Newsletter: June 2020

Important Note: This Newsletter was written long before protests and riots swept across our country following the killing of Mr. George Floyd. All of us need to be fearless in confronting every instance of racial hatred—whether in our hearts or in society—and use peaceful means to create a world that reflects our highest ideals of equality. We stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters, and all people who struggle against the injustice of racism and prejudice. Our guiding principle remains: “Cry the Gospel with your life!”


Dear Friends of Joseph House:

As we approach the midpoint of this disquieting year, it is comforting to see nature carrying on as usual. Our lives may have changed, but the trees are green once again and it looks and feels like summer is on its way. New life is sprouting, blooming, and growing, just like it does every June, a month always filled with promise.

It’s a growing season for us, too, although probably not in the way we expected or ever wanted. There’s a curious phrase from Meister Eckhart, a German mystic from the Middle Ages, that comes to mind. He said, “We grow by subtraction,” which seems paradoxical, but recent events may help us to see it in a new light.

Sometimes we grow by getting bigger, by adding on, by achieving more…and sometimes we grow by cutting and removing and letting things recede. Sometimes we have to let go.

This pandemic is forcing us to let go of many things: our plans and expectations, our sense of security, and perhaps even our health and livelihood. Times we spent with other people are now spent alone. We are being confronted with new limits in our lives. It’s easy to feel confined and powerless.

In other words, we are experiencing different forms of poverty, and as the poor will tell us, poverty is the seedbed of true hope.

When, like the poor, our days are shaded by uncertainty, when the mirage of our self-sufficiency is dispersed, then hope has a chance to take root in our spirit. “Hard times” are its ideal growing conditions. Maybe by letting go and creating an empty space in our lives, we are giving hope a chance to flourish. Maybe we are clearing a path for new possibilities.

Our work at the Joseph House has made one facet of hope crystal clear to us: it has a relational quality. Hope spreads through compassion and solidarity. What restores the hope of a mother who has nothing to give her hungry children? Is it not the kindness of people who share food with her? By looking out for each other, we keep hope alive and well. We make it believable.

Thank you for your continued support of our ministry. During this time of widespread need, we are grateful that you remember the Joseph House. Your donations and prayers give us the means to serve the vulnerable members of our community. Although our Soup Kitchen is still closed at the Crisis Center, our Food Pantry, Hospitality Room for the Homeless, and Financial Assistance program are all active. The Joseph House Workshop is also in operation 24/7, preparing homeless men to reach their potential in life.

Life is a hardship for many people right now. By pulling together and drawing on the wellspring of God’s grace, we can do something to make the situation better. We can each do our part. If you are personally going through a rough time, please hang in there! You are not alone.

Pamela was in a tight spot even before COVID-19 hit. To support her family she was driving a cab, but that was too dangerous. Her next job at a fast-food place did not pay enough to meet her basic expenses. Pamela found a better job in Ocean City, but then everything was shut down because of the virus. We paid $220 toward Pamela’s rent to help secure her housing.

Reuben, 69, lives alone and is often sick. His past-due electric bill overwhelmed his limited income. The Joseph House helped with $225.

Christen, 40, has two children and lives on a small monthly disability check. She did not have the money for her water bill, so we paid it ($149).

Madeline, 38, has three children and lost her job as a waitress because of the shutdown. She had no heat in her home, and drove an hour to our Crisis Center because there was no place to go for help. We paid for heating oil ($180) and gave her a voucher for 12 gallons of gasoline.

Phyllis, 23, and her three young children have been homeless for two years. They have stayed in shelters and the homes of various friends. Her minivan has often been her only refuge. Phyllis finally found a subsidized apartment, but in order to move in she needed to pay her old electric bill. We contacted the utility company and paid $250.

Harry and his wife were both out of work, but then Harry got a job at a poultry house. They and their two sons were living in a motel until it closed because of the coronavirus. Harry came to the Joseph House because he hadn’t received his first paycheck yet and didn’t know where to go. We found a motel that was still open and paid for a week for this homeless family ($280). We also gave them groceries.

Irma, is a 65-year-old widow. She has been cleaning bathrooms to supplement her Social Security. Irma was hoping to find more work in Ocean City, but those plans are on hold. To add to her troubles, Social Security told her they had overpaid her and will be reducing the amount of her check. We helped Irma with $250 for her rent.


Please pray for Sr. Patricia Lennon, who fell and broke her arm. She was walking back from the chapel at our residence in Princess Anne, MD when she lost her balance. Sr. Pat is dedicated to prayer, and now she could use one from all of us.

