Friday, October 26, 2018

Hope

Related imageHope is grace that loves the future and sees its destiny in the heart of God. Hope reaches into the future, stretches out its fingers... reaching, yearning, quietly knowing. Hope looks out into the foggy coming days, smiles and says yes.
When I read the news, hear stories of corruption and oppression, news of natural disaster and suffering, it is not easy to hope. But somehow it is still right. Current events call me to resolute action. I cannot change all that I hear of, but I can do my one small part in my one small corner.
Hope is a choice to see the movements of grace in times of darkness and challenge. Hope is more than optimism, it is a firm trust in God's commitment that we "have life and have it to the full."
Hope is not hope if its object is seen, if we are already in the promised land. Hope is the belief that there is a promised land, and that God has made us for this promised land and will journey with us until we reach it.
Hope itself is a promised land. It is a place of joy and courage in the midst of darkness and suffering.
God grant us hope for our journey!
Peace,
Amy

Friday, October 12, 2018

Convent Camino

Image result for camino backpack, shoes, staffWe are again inviting women to join us on a Convent Camino - a journey of discernment that will take us to several convents in the St. Louis area. More information here.
The notion of Camino is taken from the Camino de Santiago, a traditional pilgrimage across southern France into Spain. For over a thousand years, pilgrims have made this journey through nature, leaving aside their daily cares to live simply, to hike in nature, to deepen their spirituality, to discover their deepest desire and their life's purpose.
The Camino is an apt image for the vocational discernment journey. It requires discerners to undertake a long and arduous journey with their God. It is a journey filled with expansive vistas and deep personal challenges, with the tenderest blessings of joy and with the sorrows of unknowing. Yet it is a journey, we move along through life, as we move through the discernment. We can rely on God as our guide and companion on the Camino of life and the Camino of vocation.
Please pray with and for those who will join the Convent Camino. And consider inviting women who may have a vocation to religious life.
Peace,
Amy

Friday, September 21, 2018

My Deepest Truth


There is a quote that is making its round on the internet these days:
Vocation means fulfilling the original self-hood given me at birth by God
Thomas Merton
So true! Vocation can seem to be a new path and a grand adventure. Yet at the same time, it is a matter of discovering my own deepest truth, it is discovering a new and delightful aspect of what God has made me to be. And this never grows old. It is sometime that I can marvel at today, after decades in religious life, just like I could marvel at it in the heady wonder when I first sensed the call. Again today, I whisper: "Amen!"
--Am
y

Friday, August 17, 2018

Wondering...

