Leadership Conference of Women Religious

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Opening Ritual and Reflection by Constance Phelps, SCL

The following is part of the text used by Constance Phelps, SCL, LCWR president, for the opening ritual and for the ritual of reconciliation and healing that took place at the LCWR assembly on Sunday, August 22, 2004.


 Leader:         God, Source of Life, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit, we gather in Your presence.

                      We come, aware of the times we find ourselves touched by fire, 
                                   in the fire,                  
                                   fire that can burn, disfigure, and destroy
                                   fire that can purify and refine
                                   fire that can transform and change
                                   fire that can warm and comfort


May we learn from our experiences with fire.  May we have the courage to sit in the fire of diversity.  May we have the endurance to stay centered in the heat of trouble.  May we have the fortitude to walk in the fire of conflict.  May we know and respond to the seething fire of anger and revenge. May we, likewise, be soothed by the fire of love and devotion.  And may we emerge from whatever fire has touched us -- purified, re-formed, transformed. 

Guide us, O God, to use the fire’s intensity to change, the fire’s light to see and understand,  the fire’s pillar as our guide, and the fire’s heat to create – to create the peace for which we long.

May we be filled with the Spirit, the One who is Fire!     Amen.  


Let us pray



God of passionate life,
You who light the inner blaze and tend the flame, 

be in our midst today. 
as we claim our time in history. 

We are surrounded by need, pain, fear and suffering on all sides. 
We see the agony and anguish of violence. 
We hear questions without answers.

We call to You, God of promise, 
break through our inner turmoil. 
and work wonders in our hearts, our communities, 
our world, our universe.  


We need Your grace to direct our hearts. 
We need Your power to rekindle and sustain our passion. 
We need Your love that we may recognize the ever-present possibility for change and growth.


Touch us that we may be 
the kindling of Your generous compassion.


We know that the movement of Your fire 
brings change . . . 
and from that change 
comes new life, 


God of passionate life, 
fan the embers, stir the flame, 
that our feet may go boldly where hearts afire may lead.



ARATI - Ritual of Fire

Leader:  We see the flame as a source of light and heat – light that illumines our way as we
              journey to God, and heat that perhaps burns away what is not true to our call as 
              women religious.

- Extend your hands over the flame and feel the warmth in your fingertips

- Bring your fingertips to your forehead and pray that your mind may    
 open to what  God would have you remember.

- Touch your eyes and pray that these “windows of the soul” may be free 
 any hindrance that stand in the way of God’s word and call to you.

- Touch your lips and pray that God is with you as you share your story 
   of pain and  transformation

- Bring your hands over your heart and pray that your heart will touch 
  our hearts and energize us.

Leader:           Closing reflection and prayer 

(Constance cut the following in the oral presentation)

In Second Timothy, we hear “Therefore, I urge you to stir into flame the gift of God which is within you . . . for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and wisdom.”

Our very souls are moved this morning.  And yes, there is a stirring within us individually and as a group.  We pray that God will stir us again to flame. Stir to flame, we fear not the sparks as we risk who we are and what we have to  warm our congregations, our world with tenderness, love and peace. Yes, there is a stirring within us to light fires:

                        Fires that purify our hearts, sustain our beliefs and strengthen
                        Fires that burn against injustice, apathy and neglect;
                        Fires that melt our hardness, open our hearts and heal our divisions.

    Where there is fire, there is the Spirit. And Paul in Second Corinthians tells us: 
    “And where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom" (II Cor. 3:17)

                        Freedom to live and act in the Spirit.
                        Freedom to see beyond the letter of the law
                        Freedom to speak a sensitive response
                        Freedom to see hurt, pain, abuse and respond with healing
                        Freedom to see want and to respond out of our abundance
                        Freedom to see racism, sexism, ageism and respond with equality
                        and equity
                        Freedom to see injustice and oppression and respond with justice 
                        and liberation
                        Freedom to see death and respond with life
                        Freedom to see violence or war and respond with peace

O God, grant us the power of your Spirit, that we might be witness for you.  Grant us the power that crumbles barriers and overcomes suspicion that conquers fear, and that overwhelms hatred, that we may indeed be witnesses, prophets, away to the ends of the earth.