As you know, this is really a time of deep prayer for the whole world. We pray for everyone who is fearful, for the sick and suffering, for those who have died, and for all the people who are making a sacrifice for the good of others. May we be delivered soon from the scourge of this virus. And may God, the source of all hope, who is with us every step of this journey, shelter you from harm and keep your heart in peace.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

COVID-19 has far-reaching consequences that will be with us for a while. “Hope Practices,” healthy habits that will serve us in the long run, can help us cope. We found some good ideas from Richard Hendrick, a Franciscan friar in Ireland. Here are a few:

Look at the sky; to do so draws you up and out of your thoughts.

Live seasonally; enter fully the joy and the beauty of each one as it arises and then do not cling to them as they bid you farewell.

Living plants are better than cut flowers, but always try and have a little of nature near you.

Plant seeds. Grow a garden, and, if possible eat from it. It will teach you your dependence on the earth for bodily sustenance.

Sing, hum, whistle; let music be part of you, especially the music that arises unbidden and seems to come from deep within.

Spend time with the very young and the very old, both will help you be yourself again.

Speak less. Listen more. Pause before you post anything online.

Be polite and thankful towards those who have the job of serving you—waiting staff, shop assistants, cleaners—and remember that everyone you meet has a story at least as complicated as yours.

Bend, stretch, move, dance; do not become confined in or separated from your body, honor it with respect and kindness. Tell it you love it until you do. Rest.

Draw, paint, doodle, play with color and shapes, and as you do so watch what emerges. Do not characterize it as good or bad.

Compare yourself with no one. There is no universal map for a human life, but there is a universal destiny: to become love.

Watch the dawn and the dusk often, both are great teachers in their own way.

Seek truth always. Be open to the fact that you could always be wrong.

Teach yourself the value of unstimulated solitude.

Let your eyes rest on books more than screens. Read the older stories. If they are still with us it is because they have much to teach us still.

Finally, before all else and above all else: act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.

The Confession of Br. Charles

A canonized saint by definition is someone who practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace. Coming from all walks of life, they show us how any situation can be transformed by the light of the Gospel.

To honor the saints, we place them on a pedestal or enshrine them in stained glass, complete with a halo. We look up to them, and without realizing it, we often assume they must have been angels when they walked the earth. Did St. Francis of Assisi ever complain about dinner? Did Mother Teresa ever get irritated by having to wait for someone? It’s hard to think that they did.

In contrast, each one of us is aware of our daily struggles and faults. So often, it seems, we fall short of the mark so easily. The saints must have been different.

Or maybe not.

They were human beings like us, and if we look closely at their lives there is ample evidence to prove that.

Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) hasn’t been canonized yet, but he was beatified in 2005 (a step along the way). His life and spirituality are important to us at the Joseph House (you can read more about him here on our website).

On January 16, 1898, he wrote a long letter to his spiritual director, Father Huvelin. At the time, Charles was in the Holy Land, living as a simple laborer for a convent of nuns. His life had the appearance of contented peace.

Charles begins his letter by describing how he occupies his time. Everything seems ideal:

“My life goes on with great calm; in the daytime I work as long as there is light; in the morning and in the evening and during part of the night, I read and pray.”

But then Charles starts to get honest. He takes a hard look at his life, and he tells Fr. Huvelin how the outside – what people see – is not the whole story. His list of failings is precise (emphasis his).

“The essence of my confessions is this:

  • tepidity (badly made prayers, badly said Office, miserably poor attendance at Mass, presence of God badly kept during the day, etc);
  • slackness (laziness in rising…sometimes I lie down again instead of getting up at the first awakening);
  • greediness, gluttony (eating too much);
  • lack of charity (not praying enough and with sufficient fervor for my neighbor…not having sufficiently the habit of seeing Our Lord, of seeing the Christ-Child in everyone…thoughts contrary to charity, memories accompanied by severe judgments on certain persons I used to know);
  • pride, not a sufficiently low opinion of myself, not enough mistrust of myself; thoughts, budding aspirations of betterment;
  • not enough repentance for my past and present sins.

Not enough gratitude to God nor to men, these are the main points, but above all tepidity and slackness.”

Hmmm…maybe his letter is more like a mirror for the reader today. Very relatable indeed. Br. Charles was just as human as all of us.

The lesson of his confession, and of all the saints, is to put our trust in God, the One who can do everything we cannot.

And another definition of a saint is someone who never gave up.

Statue of Br. Charles in Strasbourg, France, the city where he was born.

The source of the letter is Soldier of the Spirit by Michel Carrouges (published in English in 1956, it is out of print). The illustration in the header is by René Follet and is from The Wonderful Life of Charles de Foucauld (1963), also out of print. Bottom photo by Rabanus Flavus / public domain.

Newsletter: April 2018

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Across the land, we see a transformation taking place: buds forming on tree branches, birds chirping in the early morning light, delicate sprouts poking through the earth. After a long winter of nor’easters and arctic cold, Spring is on the way.

