Dear Friends of Joseph House:
We read with interest about a series of meetings that started at Harvard Divinity School between Nuns and Nones, “nones” referring to young adults, or millennials, who profess no religious affiliation (about 25% of the population).
Apart from the obvious differences—such as the age gap—the two groups discovered they share some common aspirations. For example, they’re united in wanting to make the world a better place, and both groups have a preference for community-based decision making. Both groups also realized they can learn from each other. The nuns were amazed at how adept millennials are with technology. The millennials, in turn, commented on how comfortable the nuns were with silence. They marveled at how Catholic religious sisters can sustain themselves over years, even decades, of ministry and social activism.
Could it be that the things that impressed the millennials are related? From our perspective as Little Sisters, we believe they are. They point to a common denominator: a life of prayer.
Prayer takes root in silence and as it grows it touches everything in a person’s life. Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth, made sure that prayer was an essential part of our daily routine. She included in our Constitutions and Rule:
Times of encounter with the Lord in prayer are indispensable in our religious life. Only in union with Him will our work be fruitful, for without Him we can do nothing. As our prayer and action become a single response of love, our life gradually achieves unity and peace.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth described herself as an active-contemplative, and she wished the same for the members of her community. One way of being an active-contemplative is to develop a contemplative way of seeing. That means to look beneath the surface, to see the potential— to behold the oak tree in the acorn, so to speak. When Jesus saw Simon, a self-confessed sinful man, He also saw Peter, the rock of the Church—and that is the person Jesus spoke to, all the while accepting who Simon was at the moment.
Prayer isn’t “useful,” we don’t do it to get something out of it, but it does change who we are. For us, this certainly carries over into our ministry at the Joseph House. Anyone who is different or struggling or on the margins of society can get written off so easily. But approaching someone prayerfully helps us to see deeply, with compassion, and we create a space for his or her potential to grow and develop. In contrast, presenting someone with judgment and condemnation creates a barrier: that person will feel fenced in.
A prayerful life helps us to see the seed of grace within each person, to honor it, and to remember that every person has a destiny in eternity.
By his own account, Jack was a very mean person. People would take one look at him and keep their distance. Jack was homeless for years. He said he would sleep in the woods, far into the bushes so even the wind couldn’t touch him.
One day Jack came to our Hospitality Room at the Crisis Center. We asked if he was hungry. Jack said yes, and we gave him coffee, “Oodles of Noodles,” and two slices of bread. Jack later told us it was the best meal he ever had. He was so hungry for something more.
We asked Jack if we would be interested in the Joseph House Workshop, our residential program for homeless men. He said yes again, so he was interviewed, where it was explained to him that he would have to follow some rules. That won’t be a problem, he said.
Jack was in disbelief when he entered the Workshop. A bed just for him! A kitchen and dining room! Hot meals! A living room! A community! For Jack, it was heaven on earth.
Well, that was over seven years ago. Jack is now a successful graduate of the Workshop and loves to be the first person at his job in the morning. He’s had setbacks with his health, but he’s doing much better. Whereas once he drove people away, now he attracts them. His network of friends is always growing. They look after him, and Jack is no longer on the outside of anywhere.
And to think it all started with opening the door and saying hello….
Many poor people are hiding in plain sight. They get ignored, yet modern society depends on the work they do. Gail, 52, is a bathroom attendant in Ocean City. She makes sure the facility on the boardwalk is clean and safe so the people enjoying the beach don’t have to worry about it. Gail had a roommate who moved out suddenly. The rent was too much for Gail to pay by herself and so she received an eviction notice. The Joseph House paid $170 to the landlord so Gail wouldn’t become homeless.
Patricia, 60, drives a school bus. She is single and has the care of her grandson; the parents have no involvement with their child. Patricia is a good, responsible person. Paying her basic expenses is a real struggle. She came to the Joseph House after giving $200 (all the money she had) to her landlord. It was not enough. Fortunately, we were able to pay $325 to keep Patricia and her grandson in their home.
Leila, 24, washes dishes in a restaurant and does other odd jobs. She has a young son but the father does not pay child support. Leila and her son did not have a fixed address. Even after giving up her car she never had the funds for the security deposit for an apartment. The Joseph House provided $225, plus a warm coat for her son who needed one. Now this family has a place to live.
Late winter, early spring. This is the time of year when appearances are deceptive. Everything looks dead and the trees are bare, but then we notice the red buds on the branch tips. Nature is so resilient—it reminds us to live as a sign of hope. Thank you for all the ways you support the Joseph House, including your generosity. You give hope to people who are desperately searching for it. May God bless you!
Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary
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When you meditate, be like a mountain
immovably set in silence.
Its thoughts are rooted in eternity.
Do not do anything, just sit, be—
and you will reap the fruit flowing from your prayer.
When you meditate, be like a flower
always directed towards the sun.
Its stalk, like a spine, is always straight.
Be open, ready to accept everything without fear,
and you will not lack light on your way.
When you meditate, be like an ocean
always immovable in its depth.
Its waves come and go.
Be calm in your heart,
and evil thoughts will go away by themselves.
When you meditate, remember your breath:
Thanks to it we have come alive.
It comes from God and returns to God.
Unite the word of prayer with the stream of life,
and nothing will separate you from the Giver of life.
When you meditate, be like a bird
singing without a rest in front of the Creator.
Its song rises like the smoke of incense.
Let your prayer be like the coo of a dove,
and you will never succumb to discouragement.
When you meditate, be like Abraham
giving his son as an offering.
It was a sign that he was ready to sacrifice everything.
You too, leave everything,
and in your loneliness God will be with you.
When you meditate, it is Jesus
praying in you to the Father in the Spirit.
You are carried by the flame of His love.
Be like a river, serving all,
and the time will come when you will change into Love.
Every mountain teaches us the sense of eternity,
every flower, when it fades,
teaches us the sense of fleetingness.
The ocean teaches us how to retain peace during adversities,
and love always teaches us to love.
Fr. Seraphion of Mount Athos
(adapted by Fr. Jan Bereza, OSB)