How do you know you’re called?

Since I have been working in vocation ministry, people have asked on occasion: how do you know you are called? How do you know what you’re called to? How do you know it is right for you? Really, how can anyone possibly know what God has in store for them?
It is an important question, but there is no easy answer. I would probably answer it differently every time. How do I know? How did I know when I was in my twenties and I entered religious life? How do I know it is still right for me?
I guess that the answer I would give today is that it’s about

  • God,
  • Community and
  • Mission.
Or, as we have come to say in our “CSJ world” i.e. our Sister of St. Joseph world, it’s about
  • Community
  • Spirituality
  • Justice
So first off, it’s about God or Spirituality. Do I have a relationship with God? Is God tugging at my heart for a deeper relationship? Do I find joy and peace when I am with my God in prayer? as well as when I am living out of that God-relationship in community and in mission? God is the center of our lives, and in religious life, we live out of that centrality. We are privileged to have a lifetime of spiritual growth and development. And this is a gift that grounds the rest of our life, and enables us to share spirituality with all those we meet.
Second, it’s about Community. Do I feel called to share my journey of spirituality and mission with other sisters or brothers who are committing to the same life journey? Do I have the skills to live in community? Can I share? trust? respect? love? Can I build community with all those God calls me to live with? Am I ready to do the work of community? – for a lifetime? There’s no walking away when the times get touch, or someone gets on my nerves. We learn to love one another in our brokenness, and we love one another into wholeness. This wholeness does not mean that we never get on one another’s nerves, it means that we have learned to reverence each other as gifts of God. We love and support each other in our differences, in our trials and in our joys.
Finally it’s about Mission or Justice. We come together to see the world with God’s eyes. To bring God’s love in very concrete ways into our world. We do not bend the bruised reed or crush the smoldering wick. Instead we bring light into the dark places, hope to the despairing, joy to the sorrowful. We do this in concrete ways: by embracing the weak and the poor, by lifting up those that are bowed down, by bringing the healing, creative power of God to each person we meet and each place we inhabit.
I see my lay brothers and sisters doing the same, in their particular vocation. In religious life, we do this in community, shaped by our spirituality and the vows. I thank God for this gift.

Encouragement for the Road Ahead

By Mary Flick, CSJ

I recently read a Jesuit theologian who said that Jesus’ life mission was the conquest of death. Today’s readings give us hope in that victory. As we begin our Lenten journey, today’s gospel is already providing encouragement for the road ahead. First though, we look back to Abraham, our ancestor in faith, to see what is required. Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his only son, and with him, the promise of his future. Even God’s greatest gift is subject to death. Abraham has nothing to go on but his trust that God will keep God’s promise, and somehow, God will provide. And God does.

In the second reading, Paul confirms God is trustworthy. God walks with us on this life journey filled with loss and letting go. God knows the cost of human life; God did not spare his only son from death. But God provides something far more wonderful than the human life lost to death. God has raised Jesus to even greater life. And Jesus, who knows what life will ask of us, intercedes for us that we too, might conquer death.

But don’t take it on Paul’s word. As you listen to the gospel, put yourself in the disciples’ place. Follow Jesus up the high mountain and see how God provides the promise, the assurance, and a glimpse of what Jesus’ conquest of death looks like. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. But first, he and his trusted three have a detour to make. On the mountain, Jesus’ clothes became dazzling. Transfigured, he becomes translucent, radiating God’s presence and glory. And God’s presence is affirmed in the voice from the cloud which speaks familiar words, the same message Jesus had heard at his baptism: “This is my beloved.” Moses and Elijah are there, too – the Jews’ greatest law-giver and the greatest of the prophets. Their presence confirms that all of Jewish tradition has brought Jesus to this journey to Jerusalem.

