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What Itch Distracts You from God?

Blog by Associate Theresa Kempker, OPA

In Sunday’s first reading, we hear that the king of Nineveh ordered everyone to wear sackcloth and he sat in ashes.  In fact, we often read in the Bible that penitents wore sackcloth and sat in ashes or put ashes on their head.  Why not just say dirt?  Isn’t that the point, that a penitent would sit in ugly sackcloth and be dirty?

Well, no.  Sackcloth, as you can imagine, is not only unfashionable, but it is rough and itchy.  I’ve always imagined that it must not be good at keeping out the cool of the night, either.

But what always strikes my soul is the use of the ashes.  Wood ashes, when combined with water, make lye, a terribly caustic chemical.  Most of the farm families I knew growing up made their own soap with commercial lye, and everyone had a healthy respect for it.  A small can of lye poured into a crock of water could have it nearly boiling in seconds.  Children were to be kept away from soap making so that they wouldn’t get any lye on their skin and be burned.

If a penitent sweated or if dew fell, the water would combine with the ashes and make small amounts of weak lye.  But it would be lye nonetheless.  And it would itch, maybe burn.  It would be terribly uncomfortable to be scratched by the sackcloth and then burned by the lye from the ashes.  And after?  We don’t hear about people being done with this ordeal.  It must have felt so good to leave the sackcloth and ashes behind, take a bath, and put oil on all the places that were rubbed and irritated.

What itch is distracting us from closer union with God?  What fear or pride burns at our souls so that we are not at peace with God?  God does not want us to stay this way.  God wants us to remove our sackcloth, bathe in His mercy, and feel His Love soothing us.

God made you and loves you because you are worth loving.

Posted in Associate Blog

Joy and the Covid Vaccine

Blog by Jaime Berry, OPA

In these difficult times, weeping may stay the night, but Joy comes in the morning. (Ps 30:5)  For me, the Joy was the announcement of two Covid mRNA vaccines now being distributed and given to frontline healthcare workers that include doctors, nurses, technologists, technicians, EMTs, and environmental service workers – the whole shebang – and last but not the least, our elderly, after 10 months of much sadness, loneliness, isolation and darkness.

On Thursday, December 23, with sheer Joy in my heart, I received the first dose of the vaccine to protect me and those I care for from Covid-19. You see, I am a clinical microbiologist. My staff and I work with clinical respiratory samples all day, never knowing who has the virus until the test flags and results are interpreted as positive. Yes, we take all of the precautions – masking, gowning, gloving, washing hands, working in biological safety cabinets, and physical distancing in our own workspace.  We no longer dine together for dinner.  Most meetings are via Zoom.  If our senior team happens to meet in person – no more than 6 people in the room as we literally talk in raised voices spread apart.

Over the past few weeks our institution has prepped us for what might be coming.  There were lots of communications, a video of a panel discussion which included our head of infectious diseases, a pharmacist, director of nursing nurse, and even our CEO.  I also discussed the vaccine with three of my directors – all gifted women scientists. I didn’t think we’d get the vaccine so quickly being a children’s hospital. A physician from another hospital wrote a recent blog commenting that it felt like he and his colleagues were waiting to get into a Bruce Springsteen concert, all eagerly leaning and straining toward the entrance. Imagine a Bruce Springsteen concert full of glad tidings.

When my turn came, I slowly walked with some sadness and trepidation to the vaccination site with my daddy on my mind. He succumbed to Covid-19 on September 15, death certificate stating cause of death as acute respiratory failure due to bilateral Covid-19 pneumonia. If only he could have held out three more months and one week; he would have received this vaccine. I, too, had Covid-19, a moderate eventful case, leading to the emergency room and overnight hospitalization – I couldn’t breathe. “How can this be?” I wondered. “I’m in the emergency room on oxygen, steroids and pain killer because it hurt to breathe and my 86-year-old dad is upstairs in intensive care struggling to breathe, struggling to live.”

Ready for the vaccine, I walked into the auditorium, smooth jazz music playing overhead while I was escorted to seat number 6. My vaccinator, a hospital pharmacist asked how I felt, and we chit chatted for a few moments. He asked, “which arm?” I said “left.” I’m right-handed, and if anything should go awry, I’d still have my good hand/arm to use.  It’s crazy what wafts through your mind.

I received the first dose and almost cried due to my sense of relief, hope, JOY, and gratitude. I thanked my vaccinator and moved to another staged area so I could be observed for 15-20 minutes by other medical professionals for any life-threatening side effects. I sat there and said a prayer of thanks to God. God’s hands and providence touched the minds of countless scientists to find a way, to make a vaccine so that many others will be able to continue to live and to spread Good News of JOY and hope.  Yes, your arm will be very sore a day or two later after receiving the vaccine with varying symptoms for many ranging from mild to severe.

