled in response to the NATO summit. 

Four demonstrators hold signs protesting at the NATO Summit in Chicago.
Demonstrators gather during the NATO Summit in Chicago, May 2012. Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA.

These two communities, offshoots from the trunk of one movement, are sustained and shaped by the life and writings of the same woman (the venerable Ms. Day), and have at different times been home and church and classroom to the same woman (the ephemeral Ms. Nee). Yet, to the untrained eye, these sister houses can look almost opposite. 

White Rose: a half-dozen, highly educated, fair-skinned youths with the occasional overnight guest, all dedicated and devoted to sustainable living, social justice education and nonviolence not only in every action but in every word and expression as well. 

Maryhouse: twenty-five folks, a majority over fifty years old, of varying color, creed and acumen together in a household that day after day admits dozens of women and offers showers, clothes, a balanced meal and company (not guaranteed to be cheerful, but ever-present, nonetheless).

The exterior of Maryhouse Catholic Worker
Maryhouse Catholic Worker captured by Julia Walsh, FSPA, during her April 2012 visit.

 At the former I would spend three hours in a meeting (the results of which would be revisited, rehashed and revised the following week).  At the latter I spend three hours folding clothes that the following day will be stashed in bags, tossed on the floor and probably, eventually abandoned on park benches.  I often find both tasks more maddening than enlightening.  All the same, I consider the time well spent. 

At the former, each day, we concerned ourselves with the issues of the world – war, torture, environment, oppression of all kinds. And, we sought to educate (ourselves and others), create alternatives and partake in nonviolent demonstrations, open the door to others that we might eat and talk and play and pray together.  At the latter we concern ourselves with individuals in our community and neighborhood: the hungry, sick, lonely, weary in innumerable ways. We cook lunches, wash dishes, offer clean clothes and showers, visit hospitals, celebrate and mourn. 

I am often astounded at how two communities of the same movement could be so different.  One might be tempted to compare: which is better? which more successful? which meets the greatest need?  These questions, I think, are alluring as forbidden fruit that promises the knowledge of good and evil upon ingestion.  The end result, as our first parents demonstrated, is not an answer that reveals truth, but a blade that cuts apart holy wholeness, introduces shame and accusation and ultimately separates the seeker from the Word of Truth, that is to say, Love.

“ ‘In the end, the only thing that matters is love,’ those are the last words I ever heard from her mouth,” a woman shares at the memorial for Rita Corbin held at Maryhouse on Sunday.  Hers was one of many stories remembering the life of this prolific artist whose woodcuts, since the 1950s, have oft adorned the pages of the Catholic Worker newspaper and whose life infiltrated and enriched far more than just our readers. 

Image of Rita Corbin's Works of Mercy artwork.
Rita Corbin’s “Works of Mercy”

The gathering elicited reflections that evoked both laughter and tears.  Rita’s now adult children played folk music.  We served coffee and punch and huge platters of fried rice and salad with Wasabi-citrus dressing that had been specially prepared at St. Joe’s for the occasion.  I alternately filled and washed plates, introduced the food and myself, listened to reminiscences from Rita’s brother and showed visitors to the bathroom.  All the while members of the White Rose, along with thousands of others, marched and sang and maintained a peaceful presence outside (some eventually inside) Obama’s campaign headquarters, amidst an anxious crowd of activists and likely more anxious officers in full riot gear ready to make use of their training and tazers.   

 A critic of one persuasion might consider Maryhouse mundane and trifling, while one of another might consider the White Rose naive and dramatic.  Neither assessment is accurate, nor is the assessment that their actions are so very different.  Both are engaged in attending to matters of life and of death (which one might argue are themselves part of one whole), both are engaged in practicing, to the best of their ability, the Works of Mercy.  These seemingly separate houses seek the same revolution, a revolution of the heart where “stranger” becomes “neighbor” and we learn to love our neighbor as our self; that self that is a divine vessel, bearing the very image of the God who is Love.

loving Love

I have always loved Valentine’s Day.  We don’t tell people we love them often enough and it’s our Christian message and way.  I love celebrating love and sharing it.   Love is pretty much my favorite thing. Because, well, God is totally my favorite thing.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. 1 John 4:8-12

Love is God.  The union of Love is the force of the holy.  Popes write and teach all about it, saints marvel in it, lovers dwell in it. It is the duty of all the Christians to share it.  When we love others, we help them to get to know God.