The sounds and sights of this transformed, transfigured moment leave the disciples terrified, bewildered, speechless. “Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.” So, too, as we begin our annual trek to Jerusalem with Jesus, may we see “only Jesus.” As we question the death around us, the loss within our own lives, may we disciples turn to our ancestors in the faith. May we, with Abraham, trust that God will provide; believe that we share in Jesus’ mission. Together, we are all conquerors of death through our lives of faith.

Embracing Lent: time to get our houses in order!

Our Lenten liturgical season just began. In my childhood I dreaded Lent because it seemed so depressing to me! Now that I have a better understanding and am a bit more mature I embrace Lent. Embrace Lent? Why? I now view Lent as at time to get ‘my house’ (me) in order! Just like you might actually get your physical living space in order (which I do need to do too!) it’s a time to get your “self” in order. In order—what does that mean? Well I’m not going to specifically tell you that, all I can say that each of us knows how we can be our best selves. Therefore each of us know what ‘in order’ means as it relates to our own self. And frankly it’s between you and God!  It’s not a time about guilt and shame—far from it! Instead it’s about taking time to reflect on life in the present moment and become aware of my actions and behaviors and God’s love moving through my life at the moment.

We as Sisters of St. Joseph have an Ignatian-Salesian spirituality. One way you could do this type of reflection is through the use of the Ignatian daily Examen. I’ve learned about this helpful practice while in community since I did not attend a Jesuit high school or university or know any Jesuits. You might already be aware of this practice if you’ve been in contact with a Jesuit priest or any institution associated with the Jesuits! What is the daily Examen? Well straight from the Jesuits webpage: on spirituality they share this:

  1. Place yourself in the presence of God. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
  2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
  3. Review the day—recall specific moments and note your feelings at the time.
  4. Reflect on what you did, said, or thought at the time in those specific instances. Were you drawing closer to God or further away from God?
  5. Look forward in Hope toward tomorrow. Think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God in the new day.

Lent is not only about the stuff/items you’re giving up. In addition to a personal sacrifice that you might be doing I’m suggesting to do the Ignatian daily Examen this Lent and even continue it past Lent! It’s a great spiritual practice for any liturgical season of the year i.e. all year long! It helps us stay aware of our actions and it helps us get or keep ‘our Spiritual houses’ in order. We take our days to God and review in a loving light all that might have happened—the good, the not so good, the downright terrible, the uplifting joyful parts—don’t try to hide anything here—God already knows! And we end it with Hope—“I will try again tomorrow God! I learned today what I can do better tomorrow!” “Thank you for a new day to try again!”

If you are discerning Religious Life or the priesthood this practice will also be of use to you for all the exact same reasons as noted above!

Does this make it easier to embrace Lent? I hope so! Here’s to getting our ‘houses in order’ over these forty days and beyond!!!

Blessings on the Journey fellow Pilgrim ~Sister Clare

Phantom Words from Laudato Si’

Tphantomhere have been a lot of chaos in the air lately.

  • Our political situation is in turmoil
  • The earth seems to be groaning in travail, with extreme weather
  • I’m dealing with aging parents and family challenges
  • My community is trying to navigate diverse perspectives on some major issues.

While weathering all the challenges of this season of my life, I’m also working on a new book further exploring the future of religious life. It will delve into several areas of religious life, beyond those I explored in “Religious Life at the Crossroads” which is already over 5 years old.

The part I’m currently writing is on Laudato Si’. The document brings me in many directions. It came out after my last book and it represents the coalescing of many developments in social and environmental justice. I also find it to be something of a parable of religious life and of the challenges we are facing at this stage of our journey. so it ties to some of the chaos in my own life. And finally, I think there are some gender issues with the document that should be addressed, namely the lack of women’s voices and women’s issues in the document. Laudato Si’ is probably unique in this regard. Many are seeing that justice and environmentalism are inherently gender issues. Yet this perspective is absent from the document. So I’m taking the opportunity to spell out what might have been. I’m writing the unwritten lines; I’m sure the Pope will be pleased!

