Friday, November 22, 2019

Integral Ecology from Below

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis describes an “integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions” LS 137). The human and social dimensions of ecology point to natural sustainability in which human persons are a part of—not apart from, much less above—nature. The encyclical notes that it is not enough to merely live healthy human lives; we are also called to seek lives that are sustainable in relationship with the natural world, lives that are spiritually meaningful and culturally rich. and finally, we are called to seek sustainability and meaning in a way that is equitable for all peoples across the globe, which in turn preserves valuable resources for our children’s children.
Image result for dewdropOne reading of the creation story sees God high above in the heavens, in transcendent glory. Humanity is set as the pinnacle of creation, with a mandate to fill the earth and subdue it. This is a mandate that seems to place human beings apart from and above the rest of creation. In this reading, humans see creation as a thing to be used, and even abused; the innate value and the beauty of each living creature and of all that God has created are subordinate to their utility at the service of human beings and human civilizations.
In contrast, a different reading sees creation as God’s garden, as the outpouring of the heart of our loving God, inviting all creatures into existence and into a loving relationship with the Creator. Pope Francis turns to Ali Al-khawas, a Sufi mystic poet, to help describe the relationship:
The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. (LS 233)

Friday, November 8, 2019

Why Do I Stay?

Sometimes people pose the question: Why did you become a nun? Why did you enter the convent? 
This prompts me to return to that moment years ago when I first thought about becoming a sister. I was in college and I had all the high ideals and lofty hopes typical of a young college student. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to change the world, I wanted to live a meaningful life. The notion of a religious vocation came into my life in this liminal space that was charged with high-minded dreams.
When the notion of vocation first struck me, it came loud and clear, fast and furious. I was gobsmacked. Who? Me? God? Calling? It took time to sort out the meaning of this experience. I explored, visited, prayed, and discerned. Yet I still remember the afternoon in my college dorm when I first intuited a call to religious life. For some it is a gentle tug, for others a deep longing, for others an undeniable certainty.
People also ask: Why do you stay? Why are you still here after all these years?
This is harder to answer. I could return to that first moment, that first sense of call. My life, with all its highs and lows, its consolations and desolations, has been a 'living out' of that first sense of call. Some say that when I come to religious life, the first decades make me who I am. There are the years of formation in which I deepen my sense of call, learn about religious life, about prayer, community, and mission. And then after the decade of initial formation, I begin living religious life. It becomes natural. My personal identity and my community identity become integrated. I am a Sister. I am a Sister of St. Joseph. After decades of religious life, you can take the sister out of the community, but you can't take the community out of the sister. So I stay because this is who I am, who I have become.
Am I happy? Yes. Do I struggle? Yes. Is it all worth it? Yes, and Yes, and Yes.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Laudato Si' and the Amazon

Image result for amazonia sinodoLaudato Si’ is in continuity with a great deal of good work that has taken place in fields dealing with ecology, sustainability, eco-spirituality, and the integrity of creation. The encyclical makes reference to many important voices, and significantly leaves aside others, in the conversation about the current ecological crisis, global poverty, and sustainability. It situates conversations about ecology within important discussions about morality, justice, poverty, technology, and globalization. By articulating an integral ecology from below, it challenges everyone to a new level of co-responsibility. The document invites all people into a conversation about “our common home,” a term that the pope repeatedly uses in referring to this planet we share. “Our common home” is a term that points to the deep unity of all creation, and the important connection that we all share as part of the natural community.

We all make simple daily choices regarding food, energy, transportation, and consumption. Each of these choices affects the world we live in, and hence each choice affects each of our brothers and sisters. The cumulative effect of our choices, whether for good or for ill, impacts every living thing on earth. Environmental degradation disproportionately impacts the poorest and weakest in the human community and in all other communities of plants and animals.
While it does a great deal to bring care of creation into the mainstream of Catholic social teaching, Laudato Si’ is not without its faults and its critics. While it represents a step forward, it also has flaws that exemplify some of the challenges we face today with regard to gender issues in the church and in sustainable development. The Amazon Synod seeks "new paths for the church and for an integral ecology" and there is some hope that gender issues are beginning to be raised in the conversation.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Circles of Collaboration