I have had the opportunity over the years to talk with many women who have come to religious life and have then left religious life for one reason or another. It is always a privilege to hear their stories and their perspectives. I think they as a group could be an important voice as we ponder the current challenges of Church and of religious life, and as we articulate our hopes for the future. I would like to share some reflections on the women who have left religious life in the past few decades that I have been blessed to know:
  1. They are women of incredible courage and commitment. They gave significant years of their lives out of a deep sense of faith. Then something happened that made life in their congregations an impossibility. And they had the courage to step out, to return to lay life, often with very little personal and emotional support. They are often alone as they struggle to rebuild their lives, and to make sense of the years they spent in religious life. It can take a decade or more for these women who have stepped out of these communities to make sense of their lives, to shift their self-identification as sisters and to heal the wounds they may have received.
  2. Too often they have often been deeply hurt by the congregations to whose life and mission they had committed themselves. Sometimes this results from an unfortunate clash of personalities and circumstances. Too often, it results from a pattern of abuse, carried out in the name of religion. The stories are often akin to something you might hear from a strange cult. Young women, come with the highest of ideals, to commit themselves to radical gospel living. They are gradually brought into the group and convinced to surrender outside ties and even their own sense of self worth, in order to follow the group. The community's focus shifts from God to a charismatic leader. This leader builds up an inner circle bound by fear and intimidation, and this inner circle then brings in recruits who are seeking to serve God selflessly. These new-comers too are inducted into the leader-cult. Often this is insidious, trading on good desires and a perceived special insight into the ills of church and society.
  3. There are also those who come to religious life with a fire in their eyes and are welcomed into community. Through the formation process, they deeply identify with the community and find themselves growing into God's dream for their life as a religious sister. Then gradually over time, the fire in their eyes goes out. This is too often because of the challenges of living the commitment of religious life, along with the inability of their community to support them in this path. Each person has to figure out their personal synthesis, through prayer, discernment and dedication. It is not easy, and some are unable to get the support needed to make this transition. 
  4. I would say that there are some who come to religious life, but who are not well screened. Communities are eager to have women join them, and sometimes this eagerness is allowed to outweigh prudent discernment. I love religious life and I can't imagine a better way to spend my life and energies. At the same time, I know that it requires certain basic gifts of nature and grace. I once heard that "we heal through our wholeness." While we are all broken in some ways, it is by taking responsibility for our own wholeness that we can offer the best service to God, in community and in mission. Also, as communities get smaller, the stability of those who come is more important. Having spent many years in various aspects of vocation and formation work over the years, I can't overemphasize the need for prudent caution along with a wild, open abandonment to the movement of the Spirit.
I wonder what these women are saying about religious life, as they move on in their life-journey. I wonder what they might tell those of us they left behind when they left religious life. I'm certainly open to the story of anyone who might be reading this.
I also know that there are many women who left religious life many decades ago and have experienced healing and have gone on to live grace-filled lives, enriched by the years they spent in formation.
Let us pray for the health and integrity of our communities, and for the deep and abiding good of those who come to religious life to join us on this grand adventure of spirituality, community and mission.
--Amy

Friday, July 27, 2018

Blessing and Challenge of Community


There is a lot of writing and reflection on community. Those of us in religious life spend a life-time learning, un-learning and re-learning how to live in community. More recently, I've been thinking about we welcome others into our communities. How do we invite them? How do we change when we invite others to join us? How do we create the conditions for others to thrive when they join our communities. Here are the ingredients that are particularly important to me at this time:

  • Conversion - unquestionably the most important part of any christian community is the commitment of each person to live the Gospel and to grow in a personal commitment to metanoia. This is the work and the gift of a life-time and we in religious life share this journey with others who are striving in the same way.
  • Maturity - along with spiritual growth, we make a commitment to live as adults in community. Sure, things get crazy. Sure, we make mistakes. Sure, we have to navigate what it means. And in the midst of this, each of us should be striving to live as mature persons, taking responsibility for our own lives and well-being, while supporting others in community. 
  • Acceptance and Respect - the first two elements focused inward, this one focuses outward. I have to love and respect each other person in my community. I have to believe in her journey of conversion and maturity and to support that journey. This is not a polly-anna belief, but a humble acknowledgement that we all struggle. I have to cut others the slack I would have them give to me. I have to give them the space to grow and change. 
  • Responsibility - everyone in the community has the responsibility for the community. Every one of us can make the community better or worse by our participation. In the best of communities, everyone wants to contribute because they believe others are giving as well. 
  • Commitment - this is the glue that binds us together. I can count on your commitment, you can count on mine. The commitment is respectful and realistic. And it knows when to go the extra mile for a sister or brother who needs us. Differences arise, conflicts come. If we all have the commitment to make the community work, we can get through almost anything. This is presuming the previous elements are also in place.
  • Conversion - I have to put this at the end as well. I always have to come back to my personal commitment to God, community and mission. I have to rely on God's creative love that brought me this far to continue to re-create that divine spirit within me and within my community.
Let us be hopeful and thankful for the gift of community.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sister with... Sister for...


