As we enter this season of Advent in hopeful expectation of the new life that Mary will soon birth, the nations of the world gather in Madrid for their 25th year of climate talks, with the window for meaningful action fast closing.
As I sit down to write this column, it has been one month since our wonderful assembly in Scottsdale. Since that time, I’ve been in numerous energizing and stimulating dialogues about all that transpired during those short, yet impactful days together.
As I reflect on this past year as president-elect for LCWR, I’m filled with gratitude. Clearly, as religious life leaders, we live in a time that provides numerous opportunities for deep transformation of ourselves and our institutes. As I reflect on this year, some key words surface: listening, engaging, energizing, expansive, communion, letting go, and leaning in.
Canon law is not a topic that typically causes the eyes of women religious to light up. It is generally seen as dry and dogmatic, with a focus more on rules than on spirit and heart. I recently told some of our sisters that I find a great deal of wisdom and inspiration in the Code of Canon Law. They looked at me in a way that suggests they were mentally making plans to have me assessed for early-onset dementia!
Holy Mystery. Sacred Presence. All-Embracing, Creator God. Gracious Sprit. Womb of all Life. Ever-Gracing, Most Wondrous God. In this moment, in our being, we are One. We are One. -- Monica Brown, "Holy Mystery"
I write this column from my bedroom at our convent in Kyarusozi, Uganda, where I am visiting our sisters who minister at a rural health center. Uganda’s fertile soil and natural beauty have earned it the nickname “the Pearl of Africa.” But that natural beauty lives side-by-side with tremendous poverty, a result of colonialism, corruption, and years of warfare.
Living the questions. It is what I find myself doing these days. No matter if I’m attending a regional LCWR meeting or LCWR board meeting, being an observer at the USCCB assembly, or engaging in dialogue with sisters in my own congregation, questions abound. Questions about our “life” as women religious, questions about nationalism, racism, polarization, climate change, immigration and migration, just to name a few, occupy my prayers, thoughts, conversations, and dreams.
I know that the slow work of God about which Teilhard de Chardin wrote so eloquently really refers to the activity of grace or the glacier-like pace of evolution and human development. But if he had to extricate himself out of my office after 10 years of congregational leadership I’m pretty sure he’d include that in the lexicon of things that constitute the slow work of God. I know I do.
The campus minister of a Catholic women’s college invited me to speak in April to a group of students. He explained that young women are leaving the church in large numbers, and the campus ministry staff hears students question why women should remain part of this institution. He asked me to speak to why the Catholic Church needs women, and why women need the Catholic Church.
We need to find the Samaritans. They are all around us, anchored in a faith that brings them into communion with God’s most vulnerable people. I have been blessed with meeting some of them recently. Always intrigued by their witness, I cannot help asking “why” -- why do you feel compelled to be here? And their answer is always the same: these are human beings. They remind me that our call as apostolic women religious -- responding to critical human need -- is the heart of who we are.
“If we think seriously about our unfinished cosmos.. . .we shall have to entertain new thoughts about everything, about who we are and where we are going, and about the meaning of our lives.” -- John Haught, The New Cosmic Story, Inside Our Awakening Universe
Each issue of Update now includes “emerging questions” designed to engage us in reflection about religious life, leadership, and the signs of the times. One of the questions the Contemporary Religious Life Committee gave us in the October issue asked, “Where has love led me/us?” I found this question particularly intriguing. The call to religious life is a call to love, and the call to leadership is a call to love in a particular context. Where has our response to the call to love led us? And where is it leading us?