Even with our best efforts, it is virtually impossible for women religious in leadership not to be concerned with diminishment—aging members and decreasing numbers.
In December and early January I experienced the deaths of three women religious in the Philadelphia area. Though they were members of three different congregations, and their ministries and personalities were signiﬁcantly different, they were all in the prime of life (at least by the new baby boomer standards) when they died.
There is a feeling of euphoria here today as we celebrate a day of full sun after 15 days of constant winter gloom, which was accompanied by lots of snow, ice and cold. We in Minnesota cope much better with winter when we have our usual clear, sunny (even if cold) days. Even those of us who don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder (the low-grade depression caused by limited sunlight) have a tendency to begin whining about the heaviness of spirit that results from a long string of cloudy days.
In a Benedictine monastery, at the end of the Liturgy of the Hours the prioress gives the community a blessing. I have no recall when the custom started in this monastery of bringing our calendars for the new year to Morning Praise on January 1. On New Year’s morning we include in that blessing a blessing of the calendars. It is an act that embodies our hope that we, as a community, want to be and desire to bring blessings to the days ahead. This hope is the link between our present and our future. It is a communal venture to move into the promise with renewed energy.
I love the season of Advent. It begins with emptiness, expectation and waiting…a word spoken, a question and a response. It begins with a womb, the sacred capacity for life and the promise of fulﬁllment. It tells again the story of a journey. One woman shares the good news of a promise; another understands and shares the mystery.
“…you have become obedient from the heart…” -- Romans 6: 18
As I read this phrase, I heard an invitation to listen deeply to myself so as to learn obedience from my heart. I realized that, after a series of major presentations, my inner well of creativity was pretty empty. And the question arose – What do I/we do when our well is empty? How can I/we be obedient to our call to leadership from the heart, even in times of emptiness
These are apocalyptic times. First, the tsunami with more than 300,000 dead or missing visited our globe. Fishing villages disappeared and a people’s way of life changed forever. Our hearts were moved and the day after Christmas last year was not about gifts but about reaching out beyond our borders to victims. Why such destruction visited a poor people was the question that haunted our minds as we set out to donate to the relief effort. Today, the people who survived are frightened by the sounds of crashing waves, and terriﬁed to return to their village and old way of life by the sea.
This is the time of year for many transitions. Many of you have or are completing your ministry of leadership and moving on to other endeavors! Many are entering into this ministry and are experiencing the steep learning curve that comes with the job! Whether you are serving for the ﬁrst time or as a “recycled” leader, you are beginning a journey into an unknown future with your sisters and colleagues.
It wasn’t Pentecost when the InterAmerican Conference gathered in Brazil. The wind and ﬁre were not evident. The chatter and cacophony English, French, Spanish and Portuguese ﬁlled the hallways, the dining room and auditorium as we discussed the issues before us. The gift of understanding each person who spoke in his or her native tongue was painfully absent. Even with translation, we did not receive the full communication of the emotion and passion that words in one language could not convey in another.
It is Wednesday and I am sitting in my room in Rome. Outside are the sounds of trafﬁc and sirens and, I know without looking, that there are streams of people heading towards St. Peter’s Square. Later on, I will wander through the streets to be part of the crowd of people coming to be part of this historic event of the death and burial of Pope John Paul II. The line waiting to view the body was very long last night – 20-deep, mashed together, down the street from St. Peter’s Square for six blocks, around the block and all the way back.
It’s been cold. Winter cold. Yet with just a few hours of sunshine and warmer weather the tulip leaves are breaking through the dark, chilled ground. An unmistakable sign of spring. It is that time, each year, when I am surprised by the beauty of new life.
There must be something in the monastic gene pool that enables us to embrace Lent each year as a sure part of our journey to God. Benedict in his rule tells us, “The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent.” (RB49:1) He goes on to explain that few would have the strength for such a rigorous life, so we should, at minimum, use the season of Lent to our advantage. There are deﬁnite behavioral expectations: adding to our prayer, our reading, abstaining from food and drink, time in silence and lectio beyond the ordinary measure.