Image result for sisters

I was recently with a group of sisters reflecting on the gift of religious life as it is and it is unfolding among us. We had a rather well-known presenter had lots of things I resonated with, other things that I completely disagree with. We also had an opportunity to discuss what we heard and reflect it through our own experience. This conversation was really the best part of our gathering and the part that will continue to resonate with me.
I believe that we are called as religious women to be "sisters with" one another 
  • as we walk the spiritual journey over a life time.  
  • as we live together in community through the best of times and the worst of time
  • as we hear and respond to the cry of the poor and marginalized.
At the same time, we are called to be "sisters for" all the people of the world, for the community of faith, to those who need 
  • a prayer, 
  • a smile, 
  • an embrace.
I believe that vowed life in community enables us to be persons who can be sisters, to have a freedom and mutuality with and for each other, and with and for those we serve. It enables to be sisters, companions and friends.

  • I experience being sister in my family of origin. 
  • I experience being sister in my religious community. 
  • I experience being sister to the women with whom I live. 
  • I experience being sister to religious men and women that I serve in my ministry. 
  • I experience being sister to those sitting with me on the bus. 
  • I experience being sister in the ecovillage where I live. 
  • I experience being sister along side those with whom I march, protest and stand in solidarity.
It has been a gift to me to live into this reality.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Making Something New...


See I Am Making Something New: New Religious Institutes, Diocesan Hermits, Consecrated Virgins and New Forms of Consecrated Life

My latest book was released, and as anyone who has been through the process knows, it takes forever. However, this one took extra long, so despite the optimistic title: something new seems to be a wee bit stale by now. Nevertheless, I'm glad to have it out.
A few years ago, I organized a workshop for canon lawyers on these topics. This book is a further development of those materials.

See I Am Making Something New by Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ is a pastoral - canonical guidebook that explores the various ways in which the Life of the Spirit is stirring anew in the Church today in new religious institutes and societies, in diocesan hermits and consecrated virgins, in the new forms of consecrated life, and in the ecclesial movements that bring life and vitality to the Church today, and in fact, may also give rise to new institutes. The book is a guide for those discerning their vocation and their spiritual directors and a pastoral manual diocesan personnel. 

  • New Community (Canon 579): We may recognize five stages in the foundation of an institute. A single institute may spend several months, years or decades in each of the stages. The history of religious life testifies that the foundation of an institute is the work of a lifetime, and its progress is not counted in terms of members, or buildings but in terms of the treasures laid up in heaven. 
  • Hermits (Canon 603) flourished in the early Christian centuries, even before religious communities organized as we know them today. With the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, this form of life came back into the practice of the church as a canonically approved vocation. The vocation is characterized by a "stricter separation from the world," and by silence and solitude. Canon 603 adds that the hermit professes the traditional three vows of poverty, celibate chastity and obedience.
  • Consecrated Virgins (Canon 604) - Many early Christian writers extol the beauty and power of the Christian virgin in a spousal relationship with Christ, just as the church is spouse of Christ. This allegorical theology held great power and meaning from the early Christian centuries. By the middle ages, the rite of consecration of virgins had been nearly completely incorporated into cloistered monastic life of nuns. In the early twentieth century, individuals and groups began to seek to restore this ancient form of consecration. The revised rite was promulgated in 1970, and it is best source of understanding the vocation of the consecrated virgin.
  • New Forms (Canon 605) - In recent decades, a new instinct for communion in consecrated life seeks to bring various groups together into a single religious institute, men and women, cleric and lay, married and single. Canon 605 provides the canonical opening for new forms of consecrated life, and most of these new forms manifest this instinct for inclusion. Some have sought formal approval as new institutes or new forms of consecrated life. 

God moves among us in holy creativity. This book explores they ways in which God is "making something new," in new religious institutes,in newly re-introduced individual forms of consecrated life, the diocesan hermit and the consecrated virgin, and in the new-forms of consecrated life. May we each have the wisdom and courage to live our vocation, and may we love and support each another as we follow our unique vocation, our unique path in the heart of God.
Available on Amazon and Kindle, you can check it out here.