And so, I invite you the symbolically spread the fire of transformation everywhere

Spreading the Fire of transformation everywhere

Ritual gesture 

Hands spread over the table blessing all that is on it
Hands lifted up in offering to God
Hands joined  -- connecting with one another
Hands out to the world sending transformative energy, light and fire everywhere.

Let us continue to carry the words of Timothy:  “Therefore, I urge you to stir into flame the gift of God which is within you . . .  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love, and wisdom.”



This morning we used the symbol of fire and we prayed for the fire to transform us, to form us, form us, form us. 


We heard Jeremiah use the image of fire with its intense light and penetrating heat to describe the presence of God within him.  This dance of God is a burning, searing  powerful, passionate presence, a fire that kindles and transforms.

Jeremiah acted on the dynamic burning in his heart.  He surrendered to the flame of God and allowed the love within him to fill him with a passion for truth and justice.


Now, as we move into the ritual of healing and reconciliation, we hold our experiences of the morning session. What we heard and felt of the suffering, the pain, the guilt, the violence.  How we experienced the movement to healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

As in all instances of empathic ministerial response to hurt and pain, and violence, we are called to find within our own stories traces of what we seek to address.  Our own sinful history attunes us to what makes others particularly vulnerable to prevalent cultural influences.  We religious need not look beyond our own congregational experience to have insight into the dynamics of such ideas:  I/we are the superior ones.  I/we have been the victims of injustice. I/we are particularly vulnerable; I/we cannot trust those who are not like us.  I/we cannot do anything to change the situation.


We are called to attend afresh to the cry of the poor within and beyond the congregation. Those whose daily ministry affords them intimate interaction with the suffering Christ have stories that can lead to new life in the congregation. So can the stories of those who feel the dull pain of not having such opportunities.  The challenge is that of evoking and attending to all these voices and recognizing the promised Spirit within them.

So as we enter this ritual of reconciliation, I as you to remember the phrase  :   “Again with an eyelash.” Reconciliation comes from the Latin words re (again) con (with) cilia (a small hair, like an eyelash).  So literally, reconciliation could mean:   “Again with an eyelash.”  To be reconciled with another is to be so close that our eyelashes meet .  Or in modern parlance: To be reconciled is to see again, eye to eye.


Individuals, groups, congregations, ethnic groups, nation states become so alienated that they turn their backs on others – with little or no chance to see eye to eye. Fueled by differences,
separation, brokenness, pain, fear; cultural expectations -- sometimes the chances for forgiveness and reconciliation seem remote. Only love can be bridge and hope.  We must let the wisdom of love speak.

The brokenness in us and in our world is always pushing to be healed.   And while we are not living in a world free of tension and conflict, and while we cannot have trouble-free relationships, we can live in a more healthy way.  We can apologize, forgive, compromise, cooperate, and dream.  We can put right relationship above being right. And, we can have hope for healing and believe that healing is possible.

And So I pray:
May I/you/we/all beings dwell in the heart.
May we be free from suffering.
May we be healed.
May we be at peace                                          


Ritual of Reconciliation and Healing (music, images, dance, quiet reflection and sharing)




















Each year we gather, unaware of the realities we will face in the coming months:  challenges within our conference, our congregations, our Church, our society; tensions – spoken, unspoken- internal, external; struggles of our members, of those we serve. We are aware of the shifts in societal and religious circles.  These realities, challenges and shifts affect us – for we are connected.

Recognizing the complexities that face all of God’s people and creation, we are called at this time to maximize the potential of the Conference for effecting change.  We are called to support and assist one another to carry out our leadership roles. We are called to work for transformation in our lives as women religious in our ministry to others, and for all creation – for we are one.