In Our Own Words

A few years ago, 20-25 young sisters in our 20s and 30s were gathered in Arizona for our yearly retreat with Giving Voice.  Giving Voice is an organization that networks young sisters as a way of being support to one another and living into the future of religious life.  That year, we were talking about what we were reading about the vows and religious life.  Most of us were reading most of the same things.  What became evident was that most of what was out there was written years ago and/or by people who had entered years ago.  There was nothing out there that really reflected our current lived experience.  So, it was decided that a new book should be written.

That book is now out!  In Our Own Words:  Religious Life in a Changing World was written by 13 sisters under the age of 50 from 13 different communities.  The sisters worked to get as much diversity as they could–sisters with habit and without; sisters from different racial and ethnic groups; sisters from different generations (yet under 50); sisters in formation and those with final vows; sisters with different ministries.  The sisters came together and spent a week writing.  They met every morning to begin together with prayer, then off they went to write.  They came together to read each other’s thoughts and share reflections.  I alternated between tears and chills in the introduction alone; it was so reflective of how we are together.



In Our Own Words: Religious Life in a Changing World

Honestly, I haven’t read much of the book yet, but I’m so excited to have something that reflects religious life today and what it is becoming.  If you are interested in religious life in any way, I recommend the investment.  I’d love to share thoughts with anyone who reads it.  It’s a great life!  I’m glad to share it with so many awesome women.

–S. Sarah

‘He Taught Them as One Having Authority’

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Mary Flick, CSJ

Still at the beginning of our new liturgical year, we find in today’s gospel Jesus beginning his public ministry. The past two Sunday gospels have shared how Jesus called his disciples. This week, he begins his teaching career in the synagogue of Capernaum. Already, the people are astonished at the confidence with which he teaches. He knows his material and he shares it as if he has been doing it all his life – “as one having authority.”

Who is an authority? An authority is one who has power to influence. Much like a person who is authentic. Perhaps the source of Jesus’s authority was his personal authenticity. He was true to who he was and who he knew himself to be, the Holy One of God. And that truth was attractive – as the first disciples certainly knew. That truth was undeniable – as the unclean spirit in today’s gospel testifies. That truth of character demands obedience – and the unclean spirit left the man it possessed as Jesus commanded.

Where does such authority come from? We get a sense in today’s first reading as we encounter Moses speaking of his own authority and that of his successor. Authority comes directly from the word of God. God has told Moses, “I will put my words into his mouth, and he shall tell them all that I command him.” Moses’ authority comes from the Source of all authenticity and truth, it comes from God. God is the source of all authentic teaching and such teaching is true. But if Moses’ successor does not listen to or speak God’s words, if the prophet speaks something other than God’s words, or speaks the words of another, inauthentic god – he is as good as dead.

What does all this mean for us? Paul gives us a hint in today’s second reading. Anxiety is a part of life and Paul wishes all followers of Jesus to be free of anxiety. Whether married or single, Paul sets our sights on the Source of our freedom – and the Source of Jesus’s authenticity: “adherence to the Lord without distraction.” Stay focused and stay close to God, the Source of all good. God is with us. Our nearness to God is the source of our confidence and our authority. And it enables us, with all our imperfections, to know the Holy One of God whenever we see God in our neighbor and in one another.

We’re all about the Mission!

Orders of Women Religious in our church today speak a lot about mission and charism and at times it is understandable but other times it is perplexing. I believe that using the term ‘mission’ is vague because the meaning of ‘being about the mission’, or ‘being for the mission,’ whatever that may entail is broad. It is an important idea and term, but it can be overused and misused.

Currently, I would say that each person has an idea of what that means in their own life and they live this out daily as best they can. Each order also has an overarching charism that defines them as well and is tied into their mission. When discerning Religious Life you will hear both mission and charism used a lot! Then if you do join a community both terms will be an active part of your vocabulary and life.

As we move into the future I think Mission and Charism is one of the vital points each community has to be clear about and on the same page about. Our communal mission and charism helps determine who we are and how we are to be. It is more than the job you are being paid for or ‘what you do.’ These are important aspects of life, but having a clear sense of mission will help determine these and these should flow from mission.

