facebook icon twitter icon

Weekly Pause & Ponder

Evolutionary spirituality, though it comes in many colors, has a message much more suited for the life conditions of the modern and postmodern world: the evolution of this world is the goal of spiritual life. And by “world” I mean the manifest cosmos of time and space, both the interior and exterior realms – consciousness, culture, and cosmos. The action is here – in this time, in this place, in the possibilities that lie in the near and distant future of this culture, this world, this universe. Yes, there still may be spiritual transcendence of the most radical, sublime, and subtle forms, but transcendence is in the service of evolution, not the other way around.  And the difference is everything.

Evolutionaries by Carter Phipps


First Sunday of Lent : Self-Surrendering Love

I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Really, I know that, but in my heart, do I believe it? Do you believe that? If I/you could embody this truth, would the next forty days be a time of deep spiritual renewal and transformation?

Many of us have had our own wilderness experiences. Mine occurred during a retreat a few years ago. I was experiencing a very dark time. I felt that if I could make a general confession, I would feel better. I approached the retreat priest and with much trepidation told him I wanted to make a general confession. He said, “have you confessed these sins before?”, I said, “yes, but I’m not sure that I didn’t forget some.” He said, “have you forgiven yourself?  Do you trust that God in His mercy has forgiven you? God loves you and He knows what’s in your heart.”

Pope Frances speaks of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to the other person, one who accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. (Laudato Si, p.147)

My prayer during retreat was, ‘Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner’. Toward the end of the retreat, deep in the silence of my heart, I heard the echo of these words, ‘you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.’  The darkness lifted and I was filled with gratitude and peace.

God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are reflected in the scripture readings. God makes a covenant with Noah to love and protect all living creatures and the earth itself. In the Psalm we are reminded again of the beauty and union with God experienced by all who embrace this covenant of abiding love. It speaks of a living hope, a new birth and an unshakeable faith. The Gospel takes us into the desert with Jesus where He spent forty days in prayer and fasting. He, in humility allowed Himself to be tempted by the devil. He overcame the temptations and remained in union with the Father in total self-surrendering love. 

We, too have our temptations.

Pope Frances in his Lenten message to the Church (2015) speaks clearly on what Lent should really be. He urges that instead of abstaining from food or drink, we should fast from indifference. He says, “indifference to our neighbor and to God represents a real temptation for us Christians.”

Describing what he calls the ‘globalization of indifference’ he writes, “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard. The quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”  He continues that, “we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this was someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

As we begin our Lenten journey, may we be renewed in spirit and experience God’s essence of love, forgiveness and mercy.

Mary McGuire, CSJ


Valentine’s Day RECYCLED

As a child, I did not like when Valentine’s Day fell within the Lenten Season. It seemed like all the joy of chocolate and candy and hearts was lost. And today, I fear that celebration with a glass of “bubbly” could be forfeited as well. Obviously, I am invited to ponder more deeply the issue of “hearts”; maybe I hear the invitation to respond “with heart” in other ways. Perhaps I might consider the call to conversion as a concern that embraces not just myself and my wishes, but to a love that encompasses the world and all creation. Might I feel the call to stretch my heart and my desire into an acceptance of God’s dream for our world?

Pondering our traditional Lenten practices, I could seize the opportunity to consider where love is most needed. Can I seek out one lonely person for a friendly and consoling chat?  

In the fasting to which the Church invites me today, can I stand in solidarity with the hungry in my city and in the world? Might I pray with the countless refugees and the abused in shelters and shattered relationships?

As I fast from food or media or chatter, may I ask for awareness to know how to respond with life-giving action for others. Recalling Jesus’ forty long days in the desert, I am reminded that these forty days are a call to share with others of my riches. As I wear my dirty forehead on Ash Wednesday, may I do so in solidarity with all in our world who seek for water to wash or drink? I pray that the “bubbly” forfeited above might in some way be transformed into bubbles of happiness or buckets of water for others. I pray to keep pondering the mystery and opportunities that these 40 days hold.

Helen Russell, CSJ 


This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC



Weekly Pause & Ponder

It is love itself that brings all of us together. This human family we are part of, this singular voice that is the accumulation of all voices raised together in praise of all Creation, this one heartbeat, this one drum, this one immaculate love that put us here together so that we could learn its primary teaching – that love is the energy of Creation, that is takes love to create love.

Embers by Richard Wagamese, p. 46


Hats have power. They can change you into someone else.

Many of us wear hats in life both literally and figuratively.  For as long as I can remember little Emma loved to wear hats.  She has grown into a delightful teenager and still wears hats whenever possible.  By contrast, there are babies who won’t tolerate anything resembling a hat on their little heads, nor will they probably ever don one later in life, or as a last resort pull on a woolen cap to keep their ears warm.

For years I have been fascinated by head coverings. If you live in Canada, for example, and the temps sit at -20oC it makes sense to pull on a warm tuque.  If you live in warmer climes where the sun beats down incessantly, it makes sense to wear a wide brimmed hat to shield your face.  But what about all those other hats, you know the ones I mean?  Huge magical pieces of art with brims of intimidating diameter perched on craning heads at the Ascot races, for example. Or those fashionable hats designed by Queen Elizabeth’s milliner.  How about the fancy and flimsy headpieces, the stunning fascinators, such as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, wears at times.  What is their purpose?  Some folks, perhaps the chic Coco Channel among them, say the right kind of hat inspires a person to grow into it, to become the person they never knew they could be.  Though this is probably true, there is so much more to why folks wear hats. There was a time, not so long ago, when every trade, every craft had its hat. Just think of Chefs in an exclusive restaurant who wear those white puffy hats, or the construction guy in his yellow hard hat.  Might it be that head coverings, such as a hat, is a mnemonic device? Perhaps even a ‘security blanket’ for some?  Does someone wear a fur-based cowboy hat, or a rugged Stetson, made from thick beaver felt, not only to let the onlooker know who he or she is, but to remember who they are, with whom they identify.  Is that why we ask, ‘where do you hang your hat?’ when we want to know what place someone calls home.

Of course, so much more of who and what we are is expressed by our sartorial preferences, particularly the item perched on someone’s head.  Think for a moment of Donald Trump in his red ball cap with his slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. And by contrast, those bright pink Pussyhats worn at last year’s Women’s March on Washington in a show of solidarity and support for women’s rights.  The youngsters who prefer to don their ball caps backwards, are making their own unique statement. A man who flaunts a jaunty hat, one that’s stylish and cheerful at the same time, worn perhaps off to the side or over one eye, certainly accentuates his sartorial preference.  As did the men who wore top hats when they were in vogue, and as do the men and women who wear a bowler or Panama hat, a fez or turban, a fedora or Gatsby cap, or the conical Basotho hat, a cloche or beanie, or a Canadian Tilley hat.  Or think of the quintessential French beret which gives the impression of the right soft toughness to its wearer and is worn by the United States Army Special Forces, colloquially known as the Green Berets due to this distinctive service headgear.

Even more fascinating than wearing a hat to make a fashion statement or displaying allegiance to one’s heritage, a favourite sport or occupation, is the head covering worn for religious reasons.  Head coverings play very important roles in both Christian and non-Christian faiths.  The biblical basis for head coverings can be found in 1 Corinthians which contains detailed instructions about the why and when men and women should, or should not, cover their heads.  During public Christian worship, for instance, men are not to cover their heads whereas women should. There was a time, not so long ago, when a man would doff his hat when he walked by a Catholic Church. Over the years customs and traditions have changed and vary, and so some women cover their heads at public worship only, while others believe they should cover their heads all the time. Traditionally, both active and contemplative religious sisters wore veils, and Catholic clergy birettas.  Nowadays, clergy rarely wear any head covering at liturgies, however, those of us who are Catholic, are familiar with the red or purple skull caps, and the miters, bishops and cardinals wear at liturgical events.  Then there is Pope Francis who, like all popes, wears a white skull cap called zucchetto. 

Non-Catholic faiths, such as the conservative Mennonites and the less conservative Amish, have a very distinctive style of head gear for both men and women, which vary from community to community.  Women wear either a white or black prayer cap all the time, depending on the custom of their community, and the men large black wool felt hats for formal occasions and wide-brimmed straw hats on a day-to-day basis.

Non-Christians, of course, have their specific head coverings. A Jewish Rabbi, and all devout Jews, wear a skull cap called a yarmulke. Muslim men wear a close-fitting prayer cap called a taqiyah. The women do not wear such a cap, but many wear a hijab in the presence of adult males outside their immediate family, which covers not only their head but also their chest.  Followers of the Sikh faith, too, have their distinctive headgear.  The men are recognized by their turban, which is not a hat but a very long piece of fabric which they re-tie every day. Though some Sikh women also choose to wear the turban, most wear a long scarf called a chunni or dupatta.  So, you see, as I pointed out earlier, the topic of head covering worn for religious reasons is both fascinating and complex, to say the least.

I started out by commenting on little Emma who had a penchant for hats from a very young age. Remembering how adorable she looked in any kind of hat whatsoever, made me recall my own childhood in Germany where I learned the ditty, ‘Mein Hut der hat drei Ecken …’ a children’s song about a three-cornered hat. Another favourite of mine is the delightful book, ‘The Cat in the Hat’, about a tall cat who wears a red and white-striped hat and a red bow tie. Like me, many of us were introduced to hats, disparate both in style and meaning, at a very young age. You probably have heard it said, ‘hair is your crowning glory.’  Not only that, in his Gospel Luke writes, ‘Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.’ This being so, is it any wonder some of us adorn our heads and hair with some type of hat for all to see and admire, whereas others shield theirs from the eyes of strangers by wearing a veil or prayer cap?

We often hear it said, ‘Clothes make the man [or woman]’.  Some folks go so far as to say you can judge someone’s character based on clothing and appearance. I have even heard it said how someone wearing a hat is inclined to act and feel more polite and civilised, with more inner calm.  In addition, that a hat or cap, put on properly, (well forward on the head) causes the wearer to hold his or her head high.  It does seem, then, hats do have power to change you into someone else.

Sr. Magdalena Vogt, cps



Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.