…all moments are key moments,and life itself is grace.
When I ﬁnd a penny on the ground, I pick it up as a sign of God’s blessings coming in small, everyday events. Sometimes it’s an actual penny, sometimes it’s a phrase that tips me into a new economy of grace. The penny I picked up before Christmas was a question posed by Don Goergen, OP, in the November InFormation newsletter – What or who is my center?
The New Year is, for me, an opportunity to remember and to anticipate.
Reﬂecting on the past year, I remember the opportunities and the challenges we faced as a conference. The challenges were many, some more prominent than others. I am sure each of us could list and comment on their importance from our own perspectives.
The Advent-Christmas season situates our life between memory and hope. In the scriptures we are reminded of how God has broken into our world and into our lives. God’s coming brings light where there once was darkness, ends captivity and sets a people free. Our monastic community gathers each Saturday evening in Advent for Vigil. Our chapel is almost completely dark except for the candles of the Advent wreath and a small light at the ambo where one of us will give a reﬂection. We sing the psalms by heart or repeat after a cantor. We listen to God’s Word.
Here in Minnesota, we cherish every nice day from May through October, knowing that winter will soon come. This state, which has one of the shorter growing seasons, is one that has very high sales of garden plants and supplies. We make the most of the beautiful days and enjoy the growth and color of plants more because we know they will pass away shortly.
Ours is a world of change and challenge. We have audaciously claimed by the title of our joint assembly that “we are no longer bystanders.” We can lament what is lost in our church and our world or we can be transformed by grace and become bearers of hope. By our willingness to name the sins of our times, we make a commitment to bring the Gospel and our voices to speak to the present moment with all its promise and poverty.
It was a cool Roman April this year with a bit of rain several days. Usually, the LCWR and the CMSM delegations visit in May. However, anticipating the InterAmerican Conference in Brazil in May (postponed until 2005), we scheduled our trip in April. So Mary Ann, Christine, Carole and I, along with the ﬁ ve CMSM ofﬁ cers, ventured along the cobblestoned streets to the Vatican ofﬁ ces sometimes jointly, more often separately. We shared prayer and liturgy, and enjoyed meals at small Roman trattatorias.
Easter “Alleluias” continue to ﬁll the chapel in this time between Easter and Pentecost. In the space of these days, the presence of the Risen Christ and his Spirit transformed the disciples. Scripture gives us vivid images of the disciples moving from despair to hope, from sadness to joy, from fear to freedom, from doubt to belief. This is a pristine moment for the Church to claim her identity as a communio of friendship of one mind and one heart.
Invariably Easter draws me into the company of Mary Magdalen. Like her, I am inclined to cling with a fierce tenderness to those I love dearly. And, like her, I know the liberating power of letting love spill out, without reserve, on a multitude of persons and situations. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me. . . but go to my sisters and brothers. And Mary Magdalen went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20: 17-18)
As the month of March comes this year, I am mindful of March 2003 when President Bush issued his ultimatum to Iraq. As I review these past months enmeshed in conflict, I question where we are a year later, personally, nationally, and internationally. Prior to the declaration of war,LCWR, nationally and locally, used every means we could to advocate for no armed conflict.
The political rhetoric is filling the air from the Primaries to the State of the Union speech. So many promises yet our society has a sense of having been betrayed and trust is withheld. Our faith is challenged by aworld filled with war and alienation, a world in which people are broken and enslaved by poverty and unjust structures. For people who believe, it is a call to engagement and commitment to bring hope to a people and to our time. Life does not have to be arranged so that a few prosper and many suffer.
January begins with a “star rising in the East.”What if we revisioned the story of theEpiphany in the context of the universe story and imagined the “star rising in theEast” as the sunrise really seen for the first time? Gazing at the rising sun-star,we are compelled to stay with it finding ourselves led into a place of consciousness so brilliant that it appears as dark asa cave.
It is November in Kansas, and the approach of winter surrounds us as winds and falling temperatures invade our days, and the sun slowly sinks earlier and earlier. We anticipate the Advent days of darkness and waiting.