There is a biological principle that states form follows function. I’m definitely no biologists but the other day my sisters who are more scientifically inclined than me shared this principle with me (again). I’m sure I learned it back in the day when I took biology!

“Structure without function is a corpse; function without structure is a ghost,”
(Vogel and Wainwright 1969).

Dr. Wainwright (1988), a Duke zoologist stated, “Form and function are never separate. No form exists other than as a result of function. No form exists without a function, and no function exists without a formal cause and context.” He defines “form as shape, and function as changing structure,” (p.671-672). Another way of putting or understanding function is “plants (cells) evolve with specific traits that make the most sense for the environment,” (Litvack 2015).  They do this in order to survive. Alright enough with the science lesson, but I will add architects also use this principle when designing and building.

Back to our topic of Mission. In applying this principle to our lives—Mission is Function. As Catholic Religious women we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Our mission flows from our relationship with God and we Sisters of St. Joseph also know and believe that we are, “stimulated by the Holy Spirit,” and we act accordingly in the “following of Jesus Christ.”

Religious Life as we now know it will not exist in fifteen to twenty years. But don’t let this scare you! We are Evolving…in evolution…in the process of creating… When you begin discernment or enter formation you will hear this a lot, you will hear the data to back it up, and hear much conversation around this. You will learn the history of your community and where they’ve been. You will learn the Mission and Charism of the community. You will learn about the Vows and living a Vowed life. You will observe what Sisters are doing today and join them. You will be part of the conversations around the future of the community and you might even be singled out at times on what you think as the ‘newest and/or” youngest member.

Here’s the crux of the matter on the topic of the future of Religious Life and/or your particular Congregation: no one person has the all the exact answers and we must trust God and the Spirit as we live into this future together.

Today I offer the suggestion when discussing the future we need to hold deep conversations around our Mission and Charism. If we understand our Mission as our function than as the principle goes, form will follow and further evolve for continued existence and survival. This is how all life has survived throughout the history of the universe and how we humans are here today. Once there is a strong communal understanding of Mission then communal and individual decisions can be made flowing from this. Transformation or evolution for the future will occur.

God is with us. Let’s take our ‘form and function’ into the future as we continue to read the signs of the times and serve a world in need!

Blessings on the Journey Fellow Pilgrim! ~Sister Clare


Litvack, E. Form Follows Function in Plant Temperatures. University of Arizona Communications.

Wainwright, S. (1988). Form and Function in Organisms. American Zoologist, Vol. 28, No. 2 (1988), pp. 671-680. DOI: Accessed: 20-01-2018 20:17 UTC

12 Types of Intimacy

When I was in formation, I remember when my novice director came home from a conference and said to me, “We need to talk more about sex.”  She meant this in the way it sounds, but more so in a broader context including healthy sexuality and intimacy.  One really helpful conversation centered around different types of intimacy (I probably still have the handout somewhere).  What she gave me (and what I’ll paste below) outlined twelve different types of intimacy.  Consecrated religious can be intimate in eleven out of the twelve ways.

  1. Sexual Intimacy: Sharing passion and physical pleasuring
  2. Emotional Intimacy: Being tuned to each other’s wavelength
  3. Intellectual Intimacy: Closeness in the world of ideas
  4. Aesthetic Intimacy: Sharing experience of beauty
  5. Creative Intimacy: Sharing in acts of creating together
  6. Recreational Intimacy: Relating in experiences of fun and play
  7. Work Intimacy: Closeness of sharing common tasks
  8. Crisis Intimacy: Closeness in coping with problems and pain
  9. Conflict Intimacy: Facing and struggling with differences
  10. Commitment Intimacy: Mutually derived from common self-interest
  11. Spiritual Intimacy: Unity shared in religious expression
  12. Communication Intimacy: Mutual understanding and affirmation

*Note:  I’m not sure of the origins of this list.  It is easily found on multiple online sites.