I hope that my ministry is all about love.  I hope that I provide a loving presence to all who I meet.  I pray that all people will really know the power of the greatness of God love- Agape Love– and be made more whole.  I hope I help others understand what that means.

One of my students randomly approached me recently and asked me to tell him three of my main religious beliefs. It was an really profound and interesting question.  I believe so many things so I didn’t really know what to say.  The first thing I said, though, is that I believe God is love and when we experience love, we experience God.  Love really is the foundation of my faith.

The challenge is that love is really hard work.  Living the Gospel means we love everyone, no matter what. It means we are willing to care for those who seem most broken, dirty, smelly and diseased.  We end up putting our lives on the line, all for the love of God and neighbor.

As Dorothy Day showed us, a life of love means we join others in soup lines and joyfully break bread with the hurting, trusting in the healing power of union.  As we share, care, create and renew the face of the earth, we build the Kingdom of God.

Little by little, Love changes the world.  The good news is that the changing is God’s work- we just cooperate with God’s ways, by sharing the love we have known.  It’s pretty awesome to give what we have been blessed with, a lot of Divine Love.  Have fun celebrating Love today! God loves you and so do I! Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Love, Julia

"love light" by Julia Walsh, FSPA

power to the people

Jesus gave power to the people a long time ago.  The power is still with the people today.

People are uniting and speaking out and rising up working for the type of justice Jesus taught us about- the justice of love. They’ve done this since the time of Jesus.  Then and now the people use their power for the goodness of God.  The poor, the disadvantaged and the overworked have declared their right for fair pay, for human rights, equality, and justice. This is good because the Kingdom of God is with the meek, the poor and the peaceful. Jesus said so himself.

Today there are people who live in excess. They stutter justifications for their diamond cuff-links while the makers of their jewels scrape by for survival.  The poor must grow cash crops such as tobacco, cotton and corn then sell these things to the rich.  Or worse, they are forced to sell their landor sacrifice their clean water and air at unfair prices.  The poor can’t grow their own food to simply live so then they starve to death.  Meanwhile, in some countries people are getting bigger and bigger and more and more food is wasted–simply tossed away.

Has capitalism become another type of feudalism?

We’ve seen power and control mess things up for a long while now.  Jesus knew all about it, so he turned things all around.  Jesus  tried to warn the privileged that he wasn’t going to trust them with building the Kingdom anymore as they were doing a pretty horrible job.  Today, we still seem to be clueless about what this means.

I couldn’t help but to think of “Occupy Wall Street” and other revolutions when I studied the Gospel last Sunday:

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

It seems like an awful parable that could leave any person feeling confused and discouraged- like it did me.  Why would our great teacher of non-violence use so many images of violence to teach a point? What is the point?

We must pay attention to whom Jesus is speaking to really get the warning. He’s talking to the people of privilege- the people who think that they have some sort of divine right to control the poor, the dogma, the systems and the economics.  It seems to me that we are being told that violence , wealth and privilege aren’t the answers.

The answers live with the rejected.  The power is burning in the hearts of the powerless, in their peaceful revolutions and their voices that are united for change.  The answers are in the quiet fields where the poor labor for freedom.

The Kingdom of God is here now and not yet.  Power has been redefined.  The people of poverty experience redemption as they reject the systems that have rejected them.  The poor are creating the peace that Jesus teaches about when they do acts of mercy and refuse the acts of war. The rejected are powerful with they show God’s “kingdom come” and “will be done” as they love and serve one another.

I am not really sure where I fit in it all. I commit the sin of over-consumption and mindless cooperation with corrupt systems.  I feel powerless, yet overwhelmed and sick from my privilege.  I justify purchases of unnecessary and over-packaged treats because I hear the news radio preach about “consumer confidence” as the way out of economic dysfunction.  I pray for the kingdom of God, yet I keep looking in the wrong places for the answers to the questions that drive me.

I have a suspicion that if I truly heeded the words of Jesus and looked for the kingdom of God with the peaceful people of poverty, I would find myself poor and powerful.  I would probably find myself in the arms of our good, loving God.