Circles of collaboration are a distinct facet of religious life today that has emerged in recent decades. These circles of collaboration provide spaces for the newer generations of sisters to build support networks, engage in joint projects and nurture emerging energies. Alongside the leadership conferences, vocation, and formation conferences, there are networks that the newer generations of religious have established:

  • Giving Voice
  • Sisters 2.0
  • Leadership Collaborative
  • Federation gatherings of sisters

The development of these various collaboratives demonstrates the dynamic interaction of personal relationship, social media, community organizing, and in-person meetings. These grass-roots movements take their place in the unfolding story of religious life, affording sisters a space where evolution can occur. They are places for building the relationships and networks that will help to support them in the coming decades of religious life. There will be fewer and fewer sisters taking on more and more of the leadership roles in their communities, with the dual task of hospicing the greatest generation of their community’s history and fostering the life and evolution of the minority cohort. Both tasks are critical. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Community and Ministry
The balance between community and ministry is shifting. In the early- and mid-twentieth century, the balance was strongly on the side of ministry. People grew up in larger families, and religious communities lived in large houses. Community was assumed, or rather communal living was assumed. Some communities, just as some families, fostered deep and lasting relationships. There were also cases of merely functional communities that met one’s physical needs but left spirits empty, if not wounded by abuse and dysfunction. People, particularly women, entered community to live a life of service and of ministry in education, in health-care, in pastoral service, and in social service. In that era, for many women, community was assumed, ministry was not.
Fast forward to the current century and the default living situation is increasingly solo and options for ministry are wide open to those who wish to pursue them. For many, the option to choose a particular field of ministry is broader outside of religious life. Obtaining the appropriate preparation for ministry is possible, if expensive, outside religious life. We are moving away from a world in which community is the norm and ministry is not. And we are moving toward a world where ministry and service are available, if not the norm, and community is increasingly a rare commodity. Many entering religious life today come from a life of ministry and service. They desire to enhance their life of ministry and service by banding together with others who hold similar values and with whom they can live in mutual support. They often live singly, having grown up in smaller family units than those found in households of earlier decades.
Vocation is still a mystery of the Spirit, a mystery of call and response, and that mystery is lived out in the very human context of our hearts and our lives and our society. This vocation is lived in a distinctly different context that calls for different instincts in inviting young people into our communities. It requires a shift in how we welcome and incorporate these women and men. It is important that we welcome them in a way that nurtures their vocation and prepares them for the distinctive challenges and opportunities of the current century.
--from Beyond the Crossroads, Religious Life in the 21st Century by Amy Hereford

Friday, August 2, 2019

Resting Places

As Catholics, we talk about Jesus 'real presence' in the eucharist. Jesus chose to remain with us as the life of our life, the heart of our heart, the center of our lives and the source of our hope.
When I think of real presence, I ask what real presence are we talking about -
Is God every really absent in any meaningful way? Is there an absence of God into which Gods presence could come?
I'm reminded of the story of Noah. In the midst of an ungodly era, God comes to earth to visit Noah - who is God's resting place in a world that has lost its godliness. Noah is that place in creation where God finds resonance of spirit, and the robust presence of the divine image. The name Noah is based on the Hebrew word for a resting place.
The good shepherd gives us a resting place in the deep waters where our spirit can find harmony in the God from whom we take our origin. We rest in our always, already present God.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Be, Be for and Be with

I am at our congregational chapter and we are having excellent conversations about who we are as Sisters of St. Joseph. As we continue our conversations, we are coming to a natural consensus about the articulation of our identity for this present moment in our congregational story.
In the course of our conversations, I was particularly struck by one formulation that is connected with the principles of the new cosmology. Those three principles are interiority, diversity, and communion.

  • Interiority is living into and living out of our core identity as called into life and holiness by our loving creator.
  • Diversity acknowledges that every person, and every living being, and every rock, and star, and particle is called into being by the same loving creator.
  • Communion acknowledges that our loving creator, the God of Love, placed the desire for relationship at the deepest core of each of us. 
We have come to articulate these as:
  • Interiority - Be who we are
  • Diversity - Be for others in service
  • Communion - Be with others as we serve others 
We acknowledge with St. Augustine that our weight is our love, and that it pulls us into relationship, and into loving communion with God and with our Dear Neighbor (a familiar phrase in our community).

Our conversations are very rich and call us to renew the best of who we are and what we are called to be.