LCWR must continue to provide timely, appropriate and Gospel centered responses to the current and emerging issues.   And the issues we face are serious, painful, complex and multifaceted.  Issues we have addressed during the past year concerning alienation of property, the coming national elections, ecological sustainability the results of the John Jay study, issues of collaboration and cooperation, the reconfiguration of congregational units and its impact on the conference.  We considered how we continue to build relationship and subsequent dialog with Church leaders. 


Ever before us were the issues of peacemaking, advocacy, and issues of allegations of sexual misconduct.  We know we cannot be swept up by and with the climate created by popular culture with its expectations and pressures.  We must stand outside the dominant consciousness, speak in a different voice –  different because it comes from a different source; a source fueled by contemplation.   For it is there, from that contemplative space and place, that we receive our clarity of vision that moves us to action.  Literally, we must pray and work together to remain true to our gospel call, and our Conference mission and goals.  And while we hold the present tensions and challenges, we must not neglect to look to the future, the future of religious life, the future of our congregations, the future of our conference.  And as we do, this may be our invitation and a compelling reason to revisit the Transformative Elements.  I invite us to do so -- together.


We are in this together.  As we come together annually, we have the opportunity to listen, to dialog, to grapple with the substantive issues that affect us as leaders, to support, to respond, to provide resources to help one another, to instill confidence. To do so, we must be free in our interaction, daring in our sharing, loving in our confrontations, deeply silent in consideration, and finally, accepting in the choices that help us to define our actions.


We in the presidency, as leaders of the Conference function on your behalf.  We’ve used our vision, skills, insights, and common sense, taking risks, praying, working on behalf of the Conference.  We become - for a little while - one of the voices, one of the means by which women religious’ presence is evident, women religious’ influence is felt, and women religious’ wisdom is heard.


I have found that this role truly this calls for a calm center, the willingness and ability to consultation and collaborate, and courage.  Courage – the capacity to stand by our core was tested this year.  We were called to lead with head, heart and soul.  And in so doing we found we’ve had the personal integrity to speak truth, and act with conviction according to who we say we are as LCWR, and where we stand as a group.  Thus, not taking us where we do not wish to go as a Conference. It has not been easy.  And in the last weeks, the national staff has been called to stretch beyond what any of us can imagine in terms of emotional stress, multi-tasking, consulting, conferencing, all the while carrying out the daily duties and addressing the nitty-gritty details for the Assembly.  They deserve our deepest gratitude.


We are far from finished as we strive to continue to know what is mean to be peacemakers, healers, and reconcilers.  As I’ve said to you previously and as demonstrated so beautifully by our dancers this morning:   All of this requires waiting, bowing, bending and dancing to the mystery of what is before us.  We wait to surrender and learn all the new dance steps of each new mystery.  We must be supple of limb to bend and bow, as we lead, as we follow, or as we circle dance with others. Ultimately, we create new steps as we lean into the mystery.   And we find others are following our steps, joining in the dance with us.  The only traits we need are intelligence, simplicity,  humility, wit, sanity, courage, and the ablity to combine holy madness with huge common sense.


Many of us read the Secret Life of Bees. I was reminded of it last week because in the book they celebrate the feast of the Assumption.  Following that celebration, Lily and August have a deep conversation in which August says:  “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, (it’s) not only the power inside you but the love.  And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life.  Not just to love – but to persist in love. Yes, Sisters, we must persist in love.


We whose hearts are on fire with God are truth seekers, willing to stand up for what we believe.  May we persist in love.  We have deeply compassionate hearts, filled with integrity and goodness. May we persist in love. We whose hearts are aglow with God are humble people who know and claim both our strengths and weaknesses.  We recognize that God both gives us gifts and works through us.  As the fire grows stronger in us, we can become catalysts for fire in others’ hearts.  When we are with on another then, we experience a sense of being touched by some goodness that we did not expect, but that blesses us greatly.  It is the fire of God.


And that Sisters, is what we must continue to be, we must be fire, because that is how we persist in love.