Our fussing and self-importance do nothing to bring this about. A little more sunlight each day, a little warmer air in the breeze, and the magic begins. Subtle changes occur — we usually miss them and don’t realize they are happening — but what is the end result? The creation and continuation of life on our planet.

Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this advice: Adopt the pace of Nature — her secret is patience.

How patient is Nature? Look at the Grand Canyon. Some things take time and they’re never really finished. We can see this in the natural wonders of the world. Can we see it in other people? In ourselves?

In our ministry with the poor, as in any helping profession, we learn that people move according to their own timetable. We can’t hurry them along. We learn to be patient, to give them the same allowances we give ourselves. There are men and women who have been coming to our Hospitality Room for the Homeless for years. They seem resistant to any kind of intervention, no matter how well-meaning. What can we do except be the love of God for them, a love they likely experience nowhere else?

For the homeless, and everyone who seeks help from the Joseph House, our presence changes the course of their journey. Maybe the change is slow and subtle. Maybe it’s going to be a long time until someone’s winter is over. So be it. What we give to the poor is a commitment to be there for them. Fidelity gives people hope.

Week after week, we welcome people to the Joseph House Crisis Center. Our waiting room is often full. Sometimes when the cheery glow of Christmas fades away, so too does the desire to give to the needy. But the poor are still here, they still need help. It is our joy to keep our door open for them.

People like Mary Beth depend on it. She has five children, including an infant. Their home for the past several years has been a trailer. Mary Beth is married, although her husband left shortly after their youngest child was born. He is not providing support of any kind. The sudden change in finances has been extremely detrimental to this family’s security and well-being.

When Mary Beth came to see us she was on the verge of being evicted from her home. Her landlord was trying to be sympathetic, but she had reached the point where she needed to initiate legal action against Mary Beth and her family.

A grant from the Department of Social Services only paid some of the rent. Mary Beth was feeling desperate. She was scheduled to begin a new job as a nursing assistant at $9.25 per hour. Her first paycheck was weeks away, however, and she needed to pay something to her landlord immediately. The landlord was called and we guaranteed $200. That was accepted to keep Mary Beth and her children from being evicted.

For her own safety, Elena was removed from her home by Adult Protective Services following reports of domestic violence. She was placed in a motel while a social worker looked for a permanent place for her to live. Elena is 47 and in a disturbing state of declining health. She has bipolar disorder, PTSD, chronic lung disease, arthritis, and cancer.

To come face-to-face with the mystery of suffering leaves one speechless. If there is no answer for suffering, there is a response: compassion. When her motel time was up with housing yet to be found, we paid $275 for another week. Elena would be more comfortable there than in the more spartan accommodations of a shelter.

Jenny, 55, had two infected teeth that needed to be extracted. The pain, not to mention the possibility of sepsis, meant that dental care had to be soon. Jenny pays 78% of her income on rent. That leaves precious little money for other expenditures, even necessary ones. We paid $175 for Jenny’s visit to the dentist. Jenny is going to apply for subsidized housing, but the wait is usually several years.

Horace, 77, lives by himself in a small house surrounded by farmland. Early in the winter, a burst pipe kept the motor from his well running continuously. Horace got the pipe fixed, but then his electric bill was three times higher than normal. He fell behind in paying the bill and was afraid his power was going to be cut off. We sent $160 to the electric company to get Horace’s account up to date.

Tim, a 49-year-old farm worker, has been sidelined because of back and leg injuries. His teen-age son helps to pay the bills, but he is also temporarily without a job. The cold weather drove up the electric bill in Tim’s home. We paid $225 toward the overdue amount.

Derek is a successful graduate of the Joseph House Workshop. The support and training he received has renewed his self confidence, and for that he is grateful. This inner strength was put to the test a few months ago when his son was born with a heart defect. His little boy has required three surgeries at a hospital in another state. Derek missed a lot of work during these challenging months and fell behind in the rent. For the sake of his family, he came to us seeking assistance.

Being able to help Derek with $300 was gratifying. You can share in that feeling because you made it possible. Your generosity gives a helping hand to people when they need it the most. You make the world a more loving and hospitable place. If you wish to help us with a donation, you can do so here: Donate Online.

Hope is the sister of patience. While both involve waiting, hope adds a sense of expectation. Hope waits for a fulfillment not found in the present moment, and ultimately not in the present life. Sooner or later, when we trust in our own abilities we reach the end of the road. Hope tells us that is not the end of the journey.

The Resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of all our hopes. Please use this Easter season as a time to celebrate the many beautiful ways we can experience the gift of life. And thank you for supporting our ministry — we promise to do our best to be worthy of your faith in us.

With our prayers,

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary