Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 22, 2019

Earth Concerns News

To Be a Sister of St. Joseph Is To Be Interested in the Cosmos by Marianne Comfort

To be a Sister of St. Joseph is to be interested in the cosmos, to be ecologists concerned about the state of the household of the universe. So claims Carol Zinn of Philadelphia, representative to the United Nations for the Sisters of St. Joseph worldwide.

In a presentation to the Federation Novitiate this spring, Carol pointed out how many of the principles of the Earth Charter tie in so closely with our charism. She even distributed a copy of a paper written by another Sister of St. Joseph that shows how each section of the Earth Charter corresponds to lines from some of our early documents, such as the Eucharistic Letter and the Maxims. (Feel free to ask me for a copy at any time.) Her suggestion to substitute the words AThe Sisters of St. Joseph@ or the names of our congregations for the more universal language in the Charter is also quite powerful. Just consider the preamble, if read that way: AThe Albany Province stands at a critical moment in Earth=s history, a time when we must choose our future Y Members of the province must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace.@ That's quite the exhilarating challenge and closely connected to who we say we are.

Earlier in the year, Pat Bergen and Kathy Sherman from LaGrange, Illinois, spent even more time connecting emerging knowledge about the universe to our charism, the values of the two trinities and some of the maxims. It was exciting to hear them talk about congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph as a microcosm of the universe, where all the same values are present, and we are called to manifest them to the world. As they said, science provides the facts while religious can provide meaning.

Pat and Kathy noted, for instance, the three basic values of the universe: differentiation, which sees every entity as unique and worthy of reverence; interiority, which reminds us that every entity is sacred and not an object for our exploitation and thus calls us to compassion; and communion, which sees connections among everything and so draws us to a choice for unity and love.

Dynamics in the universe, Pat and Kathy said, also correspond closely to values in the uncreated (God, Son and Holy Spirit) and created trinities (Jesus, Mary and Joseph), which are such strong factors in our early documents. They noted, for instance, the value of self-emptying love embodied in the Son, which mirrors stars emptying themselves to give birth to the Earth and the Earth pouring out food for all life forms. They noted also how the value of zeal exhibited in Jesus is seen in nature in the profusion of varieties of flowers, trees and animals.

Pat and Kathy reminded us also that the first stage of working for justice is understanding the state of the house, which is the neighborhood of the universe for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Pat helped us along by giving us some sobering facts about that "house": the breadbaskets of the world (the U.S. Midwest and China) are turning to desert; Americans are living a lifestyle that is 30 percent greater than can be sustained, and there is fear that the growing market for bottled water will encourage companies to buy up the rights to water now essential to the lives of the poor.

The best part of their two days with us was the brainstorming session to answer the question: What does a lifestyle of communion with the Earth look like? I get so energized considering the possibilities that emerged: incorporating all of creation in our prayers instead of tending to focus only on the needs of humans; using our community and local house budgets to support just and environmentally friendly economic systems such as fair trade and local, organic agriculture; establishing local communities in neighborhoods where it's possible to walk, cycle or take the bus to many destinations and thus reduce car usage.

We become what we contemplate, Pat and Kathy reminded us, as they encouraged us to feed the lifestyle options that lead us toward realizing a vision of the world where we want to live and leave behind. They left us with a challenging and uplifting image: Consider seeing hope as hearing the melody of the future and faith as dancing to it with our lives.


(May 2005)