Envisioning Our Future with Realism, Daring and Hope
Beth Quire, OP ( North American Representative for the Panel Presentation by Younger Sisters )
Enter Religious Life NOW? Aren’t you worried about the future?” NO, I’m not worried, my God is FAITHFUL!!! In reflecting on the questions and the theme, the image that came to me was pruning the rose bushes. This year, I was delayed, it was late February and new growth had begun to appear. I still knew they needed to be pruned. Pruning can be painful, cutting back and removing, but we do it so that new life can come, today this same task is needed for Dominican Life. I’m going to begin by looking at the Future of Dominican Apostolic Life in North America, move on to the expectations of young people, continue with our missioning challenges and close with what I think Dominican Life will look like in 10 years.
Our Future through the eyes of realism, daring, and hope is a sobering picture. We have been institutional for many years; with the sisters forming the work force. There are now fewer of us. This fact worries some sisters. How will we keep the institutions going? How will we encourage more women to enter? How will we care for our elderly? These are the wrong questions. Instead we need to ask, “What is the Spirit calling us to TODAY?” The image of Dominic with the Gospel in one hand and the newspaper in the other can be our guide. What is our newspaper or web info telling us today? Before you write me off as naïve, let me explain, “How will we care for our elders?” is the wrong question because it is the wrong focus. Of course we will care for our elders, but we will do it differently.
Our future calls us to great change. I believe we need a paradigm shift. Some sisters in North America think that the answer is merging together. This simply makes us bigger. Merging to create totally new congregations means that a great deal of time and energy will need to be spent looking inward. I believe we can collaborate in many areas without creating whole new congregations. Paradigm shift does not mean just turning and looking in a different direction, it means questioning the entire perspective from which we view and the assumptions that we make. It is being totally open to what the “new” has to say, open to things never imagined before. As with pruning when we look at a bush recently pruned we can’t help but wonder, have I cut off to much? But this does not stop us; we know it must be done, so too with the shifting of our life.
Looking with realism, means using all that the Spirit sends: the gifts of our sisters and the lay people who collaborate with us. Realism is not ignoring the facts because we don’t like what they say or becoming overwhelmed. Realism is facing the facts, naming them and then choosing a path right through them, together. Jim Wallis, an evangelical minster and a leading social activist in the US, describes “hope” as “believing despite the evidence and watching the evidence change.” So realism forms the foundation. Or what we are dealing with is fantasy, not hope.
The daring and pruning require real soul searching discernment, both individually and congregationally. To prune one needs to know what to look for, and where to cut. In North America many of us have Mission Statements, Ours focuses on “the young, the poor and the vulnerable,” so this needs to be our guide for pruning. With fewer sisters, there will be no room for the new growth if pruning does not happen. We have to clear the path. We have to choose. Not choosing is also a choice.
The wisdom of the four pillars: preaching is but one. Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere. Pruning allows the dormant time of being.
What young people expect of religious? Authenticity. They look to see, “Is there simplicity to their life style?” What we need is the courage and wisdom of Dominic, who sent the entourage home for his preaching to be more believable. Young people see justice as key and many have spent a year or two after college working for justice. They expect us to be working on behalf of the poor. They care about our planet, more that anything, young people want religious to be authentic spiritual mentors and guides. Open to the gifts the Holy Spirit is bringing in them. They see the incongruence in the Church and some put us in this same category.
Considering the realities of our globalized world the most significant missioning challenges are the shifts from institutional to marginalized, from many to fewer, from entourage to counter cultural.
As we hear the call to minister to the poor there is a tug in us. We need to let institutions transition to unconsecrated lay leadership. There are a few layers of implications here: letting go of control, but also losing the steadiness of the income and finally our corporate identity. Earlier I mentioned the pruning: This means cutting off some healthy branches and stalks to give energy and nutrients to those that fit with our specific charism. That does not negate the value of these other ministries.
There is the obvious challenge of numbers. This challenge shrinks if we let go of the mindset of staffing institutions. We need to recognize gifts we don’t have and support those who have these gifts. If we are truly partners that means EQUAL.
As was shared at the UISG a few years ago, it requires a shift from the sisters being the center of the circle radiating the charism out. To a new circle where the charism is in the middle and both sisters and lay enfleshing it and allowing it to grow. When St. Catherine of Siena was talking to God in her dialogues, God said to her, “I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and the gifts you have received from me.” ( Dialogue 7)
Naming the huge challenge to be “counter cultural,” Jon Sobrino, liberation theologian, asks “Will you choose to live with less, when you could have more?” Once again not choosing is also a choice.
All of this leads to how I envision Dominican Apostolic Life in 2020 … I believe Congregations in North America that are vibrant, alive and growing will be ones that: embraced a multicultural environment; partner with lay colleagues; and live authentically and “counter culturally.” The global Dominican family will be technologically interconnected, living simply, communally and collaboratively with members from different congregations under the same roof.
“Realism, Daring, Hope.” Yesterday we heard a great deal of realism and when we go home we need enough hope to “believe despite the evidence and watch the evidence change.” But this won’t just happen. First we must have the conversations. We need to dare enough to cut and keep cutting the dead branches then cut deeper some of the healthy branches, so that there is sufficient energy and nourishment to focus where the Spirit is calling us TODAY !