Saturday, December 27, 2014

Expanding Circles of Encounter

Community happens at so many levels and in so many networks:
Imagine community with sisters from various communities,
--living, working and praying together.
Imagine living sustainably in an urban setting.
Imagine living in dynamic relationship with Earth and the ecosystem.
Imagine networking with others in a neighborhood ecovillage.
Imagine incarnating the Gospel here and now, in our lives today.
Imagine hope.
Imagine peace.

Since spring 2013, I have lived in Dogtown, an historic district in central St. Louis, that is traditionally Irish and home to the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. I came here for two reasons: first, to work with other younger women religious to establish an inter-congregational community house, and second, to join a group of families in the neighborhood who are establishing the Dogtown Ecovillage. These are two grassroots efforts building sustainability through mutual support in ever widening circles of relationship and encounter.
1. A group of younger women religious in the St. Louis area have been meeting regularly for several years under the names of Giving Voice and Sisters 2.0.* Many of us are finding it increasingly difficult to find community living situations where all the members are engaged in active, full-time ministry. We hope to build supportive local communities where sisters can share in community, in spirituality and in mission. This inter-congregational community is one concrete result of our regular gatherings and conversations.
This is one way of 'seeding our future' by forming networks of relationship with sisters in various congregation. Our experiences of religious life have been inter-congregational from our earliest days in community. Sisters 2.0 is a movement of the new generations of women religious. In this peer-led, self-organized space, we network for visioning and fostering future oriented initiatives for religious life. We naturally turn to our 2.0 sisters to build these new community spaces.
My vision and my view of the future are influenced by where I stand. I stand with my sisters in my CSJ community in many respects, and I stand with my 2.0 sisters in other respects. I value opportunities to move in and out of congregational circles, and to move in and out of peer-sister circles in mutually supportive ways.
The inter-congregational house is sponsored by the Religious Life Project, nonprofit organization founded to support religious life, particularly, younger Sisters in living the communal and spiritual dimensions of vowed life, and work with them toward their sustainability.
2. The Dogtown Ecovillage is a group of families in the neighborhood who have gathered to build community and support environmental sustainability through shared experiences such as pot-luck dinners, community service projects, parties, and educational events. Our goal is to engage in sustainability projects in collaboration with other local and regional initiatives such as Gateway Greening, Operation Brightside and the Mayor's Sustainability Action Agenda. By our active presence in the neighborhood, we are able to raise the consciousness of our neighbors and help them to embrace the same values. Together, we create projects such as: gardening in private and shared settings, permaculture, home energy audits, improved housing efficiency, environmental or social justice activism, tool lending library, shared car, shared wifi, shared child care and shared space for environmental activist organizations.
At our inter-congregational house, we have installed organic gardens and fruit trees, focusing on native plants, edible plans and perennials. Sweet potatos have become one of our signature crops as we discover creative new ways to prepare a sweet potato dish for our various pot-luck suppers. At our holiday gift exchange, we brought packages of seeds we had collected from native wild flowers in our gardens.
As the cold winter days force us indoors the Dogtown Ecovillage has taken on an energy audit project. Initially we planned to negotiate with a local provider to audit the homes of ten ecovillagers, including our intercongregational house. With the approval of the provider, we also offered the program to others in the neighborhood and now have forty homes signed up for energy audits. As the project proceeds, we plan to post stories of the audits in local publications and social media so that we can continue to expand the circles of influence.
I am privileged to have this opportunity to live into our chapter calls for sustainability, for nurturing the future of vowed religious life and for partnering with new eyes.
* Why Sisters 2.0? The use of “2.0” after a term indicates the next generation, building on earlier versions and adapting it to new challenges.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Apostolic Visitation Report

Much has been said, written and speculated on the Apostolic Visitation Report. I suppose it ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. I would add my reflections:
  1.  We sisters came to a wider awareness of our common sisterhood. Many in the younger generations have experienced this from the beginning of our religious lives. This consciousness was expanded through the experience of the Visitation.
  2. The Roman center of the Church discovered the richness of the American experience of religious life, in contrast to some of the narrow myths that seemed to underlie the Visitation.
  3. The report presents a balanced and pastoral assessment of the current state of religious life and a invitations to move forward in some key areas. They may form the basis for ongoing reflection and growth as religious life evolves over the coming decades:
    1. Charism
    2. Vocation and Formation
    3. Prayer and Theology
    4. Community
    5. Leadership 
    6. Financial Stewardship
    7. Ecclesial Ministry and Communion
  4. After all that has gone into the Visitation and its response and report, now let's get on with living the Gospel.

Friday, December 12, 2014


As we move through advent, the growing light renews our hope in Immanuel - God-with-us.
Over and over in the scriptures, we hear the words "do not be afraid," and usually those words are followed by the reassurance: "I am with you." If God is for us, who can be against.
I find the presence of God in the flickering candles on the advent wreath that dare to pierce the darkness. I find the presence of God in the flickering of hope in the dark places in my own life. I find the presence of God in the stirring of embers long grown cold, in the random acts of kindness by friend and strangers. I find the presence of God in the whispers of goodness that abound in this particular season.
I find the presence of God in the growing solidarity of people to work for the coming of Immanuel, for the coming of peace to every corner of our weary world, for the coming of hope and justice, for the coming of joy to longing hearts.
Pope Francis calls us to a Year of Consecrated life, marked by a renewed commitment to Joy, Communion, Prophecy, Mission and Contemplation. May these commitments renew our hope in this Advent season.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Habits of Love

Susan Francois, in a thoughtful essay about religious life writes:
Our attitudes of respect and inclusion affirm the both/and nature of the question today. Left to our own devices, over time, I believe we can heal this polarized division and in turn help heal a rift in religious life and the church. We find our common ground in the habits of love we develop, which form us as religious and shape the witness of our very lives as ones who follow Jesus in a particular way. Read more....
Susan describes her multivalent experience of religious-life 'habit', and that resonates with my own experience.
In my 30+ years of religious life, I have been in-habit for about half, and out-of-habit for the other half. I have embraced the challenges of authentic gospel living while wearing a veil, and while wearing a hoodie. I acknowledge some value in each experience, and some challenges in each. In neither case did what I wore touch the core experience of religious life or my commitment to Gospel living.
I think that wearing regular clothes allows me to be myself and to identify with others and with people I serve. Wearing a sign of my commitment in religious life allows me to identify with something larger, to witness the presence of God and of the people of faith into the present situation where I am living and working.
We can wear a pin or cross, but there is something profound about putting on clothing that represents who I am and what I stand for. I wonder about adopting the roman-collar as that symbol that can be worn as a widely-recognizable public witness.