As a Dominican Associate, I received the vaccine for me, for my colleagues, for patients, for families, for friends, for our communities, for our nation, for the world. I did this for those hundreds of thousands who have died, many due to lack of access to care or due to the ignorance, or fear and obstinacy of those in power.   As an African American woman, I especially encourage my black brothers and sisters to get the vaccine; the virus is killing us!  I know the history of what happened to our ancestors and elders, but today is a new day, another journey that brings hope. We are a people of hope!  Everyone will eventually have a choice to receive this miracle in 2021. Let’s hope that all will be open to it, for Joy comes in the morning.

Posted in Associate Blog

Advent Joy

In today’s Gospel, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. At Christmas time we sing “Joy to the World”. The shepherds hear the angels proclaim “Good News of Great Joy.” We are surrounded by messages of Joy at this time of year. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit given to us. The Greek word for joy is “chara” which is defined as the natural reaction to the work of God, whether promised or fulfilled. This Joy is a feeling of inner gladness and delight. It comes from a recognition of the presence of God in us, in each other, and in the world around us. Possessing joy is a choice. When we open ourselves to receive this gift, the Spirit opens our eyes to see God’s grace in and around us even in the midst of difficult times.

As we head into the last week of Advent we invite you to focus on your internal Joy. Reminisce about a simpler time when you first felt the presence of Jesus Christ in your life. Were you a child or an adult? Did you feel the quickening of this newly lit fire in your belly when you thought of your Lord and Savior? Did this Joy propel you to give more, be more? Were you able to hold on to this fire regardless of external circumstances? 

At the initial confirmation of the Dominican order the Pope declared the brothers would be “the champions of the faith and the true lights of the world.” Letting our lights shine as members of the Dominican family is what we are called to do. Although our circumstances may be hard or even insurmountable, we can draw on that initial flame of Joy.  We cultivate it by adding fellowship, study and prayer- surely our flame will grow brighter as we move into the New Year! Spending quiet time this season thinking of the birth of Christ and His gifts to the world can ignite the Joy within us!

Posted in Associate Blog


We recognize Advent as a time of promise and hope. We visualize our Jewish ancestors awaiting the Messiah and we anticipate the fullness of the Kingdom of God. In the Advent readings from Isaiah, we envision beautiful descriptions of a recreated Earth, the healing of all people, and the end of violence and war.

Four characteristics of the Kingdom of God are that we wait in hope for a time when peace is the alternative to violence, inclusion is the alternative to elitism, the sharing of goods is the alternative to amassing of wealth, and a God of the powerless is the alternative to power and strength. Psalm 85 also speaks of a time when:

Justice and Peace Shall Kiss


Don’t we long for these days? During Advent, we are called to notice the glimpses of this future already present in our world and pray and wait in hope for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to be realized.

During Advent, as Sisters and Associates of Peace, we are called. Called to BE HOPE for one another. It’s just one little word but it represents everything. Hope might be one little action like saying yes to “both/and” instead of “there’s only one way”. Hope might be sharing time with one another in a new way of understanding each other without judgement.

To BE HOPE is to be a whisper of light reaching through the darkness for one another. It is being encouraging in times of uncertainty.  It is bringing comfort to the grieving in times of loss. It is giving nourishment to the poor in their time of hunger.  It is caring for the sick in their time of illness. It is teaching the marginalized in times of inequity. It is giving reassurance to the dying as the Lord calls them to his kingdom. To GIVE HOPE, we must first HAVE HOPE in our hearts so we may BE HOPE.

As Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace, we pray and wait IN HOPE together, clearing a path for the passage of our savior. Together, we are a thousand whispers of light for one another as we anticipate the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Sister Diane Kozlowski, OP              Carol Moss, OPA                  Michelle Castle, OPA

Posted in Associate Blog

Anticipation in Advent

What always comes to my mind are the lyrics to Carly Simon’s 1971 song, Anticipation.

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasin’ after some finer day

Anticipation is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

To anticipate something is to be expectant of that thing, occasion, gift, or person.  To anticipate is to also have hope that something wonderful is coming. Sometimes, anticipation ends in disappointment because we build up the coming event to be something greater than it could ever be.  During this Advent season, like so many other Advents, we anticipate many things – hopes, dreams, and a better way.  As Christians we anticipate celebrating Christmas – the birthday of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and all that is promised in the Second Coming.

2020 has no doubt been a year of anticipating – What it will be like when the pandemic restrictions are lifted and we can touch, hug and kiss our loved ones again?  What will it be like once the corona virus vaccine is made available to all, the kids are back in school, we’re back to work and things return to “normal”?  What will it be like when 2020 is finally over?  We don’t need to anticipate Christ. We trust in God’s promise – that God is with us already and remains in us, in our lateness, and in our waiting with anticipation.

What can we be doing while waiting, with emotions percolating through our hearts and minds?  Pray. Retreating with God through prayer helps us listen for and attend to God’s voice, if only for a few moments. God urges us to be still in this Season of Advent in the midst of our anxieties and fears. God urges us to delight in anticipation of the gift of Jesus Christ.


Blog by Associates Michelle Castle, Jaime Berry and Bev Orazen

Posted in Associate Blog