Intimacy is important in any vocation.  It requires time and sharing and vulnerability.  Know that if you are discerning a religious vocation, intimate friendships are a necessity.  They take work.  They keep us whole.  They keep us in touch with our own life and struggles and joys as well as those of the world around us.  Religious life is not a place to hide for those who might feel uncomfortable in relationship.  To live religious life well demands that we relate deeply with a wide array of people; that we can be honest and vulnerable with ourselves and others even and especially when it is less than comfortable; that we are intentional about being intimate.  Intimacy is connection, unity, affirmation, understanding, closeness, sharing, relating.  We all need intimacy.

–S. Sarah

On Compassion

I have this framed quote in my room which I have been contemplating lately:  “Compassion Seems to Be the Greatest Power.”  It’s a strong statement, and one I’m starting to think is true.  I am grateful to feel deeply with other people.  I am grateful that feeling with others most often leads me to action.  And, yet, feeling with is not always easy.

In a recent post, I shared a YouTube clip on mirror neurons–neurons in our brain that respond to what others are experiencing.  We can’t help but smile as we watch the person across the room light up.  We can’t help but cringe when we see someone else hurt.  We literally feel, to some extent, what the other is feeling.  Yet, we are not the other.

Yet, if our brain lights up in compassion, why do we not see how our actions and inactions affect others?  How can there be so many hard, violent, unjust choices made daily by educated, seemingly reasonable people?  We choose to keep ourselves separate.  It’s easier to make a choice that’s good for me but not so good for someone else if they are ‘other’.

We have skin.  We have a natural barrier that makes me a different being that you.  So, then why have both?  Why have barriers that keep us separate and mirror neurons that tell us we are one?

Compassion–so we can feel with and respond to; so we can be there for others and they can be there for us.  Living from a place of compassion is a daily adventure.  Sometimes it’s a comedy, sometimes a tragedy, sometimes an action flick.  Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it brings unspeakable joy.  And, all the time, it is the link that makes us together as one.

–S. Sarah

How Do We Invest God’s Immeasurable Gifts?

By Mary Flick, CSJ

As we near the end of the liturgical year, the Church gives us end-time readings, parables and stories which leave us pondering where, who, how we will be in our own end time. The first reading gives us an image of the Ideal Wife, who faithfully serves her husband, children and community through her resourcefulness and hard work. The image of this woman closes the Book of Proverbs, and epitomizes the wealth and wisdom of Israel’s wisest teachers recorded in the book. She is presented as a model to be emulated by all the faithful.

In today’s gospel, we meet three servants, each deemed trustworthy by the master, and given years’ worth of earnings to care for during his absence. When he returns, they are held accountable for what they have received. The two who are resourceful have chosen to invest their master’s wealth and double their investment and reward. But the one whose choices were made out of fear and insecurity loses not only the master’s reward, but the master’s trust, too.

The servants are judged by the choices they’ve made in using the gifts given them and whether they have reached their fullest potential. We, too, will be judged by our faithfulness in fulfilling what we have been called to do with our gifts. More than financial dividends, our greater reward is found in the joy we experience with a job well done and a life well lived. Our joy is but a hint of the unending joy we will know with God.

Wise persons – like the Ideal Wife and the first two servants – accept what life gives, work with it, strive to make it better, and share the fruit of their labors. It’s the way of wisdom we follow when we choose to be trustworthy and realize the joy of a life well lived. In the end, our joy and God’s are one.

Paul makes it clear: we do not know when the end time will come. Often it comes suddenly, “like a thief at night.” Natural disaster, illness, loss of job, death – the end strikes without warning. Be prepared, Paul instructs. Be faithful to who you are. You are “children of the light” –entrusted with God’s immeasurable gifts of life. Our challenge is to live in and from that trust.

How do the needs of the world, the needs of our dear neighbors, calling me to use my gifts?